Halo 5: Guardians First Impressions

Posted on October 27, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One with 0 Comments

Halo 5: Guardians First Impressions

Before my decade-long Call of Duty obsession, Halo was it, the reason I switched from PC gaming to the Xbox, and the inspiration behind a monthly get-together with friends that continues to this day. But now Halo 5 is here. And thanks in part to an unwelcome new trajectory for Call of Duty multiplayer, let’s just say I’m looking around and considering my options.

Halo 5 will need to be truly special for me to consider switching, however. Back in the day—Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, and Halo 3, certainly, but even Halo 3: ODST—I would play through these games’ single player campaigns, often multiple times, and I would spend an ungodly amount of time on multiplayer. But thanks in large part to the repetitive nature of these games—yes, I see the irony as a COD fan, relax—I lost interest over time. And Halo 4 was the first title in the series that I never even finished. Nor did I spend any amount of time in multiplayer. I had lost interest in the story and its alien universe, and I found the multiplayer dynamics to be less compelling than those in COD.

Unleash the Kraken!

Unleash the Kraken!

But like I said, I’m looking. And Halo 5, whatever my issues with it, is clearly a big deal, and a chance for Microsoft to give its latest console a big boost with a AAA in-house title in the franchise that started it all.

I’ve only just started playing the game, and while I’ll be looking at some key things in both single- and multiplayer, my initial impressions are all positive. The graphics, sound and music are topnotch, and are exactly right, if that makes sense, as are the weapons and single-player gameplay. If you’ve played any shooter, you’ll be at home immediately, and will appreciate the concise nature of the controls. This thing has been honed.

As for your viewpoint, there is a bit of blackness at the edges of the view, indicating a worn helmet, but I’m wondering if this somewhat confined view was invented to help frame rates. If so, it’s working. (Apparently, the game employs a dynamic screen resolution in order to hit a consistent 60 FPS. This, too, is working.)

Slightly limited field of view through a virtual helmet.

Slightly limited field of view through a virtual helmet.

I am a bit worried that the alien landscapes of the Halo universe will prove less enticing to me than the earth-bound, war-torn stuff we see in modern COD titles. The stakes just don’t seem as high because it’s all futuristic science fantasy. But let me settle into the story before I pass judgment on that. Obviously, some people will simply prefer this kind of setting.

Cortana appears right in the intro.

Cortana appears right in the intro.

As a final comment on the single player, I’ll just point out that Halo 5, like most shooters before it, is a rail game: You move from milestone to milestone, and while some of the areas I’ve seen so far are pretty big and offer a bit of variety, you will ultimately unlock a door to proceed, every time. How else could it be? The cut scenes, at least, appear to be made with the game engine, and this is something else Halo 5 gets right: The move between gameplay and cut scene is seamless.

... but we don't see Master Chief until after the first mission.

… but we don’t see Master Chief until after the first mission.

On the minus side, some of the best action takes place in the cut scenes, so you’re just watching, as in a movie. In this sense, Halo 5 single player is more “digital entertainment” than game sometimes.

Multiplayer is a bit stickier for me. Here, I’m fully immersed in the COD style of play, and my absence from Halo hurts. I’ve only played a few games so far, and have stuck to Arena, but so far it seems as well-done as single player, with frenetic action and great graphics, sound and audio. My kill to death ratio, alas, will be negative for a while. I’ll get there.

This is me, in blue, being killed for the first time ever in Halo 5 multiplayer.

This is me, in blue, being killed for the first time ever in Halo 5 multiplayer.

On a somewhat related note I should point out that the single player experience can be done in co-op, which is probably an awesome way to do it. There is so much to explore here.

I do win some as well.

I do win some as well.

And that I will do. Sadly, I’m traveling to Las Vegas today for work, so I won’t be able to pick up Halo 5 again until the weekend. But here’s something I can say for the first time in a while: I’m really looking forward to it.

 

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