Developers face a tough challenge when crafting a new entry for a beloved series. Fail to evolve, and the franchise feels too reiterative, but change too much and the game loses its identity. 343 Industries walks that tight rope with Halo 5: Guardians, offering a higher focus on speed and mobility, a story that takes characters off their established courses, and a multiplayer mode that veers dramatically from expectation. The balancing act is not without stumbles, but even when things feel a little off, Halo 5 is still fresh and surprising.
As established by a rollicking opening cinematic, Halo 5’s gameplay is all about motion and speed. New mantling, slamming, and dashing maneuvers make your Spartan feel like a superhero, flitting about the battlefield in a flurry of action. That sense of maneuverability shines on Normal and Heroic difficulties, and the inclusion of distinct A.I. teammates layers in an additional level of joyful chaos. Legendary difficulty doesn’t feel quite right, however. The sense of speed is neutered (since turtling up is often the only option), your allies make bad decisions about when to complete revives, and checkpoint placement feels archaic as the frequent deaths stack up. The absence of large gun magazines on lower difficulties leads to constant change-ups and a breathless pace, but the low ammo on Legendary is frustrating.
Cooperative online play is a blast, especially because of some excellent challenge scaling based on number of players. However, I am disappointed by the absence of local co-op, which has long been my preferred playstyle for Halo campaigns.
For the first time, Halo is fully embracing the broader fiction established in other mediums, drawing in characters and concepts of greater complexity. As a result, the universe feels more nuanced, even if some less devoted players may get lost in the jargon. Beautiful cut scenes lend a cinematic vibe to the ongoing adventure, which sees Master Chief chasing the one thing that can make him turn away from his duty, and a new generation of Spartans ordered to bring him back.
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