Simply put, Halo 5: Guardians is one of the best shooters you’ll find on Xbox One or any other system this year.
Its most impressive achievement might be how the game feels. Controlling your Spartan, firing your weapons, delivering shoulder bashes and ground pounds: It all feels just right. Controlling this game is like driving a luxury car or wearing a fine piece of clothing. You can sense the care that went into every aspect of the experience, no matter how minor. The game exudes quality.
It feels so good thanks in large part to how much quicker the gameplay has become in recent titles. Gone are the slower, more deliberate days of the early Halos. Co-protagonists Master Chief and Spartan Locke move at a fast clip by default, and you can sprint and even boost yourself to gain extra speed. Ledges aren’t a problem because you automatically pull yourself up when you get close enough. Even blockades are no impediment, thanks to a powerful set of melee attacks. Halo 5 really makes you feel like a super soldier.
Despite these tweaks, this is still very much a Halo game. That means the story may be seem dense for casual fans who haven’t delved into the lore or studied up on why the Prometheans are attacking, or why the Covenant have camped out on a particular planet. The cut scenes, which look ridiculously good, are filled with opaque proper nouns and sci-fi jargon. If you get a little lost, don’t worry. The game always lets you know where to find your next objective.
You can complete the entire campaign in four-player co-op, but if your friends aren’t available, your squad mates are controlled by AI. The levels were smartly designed for four players, with lots of open environments like in past Halo games and many sections with upper and lower tiers you can easily traverse, capping enemies along the way. One of my favorite aspects of the squad mechanic is that your teammates have a brief window of time to revive you when you die. This is especially welcome when you get blasted right before clearing a large area filled with tough enemies.
In less fantastic news, the split-screen mode is gone. It’s online or nothing in Halo 5, which is a bummer for couch co-op fans and for people whose friends haven’t ponied up for an Xbox One. I suspect this has something to do with maintaining strict 60-frames-per-second gameplay, but it’s a loss nonetheless.
Beyond the campaign, Halo 5 has two distinct multiplayer modes: Arena and Warzone. I didn’t have a chance to dig into these yet, and after the Master Chief Collection debacle last year, which crippled the online mode for months, I’ll wait until the game comes out before writing about them. For what it’s worth, early reports indicate this could be the best Halo multiplayer yet.
But as for the basic gameplay tweaks developer 343 Studios has brought with this installment, it’s nothing but good news. Boosts are great, ground pounds are powerful but tough to pull off, melee kills are oh-so-satisfying. The guns are as varied as they are deadly, and the vehicles are fantastic. Aside from some minor complaints about the story, there’s no part of the game that isn’t deeply enjoyable to play.
There’s nothing like a Halo game, and the campaign of Halo 5 is stuffed full of everything that makes the series great. If you were worried 343 would drop the ball, you can set those fears aside. Halo 5 is a big, bold shooter that will be tough to match anytime soon.