Sci-fi has a habit of not always making sense. Sure it’s aspirational, imaginative and a lot can be explained away by technological mumbo-jumbo, but when you want to take an audience on a journey - to 'Hunt the truth' in this case - then it can help if they know what they are fighting for.
The teaser campaign (which we are actually a fan of) saw Locke and Chief both playing out their own side of the same event, with each depicting the other defeated in a ruined cityscape. Unfortunately, this intriguing premise fails to be capitalised upon, squandered by a very by-the-numbers chronological approach to storytelling (which, ironically, sounds like it should be easy to digest.)
If you ignore the story entirely though, the campaign itself is up to series standards, and certainly is more endearing than that of Halo 4. The Prometheans return with a few tweaks that thankfully make them and their allotted arsenal more bearable, and the nonsensical battlecries of the Covenant’s Grunts have been returned to endearing English witticisms.
Familiar game modes give way to a new approach to multiplayer overall, with much more of an E-sports feel than Halo has ever had...
Gameplay is markedly less clunky than 4 overall, in fact. It feels as though 343 Industries have finally got their head around the franchise, after inheriting it from the formidable legacy of Bungie.
The improvements to movement range from the simple, such as the ability to clamber up ledges, to the deadly, such as the immensely satisfying and effective ground pound, which sees you hover in mid air to charge, before delivering a knockout smash to enemies below.
In multiplayer these abilities make the most impact (often literally), injecting speed and versatility into matches, whilst conveying the true feeling of being a super-soldier. It’s a shame that the current map selection makes only limited use of all of the opportunities presented by the changes, serving up but a few obvious ground pound or spartan charge (a hefty forward thrust) locations.
Familiar game modes give way to a new approach to multiplayer overall, with much more of an e-sports feel than Halo has ever had. Your first 10 matches in each game mode of the competitive 4v4 mode Arena (offering a grab bag of ‘standard’ modes, as well as playlists for Slayer, Breakout, SWAT and Free-for-All) will be assessed to give you a rank from bronze to platinum.
Each tier has six levels and you subsequently go up or down depending on wins and losses. Only top players will rise above platinum to two additional, even more specific tiers. The idea is to make matchmaking more accurate, meaning matches are challenging whilst balanced. We were placed in the gold tier after a pretty good performance across our initial matches, and did find games after that were stretching enough to provide a fun challenge.
While series mainstay Big Team Battle is gone (until it is eventually added, post-launch), there is a brand new mode here to replace it - Warzone. In this mode two teams of 12 players battle for map control, whilst also swatting AI-controlled enemies for extra points.
Going into a Warzone match is intimidating at first; instinct will likely compel you to run straight into the fray, since it’s virtually essential in Arena to keep your spartan charge ability ready at all times. You should, however, take a minute to apply some tactics to the game, which is where Warzone really starts to shine.
It can prove extremely challenging to get into a rhythm without a few Xbox Live friends along who you can easily communicate with, but you will find players actually using voice chat on occasion, which is something of a rarity in online FPS these days.
One way 343 has tried to liven up the game mode is to strip back weapon and vehicle spawns across the map, giving you access to them through the new Requisition or REQ system. Gaining levels in multiplayer unlock packs of cards which are either one-use or permanent items to enhance your game.
As you might imagine, more powerful weapons are harder to come by, as well as being locked away until your team has made some significant progress in the match to unlock the higher REQ levels. It can be difficult to get to grips with at first, but after a while it nicely varies the way you play.
Maps in Halo multiplayer are really what make or break the experience though, and while there are three Warzone playgrounds to choose from, none of them feel as memorable as levels like Blood Gulch, Valhalla, or Sandtrap from previous games.
Thankfully, 343 has said future maps will be free to all players, with DLC revenue coming from selling access to REQ packs instead, so at least everyone will be able to play together when the experience expands over time. It’s also reason enough to praise microtransactions - who’d a thunk it?
That doesn’t stop it feeling a bit thin on the ground at the moment of course, and it is a shame when there are so many interesting objective modes in the franchise’s history to restrict them to occasionally popping up via Arena, rather than having their own playlists.
In all though, there is still plenty of fun to be had with Guardians. It pushes past all of the problems players found with 4 to deliver the strongest all round experience since Halo: Reach, with (thankfully) a robust matchmaking system to match - though it could be a bit snappier. In return it offers only relatively minor niggles and a thirst for more content.
Microsoft promised to reinvent Halo with this release, and it’s certainly done that. It might not be enough to turn around the console race (honestly, what could at this stage?), but it’s certainly a game which those who defected to PS4 after the 360 should miss dearly.
If you’re still in two minds whether to shell out for this instalment, then think about what your priority is for a Halo game, if it’s campaign then you could probably catch up with this one on YouTube and not miss too much, but if you long for multiplayer, then 343 has put together a strong package with the promise of more fun still to come.