This isn’t a traditional Halo game. The series has moved on for a new generation of consoles, and you need to move with it. Accept that, and there’s loads to love in the game’s new story mode, which is entirely playable in co-op. Oh, and it’s double the length of the campaign in Halo 4, so there’s plenty of it too…
The action in Guardians is split between two teams, who each have their own, intertwined story arcs. There’s Blue Team, lead by Master Chief, and Fireteam Osiris which belongs to Locke. At some point early in the game we see Chief and Blue Team go rogue, with little or no clue as to why, and Locke is tasked with discovering the truth behind this apparent defection. It takes place over three worlds too, home to humanity, the Covenant, and the Forerunners - making this the most varied Halo ever.
Ok, those are the story facts. Let’s talk about the action, which feels like a big departure from the older Halos - even taking a step further in the direction number 4 headed. For starters it feels so much faster and more lethal than other games: think of it as a cross between old Halo, COD, and Titanfall. The end result isn’t a bad game, but it takes some acclimatising to. Yes, there are ironsights on weapons now, and the gravity seems to have been dialled down to remove that more floaty feel of the original games.
Weapons are more noisy and mechanical now, sounding more like traditional guns than the sci-fi fare of previous games. There’s a real punch to the new Assault Rifle, and a fresh rifle called the Hydra launcher is like a beefy grenade launcher that locks onto enemies before rapidly spitting explosive projectiles in their direction. Chief has learned some extra moves too, and can smash enemies from above with a ground-pound, and shoulder-charge through flimsy pieces of cover to access fleshy foes on the other side.
The biggest changes come with co-op, though. Everything is more guided while remaining semi-open for exploration. So, in the demo level there are two options for attacking a certain area of Covenant forces - go high, or go low. Chief orders his team to take the low route, while he cruises the area above, picking off snipers and eventually smashing down to the lower level with an enormous ground pound.
You can now give orders to your team mates (the AI ones - feel free to shout at any human buddies as you would normally), asking them to attack specific targets or move to different points on the battlefield. Get sloppy and die, and you can call one of them over to revive you. You are given additional warnings when you’re close to death, like a little bar that sits on top of your shield-display, indicating when your shield will actually recharge. Generally speaking, there are more enemies per encounter in Halo 5, so you do need those extra Spartans and assists to help fight them off. Depending on the difficulty level you play, your AI pals will stay alive and bleed out at different rates - so on Legendary, you won’t have a lot of time to save them.
Co-op is drop in, drop out, so there’s no need to hang around in lobbies waiting for friends. That’s the beauty of a campaign that fully supports co-op play. Again, though, it’s part of the reason this doesn’t really feel like a traditional Halo. There’s loads of battle chatter, and it no longer feels like you’re a super-soldier tackling impossible odds and winning. And that used to be the heart and soul of the Halo story. Like it or not, though, this is where the series is headed, and the actual snippets I’ve seen are chaotic fun.
There’s no doubt that 343 is fully in charge of the Halo series now, and that Halo 5 is that studio’s game. Almost all traces of the combat Bungie built is gone. But I suspect that - even if Bungie had stayed with Halo - it’d make roughly the same game. Guardians belongs in the same generation as Titanfall and Destiny, it’s got the epic scale of a Batman or a Metal Gear Solid 5, and it’s got a meaty campaign that recognises the fact that players demand much more value for money from their games. It’s got two flavours of multiplayer - Warzone and Arena - and a long plan for free DLC along the way.
All the pieces are here. But is the soul of the series? Will this just be a virtual Frankenstein’s monster, made up of the choicest cuts of other games? We’ll find out for sure in October, but right now it’s very clear: this isn’t your Father’s Halo, nor should it be treated that way.