*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in October, 2015
I’ve been an avid Halo fan for quite literally over half my life. Since 2001, I’ve been slaying Covenant, Flood, Prometheans, and my fellow Spartans alike and I’ve been having a blast every time. It’s a game that lacks diminishing returns in the fun factor for me, and as a result, not a month in my life has gone by without me playing at least one of the Halo games. Needless to say when I saw the teaser for Halo 5: Guardians I giggled with the same glee my 11 year old self did while waiting in line to buy my first Xbox. Halo 5 Guardians is another great entry in the series and one that innovates in numerous good ways, even if the gameplay can run a little stale at times.
I was very skeptical of Halo 5’s campaign mode once I heard it was squad based. I was worried that having extra characters around was going to affect the emphasis on some of the main players in the storyline. However, the exact opposite was true in this case. Each member of Fire Team Osiris and Blue Team takes on a very distinct personality in terms of both character and gameplay. For example, having Olympia Vale, Sangheili (Elite) communications expert, on Osiris means that your campaign in joining up with the Arbiter comes with a good deal of background on the Elite culture. Or in the case of Blue Team, since the Chief no longer has Cortana in his head to give context to the goings on, each member of Blue Team fills in the otherwise dead air with insights in the situation. So I was left rather pleased with this new addition to the game.
The campaign gameplay has changed quite a bit as well. There’s still the same ol’ feel of a hand crafted Halo campaign. The levels and set designs are all unique and present their own challenges in each level. Enemy placement and their unit composition still feels natural throughout the game. The most remarkable aspect of the campaign has to be the sheer magnitude of what you experience throughout the game. At any given time you can be facing upwards of 15-20 enemies on the screen at the same time, which is balanced out by having 3 additional bodies on the field to back you up. All of this is also complimented by the new movement mechanics in the game. Tactical slides, the ability to clamber up obstacles, omni-directional thruster packs, and a new ground pound move all make for a faster paced game and adds an entirely new dimension of movement to the game overall.
And the story, oh man is the story a bit heart-wrenching as someone who is so heavily invested in this series. New villains are introduced, old friends become foes, and the Chief makes a difficult decision involving who to trust. I really don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to play it. And while the story is internally consistent with all of its plot points and characters, there is a distinct lack of background information for some players who are not versed in the series’ expanded universe. I can remember playing Halo 4 when the Librarian states the Chief is the product of 1,000 generations of human evolution set forth by the Librarian herself. As someone who has read the Forerunner saga, the gravity of this statement was mind blowing. But, I took a step back and realized that anyone else would just simply accept this is some sci-fi plot point and move on. The same issue happens here in Halo 5 with terms like “The Domain” and “The Mantle” being thrown about like everyone already knows what’s up.
Still though, the campaign got a much needed facelift from a formula that has been wearing thin over the years while still managing to maintain the charm of a Halo story.
Halo 5 multiplayer is pretty much the same as always with a few important tweaks made here and there to improve the overall experience. The first important change is an ELO-like ranking system that’s based on personal performance in each game as opposed to the arbitrary win/loss ratio of older Halo games. For example, after playing my 10 ranked matches in Breakout I managed to get ranked in Platinum 1. Meanwhile, my friend who had played all the same placement matches with me only received a Gold 1 ranking. So it goes to show that you won’t be penalized when you have teammates who drag you down. Vice versa, boosting your friends by having them play with you only works if their performance is stellar as well. It’s a welcome system and one that I’m excited to be a part of.
There are a few traditional Halo game types: slayer, team arena, free for all, and swat. The new addition is Breakout. Think of it as Halo’s version of speedball. Each player only has one life each round and the first team to win 5 rounds takes the game. There are no shields and a minor resistance to headshots so the rounds go very quickly as a single well placed frag grenade can potential take out a few members of the opposing team. There’s a flag at the center of each map that you have to take to the enemy’s base in order to score. Or you can eliminate the enemy team to end the round prematurely. It’s a quick and fun game type that has a complex amount of strategy for those who want to really delve into it.
In terms of the traditional game modes, 343 has definitely geared the maps towards the competitive crowd this time around. Maps all make excellent use of the new movement mechanics by introducing a good deal of verticality to the levels. Weapon and power up placement are balanced between each of the teams playing on the map. So each team starts close to at least one power weapon to help win the tide of war. Also, the maps are almost entirely symmetrical, with any asymmetry being to vary up how to get to power weapons. This makes navigating the maps and noticing sight lines a lot easier as well.
Overall, as a long time competitive Halo player I love the new set up for multiplayer and the focus on quick, intense matches, while the aspects of old school Big Team Battle are left to the new mode…
And the game mode we’ve all been waiting for, Warzone! The Halo-MOBA or so it’s been dubbed on occasion. Warzone is a great new attraction and adds quite a bit to experience. Granted, it really needs some tweaks to become a balanced experience.
Warzone supports up to 24 player characters over 3 different large maps. Within each map is an enemy base, two armories that act as outposts, and one central base that yields a tactical advantage to the team that can control it. The goal of Warzone is to amass 1,000 victory points which are gained by slaying enemy Spartans or killing NPC enemies that pop up on the map. Additionally, if you manage to capture all 3 outposts the enemy’s base defenses will fall and you can attack the core of their base to end the match. It’s a simple premise that has a potential for a good deal of strategy.
There are two really big issues I have with Warzone. The first pertains to the choke points in each map. All three maps are symmetrical and eventually lead to fights just being players taking pot shots at each other between choke points in the map. So rather than advancing forward, most players just sit in a door way and fire until they kill enough Spartans to advance forward. This issue could be easily fixed with more ways to traverse the map on foot instead of having to wait for high level vehicle spawns to punch through enemy defenses.
At certain points throughout the game Promethean and Covenant forces spawn on the map and killing them can completely turn the tide of battle as legendary bosses are worth 150 points which takes quite a bit of time to amass by simply killing Spartans. In some tense matches the spawning of a boss can mean that both teams have to drop everything they’re doing in order to either prevent the other team from getting head or even ending the game in one foal swoop. This leads to some tense matches of battling over the area around a boss but leaves one huuuuuuuuge issue.
It doesn’t matter how much damage you do to a boss. Whoever hits it with the killing blow is awarded with the points. This made for some very aggravating moments when our team would drop everything to go take out a massive boss only to have someone pot shot a battle rifle from across the map. And all that work didn’t matter at all. This is a huge issue because it doesn’t reward chiseling down a boss over time. As a result, I never go for bosses when they spawn. Instead I just watch their health get low and then switch my attention to them.
Requisitions are an interesting take part of Warzone as well. Instead of having weapons spawn around the map, you have to earn in game points that gain access to a new req. levels. At each req level new weapons become available that scale along with the game’s bosses. For example, initially you can only spawn with a few power up like speed boosts and overshields as well as an assault rifle and pistol. But once you help capture a few bases, fight a boss or two, and slay a few Spartans you gain enough points to be at req level 4 and you can spawn with a Battlerifle, shotgun, needler, scattershot, or a random weapon. By end game you have the ability to spawn even more powerful items like snipers, rockets, a Mantis, or Scorpion.
However, you don’t have an unlimited amount of each item. Instead you have to earn Requisition packs, which act a lot like booster packs for trading card games. First off, you have to earn a certification to even get requisitions of that specific item. So I couldn’t spawn with a sniper until I received a sniper certification in one of my req packs. But once I was certified, every pack has the chance to deal out sniper rifles. This helps keep things a little bit more balanced as well because it disallows players to consistently spawn with power weapons or their favored weapons every life. I was a little sad when I ran out of snipers but it forced me out of my comfort zone to try other weapons and broaden my skills as a whole. All in all, the requisition system is pretty interesting and keeps me coming back to try and earn new requisitions.
Warzone is still a fun experience and has tons of reason to keep coming back to it. I do hope they give it an update sooner rather than later though. The current issues have led to a lot of my games being a complete stomp in either direction. Rarely have I had a match in which my team either came back from a severe deficit, nor did I have too many matches that were neck and neck with tension. I either accepted the fate of a 1,000-400 points loss or stomped the enemy team 1,000-200. It would be nicer with a little more ability for teams to actually make a comeback.
Although I really have trouble recommending this game to people who aren’t dedicated to Halo releases, there are still a bunch of features that I really enjoy. I’d say this game is a must for anyone who loves Halo, but it’s not a great place to jump into the series.
+Great innovations made with Warzone
+New movement and combat mechanics adds to the gameplay
+A continued stellar campaign mode
+Better match making systems! Finally!
-Understanding the campaign requires extensive background knowledge
-Warzone has some grievous errors in balancing
-Not a lot to bring new players into the series