The Halo universe is one of the most interesting, intriguing in the FPS genre, and Halo 5 both benefits and suffers from this fact. Compared to other FPS games, Halo 5 is a work of art, with fantastic, tightly-tuned controls and gorgeous visuals. However, when compared to each of the other Halo games (which I marathoned through one week before the release of Halo 5), Halo 5 was disappointing.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time playing Halo 5; on the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I don’t think it’s unfair to have extremely high expectations for a Halo game. Read on for my full analysis, which covers only the single-player campaign.
Story & Characters
I won’t spoil any elements of the story here. 343 Industries took a notably different route with character development after taking over for Bungie, opting to build Master Chief’s character, in particular, as well as his dynamic with Cortana. In Halo 5, Spartan Locke is introduced as the primary protagonist, a new character in the series. Locke’s story isn’t developed to much extent; the player knows that Locke has been sent on a mission to stop and capture Master Chief, who has disobeyed orders, and the player assumes the role of Locke on his mission.
Locke is accompanied by a trio of teammates, who chatter throughout the campaigns, remarking on terrain, enemies, and other tidbits related to the mission. While this presence of teammates and chatter is a nice addition to the Halo franchise, it doesn’t do a very good job of building any of the characters. The lack of competent AI controlling those characters didn’t help, either. I often found my teammates meandering around while I was engaged in a heated firefight. Directing them to attack enemies was mercifully an option, but it seemed like without my orders, they wouldn’t contribute much help. They were, however, good at reviving me when I was down.
When playing as Master Chief, which happens less frequently than playing as Locke, you also have three teammates. The same problems are present. So, while I commend 343’s decision to expand the character building component of the franchise, it wasn’t done with much effectiveness.
The most intriguing character development over the course of the previous installments in the franchise has been that of Master Chief and Cortana. The events that unfold throughout Halo 5 certainly continued that character development, though not in the way I (or probably any fans of the franchise) would have expected.
The soundtrack of Halo 5 was energetic and inspiring. Old classics were remixed in catchy new ways, and new themes were effectively implemented as well.
Perhaps one of my favorite small changes was the re-addition of grunt personalities. Covenant grunts were fondly remembered in Halo: Combat Evolved as having fun, humorous personalities, often providing comic relief. That personality seemed to disappear until its reappearance in Halo 5. It was mostly a nostalgic feeling, but I enjoyed the return of grunts with personality.
The Covenant, Halo’s original enemy faction, makes an expected return in Halo 5, though the Prometheans, first introduced in Halo 4, are now the most common enemy faced. Unfortunately, while beautifully-drawn and animated, Prometheans were a rather boring enemy to face. They lacked any personality, and instead were reminiscent of the Vex from Destiny; a mechanical enemy that doesn’t speak or really do anything other than try to kill you. The covenant, brutes, and even Flood have been more interesting enemies throughout the Halo story.
One of the most fun things to do in every Halo game has been driving its vehicles. Halo 5 introduces new vehicles of promethean origin, notably the Phaeton, a flying fighter-type vehicle that’s similar to the Covenant banshee. I enjoyed piloting the new vehicles, but was disappointed in the minimal opportunities I had to do so. The level design in Halo 5 is much more vertical than in any of the other Halo games, meaning there are more barriers, platforms, and structures in which battling takes place. While this creates an interesting shoot-out dynamic that requires new tactics and strategies, it eliminates the usefulness of many vehicles.
Halo 5: Guardians has clean, tight controls that were responsive and satisfying. The new “boost” capability, which allows you to quickly boost in any direction while in midair or on the ground, was semi-useful. I may just be spoiled from having a double-jump in Destiny, but throughout the game I wished I had a double-jump instead of the lateral boost ability.
Another new functionality, the ability to hover in midair while aiming down your sites, seemed gimmicky and largely unnecessary. While I can certainly see usefulness for it in competitive multiplayer, it had no utility in the single-player campaign. It does look pretty cool when you do it, though, so if you want to impress your co-op partner ocassionally, it’s good for that.
Halo 5: Guardians is a great FPS. But for a Halo game, it left too much to be desired. If you love Halo games, you’re going to love Halo 5, but don’t expect it to be your favorite in the series. Personally, I enjoyed each of the other Halo games more than Halo 5, with the exception of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Again, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Halo 5; it just means that I had my expectations too high for Halo 5 and, as such, it was a disappointment when compared to the other games in the series. Should you buy it? Absolutely. But don’t get your hopes too high.