Last week, I was invited up to New York City to spend a lot of time with the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. Over the course of this preview event, I played through two of the missions in the game’s campaign.
Now, we played other modes, and this preview you’re reading today is the first of three to be published between now and next week.
While 343 Industries and Microsoft have been pitching Halo 5: Guardians as a genuinely cooperative affair, my time spent on the campaign was completely solo. This was pure single player action, and the reasoning for that, according to the PR folks and studio present at the event, was that they wanted me to go at my own pace.
So, without any instruction or introduction beyond that, I started playing.
Halo 5 is split between two separate parties of four. You have Master Chief and his party, and then you have Spartan Locke and his party. In single player, you play as either Chief or Locke. It’s known so far that Locke is hunting Chief down for something like treason or going AWOL. I won’t be exploring any of the story here.
Truth be told, I tried to ignore the story while playing the campaign. That might sound crazy to you, but one of the two missions I played came very, very late in the game. I’m a Halo fan, and I’ve always dug the fiction of this universe. I was trying to avoid spoilers.
In standard Halo fashion, though, a lot of the story is told through dialogue during the mission. Only this time, instead of Cortana talking to the Chief, we have our party leader and the three other party members talking together.
We saw some of this with Halo: Reach especially. That interplay between the player and the other NPCs around them works well for Halo. It doesn’t matter if you’re stalking hallways or engaged in a massive vehicle battle, Halo 5 manages to string you along from moment to moment with chatter in a fun and engaging way.
There were only a few things that really stuck out at me during the course of this campaign play. First and foremost, the game looks gorgeous. 343 has totally taken up the mantle when it comes to designing the art of the Halo universe, and just the variety in color spread over these two separate missions is fantastic.
The first mission was entirely inside a spacecraft. You can see shots from it in the gallery at the head of this post. Strong greys, greens and purples made up the scenery, and the space look cold, metallic and threatening.
The second mission took place on a planet or Halo surface, though I’m not sure which. You can see shots of it in the gallery directly above this line. It was red, rocky and desert-esque. Both spaces, regardless of whether or not they played inside or out, felt huge and open. I was inside a spacecraft, sure, but it felt big.
The gunplay also felt really, really great. We were told to play the campaign on normal, though I typically start Halo games on Heroic. This series has always been known for the way it pushes players to battle creatively. Especially on higher difficulties, the enemies in Halo try to flank and out-strategize the player, and that often comes as a rousing success. Thanks to the lower difficulty during this preview, I didn’t really get that sense. Grunts were, well, grunty, complete with their constant need to open up two sticky grenades and charge you. Elites presented very little challenge, and the same can be said for the Promethean AIs.
The shooting, though? This was easily my favorite part. It’s hard to digest an entire game over a single playthrough, regardless of the fact that I was with Halo 5 for more than four hours. What I easily picked out, though, was that 343 once again put a really big emphasis on sound design. The guns in Halo 5 sound amazing.
Wear headphones with this game if you can, folks. Every gun sounds heavy, layered, complex and distinct. A first person shooter needs great shooting, and a large and often under-serviced portion of that shooting is how it sounds. Halo 5 sounds flippin’ great, especially when it comes to the pew pew.
We’ll have more Halo 5: Guardians coverage over the next week. The game releases on October 27, 2015. Stay tuned for our review as that date approaches.