After spending a significant time on Halo 5 and sitting with it for a few weeks, I now feel comfortable doing a formal review for the game. I want to be clear – this is not the first Halo game I feel polarized about. I felt similar about Halo 4, but the difference is that in Halo 4 the campaign is excellent but the multiplayer is flawed. In Halo 5, the campaign is flawed but the multiplayer and underlying mechanics are an absolute display of game development at its finest. And though my gripes with the campaign are large, I still consider Halo 5 a must-own game for any Xbox One owner. Spoiler alert.
Don’t make a girl a promise…
Halo 5 promised a lot of things with its marketing. Master Chief has gone AWOL, Locke is chosen to hunt him down. Chief and Locke are supposed to be involved in an event that destroyed a major UNSC city and we are not sure who is responsible (that being Chief or Locke).
None of this happens. Not even close. In fact, a lot of this marketing seems like it is for a different game, maybe even foreshadowing the events in Halo 6. This works against the game, as the plot still revolves around the same “Hunt the Truth” concept but with much less effectiveness. In fact, most of the story you play as Locke simply going from area to area accomplishing small feats, while the few missions you play as chief there is more plot progression and actual dialogue than all Locke missions combined. It is disappointing, because I actually really like Locke and Osiris as characters, and their missions could have been condensed to fewer missions to have them make more of an impact, and make more room for Chief missions. In the end, nothing is hunted except for Locke finding Chief, and the game ends.
Do not get me wrong, it is easy to see Halo 5s campaign having these faults, but it is overlooked in what it achieves. The plot that is there is misguided, but still above and beyond many other games on the market. It is AAA in every sense, with beautiful vistas and environments, enormous multi-plane battlefields that you can attack in a ton of different ways, AI is smart and helpful when on your side, and deadly when against you, and the story genuinely caught me off guard when Cortana was staged as the villain (I wrote her off after Halo 4, and thought Chief was just going crazy without her in the preview videos). Even with my gripes with it, Halo 5 remains a highly enjoyable campaign, and it is amplified when playing co-op. And the use of the Arbiter returning was excellent, and I really hope he plays a role in Halo 6 as well.
I need a weapon.
Halo 5 succeeds where it is most important to… gameplay mechanics. Never has a Halo game felt so good and I will stand by that statement until Halo 6 proves me wrong. To start, balancing all the armour abilities that everyone has seemed impossible to me. They proved me wrong, as no ability is overpowered or underpowered. Need to sprint? Sure but your shields will not recharge and everyone else is just as agile as you, so do not expect to run away. The boost is extremely useful – I find myself using it to dodge, go faster, and to move the flag really far. I have killed more spartans using the spartan charge and ground pound than I thought I ever would. The spartan slide is absolutely deadly when using a shotgun or when dodging a sniper. The hover is great for making skill jumps and for finding new temporary planes of fire. And I cannot imagine a Halo game without the Spartan clamber anymore, how did we make jumps before?
They did not stop there, the guns in Halo 5 have been fine tuned with a very fine comb. Every single gun in this game is a viable weapon. Gone are the days of DMR/BR or lose. Recently I have found that the storm rifle is particularly effective, for instance. The pistol is an all-purpose, never a bad gun to have loadout weapon. And the AR has been given a degree of usefulness at any range. And, of course, the power weapons are extremely powerful and game changing. Own the power weapons, you likely own the game. Which is how Halo should be, and how it was when Halo was in its prime.
Oh I know what the ladies like.
Or, more importantly, what gamers like. Halo 5’s multiplayer, thanks to its fantastic mechanics and map design alongside its game-breaking (in a good way) new mode Warzone is Halo multiplayer perfected. Considering everything I said about mechanics and balance before, Halo 5’s map design and game modes are perfectly suited for it. I find that with how good the mechanics are and how great the map design is, that awesome moments happen every single game (see my highlights montage video here, this is only after a week of playing). Maps take full advantage of gameplay, the new mode Warzone takes full advantage of the Xbox One hardware and servers, and in my opinion Capture the Flag is perfected. In my 15+ hours of Warzone and 10+ of Arena, I can say that Halo 5 is worth a purchase solely for the multiplayer. Not only that, there is no paid DLC! There are a promised 20+ new maps between now and E3 2016, and probably more afterwards. This game is the epitome of value (aside from Rare Replay).
Halo 5’s new experience and unlocking system, called requisition, is surprisingly balanced as well. I was worried as this system features a microtransaction system, but it does not break the game at all. Since the way it works is a random drop, you could open 100 packs and spend hundreds of dollars and never get anything. On the other end, Halo 5 rewards the player constantly with a steady stream of REQ points to buy packs with, as well as commendation and promotion REQ packs. Every odd game it seems you are opening new packs, which keeps you coming back for more. And trust me, once you start opening packs that is all you want to do. The nice thing about people buying the packs with real money is that a portion of the funds go towards the prize pool for the Halo Championship Series, and with REQ packs they have already raised an extra $700,000 on top of the $1,000,000 prize pool. It will only continue to grow, and I love the idea of the halo community buying into esports directly via microtransactions. Crowdfunding done right, take note other developers. Halo 5 nailed it.
We trade one enemy for another.
Halo 5’s biggest enemy is itself. I argue that no game on the market right now for consoles is better than Halo 5’s multiplayer. On the other hand, despite the campaign being AAA, it has glaring issues that it created itself via its marketing and filler missions with Osiris. I find it fitting that my summary phrase is that we trade one enemy for another, as with Halo 4 the campaign was strong and the multiplayer was flawed. Now, multiplayer is fixed and perfect, but the campaign has issues. When Master Chief said “Will you step, or will you leap” in the Xbox promotional video for the ‘Greatest lineup in Xbox history,’ he described exactly what Halo 5 did, a step towards a great campaign for Halo 6, and a leap towards the best multiplayer yet.
Halo 5 loses points for its campaign issues, but not many. A still profoundly fun and functional campaign, and prolific mechanics and multiplayer really elevates the Halo franchise as a whole. This is a must buy for any Xbox One owner, and I would say it is an enticing reason to buy an Xbox One to play.
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