Halo 5: Guardians is a true step forward for Microsoft's Halo franchise that makes for a no-brainer buy on Xbox One, but it's not a flawless experience.
For those that have been following the Halo franchise thus far, the wait for Halo 5: Guardians has been a long, drawn out one. After Microsoft first revealed the game during its press conference at E3 2013, many thought they'd be playing it at some point the following year. Instead, they were given Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which ended up being a major disappointment as a result of its rampant online issues. Still, the wait has turned out to be worth it.
Halo 5: Guardians feels like one of the biggest leaps forward for the franchise ever, making it as fast and fluid as modern shooters while still maintaining its trademark look and feel. This is largely because of the newfound mobility of each Spartan soldier. Running, strategic boosting, and being able to look down the scope for every weapon all add to the game itself, making it feel modern, while still heavily featuring the exaggerated jumping mechanics and hip firing that gamers around the world have come to expect from the series.
Of course, setting aside the new gameplay mechanics, fans of the lore surrounding the fictitious universe will be chomping at the bit to see what the Master Chief and the newcomer Locke get up to in this new game, and they'll be treated to some of the most beautiful cutscenes ever seen on the Xbox One while doing so. With Spartans now running all over the place, there's plenty of action to see, and that's best portrayed in the opening sequence to the game itself. Despite the fleshed out interaction between these new soldiers, however, the final scene will have gamers scratching their heads rather than feeling like they've brought the narrative to completion. Even then, it's hard to be disappointed in the gameplay and level layout that leads to that conclusion – albeit very heavily loaded with Locke-centric missions over Chief.
While the action is fierce and visually appealing, the lack of split-screen co-op is a massive blow. Given the new team-focused gameplay of Halo 5, thanks to the addition of Master Chief's Blue Team and Locke's Fireteam Osiris, it's bizarre that developer 343 Industries didn't include the feature. Those that planned on partying up with friends online won't be phased by this decision, but it does hit close to home for anyone that planned on getting in on the action from the same couch. Even so, it's a lot easier to tear through the final product with some buddies, rather than dealing with AI allies.
For whatever reason, the other Spartan soldiers that accompany each leader are less than intelligent – to put it politely. Time and time again the computer-fuelled companions would either use cover with little to no effectiveness or even continuously charge into hopeless situations to revive downed teammates. On the bright side of this, the characters are able to revive players if and when they get put down, giving players some shot at redemption while playing through the game's harder difficulties.
While the campaign leaves something to be desired, the online component appears to be working much better than the aforementioned Master Chief Collection. During our time with the title's online multiplayer, I was given the opportunity to play through a bevy of different game types, each categorized by two core modes: Arena and Warzone. One offers tried and true Halo match types, Arena, while Warzone is an entirely new beast for followers of the series to enjoy.
Arena is filled with classics like Capture the Flag, SWAT, and Team Slayer, but there are also a pair of brand new modes as well. These are known as Breakout and Strongholds, and they both add to the game's new competitive prowess as a result of the lack of any larger maps at launch. Breakout utilizes two teams of four players, with no respawns and a flag in the middle. Wiping out the team or securing the flag will bring about victory, and it's incredibly engaging. Meanwhile, Strongholds awards points to whichever team manages to hold on to two of three on-map, King of the Hill-esque zones. Some fan-favorite modes are still missing, but that will likely be addressed at a later date – potentially even alongside the much-anticipated Forge mode.
Warzone, on the other hand, is a massive 24-player battle mode that features the largest maps found in a Halo game ever. These battlegrounds play host to massive, objective-based contests that pit players against the environment and others. Whether requiring users to defend positions, wipe out random AI bosses and enemies, or simply murder other rival Spartans, the mode is hectic and every bit as fun as our E3 2015 preview claimed it to be. With that in mind, the new mode functions heavily off of the new REQ Pack feature.
REQ Packs, short for Requisition Packs, function a lot like digital booster card packs. Each pack contains anything from one-off weapon and vehicle cards to permanent unlocks such as weapon skins and armor sets. This system is shrouded in controversy over the fact that players can pay real-world money for in-game currency known as REQ Points to purchase these packs. Fortunately, fans will be happy to know that it's still fairly easy to gain Halo funds just by playing the game, levelling up, and selling less-than-stellar cards back to the store.
These virtual cards can unlock cosmetic items to customize a user's Spartan or simply be put to use similarly to Titanfall's Burn Card system during play sessions, meaning they disappear after one go. Still, it makes for a much more interesting means of gathering items, and adds a fun element to saving up faux money – with lady luck herself recreating the same rush that accompanied cracking open a pack of Pokemon TCG cards back in the day.
Halo 5: Guardians may stumble in regards to split-screen multiplayer, but it's still a game that'll grow in the months proceeding its launch. 15 free multiplayer maps will spearhead this movement, with REQ Packs and new online modes extending the appeal immensely for longtime fans and newcomers alike. This seems like an obvious go-to for shooter and sci-fi aficionados, making Microsoft's latest blockbuster worth checking out.
Halo 5: Guardians arrives exclusively for Xbox One on October 27, 2015.