There’s no denying the power of Microsoft’s Halo franchise. The series has been synonymous with the Xbox since the original hulking black and green console launched in 2001.
And as much as I’ve enjoyed past outings, something about the two Halo 5: Guardians campaign missions makes me feel like the series is coming alive in a new way. Past adventures with the Master Chief and Halo ODST’s Rookie have felt solitary to the point of loneliness. Even with Cortana’s infrequent chatter, Halo made its bones pitting one man against an army of absurdly powerful adversaries.
In the bits that I played, it seems that Halo 5 is shifting away from that elegantly. I experienced a mission with Chief, Frederic, Linda, and Kelly (the fabled Blue Team) and one with Spartan Locke (played by Halo: Nightfall’s Mike Colter), ODST’s Buck (voiced by quipster Nathan Fillion), and newly minted Spartans Tanaka and Vale.
Not only does this enhance four-player cooperative play (each Spartan has a different design applied to the first-person view), but being able to direct your team (en masse, not individually unfortunately) to flank enemies or focus fire on a specific target. The command options are thinner than you’ll find in recent games, especially compared to titles like Mass Effect, in which you can position individual members of your three-person squad.
In addition to having four additional guns firing on Covenant and Forerunner forces, the battlefield felt more alive with chatter among the teams. Blue Team seems more stoic (though not without humor). Fireteam Osiris is dominated by Buck’s joking.
The two missions take place at very different points in the campaign. Blue Team’s excursion to a former UNSC base held by Covenant forces takes place quite early in the game. Fireteam Osiris’ landfall on the Elite homeworld of Sanghelios occurs much later (and features the giant Kraken walker seen above).
While the settings of these two levels were impressive, and the game seems to be running smoothly so far, I took notice of the more subtle changes. Enemy AI has received an overhaul, with new animations that will likely keep even seasoned Halo fans on their toes.
It’s been a while since Hunter pairs felt imposing. I remember my first run-in with them in Combat Evolved, and it was a terrifying encounter.
When they come on the scene during Blue Team’s mission, they don’t do so softly. What makes things more interesting is that the old tricks don’t work. Watching a Hunter swat away an incoming grenade was a signal that I needed to change my tactics, and quickly.
Ordering my team to draw fire while I worked my way around the back set up a good situation to pelt the exposed squishy parts of the wormy mass with hot lead and plasma. With two of the beasts stomping around the area, it was a good thing that teammates can now revive down-but-not-out Spartans (under most circumstances). However, that doesn’t mean your teammates can’t be entirely incapacitated until the next checkpoint, just that you won’t be reloading quite so often.
While Halo 5: Guardians feels a bit different so far from past installments, it comes across as more of an evolution. The same can be said for the multiplayer modes, which we will be able to talk about starting on Friday.