By Jonathon Dornbush
Updated October 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Microsoft
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Master Chief is back, but he’s not the only one along for the ride in Halo 5: Guardians. In the first full Halo title developed for the Xbox One, Chief has never looked better, but have he and his fellow Spartans never played better, too?

Halo 5’s campaign lets players control both Chief and Spartan Locke, who is hunting John-117 down. Each team has a squad of fellow Spartans, who are controlled by AI when playing solo or by fellow players in online co-op (sorry, Halo 5 does not have split-screen cooperative play like former Halo outings).

And the biggest change to the multiplayer is the introduction of the Warzone mode and a system called REQs. Warzone pits big teams against each other on larger maps to occupy specific bases and complete other missions as they arise. And as for REQs? Well maybe it’s best to let a Nick Offerman-voiced cartoon explain that:

So is Halo 5 a series high or does it show signs of the franchise’s age? While EW is holding off on final impressions of the full game until we have more time with the multiplayer, the campaign left us with the feeling that “Halo 5 is a strong reminder of what makes the franchise so unique and special.”

For more on whether the latest adventure in Chief’s story delivers, check out a host of reviews of the game so far. (Note: Some review outlets, like EW, have chosen to withhold scores until more time is spent on multiplayer, as Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s multiplayer component faced major issues after launch that reviewers did not encounter prior to the game’s debut.)

Halo 5 also has the most satisfying arsenal in the series going for it, thanks to returning classics and design facelifts for guns that used to feel worthless. Old favorites like the battle rifle, Spartan laser, and trusty assault rifle look and feel great, and work in new ways with the new hover mechanics. One unexpected standout is the Suppressor, a Forerunner assault rifle that’s mediocre in Halo 4. It now fires homing projectiles, which are perfect for hunting down Halo 5’s quicker enemy types.”

“343 has made noticeable changes to the way Spartans handle. Some of these changes are subtle; your base move speed is higher than it’s ever been, for example, and turning feels different, slightly faster. But every Spartan across every mode can now sprint, as well as grab ledges and pull themselves up. Running Spartans can shoulder-charge with the melee button, hitting enemies (or walls) like a freight train. Holding the melee button down while airborne charges a ground pounding attack that’s challenging to land, but extremely satisfying when it does.

“These are natural, long-awaited evolutions for a series that’s always felt especially physical. But boosting and aiming may prove more divisive.”

“Musically, Halo 5 has one of the best get-hyped soundtracks this side of Terminator. Visually, it sticks to a conventional sci-fi look — though its cut scenes look incredible. What’s most noticeable about its environments is the wealth of tactical vantage points unlikely to be exhausted on one play-through. And as for the game’s alternating foot and vehicle sections, they’re more spectacularly integrated than in any other campaign in the series. Those Banshee spaceships and Warthog jeeps handle better than ever before. The developers were prudent to go with a 60-frames-per-second refresh rate instead of trying to up the visual effects since the added smoothness brought to the controls will feel apparent to anyone long-accustomed to the 30-frames-per-second gameplay for which previous entries in the series were known.”

“I ended up really enjoying the campaign, even if I feel like it has some occasionally severe pacing issues. The combat is satisfying, whether you’re charging through on normal to feel like some kind of unkillable maniac or taking it more slowly on a higher setting. The Locke side of things could have been more satisfying, though, even if it gets where it needs to be by the end of the tale. Speaking of the end of Halo 5, there isn’t much resolution there. It’s like someone sat down, played the previous Halo trilogy, and forgot that the conclusion of Halo 2 was impossibly frustrating in its day. So they made that. We’ll just have to wait a short three years for Halo 6, I guess. While we’re talking about the campaign, I should note that there’s no splitscreen option in Halo 5, which is almost surely a disappointment to people who liked playing Halo that way.”

“Warzone, however, is leaps and bounds more fun than the story. It’s billed as a 12v12 mode that features a massive base tug-of-war, with enemy AI meddling on the side. In short, it feels like a bite-sized story mixed with multiplayer, and accomplishes most of the goals it sets out to achieve. For example, at the start of a match, you’ll have to clear out your own base — there’s no downtime involved. From there, Warzone constantly throws things at you, from sub-objectives to boss fights, with plenty of PVP action injected for good measure.”

“Solely as an achievement of level design, Halo 5 is awe-inspiring in its scale. A single level may involve all-out war between three separate factions that might play out while an enemy hundreds of stories tall moves, attacks, and fends off an airborne strike in the background. There are no small battles in Halo 5. You’re either in a friendly camp, catching your breath, or you’re under siege against eldritch industrial horror.”

“The latest entry in the series carries over many of the same multiplayer modes from games past; they’re tremendous fun, quick, rewarding and shouldn’t be abandoned for anything incompatible with the skeleton of the series. Arena is your standard PvP multiplayer polished with the inclusion of an eSports focused game type known as Breakout, pitting 4v4 with no shields and one life per round on maps tailored for the mode. Variations on Slayer, Capture the Flag, and Strongholds all help round out the traditional multiplayer structure. Halo’s brand of PvP never feels outdated or gives the impression that it’s clinging to too much of its past. Neither does Halo 5 pretend to be anything it isn’t: it is Halo multiplayer through and through, win if you can, survive if it lets you, using strict arsenal provisions. Competitive Skill Ranks also return and do a great job (in a limited pre-launch capacity) of maintaining excellent player balance online.”

“If only the story had been approached with similar clarity and focus. On one level, Halo 5 has the tightest and easiest to follow plot of any Halo game since the original: one guy and his buddies are trying to catch up with another guy and his buddies. And you only play as Master Chief for a small portion of the game, which at least lends a fresh perspective to the series.

“But I still often found myself without a clue what any of the sci-fi decoration meant, or who the characters I was supposed to care about were, or why I couldn’t, say, just download an AI from the future internet instead of finding it in physical space. Halo 5 is easier to follow than its predecessor, but the sense remains that you’re missing out on much of the story if you don’t catch up with the litany of spinoff novels, comic books, and TV series. And the central conflict between Locke and Master Chief, highlighted so heavily in the game’s marketing, turns out to be a serious letdown.”

Halo 5

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