Legacy is an indelible mark. In the Halo series’ case, it’s also an honoured platform that oft elevates the franchise’s beginnings to God-like heights. This isn’t a bad thing: just ask any diehard N64 fan about Goldeneye. But for 343 Industries, this love-affair is almost too emotional. For them, there’s a notion that maybe, just maybe, as your new partner in this relationship, it might be time to let go of past loves and move on.
Halo 5: Guardians then, is their love-letter to you, dear Halo fans. It’s not even remotely a ‘Dear John’, however (remember, that same ‘Dear John’ that ‘other’ partner left you with, and who now ceremoniously flaunt and show off their new partner), but rather a friendship ring; an engagement ring… maybe even just a phone
ring. No matter which way you look at it, and forgetting Halo 4 for the minute, Halo 5: Guardians is your new partner with 343 telling you that what they’re here to offer isn’t support of a past love, it’s a fresh start. And they’ve brought some friends along for the ride.
Without that getting too sexual (and me running too far with it), Guardians is a game set to genuinely shake-up the Halo platform. It’s a game that takes away the nomadic nature of the ‘I’ll do whatever I want, whenever I want because I’m Master Chief’ Chief, and throws in companions for you to not only work alongside, but to also build new, strong and emotional relationships with. It’s the “number one pillar” for the single-player campaign, as described by 343’s Josh Holmes -- a co-op-focused campaign but with a weird twist where the drop-in, drop-out angle doesn’t remove your co-operative avatar, and of any member of the team that leaves, AI simply takes over.
“Throughout the entire play experience, you are with your fireteam,” Holmes confirms when we ask if you’ll enjoy any solo moments with either Chief or Locke. “All the time, you’re always with four Spartans, and that’s our commitment to supporting co-op.”
It’s arguably the boldest move in the series, especially when it was confirmed that there’s only ever one person playing as Master Chief at all times (so if you join a buddy, you don’t inhabit Chief, you inhabit an available sidekick). Well, that and adding another protagonist by way of Spartan Locke who you’ll be sharing the agency narrative with. Whether you like it or not.
“Everyone will have the option when they’re playing to play as the primary player, or in a solo campaign,” he adds when asked about who gets to play Chief. “But we think that the ability to go in and play as other characters when joining your friends gives the campaign [some] nice replay value. There are subtle differences to the narrative that you’ll experience from those other perspectives, and so we think that’s a nice incentive as well.
“It’s the biggest story we’ve ever told in Halo; it’s galactic in scale,” Holmes enthuses. “We’ll take you across multiple worlds in the Halo galaxy, and as we tell it, we’ll also introduce a number of characters -- new characters that have never [been] in the series before, as well as familiar faces returning for Halo 5.”
The studio isn’t shying from the deep, deep lore that has been written around the Halo universe either, with members of Chief’s ‘Blue Team’ being ripped right from the novels, though their foundation in the written pages is as important as any who’ve appeared in the interactive side of the franchise before.
The basic setup then, is an odd mix of disparate storytelling using a somewhat symmetrical team and co-op system. Both Spartan teams will have the same number of members, each inhabitable by your friends, or the AI, but it also means there’s very little in the way of that single, solitary experience. Whether this removes some of the
discovery the series is known for will remain to be seen, but for now, packing in a huge cast of characters to tell a “galactic” story should still be considered bold and huge. Moreover, the emphasis on action and staying in the fight is a big one, where you can now revive -- or be revived -- by your teammates, borrowing from Gears of War (and myriad others, of course). You can also issue commands to anyone in your party not controlled by a human, which should make for some interesting skirmishes for different players and their respective tactical styles.
Oh, and they’ve confirmed dedicated servers hosting the co-op experience alone will be available, separate to the multiplayer ones (we should assume this is all Azure-based though). And on that multiplayer front, Holmes proudly asserted that it’s “the biggest investment we’ve made in multiplayer in franchise history”.
“We have Warzone, which is an epic multiplayer experience merging PvP and PvE,” he lauded. “So it’s 12v12 PvP, plus AI-controlled adversaries that are populated throughout maps that are four-times the size of any previous Halo games. We have AI bosses that are part of the scoring system, bases to capture and then there are stations located throughout the maps where you can call in weapons and vehicles dynamically using our new requisition system.”
He also confirmed that there will be over 20 maps on Day One, with another 15 before June, 2016 -- and that every map released post-launch will be free because “we don’t want players experiencing any barriers”. Which all paints a very interesting picture.
Speaking of, it’s also looking gorgeous at this point and the art-direction remains very Halo-styled, if only more detailed thanks to the power they can pull out of the Xbox One now. New social features were also mentioned, across all modes, but these weren’t specifically detailed but you can imagine they’ll be extensive seeing as how far ahead Halo was in the early days even under Bungie, so we’ll try and dig into what those will be shortly.
Halo 5: Guardians will be out this October 27 exclusively for Xbox One.