I both really enjoyed and really disliked Halo 4. I appreciated the fact that 343 Industries were trying to make the game their own, but at the same time it just didn’t feel like “Halo”. The campaign was much more narratively focused on Chief and Cortana’s relationship, which I very much enjoyed, but it just didn’t have that epic poetic war drama feeling that previous games bestowed on the players.
After finishing Halo 5’s story I still felt underwhelmed by it. While fun to play through, the actual narrative of the game didn’t really pull me in. It was rather predictable, and by the end I was once again left only to look forward to the final entry in this trilogy of the Halo franchise. The overarching narrative is interesting, and I’m interested to see how the trilogy wraps up. However, there’s just not a whole lot of character to it.
Unless you’ve read some of the Halo books that are available, or watched Halo: Nightfall, you probably wouldn’t have a clue who these other characters are on screen. To have any clue who Linda, Fred or Kelly of Blue Team are, you’d have to read Halo: First Strike. They play almost no central role to the story, which was incredibly disappointing for me since I’ve read First Strike and know just how intertwined these characters are.
There’s just no emotional attachment to any of the characters in Halo 5 and thus makes the story feel incredibly shallow in design. There’s hardly any scenes where you learn more about these people, on either Fireteam Osiris or Blue Team. They’re just…there. Even with three other AI characters by my side, I still felt alone on the battlefield. The game doesn’t use these characters other than to give a name to those who might be playing cooperatively with you.
Even the Arbiter, who was a central character to Halo 2 and 3 is little more than a distraction in the main story here. Of the very few lines he has, it’s mostly war cries.
Maybe I’m just burned out on the Halo franchise, or too old to really get into the narrative like I used to, but there’s just something missing from 343’s take on the Halo franchise narratively. The narrative core is deeper than any other Halo game, focusing on relationships between man and machine and the power of creation. But 343 only just tackled the surface of what could have been a much deeper narrative.
Then there’s the “Hunt”, which I will not spoil but let’s just say that whole part of the story was really just there for the marketing.
Thankfully, the campaign is fun and has plenty of missions that you’ll want to go back and replay. There’s no tedious shooting galleries or push three button to activate this set of sequences like we had in Halo 4. Each battle takes place in a sandbox and gives you multiple routes and ways to take down your enemies. It’s a classic formula amplified by smoother shooting mechanics and more vertical movement than you’ve ever had in a Halo game
Rather .than changing things up too much, the new movement sets add to the overall flow of the game and pushes it into the realm of the modern shooter without changing too much of the core gameplay formula.
Halo 5: Guardians is much more “Halo” than Halo 4 was. Battles as I noted above take place in open sandboxes for the most part and involve more vehicles and tactical options. Halo 5 is also rather difficult, which is to be expected. I played through the game on the Hardcore difficulty and the AI gave me a run for my money for the most part. Sometimes I’d just be completely outgunned, but other times I’d be outsmarted and flanked by foes I didn’t spot fast enough.
Your AI controlled squadmates are another story, however. Sometimes they’re helpful on the battlefield, but more often than not they’re primarily bullet sponges. You’re more likely to play the game as you always have, rather than utilizing the new squad controls.
Halo 5: Guardians is one of the prettiest games on offer currently. The game oozes detail in every location you visit in the game. I can’t really go into detail about the locations you’ll visit as it’ll spoil sections of the story, but in one of the later missions you’ll visit the home world of the Elites, Sanghellios. As you move through the mission you’ll see all kinds of alien architecture and beautiful vistas that the Halo series is known for.
There’s a ton of variation in color in this entry in the Halo franchise and it really helps to bring the locations you visit to life. Kinda makes you wonder what an open world Halo experience could be like sometimes. The game runs at a crisp 60 frames-per-second and during my playthrough I only hit one area later in the game where it got a little choppy.
The sound design of Halo 5 is also top notch. All of the weapons pack a punch, Grunts have their zany dialogue back and the soundtrack is also much more prominent this time around than it was in Halo 4. Fans, myself included, were pretty evenly divided on the quality of Halo 4’s soundtrack. Some said it was too different, some said it was great outside of the game, but not in the game itself and most agreed that it just wasn’t “Halo”.
343 took this feedback to heart and have created a soundtrack that is both memorable and new. Whether you enjoy it or not will all be up to your own preferences. Personally I enjoyed it, and when the select few songs came on that incorporated both old and new from the Halo soundtrack, it pumped me up.
Halo 5 has been the hardest entry in the franchise for me to review by far. I really wanted to enjoy the story, but there just wasn’t enough there. 343 crafted a narrative that was deep in construction, but poor in execution. Luckily for 343 the campaign is fun to play through. But, if you’re looking for a well-crafted Halo narrative, it’s unfortunately going to disappoint most long-time Halo followers.
NOTE: I will update this review with some thoughts on multiplayer later this week after I’ve had time to play it in a live environment. However, since we are mostly focused on the single player side of things, it will not affect the overall score for the game.
Review copy provided by the publisher.