Halo 5: Guardians

The next entry in the flagship Microsoft franchise has finally landed two years after the launch of latest and greatest XBOX hardware. Those early adopters who patiently waited for the debut of Master Chief on their new shiny black boxes were given the opportunity to replay all of his old adventures in new found high definition, but a shoddy, crippled multiplayer did not make the fans any less anxious. If anything, it made them even more so.  Does Guardians show 343i capable of being the new lords of Halo? Or will it shatter any remaining hope and redemption the studio could claim?

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Halo 5 Guardians opens up with not our usual monotone Master of alien slaying, but a new crew of metal clad murderers who are on the mission to find and rescue our favourite AI creating doctor. You take control of newly introduced Spartan Locke, commander of Strike Team Osiris and after a nice fluctuation of enemy war causalities you are brought back to our ever order defying green menace in his search for his lost friend Cortana.  And thus the groundwork of Halo 5 is set: Halsey versus Cortana, Locke versus Chief, Humanity versus Extinction.

The game’s campaign bumps up the length from its previous entry by having a total of Fifteen campaign missions that will have you swapping between Master Chief and Locke. The change is more or less cosmetic, both characters play exactly the same as one another.  Each leader is also dispatched with a three other combatants, a new feature of the Halo franchise that is reminiscent of the squad from Halo Reach. This is the first time 343i has worked with such a mechanic, and their amateur experience does show in the gameplay. As in previous Halo games, you are given the option to play through the story campaign with up to three buddies. The squad based gameplay is most likely an evolution to that, as they probably wanted to make the story a little more coherent by removing the three clones of Master Chief that come and go in between cut scenes and replacing them with unique characters.

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Now, the squad based gameplay isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it is very beneficial when you have fellow human players taking on the roles. However, single player is where the issues show. First, the most obvious glaring issue: The AI is dumb. Your role as squad leader gives you the ability to issue squad commands. The commands are rather basic: Shoot that thing, go to this location, pick up this weapon, and pick up my dumb ass if I get knocked down. Very simple commands. Why they cannot perform them properly is beyond me.

Issuing the ‘Focus Fire on This Enemy’ command works, for the most part, fine and dandy. The command that I do have an issue with is the ‘Revive Me!’ command. If you are knocked down in combat (in most situations) you are given about fifteen seconds to be revived by a fellow team mate (the reverse is also possible). If you or an able combatant fail to revive the downed ally in the allotted time, they are out for the duration of that skirmish. If you are unable to be brought back, it’s all over and the last checkpoint loads. However, the AI handling of the situation is abysmal.  If you are downed, you are not their top priority. Tapping the X button will make them focus their attention on you. However, doing so will drop everything they are doing and have them run straight to you. All three of them. And by ‘drop everything’, I mean it. They will not fire at any enemies that are an obvious threat. They do not dodge any attacks coming at them. They will run straight towards you no matter what stands in their way. More often than not, they would run straight into the path of a powerful melee attack and get downed themselves. If all three go down, it’s over. Their pathfinding is terrible. You could be on a slightly higher platform (as most Halo maps tend to have) and they won’t figure out they will need to jump and keep running into a wall. They can’t figure out how to go around debris. It’s a mess. In some of the more hectic battles I would choose to tap the start button and pick the ‘Restart at Checkpoint’ command than to watch them attempt to scurry over to me and ultimately fail.

Their free fire is not much better. They will focus fire to what they see fit, but most of the time they will stand around as if they are auditioning for the role of ‘Standard Enemy’ in a Dynasty Warriors title. There have been times where I am being chased down by a stampeding Elite to have them stand there and watch. Suicide grunts would run past with no resistance. I am just thankful there are no penalties on their deaths. If having them go down resulted in a checkpoint restart, the game would be unplayable. If want to get use out them, get used to commanding them who to fire on.

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Another change to Halo 5 is the control scheme and abilities. 343i finally decided to modernize their controls to make it less archaic as they have been since the first Halo on the original Xbox. Gone are the modular bonuses of Halo 4, rather in their place you have a set of newly fixed commands. Tapping the B button will give you a short jet burst in whichever direction you are moving. The obvious benefit to this is dodging oncoming projectiles and swiftly juking a melee, leaving the enemy open for you to punish them for their whiffed attack. Throwing a melee attack while running will give you a shoulder bash, an upgraded hit that will do more damage and send the enemy flying. Holding down the melee attack in the air will have you hover for bit and let you perform a ground pound, an area damaging attack does some substantial damage. In a bit of a Titanfall styled addition, you are now able to grab on to ledges and vault up during a jump. This welcomed move mixes the gameplay up in a very positive style, giving the game more of a fast paced feel instead of the usual slow floaty falling that has been featured in Halo past. Lastly, zoom ability has been upgraded to have you either toggle a scope as per tradition, but also have you look down the sights of any weapon. This feature is a much welcomed and sought after addition to the game. Previous Halo entries have stubbornly refused to include it and the aged controls were very noticeable. Guns are equipped with sights for a reason, only a ninny would hip fire at something twenty meters away.

The controls on the whole are much more intuitive. I’ve previously gotten used to the default controls in any given Halo game, archaic as they may be. The series had for whatever reason decided to stick to the awkward controls and changes between games never really fixed that.  You’ve had ‘controls for every logical console shooter’, and then you had ‘Halo controls’. It seems they’ve learned from their mistakes and I have no complaints with how they set them for this entry. Excellent job, 343i.

The vehicles, weapons and enemies are for the most part the same as what they were in Halo 4. Both the Prometheans and the Covenant make a return for Halo 5, along with a new enemy known as The Warden. I am glad they decided to stick with the Prometheans, I preferred them over the long antiqued Covenant solder. From what I can tell, the weaponry seems mostly unchanged. I did notice that the Promethean Boltshot has received a noticeable overhaul. Instead of the chargeable blast that was seen in Halo 4, it has been outfitted with more of a burst shot style fire.

The vehicles are your standard Halo affair. The left stick focuses the direction you want to move in and the right stick fish tails your vehicle in the direction you choose. I’ve always been a fan of the way Halo handles the vehicles but I know I am in the minority. If you weren’t a fan before, this game won’t sway you over. There didn’t seem to be any new additions from Halo 4 and if there were, they weren’t substantial enough to notice a difference.

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The game is beautiful. The worlds are rich with detail. The guns have their otherworldly design fully realized. Looking down the sights of any Promethean weapon will toggle a morphed redesign that look pretty damn cool. The characters, both enemy and ally, will speak with contextual dialogue in any given situation. If you listen in on an enemy group, they will talk about something relative to the task at hand. An enemy you have locked in combat may mutter something about how ‘you will not save the false Orbiter’ or how they will reclaim their holy relic. A teammate will tell you if they spot an enemy on the hill to the far left; how there is an enemy running to the turret. The attention to detail is very well realized. However, this doesn’t come without its faults. The game aims for a solid 60 frames per second, but there are compromises that have to be made to do so. One thing that I did notice and was exceptionally aggravating were dropped frames of animation. Everything close to you would run at their normal expected rate, but enemies in the distance suffered considerably. Sniping became a lot more complicated due to not being able to readily read an enemies movement due to the animation just simply not being there. This wouldn’t be something that is 40 meters away, either. Depending on the amount of enemies on screen and how detailed the current environment was, it could be as close as 10, 15 meters. I cannot find this acceptable in a flagship series with such a high budget and has me wondering if it were optimization issues or whether our current generation hardware is not able to handle the task of what should be expected in 2015.

I’ve never been one for online competitive multiplayer, but I do not think a Halo review could be complete without at least checking it out. I must say, I am very impressed with how 343i has handled it in Guardians. I decided to play a few rounds of Slayer late last night to get my complete play through over with, and I ended up playing late into the night. I was absolutely hooked. I started off doing embarrassingly awful. My kills/deaths ratio was something around .25. After a few rounds I started understanding how the game works and soon turned myself to a leading player in most rounds. The match making is wonderful. I never once thought I was playing with people completely out of my league. Even when I was doing poorly I never thought it was unfair. I am not sure if the game reads your play style and matches you appropriately or that it’s a base player level kind of thing. Whatever their methods, it does seem to work.  I never waited long either. I was playing up til 3 in the morning and never had an issue joining a game and I didn’t get any noticeable lag throughout the night, even with my ridiculously convoluted network setup.

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While I am not familiar with how Halo 4 worked online, the bonuses seem to have been influenced by the likes of how Counter-Strike GO and the sort. At the end of a given round you are rewarded experience points and online currency depending on how you’ve played. With that experience you will unlock rankings, bonuses and various unlockables such as new armour, assassination animations, weapon skins, emblems and various perks. The game awards you with various booster packs that unlock these things, and while these can be bought with real world money via DLC packs, they are also earned through leveling and spending the game currency you are rewarded. Even with only a few hours of play and not being a particularly skilled player, I was able to afford the most expensive bonus pack. Nothing seems to be behind a pay wall, and a full retail game shouldn’t have such a thing in the first place. I enjoy the seemingly unlimited number of unlockables and gives me more of an incentive to keep playing. I’ve always been a sucker for custom outfits and will always be looking for more.

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Guardians has me pleased with its end results. Even with its technical shortcomings I had one hell of an experience. Hell, I even enjoyed playing with online strangers in a multiplayer, and that is almost unheard of! If you are into the lore of the Halo universe, the 8 or so hour long campaign should keep you happy until our next installment and playing with a crew of friends instead of the braindead AI is a blast. I do hope 343i recognizes the technical problems, I do not see the issues to be beyond the scope of a few patches to smooth everything out to make the single player a stellar experience.

Highlights

  • Beautiful, Highly Detailed World
  • Solid Multiplayer Experience with lots of Unlockables
  • Decent Length Campaign
  • Weapon Variety
  • Much Improved Overhaul to the Old Traditional Control Scheme

 

Drawbacks

  • Idiotic AI
  • Inconsistency with Enemy Animations
  • Lack of New Content (Usual Enemies/Weapons/Vehicles)

 

B-

 

Bonus Content! I recorded a round of Multiplayer Slayer.