It’s often hard to put into words how disappointed you are with something when you’ve been so attached to it for such an extended period of time. In this case, it’s probably easiest to just say it like it is. Halo 5: Guardians is certainly a Halo game, but it’s starting to feel like Halo is no longer something for me.
I hate starting off on such a hard hitting note, but hear me out. At this point there are now seven first-person Halo titles (not counting the remasters), but the last three have taken various turns in both campaign and multiplayer attempting to seek a new direction for the series. Three times in as many games is leading me to the point where I’ve just about had enough.
Halo: Reach explored where it all kicked off with a campaign of fighting an ever losing battle, as well as introducing loadouts along with an early iteration of what we now know as Spartan Abilities. Halo 4 sought to explore the human side of Master Chief digging deeper into his character than all three original Halo’s combined, as well as doubling down on the loadouts and abilities despite numerous complaints that the loadout system “wasn’t Halo”.
Halo 5 dialled back the loadouts and balanced the abilities from Halo 4, by giving everyone the same access to the same abilities. This, combined with the Assault Rifle/Pistol starts in pretty much every playlist made Halo 5 the most balanced game since Halo 3 and the third mix up of multiplayer in as many games. 343 Industries also dialled back social playlists and unranked gametypes, so far there’s only one non-ranked playlist, Warzone.
Warzone is this new thing that adds random AI bosses to 12 versus 12 multiplayer where teams are attempting to earn Victory Points (VP). It’s no Invasion or Firefight, but it’s the next best mix of the two since you have to defend your base from the opposing team (Invasion) while encountering AI opponents that spawn across the map (Firefight, kind of), coincidentally it’s also the playlist I currently have my highest Win/Loss record with. However I personally found myself running into a few niggling issues the more I played both the campaign and the multiplayer, I’ll start with the multiplayer.
For the most part I can see how the multiplayer is the best, for me personally, since Halo 3 even though I’ve only played about 20 games online (versus 300 and something in Halo 4). I still couldn’t help but notice the fact that once again, other than the basics, I had to relearn how to play the game. Aiming changes were made, movement is more fluid and clamber adds new movement methods (I’m still deciding if that’s a good or a bad thing), as well as “smart scope” giving every weapon a zoom of some description. All things you might classify as minor, but when minor changes are added together they can quickly change the way a game is played. I feel the only thing that would have made the situation worse was if dual wielding was actually added back into the game.
From Halo 2 to Halo 3 it was a case of “refine what is good and only add where needed”, each subsequent game since Bungie finished with Halo: Reach has felt like 343 Industries are trying to find what was already found and have no idea how to get back to where Bungie had left Halo 3 (in my opinion it remains the pinnacle of the Halo experience). Bungie had stated that ODST and Reach would be more experimental, and to my knowledge the overall opinion was negative on Reach’s multiplayer front. So why 343i continued down that road for Halo 4, I have no idea. Still, with each game comes a series of changes that attempt to get back without really achieving the feat.
I really do wish there were more social gametypes and playlists though. Not just in the sense of overall playlists, but weekend rotations as well. So far the rotations to vote on have been gametypes like Doubles, Capture the Flag, and Team Snipers. All things one might expect to be standard playlists already. If there were week-long rotating social (unranked) playlists like Fiesta, Grifball, Infection, or Ricochet, or even have them in a vote, and leave all the competitive stuff as fixed playlists it would go a long way to extending lifespan and the player base. Right now I don’t feel like playing anything outside of Warzone because it’s all ranked. Especially if I’m ever playing on my own. In saying that though, I enjoy Halo more as a social experience these days, so I don’t play it on my own very often any more, certainly not like I used to with my 1,500 games of Halo 3 online.
Which does actually lead me to another point, the game feels a lot better when you’re playing it with people you can communicate and work together with. When you’re on the back end of a group of players in parties it’s often difficult to coordinate with team mates about where enemies are and who has what (if any) power weapons. This is less of an issue with Warzone as most players are generally off doing their own thing on such large maps anyway. However once you enter Arena, you want to be going in with at least three people you know, preferably a full roster for the gametype you’re playing. As soon as the opposing team has a communication advantage you can write it off as a loss almost immediately. The loss of Halo 3’s sense of community by having everyone in-game chatting and coordinating even if you didn’t know the guy and he was on the other side of the country, or even the world, to a game where everyone exists in their own parties talking with people playing completely different games has really taken a lot out of the Halo experience.
I hope 343 Industries look to refine what has been established in Halo 5, and doesn’t seek to drastically change mechanics going forward to Halo 6 (or whatever it will be called). I’m sure I’ll be back to update these thoughts once Forge launches in a few days and we can get into some custom games, becuase that is where I get most of my enjoyment now, so you can understand how Halo 4 was a bit of a let down for me as well.
Now, as for the campaign. Spoilers ahead. Of course.
Firstly I think it’s worth mentioning that bringing Cortana back as quickly as they did was not the best idea. It removed all the emotional investment from the ending of Halo 4, it would be like having the “Luke, I am your father” reveal at the start of Empire Strikes Back instead of it being near the end of the movie. Also as much I appreciate the concept of bringing new characters to the fold, Osiris really felt like they were misplaced and not very well structured.
The idea of having AI controlled companions was good, but the path finding and their capacity to draw aggression from enemy units needs some work. How exactly am I supposed to hit Warden’s weak spot on his back if he’s always facing me because I’m drawing aggression from behind a wall despite my allies shooting him? Also, guys, I’m on this box, all you have to do is jump up to get to me, don’t just stand there watching me die.
As for the story itself, sure, things happened but I feel like they didn’t really push the story forwards as much as it deserved to be. By the end of the campaign all that’s really happened is Sanghellios is free of the Covenant (but seriously, how are they still such a big thing by this stage five years after Halo 3?). Cortana’s back after about fifteen minutes of thinking she’s still dead and there’s these Guardians that jump around taking power away from civilisations in a show of Cortana’s new-found muscle because, oh, Cortana’s the villain now. Five or six of the 15 missions felt like filler content to pad the mission count which overall felt rather rushed and unfinished. Blue Team were also underused, being in only three of the 15 missions made them feel very distant to the overall story that did take place. Combined with the fact that Osiris weren’t very developed (aside from Buck in ODST and Nightfall introducing us to Locke), the entire campaign really felt half-baked. Though some rumours have surfaced that there were other missions planned, so it could well be that it was, like Halo 2, rushed to completion to meet a deadline. So I don’t really know, I just personally feel like this story could have been told a lot better than it was.
Ultimately there hasn’t been a part of Halo’s story beyond Halo 3: ODST that has felt like it has been deserving of being a game to me. Most of the Halo universe is now built in books that (can, and do) go into much greater detail. This, combined with my ever lowering interest in the multiplayer, is why I feel Halo is starting to become something that’s no longer for me. That’s disappointing, but for someone who was convinced the series should have ended after Halo 3 it’s a surprise really that I’ve made it this far.