Halo 5: Guardians Review (XONE)

Halo 5 Is A Return To Form

Halo 5 screen
Halo 5 screen. Microsoft

From the moment you start Halo 5: Guardians and the classic Halo choir theme starts playing on the menu,  the game feels like an apology tour to fans who felt let down by Halo 4 and the well documented problems with the Halo Master Chief Collection.  The gameplay and level design is more open and feels like classic Halo.  The multiplayer has been dialed back to be more like classic Halo (no custom loadouts, etc.).

 This is the Halo you know and love.  Halo 5 is awesome when it is all said and done and shows 343 Industries isn't just some soulless machine cranking out Halo games.  They care a lot about this franchise and want to do their best to make players happy, and Halo 5: Guardians is a great first step towards winning back the trust of fans.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Microsoft
  • Developer: 343 Industries
  • ESRB Rating: “T" for Teen
  • Genre: FPS
  • Pros:  Fantastic visuals and sound; exceptional gameplay; campaign leaves you desperate for Halo 6; Warzone multiplayer is awesome;
  • Cons:  No splitscreen; notable features not available at launch (but being added later)


The pre-release marketing for Halo 5: Guardians has actually been fairly misleading.  The whole is just a big smoke screen and even the much touted Master Chief vs. Spartan Locke showdown is only a tiny, tiny part of the much larger story.

  So what is the larger story?  Halo 5 is really about the titular Guardians - giant Forerunner robot weapons powerful enough to keep entire star systems under control - and the person who is waking them up and controlling them. 

The story is solid overall and takes you to a lot of interesting new locations.

  It also brings back some familiar characters and ties up some old story threads while introducing plenty of new ones.  The main thing it does, though, is that it leaves you desperately hungry for Halo 6 to see how everything turns out.  It doesn't necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but it does leave things open and sets the stage wonderfully for the next part of the story that looks like it is going to be absolutely nuts.

The campaign takes around 7-8 hours to beat on normal your first time through.  There are lots of hidden data logs on each level as well as skulls that are really surprisingly well hidden and hard to find, which will keep you playing for a while longer to find them all.  It is worth noting that you play as both Locke as well as Master Chief, but the ratio is about 12 Locke levels to only 3 for the Chief.  The Master Chief levels are considerably longer than Locke's levels, however, and a couple of Locke levels are extremely short, so it almost evens out as far as total playtime for both in the end. 

For the first time in the Halo series, Halo 5 does not have any splitscreen features at all, which is pretty disappointing.  Playing co-op splitscreen are some of my favorite Halo memories, but that isn't possible here.

  Nor is playing splitscreen local multiplayer.  343's reasoning for removing it is pretty understandable - no splitscreen means they can make the game look far better and run far smoother than if they had included it - but it is sill disappointing.  There is still, of course, matchmaking and custom games in multiplayer and the 4-player co-op over Xbox Live is fully drop-in, drop-out with your friends. 


Gameplay during the campaign plays more like the classic Halo games than the more linear feeling of Halo 4.  Each battlefield in Halo 5 is like a sandbox that you're free to play through however you want.

  There are guns and vehicles scattered all over the place so you can choose exactly what guns you want to take on any situation.  The levels are also full of different paths that let you tackle encounters from different angles and elevations and flank enemies or sneak around them to catch them by surprise.  The gameplay feels great, though I do admit I kind of miss not being able to double-jump like in Destiny.

Halo 5 also once again features both the Covenant (and the Grunts are all funny and derpy again instead of serious, thankfully) as well as the Promethians, and the different tactics required to fight each, as well as the different weapons they both have, makes for a lot of variety in combat situations.  You'll never play a level the same way twice, which is what Halo has always been about

One major difference in Halo 5 is that you always have a team of other Spartans with you - either Locke's Team Osiris or Chief's Blue Team - in every single mission.  The A.I. of these teammates is actually really pretty impressive and they can more than hold their own during battles.  They are also smart enough to follow your lead and use team tactics despite the fact you can't really give them orders other than to concentrate fire on a specific target.  They will provide cover fire, flank, and even back you up when you run wildly into the crossfire like an idiot.  When your clip runs dry but the enemy in front of you is still alive, more often than not a teammate will finish that enemy off for you while you reload.  Even with decently clever A.I., Halo 5 was still made with human co-op in mind, so make sure to bring your friends on higher difficulty playthroughs because it gets pretty tough. 


The other half of the Halo 5 experience is, of course, online multiplayer.  After the Master Chief Collection's troubles, you might be skeptical, but the MCC had a lot of hurdles to overcome (namely the fact it was four different games with different architecture all crammed into one UI and meant to be one experience ... ) that Halo 5 doesn't have.  Also, when the MCC launched, the media didn't get to use matchmaking for our reviews so we didn't know it had problems.  So when they finally flipped the switch and turned matchmaking on and everything went to Hell, we were just as surprised as players were.  Halo 5, on the other hand, has had both a public beta test as well as the matchmaking has been available for the media to test before launch.  In my experience so far, playing in a pool of only a few hundred media and YouTubers, matchmaking has worked perfectly fine.  Will it work as well with thousands of players connecting at launch?  Who knows, but I'm pretty optimistic it will be fine.

Multiplayer in Halo 5: Guardians is split into two modes - Arena and Warzone.  Arena is where the classic match configurations and game types will be found.  It is the traditional Halo multiplayer you know and love and not the wanna-be Call of Duty in Space like Halo 4's multiplayer tried to be.  Not all game types will be available at launch - Big Team Battle, for example, it notable in its absence - but the game types and play lists will constantly be changing and updating over the next few months (or years), so don't worry about that.  The Forge editor is also not available quite yet, but will be released in December (and it looks like it will be worth the wait cause it's craaaaazy how much stuff you have control over now).

Warzone is the big new addition to Halo 5 multiplayer, and it is pretty awesome so far.  There are currently two match types - a control match where you capture key locations on the map and your team earns points for controlling them, and a new match that has A.I. (both enemies and friendlies) running around the map and you earn points for killing them (and taking out boss enemies that spawn) in addition to killing the other team.  Warzone features 24-player matches on huge maps that are far larger than any previous Halo maps.  Warzone has been a total blast so far.

Also new in Halo 5 is the introduction of Requisition Packs.  As you play multiplayer matches you earn points that can then be spent on Requisition Packs.  Sort of like Madden Ultimate Team, these Requisition Packs are random cards that give you new abilities and items.  These items include both cosmetic pieces like new armor or weapon skins, as well as weapon and vehicle unlocks.  You can also buy REQ Points with real money to earn packs faster, but you don't have to.

In the Arena mode, you can only use the cosmetic items.  The weapon and vehicle cards are not used here.  This is to ensure that the competitive multiplayer experience is the same classic Halo it has always been.  Arena is still about finding weapons out in the maps and controlling the power weapons.  There is no pay to win or pay to earn better weapons in Arena.  This is the traditional Halo multiplayer.

Warzone, on the other hand, is different.  In Warzone you can use your REQ cards to deploy new weapons or vehicles throughout the match and, of course, you can only deploy the weapons or vehicles you have cards for.  You can't just summon a Scorpion tank and all the power weapons right from the start, however, and have to sort of "level up" as the game plays out in order to earn the right to use the good stuff in that match.  Also, using a higher level REQ spends your meter so you have to level up again in order to deploy the good stuff again, so it is actually pretty well balanced.  Obviously, having better cards allows you to deploy better weapons so there could be some temptation to spend real money to earn cards faster, but you earn plenty of points just through playing regularly and you shouldn't ever feel pressured to pay real money in order to keep up with the competition.  Buying REQ points is an option, not a requirement. 

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Halo 5: Guardians is a gorgeous game.  It runs at a dynamic resolution and not a full 1080p at all times, but you won't ever notice it.  It does maintain 60FPS and is buttery smooth.  The graphics themselves are very nice with fantastic lighting and explosion effects, and some of the levels are just stunning.  There are a couple of levels in the middle of the campaign that take place on easily the prettiest worlds Halo has ever visited.  The fact it looks this good and runs this smoothly despite having dozens of moving pieces all over every battlefield is impressive. 

The sound is also extremely well done.  The sound effects are all just as perfect as ever and the soundtrack makes wise use of classic Halo themes along with plenty of new music.  And like I mentioned above, the Grunts are back to being silly and funny, which made us happy.

Bottom Line

In the end, Halo 5: Guardians is another great Halo game.  I hesitate to say it is a return to form or anything like that, since I didn't think Halo 4 was bad, but it does play more like a classic Halo experience in both single and multiplayer, which will please those folks that didn't like Halo 4.  The campaign is just the right length and a ton of fun, but also leaves you hungry for more.  And the multiplayer offers both the traditional Halo game types as well as an all new mode, and all of it is pretty darn fun.  The lack of splitscreen does hurt Halo 5 a bit, but the result is a far prettier and better performing game because of it, so I'm conflicted.  All in all, though, Halo 5: Guardians is a terrifically fun, well polished and fully-featured package that I can highly recommend.  

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.