We're not exaggerating if we say that the Halo franchise has seen better days. Halo 4 was certainly a good game, but the audience did not stick around and moved on to other, better multiplayer experiences. Then came Halo: The Master Chief Collection and its botched launch gave the impression that 343 Industries and Microsoft simply didn't care any more. To make things even worse we got the Halo: Nightfall TV series that is to Halo what the prequel trilogy is to Star Wars (or The Hobbit is to Lord of the Rings).
Nail after nail hitting the Halo coffin, and now it is up to Halo 5: Guardians to turn things around, a much needed weapon of mass entertainment as Microsoft struggles to keep up with Sony in the latest round of the console wars. Master Chief has excelled in his role as saviour before, and if there is anyone who can do it, it's Master Chief. And so it was with much anticipation that we got to sample Halo 5: Guardians in London last week.
Keeping expectations in check is obviously important, but at the same time the multiplayer beta left us wanting for more, and all the information that has been released thus far has tickled us in all the right places. At the event we attended the opportunity was given to play both the campaign and the multiplayer, but for now we'll focus on our impressions of the campaign.
That said, we weren't alone as we were flanked by three fellow journalists playing the first two missions of the campaign. As regular Gamereactor readers know we've previously told you about the first of these missions. The experience left us wanting more. As you probably know by now, the game revolves around Master Chief and his Blue Team, who are on an unknown mission, and Locke and Fireteam Osiris, who are hunting Blue Team down, with them considered rogue.
Therefore, in both cases, there are four roles and it's perfectly adapted for co-op, including dedicated servers. You can even resurrect each other by standing near a fallen comrade and holding a button for a few seconds; afterwards they're back in the fight. It's easier said than done, with bullets whistling past, and if you fail there's the classic Halo spawn where a dead player rejoins once the action quiets down.
If you play alone you will be handing out orders to AI controlled characters via the D-pad. This works smoothly, but there is no doubt whatsoever that playing with three other players is the preferred way to go, and it's also much easier so you'll need to crank up the difficulty. Our group played on the normal setting and included both players without any Halo experience and longtime veterans. We totally massacred the enemies put up against us, and finished long before those who played alone. And in our view, we also had a lot more fun, before then starting to play lone wolf, to try this side of the game as well.
Having covered the first level in our previous preview, we'll jump straight to the second, where we got to play with Locke's merry men. It's presented in a way that brings to mind a calmer variant of the landing in The Silent Cartographer from Halo: Combat Evolved, combined with the fifth mission of Halo 2 (Metropolis), where a Scarab had to be blown up and you had to board it. Locke and the gang jump off an aircraft before they facing their objective, called Kraken. A huge spider-like beast that is far too large to actually be shot down in a standard firefight. Instead we're treated to a battle to get closer and finally fly over to the beast, fight our way inside it, set it to blow, and hopefully escape from blast in one piece.
The first stage with the Master Chief and his Blue Team was good, but this is where we really got the feeling that the Halo we love is back, with it's relaxing pacing, lots of mystery, generous areas to move around in, and of course vehicles. It's bright and highly detailed, and we noted the smart decision by 343i to sacrifice some of the graphical splendour in favour of 60 frames per second. No matter what was thrown at us and our companions, the frame-rate remained rock solid.
Everything is much smoother and along with the improved sound, Halo suddenly gets a completely new dynamic. As we pushed our way through the rocks, killed countless Covenant troops, defeated a well-entrenched Wraith, interpreted cryptic Forerunner hieroglyphics, and finally reached a plateau where we could see the massive Kraken. We then jumped into a Phaeton (a new Promethean aircraft that feels like a mix between Banshee and Falcon) to fly over to it - shoot 'em up-style - before landing on it and entering into the belly of the beast in order to finish the fight.
It's here that a wave of happiness washes over us in a way we haven't felt with Halo since we fought our way across the beach in Halo: Reach during Long Night of Solace. This is classic Halo at its best. Something we never quite experienced with Halo 4. Now we're just two missions in, playing an unfinished game, and the magic is already here. It's a massive understatement to say this shows a lot of promise and potential.
343i has managed to strike just the right balance, they've improved and revamped the gameplay, and are offering what seems like a darker story with the slow pacing that is unique to the Halo series. After Halo 4 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection we were worried, and certainly not as hyped for new Halo experiences as we typically are, but sometimes it's great to be proven wrong. The franchise custodians have convinced us that Halo 5: Guardians is exactly what the series needs to turn things around.