Giant Bomb Review

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Halo 5: Guardians Review

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  • XONE

You'll spot some rough edges and notice some omissions, but Halo 5 looks great, plays well, and has enough options to keep you coming back.

Be well, John Spartan.
Be well, John Spartan.

Now that we're five games into the core Halo series, it's high time that we started learning a little bit more about the man inside the space marine armor and the computer lady who frequently lives in his head, don't you think? The Halo games have always been careful to mete out those parts of the story and the interplay between the Master Chief and Cortana in tight supply (unless you wanted to go deep and get into the out-of-game fiction, of course). Halo 4 got a little more direct with things, and Halo 5: Guardians continues that trend by largely focusing Cortana, who left the Master Chief's head during the previous game and is still potentially out there... somewhere. The game and the story surrounding it has its issues, but it's a great-looking Xbox One game that adds some neat new ideas to the multiplayer.

The marketing for Halo 5 has been decidedly deceptive in the way it focuses things on a conflict between the AWOL Master Chief and the Spartan tasked with hunting the Chief down, Locke. Each rolls with a crew of soldiers on to their respective missions and you might think that the story itself is about this conflict. But this ends up being more of a framing device. Much like Halo 2 has you swapping back and forth between Chief and the Covenant's Arbiter, Halo 5 has you swap between Master Chief's team and Locke's team. The problem there is that Locke's mission is to find the Master Chief, while Master Chief is chasing down things that actually matter. After a few early levels that make Locke's side of things seem more interesting than they are, the game quickly settles into a rhythm where I was following the Master Chief storyline pretty closely, but Locke's missions feel like busywork, like combat for the sake of combat. Like padding. Those missions are still engaging in the same way that Halo's action usually is, but I just wanted to skip over that to find out what the Master Chief is up to.

The campaign is structured a lot like previous Halo games, though the game has a couple of combat-free areas that show up between a few missions. This gives you the opportunity to walk around an area and listen in on conversations before walking up to the person who sends you on your next mission, but there isn't much to do in these areas other than, ya know, walk up to the person who sends you on your next mission. It feels like something that should have either been a larger, more meaningful inclusion or something that should've just been cut out and replaced with two lines of dialogue at the start of the next area. The game has its trademark vehicle sequences, but these areas don't feel as large and expansive as they have in the past. The Scorpion tank moment almost feels obligatory, like someone piped up and said "wait, we can't make a Halo game if we don't have a part where you drive that tank, right?" Beyond that you make your way from one objective to the next, shooting Covenant and Prometheans as you go. The meaningful campaign difference this time around comes from your comrades.

There aren't a ton of new enemies in Halo 5, but the encounters still feel fresh enough.
There aren't a ton of new enemies in Halo 5, but the encounters still feel fresh enough.

Previously, Cortana was present as a way to include dialogue in a game that would otherwise be about a man in power armor, silently gunning down hundreds of aliens. The back and forth between your friendly computer lady and the gruff super soldier let you know what you were doing and why. With Cortana's whereabouts being a bit murkier this time around, the game instead builds squads of four unique characters, who can play off of each other and tell each other things like "hey, those guys teleported through that ice wall up ahead" to let you, the player, know that it's time to shoulder charge through that ice wall in front of you to proceed. The characters themselves are largely faceless and lifeless, especially on the Master Chief side. They're there to make the game's co-op mode make sense (instead of crudely giving you four Master Chiefs), to provide some combat barks, and to get you back up when you fall. Halo 5 has a "down but not out" system, and you can press the X button when you fall to command one of your teammates to come revive you. That's something that makes the normal difficulty easier than it's ever been, because the enemy AI is frequently too low-minded to shoot down the Spartans who are attempting to revive you, making you damn near invincible. Harder difficulties prevent this from working as frequently, so charging ahead of your posse and getting gunned down is more or less a guaranteed reset to the previous checkpoint.

Having three additional shooters with you, even when you're playing alone, changes the dynamic a little bit. You can tap up on the D-pad to order your crew to focus fire on a target or move to a specific location. They'll even revive each other, if you can't be bothered. But they don't quite do the fighting for you, either. It feels like they'll soften up some targets, but the game definitely wants players to do the heavy lifting. Also, you'll probably catch them in some dumb situations. Occasionally, when you order your troops to focus on a target, one will reply that they're busy shooting something else. One time I ordered Buck to fire on a turret, he shouted back "gotta deal with this first," and then I turned around to see him firing his weapon into a wall. Cool moves, man. I never did like Buck.

The online co-op, as you might expect, makes the whole experience a bit more exciting, since you're working together with other living creatures. Players have to choose a character before the session begins, and only the player playing as the leader (Locke or the Master Chief) can give squad orders.

You'll visit interesting places and murder everything in sight.
You'll visit interesting places and murder everything in sight.

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.

That carries over to the competitive side, which is broken down into something that more closely resembles traditional Halo multiplayer in the Arena mode. There's also a new Warzone mode, which adds a bunch of AI enemies and additional victory conditions to a larger, more sweeping experience.

Arena is primarily set up as a four-on-four mode, for the most part, but the rules here can change as the developer decides to mix up the various multiplayer playlists after release. But multiplayer is where your new movement abilities--also present in the campaign--really come into their own. The combatants are all equipped with a tiny jet boost, which can be used to quickly dash in any direction, even if you're in midair. You can perform a boosted slide, and you can run all you like. After running for a bit, you can perform an exciting shoulder charge that knocks enemies back with a satisfying impact. Halo 5 lets you aim down the sights of every weapon, and doing this in the air engages a brief hover mode, letting you line up shots or, more likely, serving you up to the enemy on a silver platter since you're just sort of hovering there, waiting to be gunned down. That hover can also lead to a ground pound, which is pretty cool.

There are tons of cosmetic unlocks.
There are tons of cosmetic unlocks.

The multitude of variants found throughout the multiplayer side of things has long been one of Halo's strengths. Halo 5 goes a different way, instead focusing on a handful of core modes. Standards like capture the flag and team deathmatch (OK, fine, "slayer") are present. You can play a zone capture mode called Strongholds, too. But things like King of the Hill or Oddball are missing. Big Team Battle isn't here, and neither is the Forge map editing feature, though the developers have confirmed plans to bring those back in a post-launch patch. The included multiplayer in the arena mode is fast-paced and fun, but it's surprising how inflexible it is compared to, say, Halo 3.

Perhaps most of the multiplayer efforts went into the new Warzone mode, which is a 12-on-12 battle across larger maps. The basic variant of Warzone has the teams capturing outposts and earning points for their team along the way. This mode has AI enemies to contend with, as well. These often-named enemies spawn on a countdown timer and give a good number of points to the team that takes them down. Later on, when legendary variants of these enemies start spawning, the points given for a kill can totally swing the final outcome in dramatic fashion. So the game becomes a mix of capturing points, defending points, and occasionally breaking off a few players to go handle the AI enemies for bonus points (or, at least, to deny the enemy that same bonus). It's a thrilling upgrade to the standard style of Halo multiplayer, but also one that comes with a caveat or two of its own.

The lead caveat here is the new REQ system, a card-and-pack-based set of features that figure into this mode heavily. For playing multiplayer, you'll earn REQ points. These points can be spent on card packs, which come in bronze, silver, and gold variants. The packs can include permanent unlocks, like cosmetic upgrades and basic weapons, or they can include Titanfall-style burn cards that, as a Warzone match continues, let you spawn in with more powerful gear. So if you want to spawn in with a Banshee so you can fly overhead and try to contain the enemy in a location with its powerful lasers, you'll essentially burn a card (as well as some in-game energy, which builds and levels up over the course of a Warzone match) to make that happen. Want a Spartan Laser? You'll need a card first. So this adds a consideration as to when is the right moment to use these cards and, ideally, help ensure a positive outcome for your team. This means that teams that are getting smashed out of the gate have zero reason to bring out the big guns, since they'll want to save their rarer cards for a closer match. Or teams that might normally try to push an advantage could slow down on card usage, to ensure they'll have some to use the next time they play. The additional out-of-match considerations that the single-use cards bring are an unwelcome addition. The ability to call in bigger guns and gear over the course of a match could have been handled differently. That said, you earn quite a few REQ points by simply playing the game, and additional card packs are granted to you when you level up, so it seems unlikely that you'll ever be completely out of things to deploy.

Many of these cards are single-use in the Warzone mode.
Many of these cards are single-use in the Warzone mode.

The higher-end card packs, of course, can also be purchased with real money. This stinks up the joint a little bit and makes you feel like the opposing team could have just bought a bunch of gold packs to call in the best stuff at the end of a match, rather than relying solely on their skill. Does the idea of paid consumables destroy Warzone? No, absolutely not. But even when I was playing pre-release, a day or two prior to paid cards being available, the whole thing felt a bit... icky. By assigning a real-world value to these cards, the decision to use them starts to have ramifications beyond simply activating an in-game item. That additional "layer of strategy," if you will, doesn't add to the experience. That, combined with there only being a few Warzone maps (and no custom games option for the Warzone maps) means that I'll probably spend more time in the Arena section of the multiplayer.

Across the board, Halo 5 presents itself quite well. The game runs at a great frame rate that smooths out the action and helps make it look great. There's some "adaptive resolution" trickery happening behind the scenes to make that frame rate stick up around 60 frames per second, but that only led to one or two spots where I felt like I noticed an aspect of the screen looking grungier than it should. It's a neat trick, one that other games might want to consider down the line. It's a great-looking game, and certainly among the platform's very best to date. The audio is also quite good, with explosions and gunfire that make you feel like you're in the middle of a battle. Very crisp sound effects, overall. The music is also nice, blending Halo's signature chants with more modern-sounding compositions.

That frame rate, specifically, goes a long way. Halo 5 looks great and plays very, very well. It even tells a pretty decent story along the way. It's just surprising that many of the weirder multiplayer modes that come to mind when you think of what Halo has done over the years are straight-up missing. And Warzone has some really great ideas about how to present Halo multiplayer on a new scale, but the sometimes-confusing REQ system subtracts more than it adds to that part of the game. There will certainly be some players who find that the specific omissions in Halo 5 are extremely disappointing, and you'll see a rough edge or two, but all in all there's a fantastic big-budget shooter in Halo 5 with lots to see and enough multiplayer options to keep you going for quite some time.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+

156 Comments

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deactivated-5e851fc84effd

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Word.

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tyxja

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woo! great review, Jeff!!

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Colonel_Pockets

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OK!

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audiosnow

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Huh, I wasn't expecting they'd return to the dual protagonist format.

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Esposito426

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Great review, Jeff!

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El_Mahico

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I am ready for a new Halo!

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Kimozabi

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And now micro transaction are also standard in AAA games.

Video games gradually suck more and more.

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anbilow

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Nice review, Jeff. I'm excited.

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VierasTalo

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Wasn't expecting to see them review a Halo-game without hands-on multiplayer at launch to ensure it works.

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chaser324

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chaser324  Moderator

Huh, I wasn't expecting they'd return to the dual protagonist format.

I suppose it might be a surprise if you haven't been following the game at all, but I feel like they've been pretty up front about it since the initial reveal. There's even two dudes on the cover art. Not to mention the fact that they've been putting out a lot of fiction to flesh out Locke's backstory in the lead up to Halo 5.

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Error52

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@vierastalo: they've been able to play it on pre-release servers for a while now.

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Sackmanjones

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Got my pre-load ready to go. I'm assuming it already has the day 1 patch installed, can anyone confirm that?

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VierasTalo

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@error52 said:

@vierastalo: they've been able to play it on pre-release servers for a while now.

Oh, like they did DriveClub? I guess we're fine.

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chaser324

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chaser324  Moderator

@vierastalo: I'm sure they'll address it if it ends up being a Master Chief Collection tier disaster, but if I remember correctly, that game had a lot of issues even pre-release.

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Adamizerr

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I really enjoyed reading this

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Chaoticarsonist

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Very disappointed to hear that they dropped the ball on characterizing Blue Team. That was the ONE thing that made me consider getting this game. Ever since I read my first Halo novel over a decade ago, I've wanted to see the other Spartan-IIs (who are all, quite frankly, more interesting than Master Chief) brought to life in the games.

Disappointment after disappoint, 343.

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Xdeser2

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Edited By Xdeser2

Everything you wrote about the campaign makes me want to try it out more and more. I really liked the dual-protagonist set up in Halo 2, and the fact that they're bringing in more focus on storytelling with efforts like non-combat exploration sections makes me really want to play this.

Though I'm sad that they failed to take the time to properly set up supporting characters...again. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to this.

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coma1138

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Stoked to play it tomorrow.

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TheHT

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Bummer to read about the ending, but it all still seems like a solid title.

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Mattsniper360

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great review, it has me excited for the game even more!

one little thing that bugs me though, in the warzone part you said wraith when i think you meant banshee. banshees can fly, wraiths are tanks :)

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mrsmiley

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Awesome review. Stoked to play through this!

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jigenese

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I might get an Xbox One just for this game.... Maybe.

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mrsmiley

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Very disappointed to hear that they dropped the ball on characterizing Blue Team. That was the ONE thing that made me consider getting this game. Ever since I read my first Halo novel over a decade ago, I've wanted to see the other Spartan-IIs (who are all, quite frankly, more interesting than Master Chief) brought to life in the games.

Disappointment after disappoint, 343.

Keep in mind that Jeff (like most people) doesn't have a clue about any of the lore outside of the games. For instance, I have many friends that hated Halo 4's story because they had no idea what was going on. Having read the forerunner books, I knew exactly what was going on, and it was amazing - probably my favorite halo campaign to date! If you read the books, and have an understanding of characters outside of the game, I have a feeling you'll probably enjoy their side a lot more.

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dakota1099

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Great review. Though I'm a little confused about the card packs involvement in warzone as I've heard different things from other sites. I thought the cards you get that you burn in warzone are legendary versions of weapons/vehicles and you can unlock the base weapons without a card. I could be totally wrong as I haven't played the game. Super looking forward to playing though. Less than 24 hours to go!

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ripelivejam

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But Buck! He likes to... shoot walls.

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DocH1X1

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Confusing why Jeff mentions ability to pay for req cards which in twitch streams of press show you getting points at such a rate a need to "buy" would never happen, but that Jeff omits the fact that because of that system there will be ZERO payed DLC, all free map packs for its entirety.

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mems1224

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@kimozabi: at least all future dlc will be free.

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l4wd0g

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@sackmanjones: You should be good to go; however, check the Halo 5 file size. I was reading that if you bought the game before Sept. 21, and have the 'instant on' feature turned off, you'll have corrupt data. You can check by looking at the file size; if it's less than 40 gigs you'll need to download it again.

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Sackmanjones

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@l4wd0g: I just pre ordered it s few days ago after watching the few videos giant bomb did about the game so sounds like I'm set! Thanks!

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Sackmanjones

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@mrsmiley: honestly this is kind of a huge flaw in their story telling. Halo is incredibly popular but still only a small sliver of fans will consume the extended fiction like the various tv shows and books. The way extended lore should work in my mind is it should reward the fans that consume that content and not punish those who did not. Halo 4 and from the sound of it, to a lesser extend Halo 5 do just that.

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NeoZeon

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So they took one of each from my "Halo 2 Loved/Hated" lists then: I actually really liked the split character setup from that game and found the Arbiter to be an interesting character. But then Jeff mentions the ending and my heart sinks. That ending was, well, that was basically Bungie going "See you in Halo 3 Kids" and it made me sad, doubly so if it's just as abrupt in Halo 5 as it was in two.

Also a little disappointing to hear about Blue Team not getting much love story wise. I had high hopes for that plot angle. Actually, if I'm being honest, I really just like not playing as Master Chief. The guy's rise to fame as some kind of awesome action hero never made sense to me. Dude hardly talks and has no backstory as far as the games go.

I know Halo apologists, I know, I could read the books and such, but that's nonsense. I shouldn't have to read something outside the medium just to find Bungie's plot...though at least they're consistent since they did the same damn thing with Destiny and those Grimoire Cards...

Probably going to hold off on this game for now. Maybe they'll be a Black Friday sale or something. Between the issues already mentioned and that REQ system, Halo 5 just sounds like a mess of ideas that work despite themselves - Not a good selling point.

Also, Master Chief Collection was a train wreck at launch so it would probably be a good idea to hang back for a while this time around.

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digitaldiatribe

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Didn't expect the Demolition Man reference, haha.

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ThatOneDudeNick

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Seems neat. Am I trippin or has the FOV in these games become tighter with each entry? I could just be noticing it more, but the videos make it look like i'm looking through a paper towel roll or something. I look forward to picking this up regardless.

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Cykke

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Jeff!

Nice review. Only one thing!

Wraiths don't fly, Banshees do! Seems that's what you meant to say.

Keep on, duder!

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Ravelle

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No Split-Screen as in you can't play with a buddy on the couch doing the campaign? Because that was what Halo was all about for me. :(

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Whippyice

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cool well even if it was a bad i would have been boned, as my pre order arrives tomorrow, glad to hear it's a solid effort then,

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ora761

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@ravelle: yup no split-screen whatsoever.

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Ravelle

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Edited By Ravelle

@ora761 said:

@ravelle: yup no split-screen whatsoever.

This makes no sense at all, Halo's legacy was all about having Halo nights with a bunch of friends, H4 even had those co-op episodes you could play.

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mems1224

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Edited By mems1224

@ravelle: none of those games ran at a constant 60fps. Sounds like the framerate was the priority in this game and that takes a hit with split screen.

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newmoneytrash

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Edited By newmoneytrash

i can't wait for tomorrow tbh

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AnEternalEnigma

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Never thought this pay-to-win horse shit would ever infect Halo. Shameful.

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andrewf87462

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Great review. Not long left now and we'll be able to play it for ourselves. I can't say I'm too concerned over the REQ packs being purchasable with real money as those people buying the higher powered weapons still need the skill to use them. I'm usually crap at the multiplayer in these games so if I bought a card that handed me a Spartan Laser I can guarantee I'd be slaughtered within about 10 seconds.

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soundlug

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@mrsmiley: That is still bad storytelling. People should not need to read EU books to set up characters in the game, specially since is their first apparence in the game series proper. Your friends are right to hate the story as they should don't need to read EU books to know what the hell a Didact is. 343i got a ton of complains about this stuff in Halo 4 (so hardly a complain from a minority) and they keep doing this (even if they are getting better, the marketing is not helping matters).

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mems1224

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Edited By mems1224
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xxDrAiNxx

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Great review !

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Rusty8

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Great read! Now I have another reason to pick up a Xbox One.

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Honkalot

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Is this out for PS4 soon? Can't wait to play it.

:( :'( :( :''(

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Honkalot

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Edited By Honkalot
@ravelle said:
@ora761 said:

@ravelle: yup no split-screen whatsoever.

This makes no sense at all, Halo's legacy was all about having Halo nights with a bunch of friends, H4 even had those co-op episodes you could play.

I'm with you, it's sad to see them remove it as it was how I played the last few Halo's. But at some point it just doesn't work out. Rendering two cameras like that, at some point it doesn't become feasible if you want the game to have even 30fps. We expect games to move forward graphically and with locked hardware there comes a point where it just can't be done.

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nickhead

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Edited By nickhead

I'm a little surprised he wasn't totally impressed with Warzone - that's the only mode my friends are excited for. Good read though, gave me a little more information to weigh against buying this. I've been down on Halo and MCC's issues kind of killed my desire for multi. I mostly just want to see the campaign but ending on a cliffhanger sounds lame.

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Cav829

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Edited By Cav829

Great review. It's about what I expected. The REQ system sounds awful. I wasn't too thrilled with the multiplayer beta (some of what they were going for with movement was great, but the way it was merging with older Halo elements felt off), but I still want to play the single player campaign at some point. But if it's going to be a giant cliffhanger, I think I'll hold off for now.