When you think about some of the best franchises in video game history, there’s a huge chance Halo is going to make it onto that list. Bungie created one of the greatest trilogies video gaming has ever seen with Halo 1, 2, and 3, and I’ll be surprised if 343 Industries doesn’t follow suit with 4, 5, and 6.

I recently played through Halo 4 in anticipation of Halo 5. I owned the game, but I had never actually beaten it. With Halo 5 only a few weeks away, and I had agreed to review it, it seemed like a good time to actually finish the game. Something about Halo 4 really lacked the ability to suck me in like the original trilogy had. ODST and Reach were both OK, but they weren’t anything to write home about when comparing to the first 3 games.

I remember crying at the end of Halo 3 for a few reasons, one of which knowing that my favourite franchise was at a close (little did I know), the other being that the story was so well done.

Halo 4 made me cry for an emotional reason. It was weird, starting up Halo 5 and knowing that Cortana wasn’t there to guide you along. It is tricky to talk about the story in any game without spoiling anything, so I won’t stay on it for long.

The story for Halo 5 was a redeeming moment for 343 Industries. Well, sort of. Halo 4 had shown that the studio knew what they were doing with one of the most beloved franchises in gaming history, and certainly one of the most important franchises for the Xbox. It took Halo seriously, something that gamers have spent the past 14 years enjoying; and Halo 5 showed gamers that 343 Industries cares about what they are doing.

The campaign in Halo 5, like all Halo titles, is short but sweet. Lasting only about 9 hours on normal, it’s easily beaten in one day. This isn’t to say you won’t have endless hours on the multiplayer, or multiple play throughs of the campaign. Halo 5’s story has set 343 Industries up for an incredible Halo 6, and managed to move between Locke and Master Chief seamlessly. I will say that the story is somewhat lacking compared to the original trilogy, but I think we have to stop comparing everything to Halo 1, 2, and 3. It’s time to acknowledge that the series is breaking new ground.

Halo 5 changes up the controls once again, but everything makes much more sense. After you’ve accustomed yourself to the new layout (and you will throw a few grenades accidentally, trust me), you’ll realize how much more seamless it all is to the FPS genre. You rarely have to take your fingers off of the thumb sticks, allowing you to spend the entire game readjusting yourself from the onslaught of enemy fire.

I did my first play through on Normal, not willing to sacrifice the time it would take to play through on Legendary initially. I know I personally play Halo games through multiple times, so it isn’t a concern whether I would go back and play it through on a harder difficulty. One of the changes you’ll notice to the game is the lack of co-operative split screen, and moving to teams of 4 unique Spartans. This can create for much larger fights, and the AI work quite well together. Although they tend to make mistakes, even if you assign them to certain targets, they work about as well as you’d expect them to. Letting them keep their flaws is a way of keeping the campaign balanced and not a face roll.

In certain situations you will go ‘down’ instead of dying, and you can request your team members help, which, does take a lot of the stress out of situations. At first this featured seemed a little imbalanced, however as the game moves on they will have difficulties getting you back up. They seem to have a one track mind, so if you call for help, they are going to stand in enemy fire to get you up if they have to. The AI also have other targets that you can set. Having them move to certain locations, focus fire a specific enemy, or help you complete an objective.

Halo 5 fixes a lot of the issues with Promethean weapons, first introduced in Halo 4. Their grenades are one of the most notable improvements since the last game; the ability to throw a grenade and not have to wait several more seconds before it explodes after already hitting the ground increases your accuracy, and makes them a viable option over just a ‘distraction’ for the enemies.

You can also look down the barrel of any gun. This is a small change that wouldn’t have a lot of impact to casual players, but it completely changes the way you can play Halo. You no longer have to click your stick to enter a scope, you press and hold the left trigger. This does have a few sacrifices; for example, the Sniper no longer has multiple levels of zoom. Overall, though, it increases the accuracy you can have with each gun, and will prove useful in most situations. The way that 343 Industries implements this is incredible, as you go to look down any barrel the gun blurs in certain areas. Your focus becomes more on the cross hair than ever.

Halo 5’s vehicle controls also prove to be the best in the franchise so far. Although every vehicle has its own minor improvements, the Ghost feels like a completely different vehicle. The responsiveness has been increased, and you are no longer sliding around uncontrollably. In situations where you take a Ghost against a Wraith, it was easier to dodge the giant balls of “oh-crap.”

Halo 5 also adds the ability to grab and climb up ledges. This isn’t used to the extent that you’d find in a game like Mirror’s Edge or Assassin’s Creed, but it certainly improves Halo 5’s combat, making it have faster pace and a more 3-dimensional environment than ever before. The opportunity to flank enemies with your squad, or get to a new vantage point makes a world of difference in a tough situation. More tactical thinking is required, and as far as I’m concerned, we should welcome it.

There was a moment while playing Halo 5 that I stopped and realized how beautiful the scenery actually was. This game, graphically, is what I expected consoles to have on day 1. This is the ‘jump’ that we are looking for, and I seriously doubt many other games will match up to this caliber of graphics on the Xbox One anytime soon. 343 Industries has created a masterpiece, and one of the best games I have played from 2000 onward.

Reviewing a game like Halo 5 is difficult for someone who doesn’t remember playing the original games with a cynical mind when they were first released. Halo 1, 2, and 3 were all something that I considered magical and amazing. I don’t know what my complaints would have been. I play them now as something that’s happened – not something I’m going to review. Halo 5 exceeds in areas that other Halo games have failed, and it’s working its way up to becoming another amazing trilogy. The story is not yet complete, and there is a chance that 343 Industries will destroy everything they’ve built so far. However, Halo 5 will always remain a game that had an excellent story, regardless of how it started or ends. It isn’t the original trilogy, no, but it can still be good.

Instead, I’ll leave you with this advice.
If you own an Xbox One, buy this game. If you own a Playstation 4 but have considered coming back to play the Halo games, or maybe even are thinking of buying an Xbox console for the first time, now would be the time. Halo 5 adds to the franchise the mechanics that it needs and smooths out a lot of the issues in previous installments. If you could paste this gameplay on top of Halo 1, 2, and 3, they would be absolutely perfect. 343 Industries is paving a bright future for the franchise, and I, personally, am excited for it. Halo 5 may not be the perfect installment for the franchise, but we are getting closer than we ever have been before.

GameStop, Inc.

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