Halo 5 Guardians is said to be the largest Halo ever by it’s own developers, 343 Industries…but does that make it the best? Let’s dive into my personal Halo 5 Campaign review –
The thing that has always made Halo…Halo…was it’s central story arc and wonderfully crafted campaign with our hero the Master Chief leading the way. That being said, the developers and most fans agree there are more than enough characters and a strong enough universe to include other characters in the games as a central player and protagonist.
Halo 5 Guardians is the first game to do just that.
Meet Jameson Locke; the undeniable main character of Halo 5 Guardians as he tries tirelessly to save the Master Chief from his own doings and bring him home to the UNSC. Locke encompasses everything you want in a soldier and even main protagonist: duty to the mission, honor to the larger goal and a general sense of trust with his comrades and even people playing the game. Jameson Locke was done perfectly.
- Voice acting: Check.
- Background: Check.
- Likability: Check.
- Character Appearance: Check. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
From the very beginning cutscene of the Halo 5 Campaign where we see Locke and the rest of Fireteam Osiris, I believed in Spartan Locke and his ability to get the job done. I felt powerful playing as him too, whether it was mowing down Prometheans or commanding the fire-team to certain positions, I enjoyed playing as Jameson Locke.
Then on the second mission of the game we cut to a more familiar face and his team/friends, Master Chief and Blue Team. It felt much more seasoned and less “new” playing as Chief with Blue Team, which is good because it should feel that way. They are not the new Spartan IVs with enhanced Forerunner technology in the suits. They are the originals; the best of the best. Before I continue this review and get lost in talking about the play style, I want to say overall this was the most fun campaign to play I have ever had in a Halo game. In terms of weapon/ability mechanics, movement and general enjoyment this blows every other Halo out of the water for campaign. Playing as a Spartan felt more powerful and commanding on the battlefield than ever before. The new abilities that are available at our disposal helped tremendously with this feeling. For once I felt like more than just a foot soldier on the ground, and more like what a Spartan has been described as.
The team involvement they added to Halo 5 Guardians was great as well. I enjoyed marking targets for my team to take down and having them move to a certain location on the field, although in my experience they were not much help at all. Too many times did I see the AI just not get the job done when I told them to take down a certain Promethean Soldier or even Watcher…so I am not really sure what they were shooting at half the time. Definitely something that needs improvement in Halo 6 if they keep the team aspect. The team aspect did however make me feel a part of the storyline. I think one main factor playing to this was the constant team chatter over the comms networks. This made me feel more entrenched and involved with the characters and truly a part of the story. Not to mention the levels themselves were larger and provided for a more open style of play where I could choose how to play it in each room or even environment. That went a long way in terms of feeling free from the constraints of a central narrative pushing me through one path, even though that’s exactly what goes on in this type of campaign. It’s the little things that add up to make a campaign experience great and 343 seems to be getting the hang of it in that regard.
Let’s change course here and move more into the narrative and story of the Halo 5 Campaign –
We start the game with a brilliant mission focused on showcasing just how lethal Fireteam Osiris is, with it ending in Jul Mdama’s death at the hands of Spartan Locke. This mission accomplishes exactly what it is meant to do, and that is warm players up to the idea of having a new central character in the Halo franchise and his team members. However, the narrative itself just seems a bit too soon to rescue Halsey already. We ended in 2013 with Spartan Ops, with the last Halo cutscene showing Halsey stuck with Jul and the Janus Key (which by the way goes without mention in Halo 5 after being pivotal and a central story to Spartan Ops). We are lead to believe that Halsey will begin manipulating and using Jul to her advantage in an attempt to locate Forerunner technology…and to be fair she does that. Anyone who looks through Halo Escalations would know this is covered.
Ahh…but there in lies the problem. Why is such a central story point to Spartan Ops covered in Halo Escalations? Something most of the fan base has not read including myself because A) I do not like comics and B) I should not have to pick up a comic to see the continuation of a story line in the game. Say what you will, but there is no reason to include such important aspects in the comics and not even mention them in the game following where it was initially brought up (Halo 4). Because of this, it makes Halsey being saved a little forced and almost like an abandoned idea they had and decided to save her right away instead of make her ally with Jul. Again, this may not be true, but that’s how fans will take it as did I because it is such an abrupt end to a story line they created at the END of Halo 4.
We then meet Blue team and this mission is fine, as I found the cutscene where John sees Cortana for the first time absolutely stunning and perfectly captured his emotional roller coaster at the time. John is a broken man trying to stay pieced together through whatever means and little hope he finds. I truly felt John’s sadness and sudden determination to find Cortana from that scene and it perfectly encapsulated what we all figured Chief is going through. Not to be a hypocrite, but this begins the main problem I have with this game.
Let’s start with the below cutscene at 12 minutes:
The entire reason Chief is hunted is because he said “Negative Infinity,” or that is at least all they show us after months of build up between this penultimate conflict between the UNSC and Master Chief. The ads we saw were almost suggesting Chief was betraying Humanity and ignoring the Guardians that were leveling cities. If you go out and look at everything Locke said in the ads as well as Hunt the Truth, it seems much more likely that he did something absolutely terrible. Even Buck in the campaign says, “When they hear about this, they’re going to hate us, you know that right?” Before I get going too much more on this missed opportunity, take a read here so I don’t completely reiterate myself.
Moving on from that, the rest of the story made sense from an overall standpoint, although again it seemed jumpy which made the small things stand out as incomplete. Halo 4 suffered from not explaining what was going on or who the Didact was, and this game suffers from the same problem. Granted, I know what is happening and I knew what happened in Halo 4, but even to me it seems forced and moves too fast for it’s own pace.
For example: What is Genesis? Where is Genesis? How are the Covenant there? Who is the Warden Eternal and what created him? Why did the Domain seemingly gift Cortana an actual body?
I can keep going, but would rather not. These are questions that I would rather not have to wait for future clarification on when I’m in the middle of playing it. The problem is they are not projecting good mystery and instead creating frustrating questions. For example, in Halo 3 when you are on the Ark reading text in the terminals and questioning what the hell is happening, it is exciting because it adds to the depth of the story and does not pertain to the main goal of the campaign. In Halo 5 Guardians, when we land on Genesis, we see a bunch of Warden Eternals and do not get a clear answer on what he is or who created him. Instead, Cortana says something about there being tons of him. Cool…now I know who it is and what it wants. On the contrary in Halo 3, we knew the Prophet of Truth and what his goal was. We knew the Gravemind’s need to side with us for the time being or else he would be wiped out by the Halo array. Diehards will quickly point out the many questions of Halo 3, notably how the Gravemind even ended up at the Ark. I do not disagree and I am not saying Halo 3 was perfect, but it hit it’s main points and explained enough to know what you were doing. Wheras in the Halo 5 Campaign, we do not ever get to understand what the Warden Eternal is and how Cortana seemingly has a physical presence now after she fell into slipspace and accessed the Domain. Not only does that create gaps in our understanding of the plot, but it detracts from Halo 4 where the main storyline was leading toward the Absolute Record, Janus Key and even the Didact’s fate. There is no continuity with 343’s story telling in the main games.
I will move onto the overall story presented in Halo 5 and my thoughts on it.
Basically, we find out that Cortana was kept alive by the Domain somehow and is undergoing some severe changes in beliefs as she wants to collect a bunch of Guardians in order to threaten the Galaxy into peace and accept her stewardship of the Mantle (along with the rest of the AI).
That is the story in a nutshell, although it is much more complicated than that. Truly, not much else happens throughout the campaign in terms of story though. We rarely see Halsey and the Infinity, the Covenant is now without leadership and the Arbiter defeats the Covenant attack with no hint as to his future in the story or what purpose he will serve, if any. What we are left with throughout this campaign are questions, both in what 343 has in store for the future of the franchise, and also how in the hell we got here from the beginning of Halo 5 Guardians.
At this point, if I am being brutally honest, I do not have much faith in 343 to make a campaign that makes full sense for the audience and follows events with detail in character and plot development. While these games have been more fun with the play-style and also look amazing, I cannot help but feel what we have seen so far in terms of narrative has been underwhelming. In Halo CE, we have the origin story of sorts, so it’s not too fair to compare the games, as it was the beginning of all of this. It did however present mystery that was not frustrating, but instead easy to understand and kept you wanting to learn more. In Halo 2 we learned of the Covenant and who they really are, as well as the Arbiter and saw him grow from a war tool into a leader and eventual savior of the Elites. In Halo 3 we continued the story of the Covenant and outbreak of the Flood and wrapped it up beautifully into an all out assault on the Ark.
Halo 4 did a good job of presenting mystery and a sense of being on a strange new world, but again moved too quick for its own good which is why people were confused on who and what the Didact was. Halo 5 Guardians suffers from the same problem of pacing the story and pushing it along too quick.
I know I am sure to have some people who disagree with me on this, but overall I believe 343i needs to slow down and create a story in the game that flows from plot point to plot point without sacrificing the story for action packed sequences. There was a lot of wasted potential including showcasing the Chief being branded as a traitor through cutscenes that could have shown soldiers hearing it from their commanders, the overall UNSC Infinity crew (not just the top dogs) and even the public. They marketed this as right vs wrong and Chief vs UNSC, and instead we were left with him just trying to save Cortana when they asked him one time not to….But because the gameplay was so amazing and some of the environments were the best I have ever seen, I will up it from 3 to 3.5 stars. PS hopefully we have the Arbiter speak more in Halo 6.