Halo 5: Guardians releases tomorrow. It’s 343 Studios’ first release since Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and the developer’s second original title to date. But although the review embargo is up for the shooter’s impending release, we’re holding our full scored opinion until we’re confident the public servers are running smoothly tomorrow. If all goes according to plan on Halo 5’s end, you can read the review soon, along with a video portion to show the series’ new gameplay mechanics and sci-fi worlds.
The strength of the servers notwithstanding, I have played through the campaign in both single and four-player cooperative modes. And I’m torn: Its level design leads to some of the best missions in the Halo franchise, with varying elevations, open-ended sandbox areas, and gorgeous sci-fi worlds. The campaign’s structure is also more nuanced than those of previous installments, bouncing you between two teams of Spartans as they chase–and evade–the other across alien worlds.
There are problems with its story, though–not so much in what it says, but how it says it. Cutscenes end prematurely, character motivations shift on a whim, and I’m often confused as to what planet I’m on, or how I got there. This campaign is energetic and fast-paced, and seldom slows down to let you breathe. But it lacks the storytelling splendor I was hoping for with such a diverse cast of characters.
I’ve also played classic competitive multiplayer modes such as Slayer, Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, and Swat across a variety of maps. These modes, now composing what 343 is calling Arena mode, are still as fine-tuned as always. They also ditch the loadout-based progression system–a la Call of Duty–introduced in Halo 4. Instead of unlocking new weapons to outfit your character at the outset of each match, Arena scatters power items throughout each environment, bringing back that classic Halo feel in a welcome return to form.
But Halo 5’s multiplayer also diverts into unexplored territory with a brand new mode. It’s called Warzone, and it contains some of the most dynamic, thoughtful, frantic multiplayer matches I’ve seen since the franchise marked the dawn of Xbox Live. Warzone is inspired by the pervasive MOBA genre. It combines player vs. environment and player vs. player elements, and there’s no one way to win a match.
You can mow through enemy AI, kill opposing human players, bring down skilled mini-bosses, and capture neutral strongholds. Almost anything you choose to do contributes to your team’s efforts, and the sprawling maps encourage multiple avenues of approach. Warzone may be the thing to keep me hooked on Halo 5. And the Requisition system, which grants you weapon, vehicle, and ability cards to burn in Warzone maps, creates a rewarding economy for consistent players.
In the end, Halo 5 introduces some of the most drastic changes to the longrunning franchise. Both in multiplayer and campaign, there are additions and iterations in almost every area, and even veteran players will find a fresh experience waiting for them. If 343’s multiplayer servers perform as they should after tomorrow’s release, we’ll have a review up afterward, with in-depth analysis of all the changes in Halo 5: Guardians.