“Part 1,” you ask? We’ve had Halo 5: Guardians for well over a week. In fact, we’re approaching two weeks with the game now. In that time, I’ve played a ton of the game’s campaign, working on completing it on all difficulties.
Multiplayer, however, didn’t go live until Thursday. That’s when we received the same day-one patch you’ll get at launch if you pick it up tomorrow. I did not play the same multiplayer you will play. I played one playlist in Arena (the standard mode featuring Slayer, Capture the Flag, Swat, etc.) and one playlist in Warzone.
That’s all that was available. 343 and Microsoft set times to play each over this past weekend, but I definitely didn’t make all of them. Some of them? Yes.
Now, given how Halo: The Master Chief Collection‘s multiplayer stuff worked for me before launch and absolutely flopped from day one, I figured we should let Halo 5: Guardians breathe for a bit before we review its multiplayer. That will be Part 2 of this review, and it will come as soon as I manage to play it for a week or so in real world conditions, not pre-release review conditions.
Part 1 is dedicated to the campaign, graphics, mechanics, AI and all the other single player stuff that’s completely independent of the online side. We’ll wait to give the game a rating on our scale until Part 2 is done, then we’ll link the parts together and offer up a cumulative rating.
Alright, now that that’s out of the way, how is Halo 5: Guardians? Well, it’s a mixed bag on the campaign side, but it mostly shows up in the positive. I liked it, but that comes with some reservations. We ride.
I’m picking up strong Halo 2 vibes from this one.
This game is a lot like Halo 2. Two story lines operate at once between Master Chief and Spartan Locke, much like the switching that went down in Halo 2 between Chief and The Arbiter.
Much like Halo 2, Locke and Chief are enemies hunting and avoiding one another throughout the campaign, though playing as both means that understanding the motivation of each happens.
While I won’t get into spoilers here, I will say that the ending of this game has that same flat feeling as Halo 2. That game, man, it hurt when the credits rolled and Bungie essentially set us up to wait years until we’d see the conclusion of the events set forth in its campaign. Halo 5: Guardians does the same thing, though I won’t say how. Expect to reach the ending with really only one plot thread tied off and others left suspended in buy-our-sequel-mid-air.
Getting there, though? I liked it. I dug switching between Chief and Locke every mission or two. Each has their own team of Spartans, and they’ll keep up chatter and drive the campaign forward with little details as you play. I never quite fell in love with any particular AI companion like I did with, say, Cole or Baird in Gears of War, but they add an extra layer to this singular experience that’s welcome.
Each of the 15 missions in the game feels and looks different, too. Halo has almost always been about variety between levels, putting players on ships in space, on planets and on Halos themselves. Halo 5: Guardians continues that trend, and it’s really nice journeying to unique locales after every fight.
Throwaway missions, spotty mechanics and frustrating AI.
It’s sort of disappointing when you play through Halo 5: Guardians the first time expecting 15 full missions. Each mission is bookended by an Achievement, so you’ll know exactly when they end. Most of them, I’d say 12-ish, are full-blown missions with firefights, flying vehicles and tank battles.
Most of them. The other three or so are complete throwaways. One of them introduces you to a colony on a recently glassed planet. You’ll walk inside the colony to start the mission, talk to a few citizens, interact with a hub and walk out. That’s it. That’s the mission. Achievement unlocked.
It’s not as if these missions really build story in a way that others couldn’t. It takes a lot to make a game, and that’s in terms of time, money and personnel. I respect that. If you’re marketing 15 missions, which they have been, and a few of them offer nothing more than walking and pressing X to interact, they aren’t what fans signed up for.
That’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and I realize that. Just don’t expect every outing to be highflying fun.
This game also makes use of a ground pound and rush punch feature. They’re, well, fine. They aren’t really all that useful in the single player mode. You’ll be tasked to use each at times in order to blast through doors or floors, but they don’t really help all that much in combat. At least, not the way I play.
We also have the aim-down-sights mechanic that I’m sure will anger more than a few. Every gun has the ability to aim down sights in this game. It is not required. When you do use it, though, it can be annoying at times. Every time you’re hit when aiming down sight, the gun zooms out. During massive firefights when you’re trying to pick off priority targets, this is quite annoying. It also makes it feel a little less like Halo and more like Call of Duty.
Sometimes more frustrating than that is your teammate AI. Woof. AI is a really hard thing to nail. I’ll always leave some slack for computer-controlled teammates and their inability to hit the broadside of a barn with their weaponry. You don’t want them sucking up all the challenge anyways, right?
Here, though, the AI seems to be plagued with problems I don’t expect from a game releasing in 2015. Halo 5 offers a recovery mechanic. When you go down, a teammate can walk over and revive you. In cooperative play, this works just fine. Humans respond to your cries. With the AI? It’s hit and miss.
I’m thinking of one Hunter encounter specifically with this, though it happens throughout the game. I had it set up to Legendary, and the two Hunters you tangle with can be sort of an issue. Not only did my AI cohorts not engage the Hunters, they didn’t move when I was downed by one of their shots. I called for help, and all three of them just stood in the entryway, idling.
In later battles as you’re tangling with bosses or tougher collections of Prometheans, your friends die a lot. This won’t hamstring you too much, as you can either revive them then or ignore them until they checkpoint back in. They just aren’t worth much in combat, and that’s kind of annoying when taking on higher difficulties.
Finally, they get lost sometimes. They’ll catch up to you with checkpoints, but don’t be surprised if you leave half your team behind when cruising around. They’re extra useless then, too.
Halo 5: Guardians shines on the Xbox One.
In both the visual and aural departments, Halo 5: Guardians is an absolute gem.
In terms of pure numbers, Halo 5: Guardians normally runs at 60fps in 1080p; however, 343 elected to do something interesting when they needed the extra horsepower to maintain that framerate during more intense moments.
If you’re in, say, a vehicle during a massive firefight, the game will still run at 60fps, it’s just that its resolution will be reduced to something like 720p in order to keep the framerate steady. The result is a title that feels constantly smooth without much at all in the way of framerate drops or dips. Yes, the adjusting resolution occurs, but it never happens during a moment when you really notice it. When you take you’re time and look around, the game shows up in 1080p. When you’re blowing things up and distracted, the game dips.
It works really, really well, and the resolution and framerate only further prop up the astoundingly good art design.
I don’t care who you are, 343 really nailed two aspects of this game. The art design and sound design are best in class, no doubt about it. The game’s colors and visual set pieces are wonderful and varied. The soundtrack, voice acting and effects? Amazing. I actually wore headphones throughout play with this one simply because I liked how the guns sounded that much.
If you’re picking up Halo 5: Guardians for the campaign, you’re in for a treat with rough edges.
I know plenty of gamers who only buy Halo for their campaigns. I get that. I have much more fun with the complete package, but I recognize that tons of fans look to this franchise for its storytelling, characters and cinematic moments.
For me, that stuff mostly fell short of expectations. I liked the story when it hit its marks; however, its final act feels far too unresolved. Even in today’s landscape of sequels, I wanted a proper ending and felt sort of shorted.
This game’s campaign does have replay value, if that’s a thing you’re after. Adding in cooperative play, looking for skulls, beating different difficulties and even hunting out weapons with unique names (these are awesome when you find them) makes this a more valuable package.
The single player side of Halo 5: Guardians isn’t perfect. It’s fun and it offers really great triple A hallmarks, but it might not be as satisfying as hard core Halo fans want.
Stay tuned for our multiplayer review and our full rating.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download Halo 5: Guardians for the Xbox One. We completed the game before starting this review. We are not satisfied with how much multiplayer we’ve played, so we’re holding our thoughts on that for at least a week.