‘Halo 5: Guardians’ — Single Player Impressions From Microsoft’s Flagship Franchise

From its opening moments, Halo 5: Guardians begs you to remember the series’ past. The familiar Halo motif starts to play as the UNSC Infinity floats in a sea of stars, but this quickly replaced with the contrasting musical themes of both Fireteam Osiris and Master Chief’s Blue Team, reminding the player that Halo 5 is an entirely new experience. Ever since E3 2013, when the first images of Halo 5: Guardians were shown via its reveal trailer, fans have been eager to see just what happens after the crushing ending of Halo 4. 343 Industries is back in the helm, giving them another opportunity to tell the story of the Master Chief, with Halo 5 embodying their bold designs of innovating on not only the core mechanics of the Halo series, but also their willingness to introduce more characters other than the Chief as movers of the story itself.

Halo 5: Guardians - Single Player Review Impresions
Spartan Jameson Locke, Halo 5 is seen through his eyes for the most part.

Meet Osiris

At its core, Halo 5: Guardians is about the Master Chief. Much of its narrative is focused on what John and Blue Team are doing, whether through their visors or from the perspective of their pursuers, Fireteam Osiris. Led by ex-ONI Operative Jameson Locke, fans of the series may be upset that Osiris is taking the reigns from “humanity’s greatest hero,” but in the end, while Locke and Osiris are tracking Chief down, Blue Team is tracking the real threat.

Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris stand in direct contrast with Chief and Blue Team in more ways than one. Each character in Osiris is on full display, while Blue Team stays hidden behind their helmets, much like their leader. This introvertedness plays into the personality of Blue Team versus Fireteam Osiris. Osiris is younger, eager, more playful at the idea of taking on whatever the Prometheans or Covenant can throw at them. All the while, Blue Team is calm, reserved, wiser — the epitome of a veteran team. This contrast is also exemplified in Halo 5: Guardians’ music, with composer Kazuma Jinnouchi creating themes which are opposites from each other: Osiris’ theme is complex, ethereal, almost stealthy, befitting a team led by an ex-ONI hitman. Chief’s Blue Team, however, is sorrowful, dripping with emotion — perfectly emulating the mood of Chief and his team after losing Cortana in the previous game.

Halo 5: Guardians adds the character that’s missing from Blue Team in Osiris, however, with Buck, Tanaka, and Vale each filling their roles admirably. Halo 5 provides some real moments when you feel for a character, or the character progresses with nothing more than expertly delivered chatter in-between firefights. Locke’s team is reluctant in their mission, though Locke himself may not be, and it shows in their confrontations with Chief and Blue Team throughout. In Halo 5: Guardians, you don’t just play as Osiris, though you do spend the vast majority of Halo 5’s 15 campaign missions as Locke and his team, and it’s interesting to see 343 Industries split Halo 5’s narrative up between the two, much like Master Chief and the Arbiter in Halo 2. However, this gives the player two lenses to view the story through: through the Chief’s visor and from the team that’s pursuing him.

A Stable Performance

From the cut-scenes spliced between the levels to the voice-over work while playing, all of the actors and sound engineers have done a masterful job of bringing the game to life. It’s a shame that visually, Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t achieve the same mark. When an entire 12-person fireteam is commenting the the drastic nature of the visual downgrade in Warzone, there might be some credence to the disappointing fact that Halo 5 isn’t a full 1080p presentation. While the game does feature some of the best character models to date in a game, these are only seen in the cut-scenes, which run at a higher framerate than the rest of the game (as proven by DigitalFoundry).

The game itself is well documented to run at a fluctuating resolution in order to keep the framerate at a solid 60 frames per second. This tradeoff does benefit the overall stability of the gameplay, but unfortunately, the lack of visual fidelity for the sake of a rock-solid framerate does come at a cost. Some levels look absolutely gorgeous, and the varied level locations and design in Halo 5: Guardians aid the overall gameplay experience, giving players more than just the Tron-esque corridors of Halo 4 to look at. But when the action gets too much for the system to handle, and noticeable dip in visual fidelity blankets the screen, muddling the overall image.

Halo 5: Guardians Xbox One Review Impressions
The new Promethean Knight, an enemy that is quite formidable [RE: Impossible] on Legendary.

A Conflicted Story

Halo 5: Guardians is bold in many areas. Tweaking the core mechanics and dragging Halo into the modern shooter world is a bold choice by 343 Industries, one that has been met with lukewarm response by the community, and as a result, players are given a Spartan that finally feels like the seven-foot-tall super-soldier they were always touted as (as the Inquisitr has previously detailed here). Halo 5: Guardians serves as the launch pad for the future of the series, with 343 doing some incredibly bold things with the story. However, Halo 5’s over-reliance on the expanded universe does cause the story to suffer a bit. In order to understand everything going on, you do need to read the books, play every game-mode, listen to every audio drama, and so on — and this decision may put some potential Halo 5: Guardians players off a bit. However, the game’s conclusion really drives home the idea that the experience will “change the galaxy forever,” as 343 previously told Forbes. Personally, the culmination of the campaign was extremely fulfilling, though understandably, others may see differently.

Halo 5: Guardians also features some of the best use of music in the series to help set the tone, none more iconic than the penultimate mission, using the score to really sell the drama and emotion of the moment. Instead of using fast, dissonant music with obscure time-signatures, the music evokes a tone of oppression, sorrow, foreboding — perfectly emulating the moment. This is something heard throughout Halo 5.

As the closing sequence of Halo 5: Guardians unfolded before me, I was left wanting more. My mind was full of questions as to what direction 343 Industries would take Halo now. The board had been set. Pieces were now in play that could not be undone, and the future of the franchise looked intriguing. Halo 5: Guardians is a culmination of a story thread that had been lingering throughout the stories of Halos past, while at the same time reminding you that it’s heading in an entirely new direction. And the direction Halo 5 puts fans on will be one debated for years to come.

[Images via Microsoft / 343 Industries]