Halo 5: Guardians Review – A Stumble or Two Can’t Keep Master Chief and Company Down

*Editor’s Note – We were given access to pre-release playlists and the servers had not gone public. If the smoothness of the gameplay experience online takes a drastic hit and negatively affects gameplay, we will update this review as needed.

Online Co-op Play

Halo 5 ditches split-screen co-op in favour of online only. You can play with up to three other people through the whole story campaign, and let me tell you, it truly changes the way the game is experienced.

Halo 5 Campaign pic 5

The story campaign is really a co-op-centered campaign, so 343 Industries has built the levels and designed the encounters in such a way that they are much more expansive to accommodate four players at all times. Sure, if you are playing by yourself the game you’ll be in control of your teammates; however, if you’re playing a co-op game with other people, you run on dedicated servers and you have a seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op experience which is really fun. So, if you’re playing a solo game, friends can come in, join at any time and take over one of the AI’s. Then if they leave, they can just leave the game, and then you can keep playing while the AI will take over the other character(s) for you. Drop-in/drop-out is seamless.

Playing on some of the larger levels is quite an amazing experience in online co-op to say the least. Given the size and scope of some of them, you and your online teammates can take very separate paths as you fight, and you will end up with some great tactical battles. Don’t get me wrong, you can still order your squad when playing alone, but there is just something cool about you and a group of three other people chatting it up as you take different routes into the middle of a battle. It adds a whole new tactical scope to the game so to speak, and you’ll want to go through the game a couple of times, once alone and one or two more times with friends.

Online PvP Multiplayer (Arena & Warzone)

It wouldn’t be a Halo game without PvP multiplayer, and Halo 5 has you covered. There is a definite change in the PvP modes though, as there are two main ones, Arena and Warzone.

Arena is the diehard competitive area, which focuses on 4 vs. 4 play. Here you’ll come across a wide range of game modes including Slayer, CTF, Strongholds, Breakout, SWAT, Free for All Slayer, Shotty Snipers and Neutral Flag. These modes are well known staples of the Halo PvP world, or variants of them. I had three days solid playing in pre-release playlists. Now, I have to admit I am not the most skilled in 4 vs. 4, but I can hold my own now and then. Arena is very competitive, even at this early stage of the game, and it will only get tougher as time goes by and more players get online.

Halo 5 Arena pic 4

Your first 10 matches in Arena mode will set you up for a ranking number, and after that you’ll be placed into matches with similar players with similar rankings. As your gameplay improves so does your ranking. Anyone who has been a Halo fan knows that Halo 2 & 3 set the bar for matchmaking, and it is hoped that once Halo 5 goes live, that 343 Industries push for fair and balanced matchmaking in a competitive environment manages to make an impact for online PvP gameplay like Halo games before it.

I have to admit; you can see where Arena fits in for the role of eSports for Microsoft’s long running franchise. Sony secured the rights to early COD content and eSports for that game will be PS4 oriented, and it is my belief that Microsoft didn’t push hard for COD as Halo 5’s Arena mode is their eSports ‘baby’ now, and they have way more control over it. The 4 vs. 4 modes feel a little more chaotic, and the control even twitchier than you may remember Halo PvP being, bordering on COD like. Bottomline, competitive people will love the Arena as there is lots of competition, and if my counting skills are correct, there are 15 maps to play on.

The other multiplayer mode is Warzone and I found I had the most fun online playing it during my review time. Warzone is a 24-player adversarial game mode that is crazy, intense, and one heck of a ride. There are two modes in Warzone. The main gameplay mode has you taking control of various points on the map. It’s like a COD’s ‘Hardpoint’ or Destiny’s ‘Control’ multiplayer modes where you try to control the most points at a time. The goal is to accumulate the most points when holding points, or if your team is really good, and you take over all three points, you can try to destroy the opposing teams Energy Core.


“Halo 5: Guardians is one of Microsoft’s most anticipated games in a long time, and it manages to pretty much deliver.”

The main Warzone mode introduces AI objectives during the mayhem where your team is tasked to kill well recognized Halo enemies, like various covies or guardians, while you battle against the other team of Spartans. These AI controlled enemies are not just cannon fodder either. It can be quite chaotic as your team tries to complete the side objective while having to battle your opposing team and stopping them from trying to complete the same side objective you are focusing on. These side objectives are not just in-game distractions either, as completing them contributes to your teams overall game score, which by the way, you must reach 1000 points to win the game, or the highest score wins after the timer ends.

The other Warzone mode is called Warzone Assault. Here one team defends a point, and the other team attacks it. If you defend the point for the specific time period (6 minutes) from being overtaken, you win the game. If the attacking team gains control of the point, the timer is reset, and a new control point is assigned. The ultimate goal for the attacking team is to take two control points and then take out the opposing team’s Energy Core. It’s not a point-based system like the regular Warzone mode and there are no PvE elements to it.

What is interesting about both modes is that your team has Requisition Areas where you can swap out weapons and items based on the item/vehicle energy level you are at. Both weapons and vehicles are based on many of the ones you’ve experienced over the years, ranging from a wide array of Halo weapons to UNSC Mantises, Covenant Banshees, to Guardian ‘planes’. It’s a neat mechanic as you can access good weapons or vehicles with a somewhat lower energy level, or you can wait until the high level ones are open and you can change the tide of a match.

Halo 5 Warzone pic 3

The final point worth making about Halo 5’s PvP multiplayer is the implementation of the new Req System. This is like virtual card collecting. Now, right off the get go I’ll say that the Req Cards you earn/collect are not paramount to winning a game. Req cards will allow you to earn armour, weapon skins, stances for your Spartan pose, assassinations, visors, loadouts, power weapons and even some power up cards (e.g. extra XP for finishing in top 50% for assists).   There are 5 levels of cards from common to legendary, but you have no control of what is in a Req Pack. You can buy Req Pack (gold, silver or bronze level) with Req Points you earn for playing games and you can also earn Req Packs for level promotions and other in-game tasks.   It’s fun, and a bit addictive, as you open a Req Pack wondering what you’ll get, but the times within are not game-changers and won’t make you win based on your Req Pack items.

Halo 5: Guardians is one of Microsoft’s most anticipated games in a long time, and it manages to pretty much deliver. From the continuation of the Reclaimer Saga, the intense firefights and huge levels during the story to the addictive new Warzone modes, the new Arena PvP and the new Req Card system. The only things I was somewhat disappointed in was that the story, which started slow, was over in 7 hours, and it did not feel larger then Halo 4, which we were led to believe it would, and the fact that I wanted more time with Master Chief. That being said, Halo fans will no doubt embrace Halo 5, and when it’s all over they’ll head online for some intense, chaotic and enjoyable PvP and start to dream of what is to come next in Halo 6.

***A review code was provided by the publisher for review purposes, including access to online play***


The Good

  • Master Chief is back
  • Continuity of story
  • Solid visuals
  • Buttery smooth framerate
  • Warzone PvP

The Bad

  • Too much Locke
  • Story feels over too quick
  • Not as big as promised
  • Arena PVP may intimidate some