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With Halo 5, 343 Industries is finally taking the Halo series down a new path. Is everything the studio added to the latest iteration of the Xbox One exclusive series effective? Not exactly. But this is the direction the franchise needs to be headed in to remain relevant.
Halo 4 was a return to the series’ roots and featured a concise, focused story that was very reminiscent of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, but the game also played it safe. With Halo 4, it was very apparent 343 Industries, the developer who took over the series’ stewardship following Bungie’s departure from the franchise, wanted to avoid the wrath of hardcore fans by not changing the Halo formula too much.
But with Halo 5, 343 Industries is finally putting their own stamp on the iconic series, adding new features to multiplayer, as well as changing up the singleplayer campaign’s focus considerably.
In terms of single player, the delicate balance of intense firefight, emotionally charged cutscene and moment of quiet, is back once again. It’s the game’s story where things have changed significantly. Halo 5: Guardians focuses on the leader of Fireteam Osiris, Spartan Locke, and his mission to hunt down the Master Chief, as well as his squad, Blue Team. The Chief has gone rogue in an effort to hunt down his AI companion Cortana, and the UNSC isn’t exactly pleased with his decision.
In an interesting turn of events, players will spend most of their time in Halo 5: Guardians playing as Locke instead of Master Chief, harkening back to taking on the role the Arbiter in Halo 2, a controversial decision at the time. The throwback to Halo 2 even continues in the game’s over-the-top cutscenes and complicated plot line, which could turn off people who were fond of Halo 4’s straightforward narrative.
Many fans will likely be frustrated by the fact that they won’t be spending the majority of their time in Halo 5: Guardians playing as everyone’s favourite stoic green Spartan. But again, like many of the subtle changes in the game (and others not so subtle), it’s clear 343 Industries wants to emerge from Bungie’s shadow.
The divergences from Halo’s past don’t stop with the campaign. While Halo 4’s singleplayer was stellar, the game’s multiplayer lacked staying power and suffered from balance issues, many of them game-ruining. Halo 5: Guardians marks a return to the arena-based gameplay the Halo franchise was built on. Weapons are expertly balanced and level design is superb (there are even a few well-conceived throwback levels).
Essentially, 343 Industries has removed the fluff from Halo’s multiplayer and brought the series back to basics, while simultaneously modernizing the experience. Clamber, a feature popularized by the Call of Duty franchise, allows players to climb over objects. An incredibly fun thruster pack, along with Smart Scope — the ability to press in the left trigger to aim down your weapon’s sights — combine to modernize the Halo series’ multiplayer, something that desperately needed to happen for the series to remain relevant.
Halo 5: Guardians also features a Destiny-inspired 12-on-12 player mode called Warzone that also seems to draw some inspiration from Titanfall. In this multiplayer game type, players work together to take out large enemies and accomplish specific tasks. Cards earned by playing Warzone, as well as Arena, through the game’s new Requisition System, allow players to modify their weapons, apply various perks, and also spawn with different weapons (although most upgrades are confined to Halo 5’s Warzone game type).
Warzone is an entertaining diversion but it doesn’t embody why I personally enjoy the Halo series, although I expect it will find an audience.
While longtime fans of the series likely won’t be pleased with the changes 343 Industries made to Halo 5’s cooperative-focused singleplayer campaign and its overcomplicated story, the return to basics, and addition of new modernizing features that actually make sense in the context of competitive Halo multiplayer, are more than welcome.
Halo 5: Guardians is available exclusively for the Xbox One and is set to release on October 27, 2015.