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Review Halo 5: Guardians

We had to wait for a long time to finally get our hands on a main Halo game. Sure, the Master Chief Collection was a great Xbox One exclusive but didn’t really bring something new to the table. 343 Industries had to come up with something better than that. After Halo 4, the developers really needed to show gamers they know how to handle the franchise. Halo 5: Guardians is everything Halo 4 should have been from the start. Now that we finished the unforgettable story of Halo 5 and play some multiplayer madness; it’s time to share our spoiler free experiences with you.

This review is based on a review copy of the game. We had early access to the game and will give you our review based on the campaign (no spoilers) and multiplayer sessions we’ve played. That being said, let’s start with the campaign:

Campaign

The hunt for Cortana

Telling you that the Master Chief is desperately looking for his artificial companion ‘Cortana’ won’t come as a spoiler. As you all remember from the ending of Halo 4, Cortana sacrificed herself in order to save the Chief. Master Chief never believed she was gone for good however and continued his journey to find her in Halo 5: Guardians. The story is about Master Chief and his loyal Blue Team searching for Cortana. But why would Blue Team help Master Chief? Questions that will certainly rise during your time in the campaign. It’s good to know that most of these questions will get answered but some will remain a mystery.

Master Chief and his Blue Team went rogue for this mission, abandoning every Spartan rule, they follow their own path in order to find Cortana. This ‘infidelity’ towards the Spartans leads to the manhunt of Spartan Locke and his fireteam Osiris. Locke and the fireteam are tasked to stop Master Chief and his Blue Team and bring back the Chief to base for answers. The entire plot of Halo 5 is focused on this manhunt and power struggle between Spartan Locke and the Chief. In Halo 5, you both control Locke and the Chief, depending on the mission you play. It might be important to know that the game features a lot more Locke than Chief missions.

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Aside of the two Spartans and their fireteams, Halo 5 goes further where other Halo games ended. The Great War still plays a crucial role in the story. Meaning you’ll face Covenant troops and Promethean troops in their battle towards victory. This also means some familiar and crucial characters will return in Halo 5. We won’t spoil you with details here but if you follow the history of the Great War, I’m sure you all have an idea of who might return.

Work as a team, survive as one

Since both the Chief and Locke work together with their fireteam, this also has some consequences for the actual gameplay. The game is very team-based and you really need to use your team in order to survive. Where other Halo games often let you go Rambo on the enemies, you’ll really need to use team tactics to bring the enemies down, especially when you’re playing on higher difficulty levels. As commander of your team, you can point out the location where your team needs to go. This is crucial to flank powerful enemies or to call in some support fire. Aside of this, you’re also able to indicate an enemy that needs to be taken down. By indicating this enemy, your team will focus fire on that enemy alone. This is needed to take down the stronger enemies. Don’t be mistaken; the game is very difficult on Legendary and even Heroic, so working as a team is crucial. If you try to solve everything on your own, you won’t last that long.

 

Epic from the start until the end

 

Guiding your team is also necessary due to their strange artificial intelligence. If you play alone, the AI controls your team but that doesn’t always work out. Computer controlled characters tend to run into bullets without hesitation or don’t seem to find your location in time if you need a revival. When you take to many hits, you’re grounded and need a team member to help you back up, a similar system as Gears of War. A great system but the AI of your team isn’t always smart enough to find your location, which is a shame of course.

Play in co-op

Since the campaign focuses on teamwork a lot, it’s no surprise that co-op is once again supported. The biggest disappointment for co-op is that it can’t be played in split-screen. The split-screen co-op experience was something that made the franchise big in the first place but was dropped to maintain the 60 fps all the time. Besides this letdown, playing co-op still is a lot of fun!

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You can play it online with your friends using a drop-in system. At any time you can invite a friend over in your game our jump to another co-op game online. Once you decide to drop out, the computer will regain control of the character. Playing in co-op is really the way the campaign is meant to be played. Since you’re playing together, you can work out several strategies to bring down the enemies. Communicating using your headset works flawless and thanks to the action-packed missions, you’re in for a very thrilling experience with your friends. Definitely try out the Legendary mode in co-op!

Use new weapons and skills 

It doesn’t really matter how you play the campaign, on your own or with friends, it will be a thrilling ride for sure. One of the things that makes this campaign so good are the weapons. 343 Industries finally managed to balance the weapons the right way and not one weapon feels useless. 343 Industries revamped the Promethean weapons to feel more differently. One of the complaints about Halo 4 was that those new Promethean weapons felt like clones of existing weapons. Well, that’ no longer the case. Each weapon feels differently and each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. The Boltshot, Lightrifle and the Binary rifle all got recreated in Guardians and they all feel fresh and new. It’s a blast playing with Promethean weapons since they really change the way you play the game this time.

Besides remade weapons, 343 also added some new toys such as the Hydra Rocket Launcher and Phaeton vehicle. Those new additions feel right at home in the Halo universe and are worth checking out for sure! It’s the first Halo game where all weapons feel differently and make sense. Switching between them to take down several types of enemies is crucial. It’s also possible to aim down the sights with every weapon now so you can finally shoot with deadly precision. It’s something every modern first person shooter had but we’re glad Halo finally hopped on the train as well.

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Besides the weapons it’s also important to know your new Spartan abilities. Both the Chief and Locke are equipped with some fancy new abilities. First of all there’s a new powerful shoulder charge, which is your classic melee attack at full power. This can be activated using your shoulder button while sprinting. This attack is needed to break through walls or to kick enemies out of the map. Another new ability is the ground slam. A powerful ability that is activated by holding the melee button while you’re in the air. The ground slam delivers a powerful blow to the enemies bellow. And last but not least are the thrusters, which can send you in any direction. These are best used as dodging moves or to reach that platform further away. Talking about platforms, by pushing the A-button twice, your Spartan will grab ledges and climb platform automatically, resulting in a very fluent and fast Halo experience.

Non-combat missions

It’s clear that 343 Industries tried to stay loyal to the Halo formula by keeping what’s good and innovating what could be better. They also tried to innovate the overall campaign experience by adding non-combat missions. These feel unnatural and too short to really be considered missions. The non-combat missions aren’t more than ‘find the right person to talk to, watch the cut scene and continue’. Although the scenes of those missions are always great to look at, we couldn’t help but wonder why those should be made into missions? The game has some of those missions that are completed in five minutes. We don’t mind them being in the game but perhaps they would have worked better as part of a main mission instead of separate ones. Easy for the achievements hunters but a disappointment for the fans who wanted innovation.

Gorgeous setting

Aside of these missions, the other missions all look incredible on the Xbox One. Guardians is the first ‘true next-generation’ Halo and it isn’t hard to tell. The environments and characters all look incredible and the music makes it even better. The main missions are set in more open environments, allowing players to go their own way and chose different paths. Unlike Halo 4, there’s plenty of room for exploration during the missions and you can tackle the enemies in a lot of different ways. 343 Industries really managed to create interesting maps for the campaign, by giving the players more room to play; the game feels bigger and more epic than ever before.

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It’s no surprise that this is the best-looking Halo game on the market, especially on the Forerunners planets and other mysterious locations. Thanks to those incredible graphics and music, it’s the most epic Halo yet. It’s a little shorter than we’re used to, it will take you around eight hours to complete, but every mission is worth your time. No boring or frustrating missions this time, just adrenaline pumping mission after mission.

The Legendary difficulty

Fans of the Halo games will want to know if the Legendary difficulty is as hard as it should, well it sure is. Enemies use different tactics and are very smart if you play on Legendary. In order to take them out, you really need to work as a team and try to outsmart your enemies. It’s hard to clear this mode in solo play since the AI of your teammates isn’t always that good, especially in the more chaotic Legendary sessions. If you’re looking for a challenge to complete with friends, the Legendary difficulty is the one you need but be warned, this isn’t for rookies.

Conclusion:

It must be said, 343 Industries finally created an epic Halo campaign. The campaign of Halo 5: Guardians is filled with familiar faces and has one of the most intriguing stories in the franchise. The ending raises some questions and we can’t wait to see what new direction the franchise is heading. Without spoiling anything however, it’s safe to say that fans will enjoy this campaign a lot. Some might be disappointed by the amount of Locke and team Osiris missions but it’s for the greater good of the story. The story is mysterious, thrilling and action-packed from the first to the last second. Campaign isn’t just an afterthought, it’s a crucial element of the Halo experience and Guardians delivers without a doubt.

Multiplayer

Halo is far more than just a singleplayer game of course. The multiplayer has always been the most important part of the game and the beating heart of the growing online community. Halo 5 has to live up to high expectations when it comes to multiplayer but it looks like the game might have one of the best, if not the best, multiplayer mode. Let’s tell you why.

Please note that these multiplayer sessions were played during the pre-release of the game. Meaning there weren’t a lot of playlists or players online yet. That being said, we did see and play enough to form our opinion.

Arena

The Halo 5 multiplayer is divided into two big segments, the Arena and Warzone modes. First, let’s talk about Arena. Arena is the classic Halo experience where small teams of four players play against four other players in order to win. Arena is filled with great game modes such as Slayer and Capture the Flag.

Aside of these traditional modes, you’re also able to play Stronghold, where you need to capture two bases to score points, Breakout, where you need to kill the opposite team or capture their flag and a lot of other modes. Shotty Snipers also makes a return, limiting the players to only Shotguns and Sniper Rifles as playable weapons. There’s a total of eight modes now and they all bring something fresh to the table. The playlists decides which mode you’ll play next but if you want to create one yourself, you can still do so in the custom games.

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Arena is played on different maps; fifteen of them are playable at launch (five other maps are for Warzone). The maps feature some returning classics and entirely new ones. Our personal favourites were Coliseum and Gambol so far. Each map feels and looks different than the others and each map is created with speed in mind. Halo 5 plays differently than any other Halo before. The reasons for this speed are you thrustres and free-running abilities. Your Spartan is able to jump a lot higher and scale vertical ground using his free-running abilities. It’s the fastest Halo yet thanks to those new abilities so don’t be surprised to see Spartans climbing and sliding their way over the map.

Arena is the perfect mode to justify this fast-paced gameplay since the smaller maps are filled with objects to scale and hiding places to discover. Be aware of your map and location however. 343 Industries created very innovating maps but some of those have holes in the ground, leading to your death. It might be wise to learn where those are located.

Warzone

The second big multiplayer mode is Warzone, without a doubt the most ambitious mode ever. Warzone puts twelve players against twelve other players on a big map filled with AI allies and enemies. Warzone feels big and epic thanks to the giant maps and characters on those maps. The goal of Warzone is to destroy or defend cores until the time runs out. The final wave is the hardest one, in here; one team needs to destroy the central core while the other needs to protect it. In Warzone, everything is possible however thanks to the increasing levels.

 

Well-balanced multiplayer

 

During Warzone, your team will grow in level, meaning they can select new weapons or vehicles in their base. The better your level, the more powerful these weapons and vehicles become. This system makes a Warzone match unpredictable until the end. The tactics of your team and the opposite team differ based on the weapons and vehicles you own. Holding off a Scorpion is a lot harder than holding of a squad of Spartans for example!

That’s not all however, aside of the players, there are a lot of AI controlled enemies running around on the map. You need to focus your fire on both those enemies and the Spartan players. Warzone is big and intense and is something we could enjoy for months to come.

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The Warzone maps are gorgeous and big, ranging from nature filled maps to more industrial maps filled with vertical playgrounds. You never know what to expect in Warzone but working together, as a team, is crucial to win the round. Don’t trust on the AI that much, teamwork and teamwork only will grant you victory.

The right balance

So the two main modes are awesome to play but what about the balance? Well, Halo 5: Guardians nails balance. Each weapon is powerful in its own way. The pistol reminded us of the fan-favourite Halo weapon and is as powerful as it once was. You don’t need high-end weapons to take down your enemies; you can easily take them down with your pistol! Besides this, the game also enables powerful weapons for everybody. Sometimes they are dropped on a key location on the map or they are selectable during respawn for everybody. Unlike other games, lower level players will always stand a chance against professional players. The weapons are available for everybody and for every strong weapon on the map there’s another one able to take it down. Each weapon feels good and each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to weaponry, this Halo 5 is the best-balanced Halo yet!

Customization 

Halo won’t be Halo without customization. As always, you’re able to change the appearance of your Spartan on the fields. It’s crazy how many helmets and armors were put in the game but that also means you can easily create the Spartan of your dreams. As it should, customization goes deep. You can change almost every little detail of your Spartan, including the emblem and service tag. It’s not only your rank that shows your skills on the battlefield. Being able to wear a rare helmet or armor is even better than having a high rank for some. Since there are that many elements to change, it’s hard to imagine seeing a lot of identical Spartans on the field. The customization is as good as ever although the designs of the helmets are a little weird sometimes.

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Requisitions

Customization isn’t the only interesting feature; requisitions or REQ-packs are as well. REQ packs can be bought with points you earn during multiplayer matches. The more point you spend, the higher your chances are to get some rare REQ-cards. These are important since some of them allow you to carry more powerful weapons are give you experience boosts if you activate them. Aside of those you can also gain more aesthetic REQ-cards that unlock weapon skins or new helmets and armor. Collecting REQ-packs reminded us of the time we collected Pokémon booster packs, you never knew what you’d get and that was part of the charm. The same goes for these REQ-packs. You never know what to get but I’m sure you’ll spend a lot of your points trying to get the best cards in the game. It’s not only a great collectible; it serves its purpose in the game as well.

Custom matches

Can’t find the match or map you’re looking for? Well, custom matches are still part of the game. In here, you can create your own game on a map and mode that you pick. For now, we were only able to select 343 Industries maps and modes but once the game launches, we’re sure creative modes of other players will flood the custom matches. The custom matches were always a big part of the game and we’re sure it will still remain the same in Halo 5.

No more voting and quick matches

Something we noticed during our online time is that the game never had problems to find matches, even when there weren’t that many players online. The matchmaking system works incredibly well and we’re sure it will even work better once the game is released. After a match, you’re no longer able to vote or veto on a map for the next round, meaning you’ll have a better rotation of the maps and modes. This is a great change is you ask us! We weren’t that happy with our service record at the end of the match however. The statistics aren’t that easy to access and the medals don’t appear automatically, we’re sure some players will miss seeing their medals as soon as the game ends. That being said, 343 Industries finally understood how matchmaking should work.

Conclusion:

We’ve just seen a small fragment of the multiplayer in this pre-release period but it’s safe to say that this might be the best Halo multiplayer yet. The gameplay is fast, the weapons are balanced and the maps look gorgeous. We didn’t have problems finding other matches and not one of our matches was laggy. 343 Industries wants to push Halo 5 towards the e-Sports scene and it appears they might succeed in their purpose. The multiplayer offers a lot of great content and a lot more will be added as (free) DLC later on. It’s safe to say that this multiplayer will be populated with enthusiastic players until the release of Halo 6! The multiplayer truly is the beating heart of the game!

Finalverdict

As you see, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Halo 5: Guardians. The campaign feels like one of the best stories in the franchise and the multiplayer finally got that boost it needed since Halo 4. Everything about the game feels right and 343 Industries finally managed to create an unforgettable Halo game. Some of the changes might seem strange at first but the longer you think about it, the more they make sense. The multiplayer is well-balanced and both Arena and Warzone feel fresh and are very addictive. Thanks to the great maps, weapons and customization, you’ll spend a lot of your time in the multiplayer for sure. Halo 5: Guardians had to deliver a lot in order to live up to the hype but it was worth waiting for. This is the perfect Halo experience and one of the best games we’ve played this year!

9.5/10

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.