The Halo Universe has never been known for a groundbreaking story. Novels and other projects have sought to expand it, but the series never really seemed to excel at narrative. Halo defined a console and added a new level of interaction among gamers across the world. Sure, online play existed before Halo, but Xbox Live owes much of its success to it. Therefore, there is a ton of pressure on 343 Industries, as it attempts to add to the legacy Bungie left behind. Unfortunately, Halo 5: Guardians comes close with it’s multiplayer, but lacks depth in its story.
Before diving into this game in detail, know that I’ve always been a fan of Halo‘s Universe. I lacked an Xbox as a kid, keeping a tight grip on my PS2 with Kingdom Hearts and Radiata Stories, but I was always interested in the story of Halo. Thus, I picked up the novelizations of the games at Borders. While these books never blew me out of the water, they were substantial enough to make me want to read the others. Master Chief always felt more fleshed out in the books, making my eventual move to the Halo games feel lackluster by comparison.
I will admit that I had high hopes for the story in Halo 5. The marketing campaigns played up the mysterious Locke, chasing down the Master Chief for disobeying orders and going rogue. Chief wandered the deserts in those commercials, a tattered cloak in his wake, a classic trope with characters trying to find themselves in solitude. All clues pointed to a dynamic, daring story framed with all the pew pew a mind can handle.
Whoever edited the marketing deserves a damn medal. While the one directing what was shipped needs a firm reprimanding.
Halo 5‘s story feels like a large puzzle. All the pieces are there, that much is evident, but someone has gone and tossed the puzzle about, leaving nothing but a fragmented image. I’m normally easy to appease when it comes to stories; I usually only give harsh words after much reflection. However, I couldn’t keep track of where my characters were supposed to be. What should’ve felt like a chase across the galaxy, is a highlight reel cut by an amateur at a high school sporting event.
I will give credit where credit is due: the action during the cutscenes is phenomenal. The camera dynamically follows the characters as they proceed to pull off supernatural feats. Yet, it would be more gratifying if there was more context to the story.
Master Chief’s team does comprise of characters I grew to love from the novels. There are plenty of solid character development in the books, but they are merely a quick nod to long time fans in the current game. These characters are mostly there to explain why there’s four player co-op in the main campaign.
It’s obvious Halo 5 had a better story planned out, but what is delivered lacks direction, coherence or passion for the universe it’s built on.
Also, it’s hard to see what’s going on with all the lens flares. JJ Abrams has left a negative impact on the visual directing for many, painful years to come.
On the other side of the game, Halo 5 supports a solid multiplayer experience. Slapping ten-year-old kids with a flag or chucking grenades at my dearest friends has never been my draw to Halo, but I do have fond memories with such. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gathered as many people with Xbox 360s as possible to spend countless hours throwing back Mt. Dew, cheering with each kill.
Playing Halo 5‘s multiplayer feels nostalgic, but also fresh. Being able to zoom in with each weapon is an awesome addition, especially since each weapon has unique sights. Player movement has new tricks such as the Spartan Charge or being able to hover in the air for a short time. Slaying enemies is still as rewarding as the early days of dominating with the magnum.
The newest mode, Warzone is interesting, as its Halo‘s take on the MOBA craze. It lacks the strategic depth of that genre, but it can lead to some interesting situations. Players fight over several bases to earn points, while also combating each other, Covenant and Promethean invaders. Being able to snatch away points from an aggressive team from afar by doing the final hit on a boss is hilarious and aids one’s team.
Warzone also offers Requisition items, which are essentially like FIFA‘s addictive Ultimate Team mode. Unlike FIFA, players will be opening packs of weapons, armor skins, vehicles and more to use in Warzone. Collecting items is fun, but the fact that the cards are used after a single use makes them feel less like a tactical loadout and more like having your latest toy ignored by everyone else who has the limited edition cause they bought more packs.
While Halo 5: Guardians lacks the narrative it was built up to be, the multiplayer remains a solid choice for an evening with friends. Kicking back with a snack and a headset on my brow feels like it should and that’s not a bad thing.
343 Industries has recently released a large patch, adding new modes, so there is hope beyond the game’s initial launch. I’d love to see them retcon the campaign mode, even though its hard to patch a flooding submarine with duct tape, no matter how valuable the adhesive is in the Wasteland.
Pick up Halo 5 for the multiplayer, play the campaign when there are no friends online and nothing is on TV.