When asked to write about my most anticipated game in the coming few months, I am thrilled to have so many options. It's the first year in a long time that feels right. We're going into September with a pile of giant releases just on the horizon, everything from Metal Gear Solid 5 to Super Mario Maker to Fallout 4 to Just Cause 3. However, there is one franchise that will always capture my interest just a bit more than the rest. So really, there was no choice. Halo 5: Guardians is the most anticipated by me personally, and not just because it comes out on my birthday. In a winter that seems destined to be full of hits, what makes Halo 5: Guardians stand out? Let's take a look.
For 343 Industries, Halo 5: Guardians represents a chance at redemption, both in the eyes of the hardcore Halo faithful and the general audiences that once flocked to the series. The scars that Halo: The Master Chief Collection and its disastrous launch left are still pretty raw in some circles, even though the game itself has been up and running without a problem for months now. It's obvious that 343 didn't have that much to do with development of that game, but they're name is in the intro, and they outsourced the development, so they rightly got the blame.
From what I've played of Halo 5's multiplayer at trade shows and in the beta last year, it is clear that 343 has been focusing all their efforts on this project. The gameplay is smooth in a way that Halo 4 just wasn't, and the gameplay breaks the mold that their last effort was still trying to work within. Make no mistake, this is a different game than Bungie's trilogy. Its various movement powers make the game faster than ever, and it's more focused than past iterations in the Arena mode. Everybody who plays Halo, dating back even to Combat Evolved, they all know that a weapon with a scope should be your weapon of choice. Halo 5 gives everything a scope, allowing for Assault Rifles to be useful in a playground where they were fallback options before.
There are certainly a few worrying things in the limited glimpses to be had of the game. The legendary power weapons that are unique to each map seem like a feature that will be shunned, much like ordinance drops were in the last game. It doesn't help that the classic SPNKR Rocket Launcher design is now relegated to a rare pickup and has been replaced in normal play with an ugly and generic replacement. Needless changes like that do nothing but breed resentment in your fan base, even if 343 is clearly trying to leave their own stamp on the franchise with the best of intentions. I do hope that the gametype customization options are plentiful enough to allow for weapons with all legendary weapons, and I very much hope that 343's tease of bringing back the overpowered Combat Evolved M6D pistol as a legendary pickup becomes reality.
Despite some changes, Halo 5's Arena definitely feels like classic Halo. The more substantial changes come in Warzone, the fusion of Big Team Battle and Firefight that has been making the press rounds the past couple of months. As someone who plays more Big Team Battle than Team Slayer, I have to say that the mode looks incredible. It's a step up from Reach's Invasion mode, and its separation from the other multiplayer experiences means that it can have crazy stuff like boss fights and requisitioned custom weapons without ruining that fine balance that Halo 4 trampled over from time to time. I haven't played it myself, so I don't have much to say, but it does look like a place where I'll want to spend a lot of my time.
One reason for that of course is that Warzone is introducing random loot and microtransactions to Halo. While a natural first instinct is to resist this change, both these moves are inevitable, and I feel like 343 is making smart moves with these systems. Having played games like Titanfall and PvZ: Garden Warfare that had similar loot systems, I can tell you that they add a lot to making each individual game feel worthwhile. There was previously unlockable armor parts in Reach and 4, but they were tied to a treadmill, meaning that most players wouldn't last to the end to see all their options. Having random packs of loot means that everyone is on an even playing field and playing more just means that you earn more stuff.
As for the microtransactions, they are only really for the more impatient players. Arena multiplayer will only support cosmetic enhancements, which follows in the great tradition of Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2. Being able to customize assassination animations and weapon skins in addition to the customized armor that has gone back to Halo 3 is a natural evolution. It's only in Warzone where people who pay get a real advantage, but the weapons and vehicles they pull from their stash can easily be hijacked by another player. It all brings more variety to the game, and the payments will help fund Halo 5's official tournaments as well as help ease the burden of the promised free DLC maps coming for the game. This isn't Call of Duty, where you have to double the price of the base game to get all the content. This is instead a smart way to graft modern features onto an aging franchise.
Of course, some readers might not be in it for the multiplayer. They instead might want to jump right into the campaign at launch, which is another thing that Halo has over Call of Duty. Halo campaigns have always been unique and varied affairs, but they've been painfully self contained in a universe that has expanded vastly since the first days of the Xbox. Halo 4 attempted to bring in a bit more of the outside fiction, but it was clumsy in its execution and relied on more recent additions that weren't exactly beloved. Halo 5 looks to fix this by bringing back Master Chief's original squad. The original few Halo books are as revered by me as the story of the games, so finally bringing Kelly, Linda and Fred into the mainline story is something I've been waiting a long time to see.
Of course, on the other side, you have Buck returning from ODST to fight alongside Spartan Locke. I'm not a fan of what we've seen of this team so far, but just the expansiveness of the story they're setting up seems epic in scope. Master Chief in Bungie's games was always the last Spartan against an overwhelming alien threat. 343 has built an army of Spartans to back up the Chief, as any army would do, and now we have eight of these supreme warriors going against each other. If there have been significant story reveals, I can't say that I've sought them out, but they're starting from a solid foundation, and I'm eager to see where the story ends.
So this fall, and every fall where there is one, I'm most looking forward to stepping back into the boots of the premiere space marine of gaming. I'm looking forward to spending hundreds of hours learning every new map and weapon, chucking plasma grenades at every foe online, and fully grasping at the potential of the Warzone mode. Having played a lot more Halo 4 in recent months on Xbox One than I ever did on 360, I'm amazed at my preference for that gameplay. It was a great game that was hiding under incompetence and bluster, and it seems like a mistake that they won't repeat. I now trust 343 when they say that they understand how to make this style of combat. Even if I'm proven wrong in the end, the journey towards October 27th still excites me.
What is your most anticipated release this holiday? Is there anyone that is really rooting for Spartan Locke to succeed over Master Chief? Will there be a grunt dying of thirst at the end of this game? Ponder these questions in the comments below!