Halo is a very big deal. It's pivotal to the success of Microsoft's Xbox One. It's the console's flagship series and the most prominent exclusive to hit the 2015 holiday season.
For years the series has relied on larger-than-life campaigns, stunning visuals, compelling characters like Master Chief and Cortana and a fully featured set of multiplayer modes with a passionate, die-hard following.
With each proper sequel, the expectation from the game's loyal fanbase grows. They want to be wowed again and again. They're chasing the feeling they got the first time they dropped into combat as Master Chief. And who can blame them?
The road to Halo 5: Guardians' release saw no shortage of hype and fanfare. It's been teased for years and the development team, 343 Industries, has made a calculated effort to strategically release tidbits of information about the game leading up to its October 27 debut.
If you're not familiar with the space saga that is Halo's narrative, get in line. It's complex and layered, but all you really need to know is that Master Chief (or John-117 as he's also known) is the game's hero and he shares a special connection with an AI named Cortana. Their relationship is the point of contention for most of the Halo games and things just get more intense in Guardians.
That's who's who. Now let's talk about what it's like to play Halo 5.
New in Halo 5: Guardians is the ability to aim down the sights of any weapon and a suit boost that lets the player thrust in any direction. You can also shoot while sliding, perform a charge move and stomp down on enemies. Sure, the new gameplay maneuvers aren't exactly needle-movers, but the most notable additions arrive in the form of the campaign's structure.
You'll play as both Master Chief and Spartan Locke in alternating missions (Locke is tasked with reeling in Chief), both of whom are accompanied by three team members who stick with you the entire time. This also allows for four-player co-op throughout the campaign.
Setting the campaign aside for a moment, a new set of multiplayer modes debut with Halo 5 that are sure to whet the appetite of an already salivating online community.
Mainstays like Slayer (team deathmatch) and Capture the Flag remain, but now players will be treated to new modes like the 24-player Warzone in which battles can last up to 30 minutes. Testing these modes with an early final version of the game wasn't easy, but the few matches I did get to play were frenetic and exciting. Simply put, Warzone is bonkers.
It marks a significant evolutionary step for Halo's multiplayer arsenal and will likely stand out as Halo 5's legacy. At the same time, Warzone can feel a bit overwhelming, so I'm glad I really wound up liking the 4-on-4 Arena mode offerings in the game -- the Slayer and other classic styles I mentioned above. These are modes I'm definitely going to play and attempt to become competitive in when the game goes public. The maps feel good and the online experience was solid with no signs of lag or drop-off. Of course that could change when 100,000 players decide to jump on at once. There's a satisfying amount of player customization too, which has been par for the course in Halo multiplayer for a while.
Halo's online presence doesn't end there. What's arguably the game's most ambitious online foray is Forge mode, which will arrive in December 2015. In Forge, players can design their own maps with in-game assets, making use of over 1,600 objects.
Guardians' multiplayer prowesses are well represented, but let's shift gears back to the game's campaign. To start, Halo 5 is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It's one of the best-looking Xbox One games I've played. Every direction you look in seems endless. The environments and distant planets are all breathtaking and evoke a sense of wonder. I kept thinking to myself, "Man, I wonder what happened in this place. How'd all this stuff get here?"