Revisiting Halo 5: Guardians | A Troubled Follow-Up

As we come down to the final few weeks until Halo Infinite’s release, it may have become obvious that I have a huge soft spot for the Halo franchise. It’s one of the few shooters that I still actively play both offline and online. It has some of my favorite memories in gaming of all time and helped me to get through some tough times growing up. However, there has been one title that had left a sour taste in my mouth when it came out. 

I have never been more excited for a Halo game since Halo 3 was released. I was listening to the soundtrack daily, playing the Master Chief Collection religiously to get ready, and I even went to the midnight release. I played through on legendary right away, and I finished the campaign the next day, but all I felt was…confusion. 

It not only didn’t feel like Halo, but I didn’t even know what just happened. It all felt so disjointed, so I haven’t played since. UNTIL last weekend when my brother said we should give it another go but on coop this time, and since this is the last Halo I don’t have on my blog, I thought I owed it to myself to try again. Here’s what happened.

Halo 5: Guardians

“I’m Going to Bring Him Home”

I’m not going to lie; I went into this replay with very low expectations for the overall story. I had almost no memory of the plot events that occur here, and now I can see why that is. Almost every level, I would shout over my mic to my brother, “What are we even doing?” I rarely felt like we were being given proper justification for anything that was going on. For instance, when we arrived on the derelict ship for a “routine investigation” and ran into Covenant, nobody batted an eye. 

It was like we knew they were going to be there, but if that was the case, why were we wasting time on that ship? It felt like a filler mission just to get acquainted with Blue team, but if that was the case, I learned almost nothing about any of the members of the team besides what weapons they prefer. 

This feeling of filler never went away during my playtime and, in fact, only got worse as the game progressed. Don’t get me wrong; there were important story things happening in the cutscenes like Cortana’s outright betrayal of Humanity but the levels that connected these scenes just felt like excuses to shoot near-endless waves of enemies. 

But let’s get into my understanding of the story. Master Chief, during one of the missions with Blue team, somehow comes into contact with Cortana, who tells him to meet with her. Master Chief, for some reason, can’t be bothered to run this by Command and just heads out with his squad without saying “goodbye.” This, of course, makes the UNSC a little upset, so they send a squad of Spartan IVs after Blue team. 

Sergeant Locke and former ODST Buck are the standouts in this squad, but, much like Blue team, they lack much character development during the story and feel just as hollow as the Chief. I think it’s admirable that 343 wants to flesh out more of their characters and not have the player always in control of a silent protagonist. Still, the problem is that a character with bad dialogue stands out a lot more than a silent protagonist. We learned so little about Locke’s squad that in the last level Cortana has to explain the backstory of them one by one. 

Oh, Vale is incredibly intelligent? Who would have guessed because I’m not sure she has more than three lines in the entire game. This is just another example of how this game has the barebones foundation to be something interesting, but 343 failed to build upon it in any meaningful way.

Halo 5: Guardians

So Many Enemies

Halo, like many other FPS games, has a predetermined amount of foot soldiers that the player must fight through or try to run past. In past games, these enemies would act as a wall by playing off each other’s strengths and pushing the player to prioritize certain enemies over others in order to progress safely. Halo 5 throws that concept away and merely sends dozens of enemies at the player over and over again. The vast majority of the game has you fighting the Prometheans, which have undergone some changes since Halo 4. 

The knights are less like Elites and act like mini-bosses that require you to shoot specific glowing spots on their armor or use an explosive to take them out quickly. The soldiers are zippy little enemies that feel like less powerful versions of Halo 4’s knights. 

Crawlers feel largely the same, but watchers seem to help their allies far less or not at all now and instead focus on combat. This lack of synergy between the Prometheans seems to be the biggest change because they all just act independently of one another. This makes it feel a lot like any other shooter and less like a true Hao game. 

The reason that the Covenant were so fun to play against originally is because they all felt like they supported one another by fulfilling different roles. The best example is seeing a grunt run away in terror when its commanding officer is taken out. However, there is nothing like that in Halo 5. Instead, you are forced to fight wave after wave of enemies that just keep spawning until the game decides that you have suffered enough tedium.

On top of the repetitive nature of fighting countless waves of enemies, Halo 5 also reintroduces boss battles. Or should I say boss battle? The Warden Eternal is a boss that will reappear several times throughout the game to act as a wall for the player’s progress. He’s just a large bullet sponge that can take a lot of shots, but with each new confrontation, the only thing that changes is how many of them there are. I had forgotten just how often you play against the Warden, and he never gets more interesting. 

The Warden has a lot to say about his allegiance to Cortana and his distrust of Humanity, but we never get any justification for these feelings and never learn anything about his own backstory. It’s so badly executed that people were speculating that maybe the Warden was the Didact, but 343 confirmed they are two different characters. 

Halo 5 continues the trend of ending things with a small quick-time event. Halo was known for pulling out the stops and giving us epic endings to levels i.e., the warthog runs and fighting a massive brute chieftain. However, both Halo 4 and 5 end in some of the most anti-climatic ways that kind of make the game fizzle out rather than make me step back and breathe a sigh of relief of a job well done. 

Halo 5: Guardians

A Largely Hollow Experience

I could never find the justification in the levels through the story, and the levels themselves weren’t anything to write home about. Every other mission had a section where you held out against waves of enemies until a door opened. Other levels had you run down a narrow pathway fighting the worst designed enemy Halo in arguably any Halo game. Even the Spartan abilities don’t add much of anything to the campaign. 

It’s plain to see they were designed for multiplayer and not for their impact in the campaign. The Spartan Charge is used in several places to open up pathways, but these extra paths don’t often give the player much of anything, and the same result could have been achieved with explosives or not having weak walls in the first place. 

I also felt like ammo distribution wasn’t the best. There were times where I would be well fit with some interesting weapons, but after the first two waves of ten, I would be down to using whatever the enemies dropped, which were always just suppressors and light rifles.

This made the sandbox feel even more restrictive over the course of the game. It really did begin to feel like I was playing each level the exact same. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was playing with my brother, I would have been bored to tears. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have bothered finishing the campaign.

At least in Halo 4, it felt like there was more character development in the Chief and the rapport with the UNSC officers. Here it truly feels like a bunch of levels that are haphazardly strung together to fit a vision that wasn’t fully realized. The only things I really remember are the things that frustrated me during my playtime; however, I do have to admit that falling down the side of a Guardian was a really creative decision. 

But even that experience was left shallow because you can run through the whole thing without much challenge, even on legendary. There could have been more dynamic gameplay in this section, but instead, it was another set piece where you just run forward and get shot at by the whizzing soldiers. 

Every time 343 makes a Halo game, it always feels like they have the beginnings of a great experience but drop the ball due to focusing too much on something else or simply not having the appropriate time. The former seems to be part of the problem in Halo 5, as the multiplayer is one of the best in the series from an objective standpoint. I have to admit that it’s not my cup of tea as it plays too much like a Call of Duty and not enough like a Halo.

Time could have also been a problem as Halo 5 didn’t launch with forge, but it would also become one of the best in the franchise. The lack of content at launch though, and the reliance on REQ packs for funding shows that there were sacrifices made during development, budgetary restrictions, and potentially time constrictions. Microsoft does run the show, after all. 

Halo typically is one of the best packages in gaming with the most extensive modes, and the increasing demands of modern development have probably made that checklist of features more difficult to retain, but then more time should be appropriated. That’s why I think it was so smart to invest so much into the Master Chief Collection and making it into a platform that can hold fans off while Infinite was getting the time it deserved for a proper finish. 

I just want a fun Halo game that has an easy-to-follow story that can hold up to even a tiny bit of criticism. The original trilogy didn’t tell the smartest stories in gaming, but they were simple and fun. While something deeper would be interesting, not hitting that mark only hurts the series. Halo can just be a simple space marine adventure with an engaging sandbox and quirky characters. Halo 5 was and still is the ugly duckling in the franchise that I am confident to say I will never return to again. 

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