Hearkening back to Halo 2, Halo 5: Guardians contains a dual-protagonist campiagn. Players will primarily be filling the armor of Jameson Locke, an ONI requisition officer turned Spartan IV. Leading Fireteam Osiris, Locke hunts down Master Chief after he seemingly goes AWOL. You’ll have a few opportunities to play as the Chief as he desperately searches out Cortana, his close friend and AI companion who was previously thought to be dead. Despite the campaign taking place during a civil war on the Covenant home planet and an influx of Promethean soldiers invading, the story maintains its focus on Locke’s hunt for Master Chief. Unlike the relatively straightforward plot of the “Original” Halo trilogy, Guardians goes down the rabbit hole of Halo 4’s story. Locke’s hunt will take him deep into Forerunner facilities and force him to fight an ancient Promeathean AI, while Master Chief is faced with saving the Universe from a colossal Forerunner force called Guardians.
The plot of Guardians is certainly a step in the right direction for the new, “Reclaimer Saga” that Halo has entered. The dull, convoluted story of Halo 4 overwhelmed players with accelerated evolution, Composers, Didacts, and a host of other terms. Despite being a fan of the franchise, I desperately wanted to skip all of the cutscenes of Halo 4. Guardians still dips its feet into the wealth of lore that Halo 4 created, but remains relatively cohesive. Naturally, the plot of Guardians concludes little, leaving it wide open for the next installation of Halo. Surprisingly, the characters in Fireteam Osiris create a compelling cast. Even though Locke doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of charm that the Chief does, his squad makes up for it and is able to carry the campaign pretty well. The explanation of the SPARTAN IV program being a simple augmentation, instead of a lifelong training regiment, allowed crowd favorite Edward Buck (voiced by Nathan Fillion) to take a role in Locke’s squad. Still, following the trend of AAA shooters, many of the Halo 5 players won’t scratch into the campaign.
Guardians has finally refined all of the gameplay experimentation that previous games in the franchise have implemented. Ditching the armor abilities found in Halo 4 and Reach, they have instead integrated several of those features into standard gameplay. Chief and Locke can use jetpack thrusts to quickly move in any direction (except up), clamber up ledges, sprint, and use their thruster to slam into enemies and powerfully dive into them from above. These gameplay mechanics work well within both the campaign and multiplayer, without venturing too deeply into the jetpack-chaos territory of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Outside of these movement mechanics, Guardians handles very similarly to the previous games in the franchise.
The multiplayer of Guardians is split into two main categories: Arena and Warzone. Arena is the traditional Halo multiplayer that we all know and love. It includes all of the standard matchmaking, such as Free-for-All, Slayer, SWAT, and objective-based team games. After piddling with the multiplayer of Halo 4 and not really caring for it, the Arena in Guardians feels more like the old-school multiplayer that made me fall in love with the Halo franchise. The multitude of maps all feel very balanced and well designed, allowing for all the maps to be used for both objective games and slayers, alike. There are two new gametypes of Guardians, one of which is Strongholds, essentially an updated Territories, where players capture certain points across the map and earn points for holding them. The other new gametype is Breakout, which is the clearest example of Guardians’ attempt at entering the Pro-MLG circuit. Pitting two teams of four against each other on a small map, players can win the round by killing all of the enemies or taking the neutral flag from the center of the map into the enemy base. This game is played until one team can achieve five victorious rounds. I have to say, I was skeptical of this gametype when I first saw it, because it seemed so desperate to appeal to the “Pro Gamers”. But, after playing several matches, I found that it offered a fun and exciting way to competitively play.
The second category of Guardians’ multiplayer is Warzone. This gametype has replaced the Big Team Battles of previous games and adapted to a Titanfall-esque mode. Two teams of twelve human players fight to control three points on a large map, filled with AI opponents belonging to one team or the other. Having bases captured earns your team points, as well as killing human players and AI controlled enemies. Throughout the match, special enemies will deploy across the map and either team can kill them, earning a point boost. What makes this gametype unique is the implementation of the new REQ system. The REQ system is Microsoft’s way of sneaking micro-transactions into their AAA franchise. When you play any multiplayer mode, you will earn REQ points. You can then use those points (or your own, actual money) to buy REQ packs, which are filled with cards that represent items, weapons, vehicles, or aesthetic armor you can equip. At each base in Warzone, there are REQ stations where you can use a card and activate your special weapon, vehicle, power-up, etc. To keep players from being able to pay-to-win and cashing in powerful card after powerful card, you accumulate REQ energy as the game goes on. The more REQ energy you build up, the more powerful an item you can activate. When you use a card, your energy resets to zero and begins accumulating again. As much as I hate AAA games having micro-transactions, the REQ system is a complicated, yet effective way to balance this gametype. Although, I’m not sure if it would balance it any better than having power weapons and vehicles placed throughout the map and on respawn timers, like Big Team Battles used to be.
Guardians’ cutscenes look gorgeous, but the actual in-game graphics are nothing to rave about. There was plenty of commotion about the struggles that developer 343 Industries went through to have Guardians running at a silky smooth 60fps, which hurt the graphics. Well, I hate to be that guy, but their graphical sacrifice didn’t seem to warrant much results. The frame rate certainly never lagged, even during large battles, but it didn’t feel any different than the previous games running at 30fps. I’ve played plenty of games at 60fps and it’s a noticeable difference, but Guardians didn’t seem to run as fast as they were wanting. I would have rather had Guardians looking amazing and running 30-50fps. The other disappointment that Guardians dropped on Halo fans was the removal of any splitscreen. That’s right, you can no longer have those energy drink fueled nights of beating the campaign on Legendary with a buddy on the couch next to you. AAA games have followed a trend of removing any couch co-op, so that isn’t a huge surprise to see in Guardians. But, this totally kills any chance of the LAN parties that used to go hand-in-hand with the Halo franchise. Unless you and fifteen of your buddies feel like hooking up sixteen Xbox Ones and TVs, you’re not going to host any killer LAN parties with Guardians.
After Halo 3‘s “Stunning conclusion to the Halo trilogy”, I was skeptical when Microsoft announced that they would continue pumping out Halo games until the money dried up. Unfortunately, Halo 4 did nothing to ease my mind of that concern, but Guardians is a step in the right direction. The campaign easily holds your interest, despite some slightly haphazard storytelling. The gameplay is tight and refined, with outstanding level design and multiplayer balancing. Guardians is certainly the best executed entry in the last four Halo games. The multiplayer seems to have gotten back to the roots of Halo, making it difficult not to play just one more match. The missing splitscreen is certainly an enormous concern, leaving out families that share an Xbox, but 343 has already acknowledged the outrage and has (possible) plans to reinstate splitscreen into the next Halo. I haven’t been very interested in the Halo franchise in the last eight years, but Guardians may be enough to get me back on the hook.
Halo 5: Guardians