The most recent issue of Game Informer features an in-depth cover story analysing the upcoming Xbox One game Halo 5: Guardians. As Reaxxion’s quasi-resident
starry-eyed slavering Halo fanboy sober and committed analyst of all things Halo, I figured that it might be time to provide our own views on the upcoming game.
The prognosis overall is, in fact, rather good. It appears that 343 Industries has learned a very great deal from its past mistakes—and its past triumphs—with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 4, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The studio has used the feedback from the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta to re-engineer the gaming experience, tweak the controls, revamp the multiplayer experience, and build out what, right now, looks to be a major success for one of the most storied and financially successful franchises in gaming history.
However, that is not to say that the new game will be perfect. Far from it, in fact. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the likely very ugly aspects of a game that, for all intents and purposes, absolutely must succeed.
As the Game Informer article points out, 343 Industries hired Tom Longo as Creative Director for the new game, and he has had a major impact upon the design principles of Halo 5: Guardians. Tom Longo is not a household name by any means, but his CV includes one of the finest FPS games ever made: the evergreen classic Star Wars: Republic Commando. And based on the details provided by GI, squad-based interactions will be a core part of the new game: the player will have the ability to give orders to his NPC allies, in what appears to be a big improvement upon SW:RC’s criminally underrated core feature.
As far as I am concerned, this is wonderful news; I have wanted something like this to be present in a Halo game ever since Halo: Reach introduced the concept of SPARTAN fireteams, with multiple near-invincible supersoldiers working together to annihilate the opposition.
The Return Of Eddie Buck
In case you don’t keep up with Halo expanded universe fiction and lore, we last saw
Nathan Fillion Edward Buck make a cameo appearance in Halo: Reach during the fall of New Alexandria. After years of silence surrounding his future subsequent to the events of Halo 3: ODST, the novella Halo: New Blood by Matt Forbeck filled in the details. Gunnery Sergeant Buck became a SPARTAN-IV. And he is now a key part of the new game.
As one of the best-loved and most charismatic characters in the franchise, his return is great news for hardcore fans of the series, as well as a great way to build new fans thanks to Nathan Fillion’s brilliant voice-acting and physical presence.
Greatly Improved Multiplayer Features
To be honest, this is the part of the game that holds the least interest for me. I am and have always been a campaign gamer. However, the majority of Halo fans play the game for its multiplayer features, and here it would appear that 343i is determined to impress. There is a new, as-yet-untold mode that will be revealed at E3. There will be a total of some 35 maps—all free. The new Arena multiplayer mode will ditch the love-it-or-loathe-it loadout system of HALO 4‘s War Games and return to the traditional epic brawling bulletstorms from previous games.
Neil Davidge’s Departure
A major feature that distinguishes the Halo games from all of their rivals has always been the music. Every single game in the series has had amazing music… yes, every single one, including Halo Wars and even Halo: Spartan Assault. With Halo 4, 343i faced a major problem: the composer and producer who did such a great job for the Bungie games were gone. To fill the void, 343i drafted in Neil Davidge, known among other things for his work with Massive Attack, to compose the Halo 4 soundtrack. And my word, he did a phenomenal job.
Yet he is not involved in the music for Halo 5: Guardians for reasons that are not clear to me. This leaves Kazuma Junnouchi solely in charge of the music. This is not necessarily a bad thing—his work on several Halo 4 tracks was outstanding—but the loss of such a worthy successor to Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori is sure to have an impact.
Another Split-Player Experience
I thought that after the fan reaction to playing as the Arbiter in Halo 2, 343i would know better than to introduce a second playable main character to the medium. Yet that is precisely what they did with Jameson Locke, commander of Fireteam Osiris.
Now, a lot of the negative reactions to playing as the Arbiter in Halo 2 focused around the unbalanced gameplay and tedious missions involving him, so if 343i figured out how to avoid these problems, then it’s just possible that Locke’s character could be a good addition. And Halo 3: ODST proved conclusively that it is entirely possible to create a great game with multiple POV playable characters.
However, I’m not optimistic: the entire point of a Halo game featuring the Master Chief is to play as the Master goddamn Chief.
A Bellyful Of Politics
The plot of Halo 5: Guardians centres around the Master (Badass-In-) Chief going AWOL with three SPARTAN-IIs and, apparently, turning traitor to the UNSC, set against a backdrop of mysterious happenings at the edges of human-explored space. A fireteam of the new SPARTAN-IVs, under the command of Jameson Locke, is sent to hunt him down.
I realise that other fans might feel differently about this, but as far as I’m concerned, HALO is not about political shenanigans. It’s about epic storytelling. And from what I’ve seen so far, there is nothing epic about this particular story. Let me add the very necessary caveat that, until the game is released and I get my grimy mitts on a copy, I have no idea what the actual plot is, so I’m perfectly willing to reserve judgement here.
Yet More STRONG EMPOWERED GIRRRRLS
Clearly, Bonnie Ross and the senior staff over at Microsoft Games and 343i don’t bother reading Reaxxion. If they did, they would know that the absolute last thing any of us want is to have yet more estrogen introduced into one of the greatest gaming series of all time. Yet they went and did it anyway.
I can’t object to the presence of Linda-058 and Kelly-087 to the game, as they are both well-established in the series canon and should be interesting to see in action as two of the last remaining SPARTAN-IIs. However, was there really any need for two female members of Fireteam Osiris? I just don’t see the point, and I am utterly unimpressed by their presence.
The Ghost In The Shell
Look, either kill off Cortana completely, or resurrect her. Stop mucking about halfway in-between. To be clear, I thoroughly prefer the latter option: Jen Taylor’s terrific voice acting as Master Chief’s witty, irreverent, and talented foil was one of the things that made the Halo franchise so great. As the GI cover story makes clear, Cortana does make an appearance in this game… yet, she’s quite clearly dead.
Judging by the information, teasers, and trailers that we have seen so far, this is shaping up to be an amazing game. If the good parts are as good as I think they will be, and if 343i can stop the likes of Bonnie Ross from making a mess of the core elements of the franchise, this could very well break through the bar set by Halo 3 and become the greatest FPS game ever.
I could, of course, be completely wrong and the game could be the biggest insult to the Halo canon and franchise since the unplayable disaster that was the initial release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There are some slightly ominous signs in the offing already, as I have outlined above. The evidence so far, however, points to a game designed and built with thought, care, and love by people who genuinely want the franchise to grow and improve.
When all is said and done, I cannot wait to see what this game is really like once it is released.