Halo 5 can’t just be good. It needs to be legendary.
When it comes to modern video game history, it’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the Halo franchise. First, it helped put Microsoft on the map as a serious console maker back in 2001. It also proved first-person shooters could work on consoles, something many PC shooter fans didn’t think possible. Finally, it helped usher in the age of online console gaming with Halo 2 in 2004. Each new Halo installment has been met with critical and commercial success, solidifying it as Microsoft’s most important video game franchise by a long shot.
The developer that drove nearly all of that innovation was Bungie. So when Bungie left the franchise after finishing Halo: Reach in 2010, Microsoft found itself in the unenviable position of looking for another company to trust with its most important franchise.
Microsoft put Halo in the hands of 343 Industries. And while things got off to a great start with Halo 4, the developer’s next Halo release was a disaster.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection was intended to offer Xbox One owners the definitive versions of the core games in the series. Unfortunately, server issues plagued the collection for months, blocking players from even touching the enormous amount of online multiplayer content they had been promised.
The developer fixed the problems eventually, but the damage has already been done. With Halo 5: Guardians set to release on October 27, the question is whether 343 Industries can deliver a new installment that works smoothly at launch. Will the servers hold up under the pressure?
We certainly hope so, because Halo 5: Guardians sounds great so far.
Halo games, like most modern first-person shooters, are split into two halves: campaign and multiplayer. 343 has been rolling out information about the campaign for over a year now, so let’s try to piece it together.
We know that at least part of the game plays out as a search mission. Series protagonist Master Chief has gone AWOL along with three companions who make up Blue Team. An up-and-coming Halo character named Spartan Locke has been sent out with a team of his own to track down Master Chief. You’ll get to play as both characters as the missions hopscotch between the two teams of futuristic soldiers.
You can play through it single-player, with your companions being controlled by AI, or you can play online with up to three friends in co-op mode.
As for the moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s usually you and your companions going up against the Covenant, an alien threat that has been a cornerstone of the series since its inception. Shootouts often take place in wide-open environments that give you lots of leeway in how you approach the combat. You’ll also find vehicles you can commandeer to drive or fly to your objectives.
Basically, it’s the same kind of Halo gameplay fans of the series would expect, wrapped around an intriguing plot. If the campaign is as good as Halo 4‘s, we’re in good hands. The big question is whether 343 can keep the servers running for the multiplayer side of the game.
If the campaign offers a dozen or so hours of gameplay, it’s the multiplayer mode that gives any online shooter its lasting appeal. Halo 5 has two main types of multiplayer: Arena and Warzone.
Arena is your basic player-vs.-player setup. In it, two teams of four go head to head in a smattering of standard modes, including Capture the Flag, Slayer, Breakout, and more.
The first two modes are pretty standard for the genre. Capture the Flag plants a flag in each team’s base. Bringing the enemy’s flag into your base three times wins you the match. Slayer equips both teams with a standard weapon loadout, but drops more firepower in certain locations on the map. The first team to get 50 kills wins.
Breakout is a new mode that has the teams go against each other in a best-of-nine series of rounds. Each round, players only have a single life, which ups the stakes considerably. Wipe out everyone on the other team to win the round.
Warzone is a more ambitious sort of online experience. Here, two teams of 12 players start on opposite sides of the map. Their first job is to secure their bases from swarms of Covenant enemies that have taken over.
Once the bases are secured, the two teams must square off against each other to take control of a central base. Meanwhile, other Covenant forces drop onto the map to distract you. Battling them yields your team extra points, but it also distracts you from taking the central base. The first team that manages to maintain control of the central base for a set amount of time wins.
Across all modes, players get to use a handful of new abilities that make navigating the terrain easier than it’s ever been in a Halo game. You can finally sprint now (although your shields won’t regenerate when you do), and you can leap over short obstacles, which should make the series’ already-great gameplay feel even better.
It all sounds good on paper, but the real test will come when Halo 5: Guardians launches on October 27. Remember, good isn’t good enough for a Halo game. Not only does it have to be a superb entry on its own, but the servers have to withstand the beating they’re sure to take. All eyes are on developer 343 Industries with this release. No pressure.