Outside of “Minecraft” the “Halo” franchise is the most successful video-game franchise that Microsoft has in its arsenal and its fans are global, resolute and eager for a new installment. “Halo 5: Guardians” has been teased for the better part of two-years now and with a release day just around the corner, the next installment is expected to be the largest launch to-date for the Xbox One console. With Microsoft trailing in numbers, a “Halo” release is exactly the kind of shot-in-the-arm the console needs going into the holiday season but the single-player campaign may not be the epic blockbuster that fans have been hoping for.
Prior to the launch of the game Microsoft has teased players with the idea that their beloved Master Chief may have an ulterior motive for dropping out of the limelight. In the new title players won’t play as the heroic stalwart of interplanetary justice throughout the entirety of the game, instead, they are hunting him down with the intent of bringing him in for questioning.
Spartan Locke is tasked with finding Master Chief and takes the lead in the new installment commanding a separate squad that is poised to eventually go toe-to-toe with the franchises’ hero. The new protagonist isn’t exactly a divergence from the traditional Spartan hero of yesteryear and gameplay doesn’t exactly change with a new hero in the lead. With almost two-years of teasers and build-up behind it, Microsoft hinted at quite a few possible outcomes that the story could have taken through the single-player campaign. That being said, the game’s emotional moments didn’t exactly live up to the hype surrounding the storyline.
Without spoiling any of the new game for you, the mystery surrounding the characters most likely won’t blow anyone away. The single-player campaign in the Halo franchise usually takes a backseat to the popular online multiplayer-modes and this year’s release isn’t an exception. While the gameplay is a familiar visit to the popular franchise, the single-player storyline wasn’t the epic-showdown I was hoping to see. The writers did a much better job introducing the new characters and setting-up their motive and storyline then they did with fitting in why Master Chief is going AWOL. What the game lacks in storyline however, it easily makes up for in stellar gameplay.
Most of the game takes place within beautifully crafted levels designed with staged-bottlenecks and swarms of monstrous organisms trying overwhelm you. In all aspect of grandeur, the game feels like a worthy “Halo” installment and exploring each of the levels was a thrilling endeavor only rivaled by exciting battles and challenging standoffs.
The game suffers from the co-op inclusion in the sense that if you don’t use co-op, the game simply adds AI friends to assist you. Controlling your AI squamates is a simple task thanks to intuitive gameplay design but also makes the game easier than previous installments to the series. You can adjust the difficulty accordingly but with an 11-12 hour campaign, there were moments that felt rushed. A few times the gameplay seemed to be pushing me through dynamic set pieces without really challenging me to get through them or explore on my own.
The levels are larger and the battlefields offer a greater area to maneuver and engage the enemies this time around. There’s an interesting correlation between the increased space and player movement speed, and I couldn’t tell if it was planned or coincidental.
Since the stages are larger and there is a greater distance to both the end of the level and the area you have to traverse in the game while fighting swarms, the Guardians are faster all around. You have more land to cover but you move faster, the levels offer more variations vertically but the jump mechanics and climb-mechanics have all been improved. In the end, even though there are larger set-piece to maneuver, the gameplay stays roughly the exact same when compared to Halo 4. It’s the same as going twice as far if you’re twice as fast. The game offers more, but keeps everything relatively similar to what you were experiencing previously. Another change is that you can zoom-in when firing, regardless of weapon, another example of the game compensating traditional gameplay for a larger scale and distance.
These should all be welcomed changes for players that might have been hoping for an updated installment to the series but enjoyed the games leading up to this release.
The multiplayer side of “Halo 5” is were most of us will spend the majority of our time with the game and this year’s battleground offer a more conventional system to play in. Players will earn credits that buy “REQ Packs” which will offer you new power-ups and goodies the longer you play.
With game-modes like ARENA and WARZONE players will square off into teams that are far more balanced than previous online scenarios. The game uses these REQ points and cards to unlock special customizations, weapons and armor. It’s a trick that seasoned players in today’s eSports battles have come to expect in multiplayer games. Not only do the cards add a sense of luck and reward to your daily games, they also keep players in the community playing the game longer. It’s a proven strategy that has been working for the last few years.
Everyone starts off the same and there are unlocks and special-items that only the steadfast fans will unlock (but that anyone can acquire). There are around 1,000 cards that can be used and abused on the battlefield, but the game does a great job at separating the card-collectors from the players that only want core-gameplay.
In ARENA these packs are just for customizations and the game-mode is specifically designed to keep everyone on an even-field when starting each match. There’s no pay-to-win in Arena and anyone that joins can still have decent chance in killing their share of online players regardless of time spent in-game.
To subsidies server cost and maintenance, Microsoft allows players to buy REQ packs and unlock cards at $2 to $3 a pop. You never really know how the online community will react to these online micro transactions, especially within such a popular online-franchise, but since they are such a gamble I don’t think that it will really cause any major balancing issues within the game.
While Arena keeps REQ pack upgrades out of the equation, players that don’t mind the unlocks and upgrades can play Warzone. The idea is that the two opposing gameplay styles can keep everyone happy. Warzone offers 12 players a gigantic battlefield, fully equipped with AI-controlled Covenant and/or Promethean troops aiding their team. It’s a checkpoint-style mode with each team vying for the most bases under their control at any given time. It’s a fast-paced and exciting game-mode to explore and I think everyone should invest some time in testing out the new card dynamic but I think Arena will be the hands down favorite for fans.
“Halo 5” seems like it was specifically designed to be a “safe bet” with the community. Nothing revolutionary was added to the franchise and the “REQ” cards were simply borrowed from online games that have proven to be a hit with fans already.
That being said, it’s just what the franchise needs at the moment after suffering from a few splintering decisions made by 343 in the past. The online offerings give players a chance to play in the modes that they prefer, while the “REQ” system supplies constant motivation for players that wish to pour countless hours into the online multiplayer. On paper everyone wins, but we will learn how well the balancing adjust to the online community and how well the serves handle the soon-to-be overwhelming demand that the community places on the game when it launches on October 27, 2015.