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September 2018

Halo 5: Guardians

Platform(s): Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2015


Xbox One Preview - 'Halo 5: Guardians' Campaign

by Adam Pavlacka on Sept. 23, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Halo 5: Guardians is the next installment in the saga of the Master Chief, with more content, and larger in scope than its predecessor, built from the ground up with a brand new and more powerful engine.

In just over a month's time, Halo 5: Guardians will be out, and consumers everywhere will be able to give Master Chief's latest adventure a go. We met up with Microsoft earlier this month to take a peek at the current state of the game to see how things are shaping up. Over the course of eight hours, we played two campaign missions, did some co-op, and checked out various multiplayer maps in both Arena and Warzone. The only thing Microsoft wasn't showing off (or talking about yet) was Forge mode. The multiplayer coverage will be hitting in a few days; today is all about campaign.

Rather than let us jump in at the start, Microsoft offered up two whole campaign levels. The first level we played, Blue Team, is the second mission in the game. Named after Master Chief's strike team, the level features Chief along with Frederic, Kelly and Linda. The four are tasked with infiltrating the ONI research station Argent Moon and discovering what went on there. The initial goal is to recover the station, but when Covenant forces show up, that goal quickly switches to the destruction of the station in order to keep its secrets out of the Covenant's hands.

Although this wasn't the first level of the game, the gameplay mechanics definitely felt "tutorial like" in that the level design encouraged players to use various maneuvers, presumably in order to build familiarity with them. Both the jetpack and the Spartan charge were put to use, the latter being necessary to proceed. The majority of the level played out on foot, though the last sequence occurred in a large hangar bay and required the use of a Banshee.

All of the traditional weapons were present, along with plenty of opportunities to use them. This includes dropped Covenant weapons, especially two of my personal favorites: the Needler and the Energy Sword. Slicing and dicing Covenant foot soldiers as you get up close is still plenty satisfying.

Making my way through the Argent Moon felt good, but it also felt pretty linear. There was never a question about where to go or what to do. Even though the second level we played was also fairly linear, that second encounter required more exploring to progress.

For the second level, we skipped ahead to Mission 10, known as Enemy Lines. This time around, Master Chief was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the story focused on Buck and fireteam Osiris — yes, the very same Buck from Halo 3: ODST and voiced by Nathan Fillion. Technically, Osiris includes Locke, Tanaka and Vale alongside Buck, but Fillion's portrayal of Buck outclassed them all. Maybe it's because Microsoft skipped us ahead in the story, but to be honest, as I played through Enemy Lines, I was more interested in Buck than the supposed main character Locke.

As I mentioned, Enemy Lines requires a bit more thought than the previous mission. Because it occurs later in the game, the mission design assumes you are familiar with the ins and outs of the controls. It's also much more satisfying to play.

Things start out straightforward enough, with a small skirmish and a race to the next location, where you're faced with an encamped set of Covenant forces. A head-on approach might work on Easy, but playing on Heroic or Legendary, that's simply not an option. The battlefield is located in a valley surrounded on three sides by cliff faces. Multiple levels provide vantage points for defending snipers, but they also provide multiple routes for attack. Weakened walls can be blasted through for better shooting angles.

Moving through the next area put us face-to-face with a large Covenant assault vehicle. It was too strong to be destroyed from the outside, so we had to land on the deck and fight our way to the core. What was interesting about this specific encounter was that even here, there were multiple solutions. While other players landed on the main deck, I managed to sneak into one of the launch bays on the lower flight deck. Doing so meant that I avoided the fight on the main level.

The last section was a direct face-off with some very strong Prometheans. Yup, those TRON-looking guys from Halo 4 are back, and they're pissed. There was a noticeable increase in difficulty as soon as the Prometheans showed up. These guys made the Covenant look like friendly pussycats. It was a nice change, especially given the challenge up to that point.

Microsoft didn't put any limits on the difficulty that we played at, so I chose to play on Heroic. Maybe it is the fact that your AI squadmates can now heal you, but Halo 5's Heroic felt a lot more like playing on Normal than playing on Heroic. Enemies put up a fight, but none, aside from the Prometheans, ever felt really challenging. That includes Covenant Hunters. In previous games, Hunters were something to be feared. Here, they are just obstacles.

After playing through the two levels solo, we restarted and jumped into Enemy Lines a second time, this time in co-op. My group had a squad of three humans and one AI player. One of the group was new to Halo, so we played on Normal. Even though co-op is supposed to scale up as you add players, playing on Normal was like facing off against enemies made of tissue paper. I did manage to die during the co-op run, but that was mostly due to the fact that the ease of killing the Covenant encouraged me to play recklessly.

What was made obvious is that Halo 5 doesn't really seem to be able Locke versus Master Chief so much as it is about the two of them chasing after the same goal, though from different perspectives. From what I saw during my time with the game, I got the distinct feeling that we'll see the story play out similar to how Halo 2 handled the Arbiter's story. Each mission will reveal a bit more of the overall plot, but it's not just going to be a simple Spartan vs. Spartan tale.

After playing through the two missions, I'm looking forward to experiencing the full Halo 5: Guardians campaign. My only real reservation at this point is with the difficulty, as I'm far from a "professional" level player. Assuming the final version of the game scales the difficulty a little better, the campaign should live up to expectations, especially if the map design in Enemy Lines is typical of the rest of the game.

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