343 Studios hasn’t started off too well in their engagement with the Halo franchise since Halo creators, Bungie Studios, relinquished command. 343’s first game was a remake of Halo: Combat Evolved, with their first original title being Halo 4, which was a critical and financial success, despite featuring one of the weakest multiplayer offerings in the series’ history. Subsequently, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which was released just last year, is the definition of a “hot mess”. Halo MCC needed patch upon patch (which took month upon month) just to get to the point where matchmaking was possible. Therefore, the long development of Halo 5: Guardians provides a great opportunity for 343 to finally make full use of Microsoft’s biggest licence.
Halo 5: Guardians lets you take control of two groups of Spartans: the first, led by Jameson Locke (arguably one of the worst names in video games today), and the second, led by Master Chief himself. After Chief goes rogue, Locke and his crew are forced to hunt down the legendary Spartan while taking down Covenant and Forerunner enemies along the way. The narrative perspective is interesting, as you’re placed on both sides of the story, however the advertising campaign that asks you to “Hunt the Truth” seems downright hyperbolic, and left me feeling that the ending was subpar.
Within the first five minutes of the campaign, you come to understand what Halo 5 is about — production values and polish. This new iteration is the franchise’s first “built-from-the-ground-up” next-gen release, and you can clearly tell. While the single player game is polished and exciting, it’s never been the bread and butter of the Halo franchise.
While the online multiplayer maintains a distinctly Halo-esque feel, some of these matchmaking and online stability features make the experience feel particularly dated. For instance, if players disconnect during a match online, that player will not be replaced throughout the game. While this may be a “Halo staple”, it also seems strange compared to other contemporary online first-person shooters, and is certainly frustrating when your entire team disconnects (one by one), leaving you to take on the 13-year-old FPS prodigies on the opposing side.
That being said, there’s a reason that Halo is a monolith in this online genre – while Battlefield provides players with expansive environments and interesting vehicular combat, it doesn’t compete with Halo’s accessibility and downright absurdest hilarity. Jumping in a warthog with friends is just as much fun now as it was in 2001. That being said, those friends won’t be able to ride shotgun while in the same room, as Halo 5: Guardians will be the first entry in the Halo franchise to do away with split-screen cooperative play.
Even without same couch co-op, the game feels like a complete experience, and the matchmaking works (even as of launch day) with electric responsiveness. The addition of the Warzone multiplayer mode is fun, and seemed to be the most populated game mode as of launch week, but I expect Halo fans to return to traditional ranked and social matches within a few weeks.
All in all, Halo 5 feels like the middle of a trilogy and adds the coat of polish that only Microsoft could afford, while making some poor design and narrative decisions that keep this from being the console-defining title that the Xbox One really needed.
Halo 5: Guardians is available now for the Xbox One.