Title: Halo 5
Where To Buy: Xbox Live, Local Retailer
For many, Halo has revolutionized how we play first person shooters. Every FPS that graced the consoles prior to Halo felt unnatural and inferior in comparison to its PC cousin. When the original launched on the Xbox in 2001, developers saw that the genre could not only survive on consoles but flourish. Jump forward 14 years and the market has been saturated by the modern day shooter. Call of Duty is now king, but Halo 5 attempts to take back its throne. Halo 5 develops on the already strong mechanics of the previous titles and creates a high-octane, adrenaline-fueled experience. Halo 5, unfortunately, delivers a disappointing narrative which is unusual for the Halo series.
You may have seen commercials for Halo 5 depicting Master Chief, the series hero, as a traitor. The tagline is to ‘hunt the truth’ and all the promotional activity leading up to the release has supported this idea. The advertisement established a treason themed story which I was genuinely excited to uncover. I’m sad to say that all of these concepts are non-existent within Halo 5. Master Chief never commits mass murder and no-one assumes that he has. You are aware of the surrounding events all the time in Halo 5 and there is no conspiracy theory. I had high expectations for the story due to the advertising campaign but in the end it felt more like propaganda.
I’m aware that commercials are there to sell copies of the game, but you would expect there to be credibility in what they are telling you. These issues aside, the story is still disappointing by Halo standards. First person shooters seem to be following a trend of omitting campaigns and Halo is one of the few remaining where the lore and story are still very much an integral part of the experience. In Halo 5 you will not just be playing as Master Chief, in fact, you’ll play as agent Locke for 80 percent of the time. Some may argue that Master Chief is not the most charismatic lead, but in my opinion Locke is far worse. Throughout the story, he is simply told what to do and he never thinks for himself. He’ll state his respect and admiration for Master Chief but when ordered to arrest Chief for going AWOL, Locke complies without hesitation. He is simply a lackey for the government and as the player you know that his mission is unjust. When you have the rare opportunity to play as Master Chief, it just feels right. Even though they play identically, there is a feeling of coming home when you control the legendary Spartan.
The events of the game are pretty unspectacular. Every threat you face has been seen before and you are treading familiar ground. There are no memorable set pieces with the exception of one level where you are running vertically down a giant guardian. This stage feels refreshing and imaginative, but it ends far too soon. Once the game is completed, you feel as though you haven’t actually accomplished anything. Without spoiling the ending, you have no impact on the outcome and the events would have occurred with or without your assistance which makes the whole narrative feel inconsequential. The story is not terrible but when compared to the previous Halo games, Halo 5’s feels inadequate.
After uprooting Halo 5’s flaws, I will now discuss why I still loved my experience with this game.
Halo has always been a joy to play with responsive controls and smart enemies. Halo 5 has taken these blueprints and improved on every aspect. Halo 5 has had a dose of adrenaline injected into its core and the whole experience has become faster and exhilarating. You now have dash abilities which allow you to dodge out of the way of enemy fire. You can use this skill to perform a Spartan Charge, which will propel you directly towards the foe, sending them soaring through the sky. You can then take this one step further by performing this whilst airborne and you’ll come crashing down, causing devastation within a small radius. It all feels natural, intuitive and separates the Spartans from the grunts.
All of these new abilities would be incompetent however if the level design didn’t adapt too. Halo was always generous when it came to giving you open battlefields, but a new sense of verticality has been introduced in Halo 5. You can now reach vantage points to pick out enemies and then, if you feel courageous, you can nose-dive down onto hapless foes. The weapon arsenal is Halo 5 is varied and creative. Be it Human, Covenant or Promethean made; they all pack a punch. You will find these firearms littered everywhere and I found myself regularly switching between them and altering my tactics. Combining all of these techniques on the field makes each battle feel epic and satisfying. Even though the circumstances surrounding me seemed familiar, as previously mentioned, the improved maneuverability refreshed the whole experience.
The other big change in Halo 5 is the fact that you’ll always have three companions assisting you. These can be human controlled or the AI will support you however I use the term support very loosely. Your AI counterparts can be more of a hindrance than a benefit at times. They can revive you if you fell, but they are terrible at finding cover. They will attempt to heal you whilst standing in plain sight of the enemy and a domino effect begins as they fall one by one. Due to you having allies, there are more enemies than ever to counteract this and on the harder difficulties, the single player campaign is near impossible. You do have the ability to direct their movement but you cannot select individual locations, instead they will all rush towards a single marker. This is particularly frustrating during the boss battles where you need to flank, but you have a lack of control.
You need friends to get the most out of Halo 5. The campaign, with 3 friends, is far more pleasant. There is no story matchmaking here so you’ll need to get a team together, but it is worth it. The level design, mechanics, and enemy AI are so impressive, you’ll need to be creative and communicate with each other to reign supreme. Once you have completed the campaign, you can embark on the multiplayer which is where Halo 5 shines.
At launch, you have two modes available, Arena and Warzone. New modes and maps will be released soon and it’ll all be free. Arena includes your familiar game types such as slayer and captures the flag. Each mode is very different and requires you to change tactics. You will have played these modes before but they are perfected here with balanced combat and tense action. All loadouts are identical and weapons can be picked up on the battlefield. Knowing the maps is essential if you want to triumph as picking up a rocket launcher can drastically change your luck. As you play, you will level up as is the norm in modern shooters but you’ll also have a league system. If you keep winning matches, you’ll be promoted and play against tougher opponents. If you lose, the reverse will happen. It is a great way to balance skill levels and motivates you to be the best. It is based on your win rate as well so you will need to be a team player to improve your own ranking. If you are a player who plays capture the flag and focuses on your kill death ratio, you’ll find yourself descending into the lower leagues.
As you level up and accomplish milestones, you’ll unlock REQ packs. These packs contain a range of items from character customization tools to experience boosts in the game. You’ll accumulate REQ points as you play and these can be spent on new packs too. A gold pack will reward you with the rarest items so you can find unique armor for your Spartan or even custom weapon skins. You’ll also unlock one-time use cards, which can be redeemed in the wonderful Warzone mode.
Warzone is a huge encounter which takes place on a gigantic map. There are 5 control points which your team needs to capture. However this is not simply a bigger version of the arena, as you will have other events taking place too. AI enemies will appear on the map which you’ll need to take out. Killing an AI boss will reward your team with a huge amount of points which all contributes towards the overall win. When you play Warzone, you can contribute in a number of ways. You can take and defend bases or eliminate legendary villains. In Warzone, you feel that your individual contribution matters.
When the match begins, everyone starts at level 1 with an assault rifle and a pistol. As you perform well in the fight, you can equip higher grade weapons. You can also use your REQ cards here. They have a singular use, but they can severely change the tide of battle. You could equip a needler or a laser rifle for one life or you could introduce a vehicle to the fray. The whole battle escalates at a steady rate and by the end of the match, when everyone is at a higher level, you can bring in the toughest equipment such as tanks or wraiths. These battles can last for a long time and they are great fun. Everyone is rewarded with a huge amount of experience afterward and winning a long battle feels exhilarating and rewarding.
Halo 5 is the reason to own a Xbox One this year regardless of its imperfections. Running at a solid 60 fps the whole game is fluid and at times it can be one of the gorgeous games I’ve seen. Combat feels solid and multiplayer is faced paced, competitive and satisfying. The narrative is a low point for the series. This is in part because of high expectations established prior to the games release but also because the previous Halo entries have had engaging campaigns. Do not let the disappointing story keep you away from Halo 5 though as the online component is not to be missed. With the promise of more modes and maps for free, this is why you’ll be playing Halo 5 in the months to come.