Halo 5 Review: Bad Storytelling and REQ System

Why Give this Review?

After finally beating the campaign on legendary and messing around enough on multiplayer, I’ve concluded Halo 5: Guardians is actually a terrible game compared to the previous title installations.

I was deeply puzzled this game received scores in the 80s and 90s in critic reviews. Yet, well-known series fans and YouTubers, like Angry Joe, trashed the game… That was puzzling – but then I remembered that critics are paid snobs who don’t know anything.

I was fairly disgusted that reviews across the Internet are extremely sparse and biased in the detail of their content. Even though the game is dated now we are well into 2018, I cannot let that travesty go!

Also, I just enjoy writing reviews now and will start to do them more often.

The Premise of Halo 5

So, what’s the game even about? Here are the basics:

343 Industries launched Halo 5 on October 27th, 2015. It’s a first-person shooter part of their Reclaimer Series that takes place about a year after the events of Halo 4. Since defeating the Didact and returning to Earth, Master Chief reunites with Blue Team and continues routine missions. The Arbiter tries to unite the Sangheili but a civil war erupts yet again as a new prophet named Jul ‘Mdama opposes him. UNSC decides to largely remain neutral.

Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan II project, is tricked into helping ‘Mdama obtain the Janus Key that would unlock the location of every Forerunner artifact in the galaxy. She begins to cooperate with him after being kidnapped for the sake of learning the secrets of the Forerunners.

Meanwhile, Forerunners have attacked several human planets for unknown reasons. Dr. Halsey contacts the UNSC claiming to have all the answers. Fireteam Osiris, ex-military Spartan IVs led by Jameson Locke, promptly are deployed to rescue her and kill ‘Mdama on the ice world of Kamchatka.

At the same time, Master Chief and Blue Team investigate reports of a Covenant infiltration of an abandon weapons lab called Argent Moon. On the mission, Chief receives a message from Cortana that the Domain was open and Meridian was next! Based on only this vague vision, he goes rogue with the team after her!

The UNSC considers Chief to have gone AWOL and Cortana a danger. They order Fireteam Osiris to hunt down and retrieve him. Eventually, they inadvertently awaken a Forerunner weapon called a Guardian and set off a chain of events triggering the onset of the Reclamation.

So, that’s the gist of the story (with minor spoilers). While it all sounds nice, is the narrative and overall gameplay worth buying the game? Honestly, no… not at all.

To give a fair review, I’ll cover the good and then go through all the problems.

The Good

While I dislike the game, there are still elements that keep the series familiar and interesting.

(1) – The Traditional Halo Multiplayer Experience

First off, the multiplayer experience is the just about as good as you’d expect from the game. You have three main gameplay modes: Social, Ranked, and the new Warzone.

Warzone is basically the old firefight mode with objectives (kills certain bosses or capture points) and an Assault 12 v. 12 competitive version on asymmetrical maps. I find Warzone the most fun for casual play, and it’s an easy way to earn exp. and REQ points. (the in-game currency explained below under “The Bad”).

All the other classic game variants are present with free DLC maps available, making for over 30 maps. Odd ball seems to have been cut for some reason but they’ve added new ones like Breakout and Strongholds (essentially Domination from COD).

Now, instead of specific loadout armor abilities, every player gets basic Spartan Abilities, like a sprint, thruster strafes, ledge grabbing, and a ground pound. And finally, Halo allows you to aim down the sights like a normal shooter, making the gameplay more predictable.

343 Industries has taken a commendable move back toward giving every player a level playing field by removing preload out classes altogether. Everyone starts with the same guns and equipment for the game mode and try to control specific spawn location of power weapons.

Speaking of weapons, they’ve added some interesting ones to throw in the mix, like the Hydra missile launcher and special variations of other weapons, like the Abritor’s sword, Prophet’s Bane – which is pretty dope.

For some reason, 343 removed the ability to veto maps and modes in game lobbies and vote on new ones. And really, now there’s no way to even back out if a lobby once you’re queued up with a full team. It speeds things up but makes for a boring experience when you’re forced to play CTF on Fathom for like 5 times in a row!

It’s also interesting now that Spartan characters “talk” to each other. For instance, in an online match, you might hear a teammate shout out in-game dialogue like, “Flag carrier stopped on Blue Tower.” That’s a useful feature since most people don’t seem to use mics.

(2) – Advanced Halo Forge Mode

Crafting my own levels and feeling the satisfaction of them going somewhat viral in the community has always been the most exciting feature of the Halo games. Thankfully, Forge Mode makes a return. Strangely though, it did not appear with the game at launch. It released a few months later in December 2015 with the Cartographer’s Gift DLC. It currently includes the 7 unique massive Forge canvases.

You have a ton of new items and options for map creations. For example, now you can add atmospheric conditions, like snow or rain. You also can (somehow) create cinematic cutscene as intro and outros of the custom game.

The controls are a little weird to get used to at first. Since there’s no tutorial, you’ll have to play around with the buttons to see what they do and learn all the possibilities. Make sure to save your maps often and read some guides online.

Something actually pretty awesome is the Halo: Forge port to Windows 10 that’s absolutely free! The awkward console controls are super simplified on the PC. After creating your maps, you just download it your server and it should appear synced on your Xbox 1.

(3) – Expanded Universe

Okay so the story narrative itself doesn’t have much new to it. I’ll discuss that later. However, the Halo universe has been expanded to include some interesting worlds and characters.

For one thing, you get to explore the glassed planet of Meridian, which is a non-UNSC human inhabited moon. Its history was unveiled in Halo 3 through the terminals and apparently the comics and novels. After the Human-Covenant War, the Liang-Dortmund Corporation resettled the wasteland and turned into a mining colony.

Master Chief on Meridian
Master Chief at Meridian Station

There’s a “level” that just consists of walking around Meridian Station and talking to townsfolk, much like an RPG. That 5 minutes of gameplay could have been a cinematic cutscene and some people have complained as much. However, I enjoyed 343 trying something new and letting the player be immersed in the environment. It was definitely interesting to see a part of the universe that was neither UNSC or Covenant. The miners were mostly just ordinary people trying to make a living amid the chaos.

Then, towards the end, you get another new environment: the Forerunner installation of Genesis, the source of the Domain. You meet up the monitor 031 Exuberant Witness and discover her little pet zoo of species across the galaxy. The world adds a lot of depth and unravels the mystery of the Forerunners.

And, finally, you team up with Arbiter and find out what he’s been up to since Halo 3.

The main story is straightforward but you’ll discover hidden “intel” throughout each of the levels that reveal background on the maps and characters. Grunts are still as hilarious as ever. As you hear more of the emotional side of the Sangheili, you find that the civil war tore families apart.

The Bad

Halo 5 has some merit – BUT the good is far outweighed by the bad.

(1) – No Split Screen

First off, there’s absolutely no local co-op play at all! The only way you’ll play with friends or siblings is if they have their own Xbox 1 and a separate copy of Halo 5.

This move is strange because Halo 5 is actually a more family-friendly game. It earned an ESRB rating T for “Teen” while every other game in the franchise earned an M for “Mature”. There are zero gore animations and no curse words throughout the campaign.

In my opinion, Halo games have always been the most kid-friendly shooter. After all, it’s not realistic at all since you mostly kill aliens and robots. The story is also rich in comics and novels that expand the universe, encouraging children to become literate – can any Call of Duty game boast such a thing?

So the fact 343 cut any split screen capabilities is a slap to the face of parents with multiple children. They would be forced to moderate shared time trading off controllers.

Then, of course, this also forces you to have Xbox Live to play with anyone other than yourself. If $50 a year is not in your budget or you’re just a casual gamer who doesn’t feel the need for online play, you’re stuck by yourself.

What’s 343’s excuse for this travesty? Well, it’s quite interesting. All the snippet quotes from their developers seem to blame it all on “optimizing graphics” and “resource constraints”. Yeah obviously the images would appear in less quality on a shared screen – but that’s true of every split screen game ever!

Gamers have always preferred quality gameplay over graphics anyway. The best games of all time, like Ocarina of Time and Age of Empires, have been classics because of the amazing storytelling, character development, and replay value. Graphics will always evolve over time but really pretty games are nothing if they aren’t enjoyable to play. Now, Halo 5 is still enjoyable but the gameplay doesn’t compare to previous games in the series.

There was never a logical reason for taking out local co-op… except the for money! Microsoft is forcing you to buy an additional Xbox 1 and game copy to play with friends. It’s almost like they are promoting the anti-social stereotypes gamers are known for in society!

It’s the same logic behind why Pokemon games have always only had one save slot. It’s not because of lack of technology. Not at all. Nintendo oversells the games and then forces your friends to buy the handheld systems and separate game copies – just to play with you!

Now if 343 Industries had come out and simply said along the lines of “Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to implement local co-op”, then at least they would have been somewhat believable.

Instead, they turned into a PR and marketing disaster with the Executive Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, stating in an interview with Gamespot:

“We see the robustness of what Xbox Live is today and where people are playing across Xbox Live–you at your house, me at our house. We know that’s the vast majority of the co-op play. With Halo 5, the team really wanted to focus on making that experience great, both visually on the screen that you’re looking at, and all the systems in place… I love the nostalgia of the couch co-op of what Halo did in the past, but I also know in the realities of the day with people’s busy lives, it’s not as easy to get everybody in the same physical place. It’s one of the advantages that Xbox Live obviously offers.”

… Literally, that guy should never talk in public on behalf of the company ever again. As a digital marketer myself, If I had openly mocked a client’s community online, I am sure I would be fired.

Gamers are NOT too busy to ever play games together with friends in the same room. And, I don’t think anyone would find it burdensome to walk across the street to be in the “same physical place”.

Making huge assumptions about the “vast majority” of your audience is disgustingly rude. Offline play obviously cannot be accurately measured like online play, so there’s no way Spencer can verify his claim. But Microsoft doesn’t care about facts. He was just being way too honest about the company decision.

You’ll notice that he also assumes the majority of players aren’t families or teens. Why? There’s no money in everyone in a house sharing the same game. Everything comes back to 343 digging for more cash at the sacrifice of the community and social aspect that Halo has always thrived on for years.

Dads playing their sons, teens playing during sleepovers, college roommates playing together – those kinds of relationships made games great, not fancy 60 FPS! 343 just expected us to go “Ooo la la amazing graphics. I must buy this now!”

(2) – Lacking Campaign

Now for the biggest disappointment: the campaign storyline!

Short and Unsatisfying

I read this GamerRant article that claims Halo 5 has a campaign that is twice as long as Halo 4. I beat Halo 4’s story on Legendary in one sitting, so I doubt that’s hard to beat. The length of a story should be proportional to the amount of content you’re telling to sell. For Halo 5, the story hype of massive battles and the “hunt for the truth” seemed rushed.

Halo 5 took about a month of gaming for me to finish on Legendary, maybe about 12 hours total. But it was completely unwarranted! The game is only difficulty at that setting because your idiot AI teammates and annoying choke points.

It seemed the large-scale shootouts had a very predictable pattern: (1) encounter a large group of enemies or boss, (2) struggle to kill them all and get frustrated, (3) randomly discovered there’s a hidden power weapon or passage to avoid them altogether.

The story itself isn’t that groundbreaking! The main plot is super predictable from the early levels at Meridian Station. While it was nice seeing the return of Arbiter, nothing was really satisfactory about the story. It ends on a huge cliffhanger that has really no conclusion to whole the Reclamation.

I found it downright bizarre that the marketing for the game revolved around the hunt to bring Master Chief to justice and pitting our hero as a rogue agent against the UNSC. That was a neat idea, similar to like a Mission Impossible movie. Unfortunately, the story never plays out that way at all! For about the first five missions (the Meridian arc) Fireteam Osiris does pursue the legendary Spartan. Then, there’s a dramatic cutscene fist fight between Chief and Locke. Afterward, the two are separated and the story takes a completely separate path for the next 10 levels. Chief continues to search for Cortana on Genesis and Locke helps Arbiter’s war on Sanghelios. They never meet up again until the end after Locke learns more of the truth behind Cortana.

There’s very little tension or emotion explored in the brief conflict between the Spartans. That’s extremely disappointing because it leaves you the same formula as Halo 4: humans vs. Covenant vs. Forerunner all chasing ancient secrets.

Imagine if a large group of Spartans rebelled against the UNSC and revealed their corrupt politics in some vast hidden conspiracy! The premise could have involved a lot of stealth missions. And instead of the redundancy of Warden Eternal, the final boss could have been an actual fight with Locke or Palmer as the ringleader of the conspiracy (hmm maybe I am actually predicting the ending to Halo 6?).

343 blew it giving us more of the same in a false hype of Spartan conflicts.

Maybe it’s just me… but I thought Master Chief went rogue quite often in the past. Heck, making friends with Arbiter in the first place way back in Halo 2 wasn’t something exactly the UNSC approved of. For most of Halo 4, Chief was on his own and yet still saved all of humanity in defeating the Didact. Why would anyone really doubt the loyalty of the dude who saved the universe about a million times?

It just seems like the plot’s beginning premise was not too believable. Yeah, Chief was really attached to Cortana and she turned out to be corrupted – but he made the right choice in the end without any direct orders from anyone.

The better question is why did Master Chief feel the need to go rogue anyway? If he had shared the vision he had of Cortana from Argent Moon, I am fairly certain the UNSC would have assisted in his search and helped secure Genesis.

Why would the human high command refuse to sanction finding Cortana if she held the secrets to the galaxy and all? I guess the only explanation is Chief may have believed they would have decommissioned her and he had a friendship with her. Maybe also Chief didn’t want wait for bureaucrats to argue all day about the politics involved in a Cortana rescue.

The new characters are really underdeveloped. Locke is just the tough guy who takes orders without question. His teammates each have about one line of backstory, though Buck was the main character of ODST and actually a likable character. Blue Team’s Linda, Kelly, and Fred get no attention. They’re just there. Commander Palmer hardly gets any lines or action sequences.

Oddly enough, Master Chief, the only character we care about, is only featured in 3 missions! The rest of the time you play as members of Fireteam Osiris. That’s weird because the game’s cover has the two facing off in a stare down almost like they should get equal time.

The whole story just seems convoluted and forced. Jankey describes it perfectly in my mind.

Garbage AI

343 Industries claimed to have created the most intelligent and fluid AI to date. I have no idea how that’s at all true.

If you’re playing through the campaign solo, you’re going to have a bad time. Your AI friendlies consist of the other 3 members of either Fireteam Osiris or Blue Team. They are very, very stupid. They’ll run straight into combat, hardly kill a single enemy, and go down as soon as possible. You could sit in the back and wait about two minutes and, without fail, all your AI teammates will die.

That wouldn’t usually be a problem. After all, I wouldn’t want them taking my kills. However, 343 added reviving as a new mechanic. Now when you take enough hits, you’ll become immobile on the floor and need your teammates to revive you. About 90% of the time, the AI either run up to you without clearing the enemies and die themselves or straight up ignore you. I normally just assumed I would die and reloaded the last checkpoint.

You can order your teammates to move to a location or attack a particular enemy. They do more damage when you command them to focus fire one bad guy. That’s about the extent of the strategizing.

Reviving was an annoying feature to adds nothing to the game that ended up being useless in solo play. Is that just another 343 strategy to frustrate you into joining Xbox Live?

The only new enemy AI you face are the Forerunner Soldiers, their Phaeton warplanes, and the boss Warden Eternal. Each has very predictable movement patterns and don’t really adapt.

Soldiers are will shoot for a bit and then teleport about 10 feet away. You just aim for the heads or the core on their backs. Most of the time you can simply run past them.

The Phaeton’s are very similar to the UNSC Hornets. They have a strafe boost, bombs, and laser cannons. There’s one level you get to fly them for a large segment of the map through a cavern. That was pretty fun. But then the only time you fight against them you’re much better off just running past them at no consequence.

Now the Warden Eternal is a horrendously boring boss to fight! If you’re playing online co-op, all you do is have one player distract him and the others attack his core on the back from a safe distance. If you’re solo, your AI teammates won’t do this like you want, so you just need to find the power weapons around him and hit him 3-4 good times in the chest.

There’s nothing complex or very difficult to fighting Warden Eternal. He appears 7 times throughout the story and each time uses the same movements and attacks. He always visibly charges up before firing, so you just have to time your movements between covers.

Warden Eternal is just plain uncreative. He reminds me of my old Bionicle characters, except that he doesn’t transform. If 343 had given him different forms and weapons each fight, that would at least make it interesting. But no – you’re stuck with boring repetition! The finale of the game is just three Warden Eternals at once, and not even three different versions of him!

(3) – The REQ Loot Box System

Microtransactions or Endless Grinding

Halo 5 boast over 1,000 armor and weapon cosmetics that you randomly unlock with requisition packs, which are themselves unlocked through requisition points (REQs). This really sucks because it means that no high tier items are skill based rewards. Everything is pure luck. On the other hand, you can shell out $5 to $70 in microtransactions to unlock packs. But even then, you have no absolute promise you’ll get any specific cosmetic you want.

The game reveals nothing about the drop percentages of supposedly rare and ultra-rare items, except that gold packs (as opposed to silver or lower) are guaranteed to drop “permanent” unlocks (not consumable exp. boosts or Warzone weapons/vehicles).

In Warzone, it’s fairly clear how you earn the points (each unit type is worth a certain value multiplied by the difficulty) but in Ranked or Social it’s less obvious. I suppose the system somehow calculates your KDR, medal count, objectives, and whether you won or lost. There’s a lot of tutorials online giving you tips on how to earn REQs the fastest. But, besides just playing good, who really who knows?

It is true, however, that revealing any formula might cause teammates to become self-interested. The Call of Duty games have this problem in my opinion because they are hyper-focused on the player earning unlocks for weapons.

So, if you’re burning to get 100% completion of the game, it will turn into a very frustrating experience.

And actually, there is no incentive at all to get 100% of all unlocks! You don’t get an Xbox achievement for having all the cool weapon skins. And, you cannot really use them as bragging rights since they aren’t a measure of your skill. So, why should I care?

REQ permanent items only consist of cosmetics, so a lot of people probably don’t think it’s a big deal. I wouldn’t normally care that much either for cosmetics. But the old Bungie built the Halo series around the lore of the Spartan armor. Back in the Halo 2 and 3 days, the armor sets meant something because they were only ever unlocked by earning the most difficult of Xbox achievements. Having the flaming helmet meant you were a legend in the game. Now – well the concept of customizing your Spartan is dumbed down and meaningless.

Someone smarter than me in a Halo Waypoint forum did some math. Turns out it would cost at least $1,029.77 to guarantee outright buying all the permanent items.

On the other hand, all those permanent REQ items are equal to 3,341,875 REQ points. So, assuming you’re a decent player and you earn about 6,000 REQ an hour (or 2-3 Warzone games), it would take 557 hours of game time! That’s a little over 23 days!

I would wager most people don’t even have that much on Skyrim, and it has way more replay value than Halo 5. If you want a certain item, it won’t be a fun time grinding to get it.

REQ Creates Unbalanced Warzone Matches

Warzone allows you to summon power weapons or vehicles based on random consumable REQ cards earned in packs. It makes everything terribly unbalanced and a tad goofy.

I am not sure what was wrong with the whole “survive as many waves as possible” theme that firefight mode had in the past. It works great for COD zombies and Gears of War horde mode. But 343 removes the unlimited rounds, capping games at 5 waves, and adds these stupid REQ weapon/vehicle summons. It really takes the fun out of surviving when can you just spawn a Goliath walker randomly and stomp all over those grenade happy grunts.

If you just earned and spent the points on fixed items solely from within the particular game, like as in COD zombies, that would make sense at least. In that case, you earned it, so why not?

But picture this: Johnny really wants to make noobs miserable. So he drops $50 worth of REQ packs to get about 200 consumable REQ cards. Now, odds are, little Johnny has the power to summon as many Hydras, Scorpions, Hornets, and Plasma Casters as possible in a single Warzone Assault game – for practically the next 30 or so games!

Now, theoretically, this is completely fair because you can do the same thing! But it’s cheap and takes the fun out of the game.

I’ve always thought Halo games were the most fun because, unlike COD or Battlefield, every player starts on an even playing field. Thus, the traditional Halo multiplayer would require more teamwork and strategy. Indeed, 343 returned to that premise in the other multiplayer modes.

So why did they choose to pollute Warzone with REQ? Ahh because they are greedy money whores. I honestly cannot think of any other reason.

Overall, REQ points is not a system that benefits the community. It’s shameless a way for 343 Industries to block content from us and sucker more money out of dimwits with fat wads.

I really want to know why the game industry thinks it’s okay to saturate us with microtransactions. Recently, it ruined Star Wars Battlefront II and even my beloved Words with Friends! Companies are believing more and more that we are idiots and it’s okay to give us garbage content as quickly and cheap as possible. But that’s life. We should stick up to the powers that be and actually refuse to buy lousy games.

My Final Verdict

If all you want is an awesome multiplayer Halo experience, continue playing classic Halo 3 or your favorite previous iteration of the game. Halo 5 only really adds Warzone as unique content, which is fun but ruined by the random REQ system.

If you’re looking for an immersive and rich storyline, don’t bother at all with buying Halo 5. For the length and content, you might as well beat it at a sleepover in one night (3-4 hours on easy) and be done. OH, NO WAIT – you cannot do that since there’s no split screen!

Halo 5 really isn’t a great game. Thankfully, you can now find the game online for about $20. For that price, it’s up to preference to decide if you absolutely need it.

The game is really a money grab that disappoints older, traditional fans.

I give it a solid 2/5.

2 of 5 Stars

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Comment below the next game or movie I should review. Thanks and cya around peeps.

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About the Author: Jonathan Crow

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