By Kyle Holmer. This is LOAD FILE, where we travel the galaxy saving humanity from the big nasties that would do us harm. This week, Kyle straps on the three thousand pound metal suit and shoots alien and cyborg alike right in the damn face in ‘Halo 5’, developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft for the Xbox One.
I’m not entirely sure exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last fourteen years, I became a huge fan of Halo. I had a particularly ugly relationship with the series when it first started; I purchased the game about a year after buying an Xbox, and while I initially enjoyed the campaign, my brother and his friends quickly became obsessed with it. So I ended up playing three hours of that damn game every single night if for no other reason than my brother and his friends monopolized the console during the day and that became my only way to play any video games at all.
Regardless, I played, and played, and played. When Halo 2 came out this schedule continued. But by Halo 3, my brother had purchased his own Xbox 360 and even though I was no longer compelled to play it, I picked it up. When ODST and Reach came out I did the same (almost instinctually), all the while never once considering whether or not I actually enjoyed these games. Finally, after a long break from the series (and Bungie and Microsoft separating) Halo 4 came out and finally, lucid in mind, I purchased and played the game to see if that previous distaste and apathy for the series had dissipated: it most definitely had. Halo 4 was far from the best in the series (it could be argued it’s one of the worst), but it was a welcome reintroduction to the incredibly tight gameplay and compelling narrative the series is known for. I adored that game. When Microsoft and 343 announced Halo 5, I was one of many eager fans who anxiously awaiting the second installment in the aptly titled “Reclaimer Trilogy”.
Now that it’s finally here, there two pretty clear takeaways: Halo 5 continues to have some of the best shooting mechanics in the medium and second, after seven other FPS entries in this series, great gunplay alone isn’t enough to carry this series anymore.
‘HALO’, YOUR ONE-STOP SHOP FOR DUDES IN ROBOT SUITS AND NAKED CYBORG LADIES
One area of the game this is severely lacking is the story. As fans of the series already know, Halo has always combined a compelling story with its exceptional gameplay. People were genuinely excited about the trilogy’s conclusion with 3, and considering the genre, that’s incredibly uncommon. With Halo 5 however, the story definitely nestles into a backseat.
The main campaign is split between two characters: Spartan Jameson Locke and Mr. Halo himself, the Master Chief, the latter of which is only available for about one-fifth of the narrative. The lack of Spartan 117 is sure to piss off fans, but that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a letdown.
What is upsetting is the extremely overt sensation that this game is just a middling centerpiece to a much larger story. A proper antagonist is revealed, a momentary conflict between the two leads is put into motion, but other than that, not much else happens. As the entire campaign is co-op, there are potentially eight unique characters they could spend time evolving and 343 doesn’t do anything with them. We’re barely given any insight into the main characters, and considering we’re already deeply familiar with Master Chief, it’s downright unforgivable how little is explained regarding Locke and his squadmates. The choice of villain is commendable (and the story leads to some potentially exciting conclusions in Halo 6), but now, for the first time in the series, the story does little else than spin its wheels until they wrap up this arc in the next installment.
CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG, BUT I THINK THEY GOT RID OF THAT STUPID HAMMER
Mechanically, Halo 5 is as tight and engaging as it’s ever been, but unfortunately, both Bungie and now 343 have been hanging their hat on the gameplay for far too long. The combination of gunplay and vehicular combat is better than any other game in the medium (yeah, that includes Destiny) but the complete lack of evolution in this current franchise is disappointingly apparent. (I can’t guarantee this, as I don’t have the entire list memorized, but there doesn’t seem to be a single new addition to either the weapon or vehicle list in this entire game.)
The inclusion of co-op is a welcome one, but the limited amount of control over AI squadmates is disappointing, and there is very little you can do to interact with other human characters in a meaningful way. 343 has slight additions to the core controls — which understandably are quite precise and difficult to modify without alienating fans — in the form of a dash, clamber, and ground pound. They are by no means revolutionary (and they very clearly seem to be emulating both Titanfall and Advanced Warfare) but considering how established and expected the movement is in this series, they’re just minute enough to work without upsetting fans.
The entire multiplayer suite returns with the addition of the game’s only true new feature, an expansive new and massive multiplayer mode called Warzone. It serves as a bizarre hybrid of Halo combat and MOBA-esque mechanics that would function quite well if it weren’t built around the newly implemented requisition packs. The core loop has you attempting to claim various bases while fighting off other player characters and AI enemies. These previously mentioned REQ packs are similar to the progression system of Mass Effect 3, in that you acquire points throughout a Warzone which can then be spent on one of three-tiered card packs (or you can buy them outright with real world money, although I rarely found that a necessity).
The problem is that almost all of the in-game weapons and vehicles are unavailable unless found within a requisition pack, and the rate at which they are procured is impossibly slow. Halo is by its very nature defined by an extensive vehicle and weapon list, and not allowing those items to drop at a steady rate — especially in a massive 12v12 multiplayer mode — is ridiculous. Luckily, this can (and probably will be) quickly resolved with some minor tweaks by way of future updates. But as it stands, players are unlikely to spend any of their rare cards for fear of wasting them, which directly conflicts with what makes this series fun. If the items were produced at a more steady clip, this mode would have easily been the game’s highlight.
‘HALO 5’, OR: ‘JUST KILLING TIME UNTIL ‘HALO 6’
So where does Halo go from here? I can’t pretend like the gameplay isn’t still incredible, but after seven similar games, a new multiplayer mode just isn’t enough to justify running to the store and spending sixty dollars. Halo is not Call of Duty; 343 is given plenty of time to experiment and evolve this series without the unreasonable demands of an annual release schedule. As such, it should be expected that the mechanics should evolve in more meaningful ways, or at the very least, the story remain consistently engaging.
With Halo 5, we’re given none of that, which as a fan of the series, is truly a letdown. That being said, the core mechanics of Halo are so specific that its developers are obligated to remain as close to the fundamentals as possible so as to not alienate fans, which unfortunately creates a rather precarious situation: does Halo change so dramatically that the fundamentals vanish or would it be safer to just put the series to bed? Maybe Halo is finally reaching its conclusion; not a narrative one but one born from an understanding that this series just can’t be pushed any further.