Since I had vacation time to burn before the end of the year, I ended up with several, long stretches of time, including this week, on vacation. Coincidentally (and that’s 100% true), this is the week when Halo 5 releases.
While Call of Duty gets to be both the swaggering poster child for dudebro gaming and the butt of a million jokes about how tired the gaming industry is, Halo seems to just get whipped. It’s the game that launched the Xbox console, and it’s shown up on every Xbox branded machine since, even making a pit stop on the PC for a while before tearing a patch and never looking back. But there’s a lot of anti-Halo sentiment out there. People don’t like the plot, claiming that it’s derivative and lame. People don’t like the campaign because it’s “so obviously not why anyone would play Halo, amiright? [fistbump/teabag]” It’s funny in a sad kind of way that “teabagging” as we know it in video games today started in Halo multiplayer matches. Make of that what you will.
Halo, to me, is the ultimate test of dedication to the science of gaming. For all the people who hate it for reasons they always love to share with everyone, there are those who really like it. Entertainment is a kind of lost art in that the Internet and it’s endless well of info and the madness that drives many people to grandstand for eyeballs has caused so many people to consume entertainment for reasons other than just “to enjoy it”. They have to dissect it, pontificate about it, and ultimately make public judgement calls about whether or not it’s “good” or “bad”.
I find the Halo games to be really fun. I like the characters, and the settings, and the plots. Aimless shooting doesn’t do it for me, but frame it in a context where I can invest in the emotions and conceits of the art and music and voice work and I’ll sit down and blast through it because I decide that I want to be entertained. I’m not looking to impress anyone with my high-minded interpretation of the themes of the Covenant religious war, or to argue with anyone that the “lone space marine” is a tired trope. Really, what in popular culture these days isn’t a tired trope? How much popular entertainment do we selectively sit through and rave about, only to turn around with our noses in the air when someone suggests that we might like X, Y, or Z? A lot, but “Hypocrite in Chief” isn’t very flattering in our Twitter bio.
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So what about Halo 5? It’s the first game since Halo: Reach where you get a party to travel around with, but with the added bonus of seeing (and playing) two parts of the same story. There’s not a lot that I can say that hasn’t already been said about the plot without being an ass and spoiling it: You play both as Master Chief and as Spartan Locke, two heads of two different teams (“Blue Team” and “Team Osiris” respectively) who are trying to figure out what’s going on with sudden and devastating Promethian attacks. The difference is that Master Chief is looking for someone, while Spartan Locke has been tasked with finding the Blue Team and bringing them back to stand trial for going AWOL.
In typical Halo fashion, the landscapes are characters in their own right. These games are always gorgeous, and Halo 5 is no exception. You’ll spend plenty of time amidst Forerunner architecture, but you’ll also visit a “Hadley’s Hope”-style mining colony, and the Covenant Elite homeworld of Sanghelios (for some reason I really love that name). You’ll fight with the Arbiter and against the Covenant zealots, and there’s no shortage of Promethians who are trying to stop you — both Master Chief you and Spartan Locke you — from reaching the central core of Genesis, where most of the questions are addressed…they have to leave room for Halo 6, after all.
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There’s a lot to digest in Halo 5 from a lore standpoint. For one, the Master Chief is reunited with his team from Halo: The Fall of Reach novel (and upcoming animated series). I’m not entirely sure how this came about, but we first see Blue Team investigating a derelict ONI ship that’s being scavenged by Covenant. It’s during this mission that the Master Chief receives a message that causes him to ignore orders to return to the UNSC flagship, opting to take his team to investigate the ramifications of the message.
Halo 5 brings back the character of Dr Elizabeth Halsey, the creator of the SPARTAN II program that produced the Master Chief and Blue Team soldiers. She was responsible for basically kidnapping promising children, training them, altering their genetics, and turning them into the super-soldiers that ultimately won the war against the Convenant. Halo 5 touches on the “at any cost” drama surrounding Halsey’s decisions, although she’s not the main focus except to set the stage of the Fall of Reach animated series, I believe.
Locke and his Team Osiris is also another creation for Halo 5, although Locke was introduced in in the Halo Waypoint series, Halo: Nightfall. Ultimately, it’s Team Osiris (the Egyptian god of the dead, if you absolutely must dissect something) that’s tasked with tracking down the legendary Master Chief and his team to somehow bring them back to stand trial for desertion. The ramifications of such a task aren’t lost on the team, as Nathan Fillion’s character corners Locke before they head out and reminds him that in carrying out these orders, Team Osiris will be the most hated humans in modern memory. Despite the military breach that the Master Chief has committed, he’s still the one who single-handedly defeated the Convenant, and is considered a hero and a role model by billions.
The rest is more or less spoiler territory, although if you’ve player Halo 4, have read the Forerunner Saga by Greg Bear, or are just really perceptive, you’ll probably catch on to the eventual reveal through the application of simple character math.
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I think I enjoyed playing as Locke more than I enjoyed playing as the Chief, for a few reasons.
Overall, I felt that Locke and Osiris were a much better, more interesting team. They had more interplay between them than Blue Team did, which may be explained away as the difference between the original SPARTAN II soldiers and the more modern SPARTANs. Of course, fan favorite Nathan Fillion as ODST trooper Buck (from Halo: ODST, wouldn’t you know) is always there with the cast-for-type wisecracks.
The newer SPARTANS seem to have more range in terms of gameplay, although it’s not a lot. Locke has a special ground-pounding ability which allows him to jump and use his jetpack to slam himself into the ground. I guess…I forgot how to do it after I was told how to do it in the tutorial. The Chief has gained something over the intervening years, though, and that’s actual use of his jetpack. It allows him to boost forward, or to the sides, which helps to get out of the way of incoming attacks or to cross wider-than-average chasms. Otherwise, there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between the two teams (or the two characters you got to play) besides the interplay between the voice actors. Even in the cut-scenes, Blue Team were more like moody bouncers than Team Osiris’ rough-and-tumble-military-profession-dysfunctional-family-unit.
As was the case in Halo 4, the Promethians really pissed me off. They’re a sentient mechanical race supposedly created by the Forerunners (the ones who made the Halo rings which had been designed to stop the Flood). They teleport, sometimes repeatedly, making them difficult to pin down. They also take a lot to kill. Their Knights are the equivalent of the Convenat Hunters; the arrival of either sent me looking for heavy weapons on the field. It’s been a while, but I think they’ve been toned down since Halo 4, but I’ll have to go back and check with 4 to make sure.
My favorite weapon this time around is the Promethian Boltshot. It operates a lot like the Covenant Needler, but it packs an actual punch. Despite the ubiquity, the Promethian Suppressor is pretty weak. The Promethian weapons are cool to look at when in use, as they tend to “fly apart”, especially the Lightrifle and the devastating Binary Rifle sniper.
The Covenant weapons seemed more watered down this time around. I only grabbed them when I had nothing else to pick from, which seemed to be pretty often as there was a total lack of UNSC ammo. That makes sense, though, as you are almost always on alien worlds with no way to expect human-style armaments to be available.
And you get to drive the mech in one scenario, which is great fun, because missiles.
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I admit that while I love the Halo series, I’ve only every completed 3 and now 5, though I’ve played all of them to one extent or another. I don’t have the actual time in front of me, but I estimate that it took me about eight to 10 hours over two days to complete Halo 5 on Normal difficulty. These days, we’re used to games touting hundreds of hours of gameplay, and as an MMO player, games without end is pretty much the baseline for me, so the length of the campaign may seem ridiculously short for the price.
Of course, the campaign is a strange appendage tacked onto the body of what people are supposed to be really into: Halo multiplayer. As a campaign guy myself, I am pleased with what I’ve gotten. As someone who is generally multiplayer averse — especially Halo multiplayer averse — I have to say that I’m interested in checking out the “Warzone” gameplay.
From what I gather based on what I’ve heard, Warzone is like Titanfall, except instead of giant robots, you get a team of SPARTANS. You have objectives, but you also have A.I. enemies throughout the map. You may be able to reach your objectives without too much fuss, but you might also need to make your way through players and Covenant and Promethian obstacles as well. You can obtain REQ equipment though in-game sales, and these provide you with “burn cards” that you can use in a match. Before you start, you load up a certain number of cards, and can use them during the match. However, you need to build up a certain amount of…energy? time? in order to use them. I haven’t tried it yet, but if it is like Titanfall, then I might enjoy it. I liked Titanfall because I’m really no good at inter-person combat. I’m slow and also spastic when faced with another player. If I see them first, have an awesome weapon, and if they’re already on death’s doorstep, then maybe I can take them out. Usually, I end up dead first. But with Titanfall (and hopefully Warzone), taking out the A.I. helps the team both by taking out obstacles and by giving the team points. I can still feel effective even if I end up getting a virtual scrotum on the helmet more often than not.
I’ll be sure to check back once I’ve tried Warzone. I doubt I’ll try the Arena combat, although since I went back and played the newest incarnation of Unreal Tournament and enjoyed the fast paced, impersonal style, I might give Arena a shot at least once, if for nothing else than to reaffirm why I don’t like arena shooters.
I am debating the path after that. Maybe there’ll be DLC to address the lukewarm ending (pro tip: don’t stay for the credits…there’s nothing waiting for you afterwards) and not just to add more multiplayer action. There’s also four person co-op which allows you and three friends to tackle the story without the need to drag NPCs along with you.
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Overall, I am very happy with Halo 5. It’s given me at least exactly what I expected, and I enjoyed it as much as I believe I could have. I’m interested in checking out the multiplayer aspects, and if I can find three other players who can dedicate time, might try to co-op the campaign.
The one thing that is odd, though, is that none of the promotional material we’ve seen in the lead up to the game had anything to do with the game. Sorry, that’s kind of a spoiler. There’s no “Master Chief in the desert”. There’s no “the Death of Master Chief” scenario. As much as I liked Team Osiris and Spartan Locke, I don’t think the series would be anywhere near the same without the Chief, and the way they ended this one sets up enough drama to carry us through at least Halo 8.
And finally, the name Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t really have much to do with either Blue Team or Team Osiris, which is both weird and telling. You learn that the Guardians are Forerunner technology that’s being unleashed on the universe, and considering this technology only shows up half way through the game (or so), giving it top-title billing tells us that we’ve got a lot more Halo games in the pipeline.