Halo 5: Guardians struggles to live up to the legacy its predecessors established. If you created a list of the best shooters of all time, Halo: Combat Evolved would be near the top of the list. Unfortunately, we live in a post-Destiny world. With Bungie (the original developers of Halo) at the helm of another franchise making strides and breaking ground, Halo 5 feels like a relic of the past.
There are some amazing moments in this video game, and the multiplayer is a cut above most other space shooters. Halo 5 is certainly not a failure by any means, but it just doesn’t pack the punch of Destiny (especially Destiny 2). When you have infinite options all grabbing at your wallet, it’s hard to feel a strong pull toward this one.
Halo 5: Guardians opens with a cinematic flex. We are introduced to most of the main characters, including performances from Nathan Fillion, Ike Amadi, and Keith David. We are introduced to the “Osiris team” — an elite group of Spartans. The only one missing from the action in this opening mission is Master Chief, whom we meet later in Mission 2. It is a compelling start to a very exciting single player campaign.
Between the various twists of plot, I was often convinced the game was going in a certain direction. Guess what? It was! Not to say that every game has to brutally stray from conventional sci-fi plot cliches, but Halo 5 sits comfortably in a plot that services an excellent multiplayer hub. You’re not going to bring up the plot of Halo 5 at dinner trying to reconnect with your estranged stepdad. The good news is you will likely forget it immediately, leaving a ton of room for other great fiction!
Know Your Lore
As a more specific critique, as the plot progressed, I had a tough time understanding exactly what was going on. It had been a while since I played Halo 4, so it might help if you brush up a bit on the lore before diving into this. Otherwise, you will find yourself Googling elements of the Halo-verse in order to understand what is exactly at stake. Cortana is a big part of the narrative in this game. Though I knew exactly who Cortana is and how she typically functions in a Halo game, I was still confused as to what her “rules” were. That being said, it’s still a pretty good time.
Halo has always felt really tight, with almost twitchy combat mechanics. The feel of the guns, the feel of the almost weightless jump, and that plasma grenade (heck yeah, that plasma grenade!) are like coming home to an old book. The multiplayer has all of the highlights from older Halo games plus some great additions. It’s just fun. The formula still works even after all these years.
Again, I hate to bring up Destiny but it’s tough to not compare. Destiny has a much better multiplayer foundation, although its PvP elements are abysmal. This is where Halo 5 shines. There are hours of great noob-owning fun to be had with the online multiplayer, and plenty of maps to memorize and master. Nothing in Halo 5 reinvents the wheel, but it stays true to what already works.
Halo 5: Guardians looks pretty good. It doesn’t look great, but it looks good. I was playing this game on an Xbox One S, and I found that in every single mission there were some examples of frame-rate slow down and it seemed to have a hard time populating the environments quickly enough. Sometimes this didn’t bother me, but sometimes it was very jarring. These issues did not affect the gameplay necessarily. I never felt like I lost due to frame rate or graphical slowdown.
Also, the environments could have used some more time in the oven. Each mission looks pretty similar to the last. Sure, there are “snow” areas, but the framework for each area is very similarly built. For example, there are large open areas and tight corridor areas. They dress them up differently, but it does feel very same-y, especially after hours of gameplay.
At the end of the day, Halo 5: Guardians is a solid choice for any Xbox owner. If you have Game Pass, then you owe it yourself to catch up on every entry in the Halo franchise. Master Chief is sort of like your Mario. This game is not going to blow you away, but it’s worth your time. The loss of Bungie to the franchise might be felt, but Halo 5 doesn’t feel dead. The stakes of this entry feel low, but not every game needs to have universe-ending stakes. In fact, having a really tight side-story was actually kind of refreshing, even if I had to Google a few aspects of the plot to remember what in the world was going on!