on 31 October 2015
Here we are again, Chief, Corty, Arby and co carrying on their sci-fi battling across ridiculously clean ships and worlds. This time, in an understandable attempt to bring in some fresh meat, we also see the introduction (and central inclusion) of Osiris Team, led by Spartan Locke. For ease of reference (and my own organisation) I'll split my review into campaign and multiplayer sections.
I've always been torn with Halo campaigns. I do not bother with the extended lore, so sometimes I don't get it. This bothered me a lot with Halo 4 which, without that outside knowledge, I found to be incomprehensible nonsense from start to finish. Halo 5 I understood easily throughout. It's no award winning narrative, sure, but Halo never has been. It's to the point, clear, and entertaining. In short, Cortana isn't dead, she's off on the Forerunner home-world (Genesis) gathering up Guardians (huge Forerunner peace-keeping constructs). Naturally, she wants Chiefy to be a part of her plan, so invites him over to join in. The UNSC don't want him to go, but he - and his fireteam - ignore them, so they send Spartan Locke and co to bring him back. Locke and co have a bit of a harder time getting to Genesis as Corty isn't helping them, but through a pleasing enough sub-story, by getting in touch with our old mate Arbiter, and helping him win his war against the Covenant on Sanghelios, they find the means eventually. I won't say much about the final section, other than I think it was good. Sure, the actual missions felt a bit too much like Halo 4, but overall it was still fun, and it ended in a way which some will probably hate, but as it's the middle of a trilogy, is understandable.
It does lack in ways - there's no real exploration of Lock and his team, or Chief's team either for that matter, which is a shame, and the conflict between Chief and Locke could have gone a lot further in the first half. But again, I don't expect this from Halo.
However, overall it was a fun and enjoyable campaign, and very, very much a classic Halo experience. It's not huge, but not tiny either - it took me about 12 hrs to do on normal mode, (though I do take my time exploring etc. I'm sure speed runs will eventually whittle it down by a lot) and I look forward to playing through it again on the harder difficulties, particularly with online co-op. NB this game does not support split screen co-op. For me, this is irrelevant, but I know for others it is a major issue.
Matchmaking at launch is a fairly limited affair, but it is a lot (and I mean a LOT) of fun. Your spartans now have a couple of abilities that are permanent features - sprint and thruster. Both are superb additions; sprint takes away that slightly slow feel of getting back into the action after spawning, and thruster works wonderfully with the grenade-heavy aspect of gameplay.
In terms of modes, you have Arena and Warzone. Arena is the classic Halo experience, with four modes to choose from - Arena (I know, confusing, but to explain, it contains a mixture of game types), Slayer (standard 4v4), Breakout (elimination, the 'pro' mode), Free for all and Swat. There are a decent variety of maps, some found only in each mode, and all of them are well made, though personally I think Orion is the poorest of the bunch. Power weapons play a big, but not game-winning part, as do the frequently spawning 'loadout' tier of weapons.
My main experience so far is Slayer, with a touch of Arena, and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. In each mode, you play 10 qualifying matches, at the end of which you are granted a rank which then helps the system create balanced matches. All in all, the system seems to produce fair matches, however if you go in with a fireteam, it WILL put you against other fireteams, and during qualifying me and my team found this very difficult (we're not that good). After we ranked though, it seemed to get a lot fairer.
There is no jip in Arena, which can be both a blessing and a curse, but I think the decision to omit it is definitely the right one.
Overall, Arena is a huge amount of fun, either solo or with a team. It's lacking a bit in modes at the moment but I imagine that will change in time. And I can't believe there is no fireteam chat! I have to believe that will change...
Warzone, on the other hand, is only about fun. It's 12 v 12 in a kind of mish-mash of BTB and invasion. There are also some AI opponents thrown in, both to help you (marines) and for you to attack. Weapons are controlled via a req system. In this, you use exp (or real cash, but for what you get from each, you'd have to pretty well off financially to be able to 'pay-to-win') to purchase packs of single use cards that contain boosts, weapons, vehicles etc (as well as permanent aesthetic unlocks). Each card has a level which correlates to how soon it can be used in a match, and how much energy you need to use it. As you progress through the match, higher level stuff becomes available and the battle field turns into a bigger and bigger...well...warzone.
The objective is to capture and hold bases. Should your team hold all 3, the enemy core becomes exposed and you can attack that. If you destroy it the match is won. If the enemy capture a base at this point, the core is sealed off again. Throughout the match, points are awarded for kills, and the AI enemies that spawn are worth different amounts, with the legendary bosses being worth 150 points. This can really swing a match (the other way of winning is to reach 1000 points), perhaps offering a bit too much influence on the outcome in my opinion. Nevertheless, overall it's a lot of fun, if a little long (a good match can be 20 minutes), and limited in maps (only 3 at launch).
So, overall I feel that Halo 5 is a huge improvement on Halo 4, with a lot of promise for the future. It has it's flaws, but they are few and I expect they'll be ironed out in time. It is a great game and though I don't expect it will be for everyone, it is for me, and I am now finally beginning to appreciate what my xbone (that I hated so much at first) can offer.