This month we were all challenged by a rather dashing fellow to write about a co-op game for Band of Bloggers. Check that prompt out here.
Last night I finished my first playthrough of Halo 5: Guardians. I played through it with one of my oldest friends. I'd like to share my thoughts with you. While there will be spoilers (which will be marked), I advise you not to worry about them if you haven't played the game. That is because you accomplish absolutely nothing in this game. But we'll get to that.
With Halo 5, 343 Industries made the incomprehensible decision to have you spend most of the game as a new character, instead of the beloved Master Chief. You are given the opportunity to play as none other than Captain Bland!
Wait, that's not right.
Oh, I'm sorry. You play as Jameson Locke. Or, Spartan Locke as he is referred to throughout the game. He leads a new team of Spartans. There are 3 other folks on the team. Two ladies named Tanaka and Vale are also newcomers. In an unexpected turn of events, Bucky, one of the main characters in Halo: ODST is now a Spartan and he has joined Locke's new team. Bucky's old ODST team is nowhere to be seen and I didn't see any explanation as to what they're up to (if any of them are even alive anymore).
If you're going to put Bucky in this game, why isn't he the head of this team of Spartans? We already know and like Bucky! He's great! I mean, he's just Nathan Fillion in videogame form. And what's not to like about that? But no, he can't possibly be the main character here either. We have to have Locke!
No, those aren't Warframe costumes. Those are, somehow, Spartans.
Here is my first problem with this game. It really wants you to dive into the expanded universe. Read the novels. Watch their webseries. Find all the terminals in Halo 2: Anniversary. Then, and only then, will you actually give a hoot about Locke. But I don't want to do that. I haven't done that. I haven't read a Halo novel in several years. I don't want to now. I don't want any of the expanded material at this time. And even if I did, I highly doubt that I'd find Locke to be a compelling character. Either way, a Halo game should stand on its own (or at least, entirely upon its predecessors in the videogame series). I should not have to access all this other material to care about what's going on (or even understand it).
Next problem. Out of 11 or so missions, you play as Locke's new team for 8 of them. Eight! I can't understand this.
In Halo 2, we were first introduced to this idea. In a huge twist, we played as a Covenant Elite for half the game. The Arbiter (who I adore). But it was only for half the game. His story didn't override that of Master Chief's in any way. It complemented it.
And even if you wanted to have us spend 73% of our time with another character, why not have it be the freakin Arbiter? A character we already know and care about?
But that's enough ranting.
The game has what I think they call "enhanced movement." Basically, you can sprint. You also have a kind of a dash thing. And you can clamber up on things above you. So, if your character can grab a ledge, they can pull themselves up. There may be other movement abilities, but if there are, I did not discover them. On the whole, the game feels very..... I dunno. Doomy? Like, Doom 2016. But not as refined (and to be fair, it came out a year prior to Doom 4). It's rather odd. I got used to it. But it doesn't really feel like Halo to me.
A much worse decision, in my opinion, was adding aim-down-sights. A feature that is now seemingly ubiquitous in first-person-shooters. I don't like this. I think one of the many brilliant things about Halo's sandbox of weapons is that it requires you to master a variety of combat styles. Some weapons have scopes and you can zoom in. Some are short range and must be fired from the hip. I like that variety. 343 doesn't, I guess. They made everything an aim-down-sight kind of deal.
Halo 5 is also a severely linear game. Nearly every level is walking down a straight line, fighting from arena to arena. There is very little exploration to be had. But the arenas themselves are solid! Some of them are really well-designed. I'm not sure they all make sense in the context of the story (like, why are there weapons in these places?). But they're good! And Halo 5 pretty much only adds to the sandbox. If there's a weapon you've enjoyed in a prior game of the series, it's probably here. At least in some form. Same goes for vehicles.
I would probably say that the gameplay is actually better than Halo 4. I found myself having a lot of fun in the average moment of combat. There are some significant missteps. The most glaring is a guy called the Warden Eternal. He's a boss character that you fight at least 5 different times throughout the campaign (I stopped counting). And the fights don't really evolve. Towards the end, you fight multiple copies of him at once. But... that's about it? It's the same fight over and over again. I don't get it. Why? What's the point? I love a good boss battle (or even an average one). But I don't want to do it over and over! Especially when it doesn't change!
The final big misstep for gameplay is the finale. In Halo 1 and 3, you end the game with a big Warthog escape sequence. Halo 2 ends with a boss. Reach ends with shooting a spaceship with a giant cannon. Four ends with..... a QTE?
Five is worse. The game ends with you running up a hill. But you keep getting hit by waves of energy that knock you back a couple feet. So you just take a really long time to run up this hill. Annnnnnd.... that's it. That's how the gameplay ends.
Now we come to the biggest misstep. The story.
If Master Chief and Spartan Locke and the other characters had simply stayed in bed and slept, nothing would have changed.
Basically, Chief goes off to find Cortana (who is alive, miraculously). Locke is sent to hunt him down for going AWOL. Eventually, Chief gets to Cortana. She's nuts. Decides she's gonna take over the universe. She takes the Chief prisoner and locks him in a stasis pod. Locke rescues him. They go home. Then Cortana attacks the universe. Roll credits.
Locke and Chief are back at home. Cortana is doing her new villain thing. If Locke and Chief had slept in, they'd be at home. And Cortana would still be doing her villain thing. Absolutely nothing you did mattered! What was the point of this entire freakin game? Everything that happened could have just been the opening cutscene to the next game!
After last E3 I wrote a blog expressing hope about Halo Infinite (the next game in the series). I wanted to believe. And I still do! But my goodness. Playing Halo 5 is making that hard. It is going to take 343 an insane amount of work to get this series back on track, if they even can.
Halo 5 is fun! It's very solid game! And it's a great time to spend with an old friend. But it's a terrible entry in the Halo series. At least for a mainline game. Perhaps it could have worked as a spinoff like ODST. But here's to Halo Infinite. Raise your can of Game Fuel!