Halo 5 Day Zero Impressions: Mediocre Campaign, Promising Multiplayer

Halo 5 Day Zero Impressions: Mediocre Campaign, Promising Multiplayer

Halo 5 is beautiful, at times a lot of fun, and at times disappointing. It’s also not yet officially released and is dependent on its multiplayer working well on a large scale. So we’re holding off on a review until well after the game’s October 27 launch. For now, some impressions of one of the Xbox One’s big fall exclusives.

The Campaign

It’s ok. It’s not spectacular. It has no all-time great levels, and it doesn’t break the mould. It spans 15 linear missions, largely involving shooting and the occasional riding of signature series vehicles. A few levels just involve milling around at bases, listening to characters talk.

You can play the whole thing in four-player co-op. If you’re playing with fewer people or are playing solo, the computer will control the rest of the squad. Reviving each other is key and will keep the mission going.

You only play a few missions as Master Chief. Most of the game stars Spartan Jameson Locke, whose squad is going after a possibly rogue Master Chief. Locke is this guy, who, don’t worry, pretty much plays the same as Chief:

Advertisements for the game have played up the drama of Locke hunting down a rogue Master Chief, but their rivalry is undercooked, their confrontation anticlimactic. The theme of a possibly rogue Master Chief was used far more effectively in the first season of the Halo 5 promotional podcast Hunt The Truth, which has a separate plot from the game.

I advise playing the campaign solo on Heroic difficulty. Heroic provided just the right challenge for me. It seemed tougher when we played co-op, and it required more coordination. (Mike Fahey, you can’t just run ahead and be a hero!)

Playing the campaign in co-op is a little more fun than playing solo, though the pedestrian level design leaves both feeling lacklustre. There are lots of big rooms full of enemies, but few memorable challenges or set-pieces.

The coolest moments, like flying through space to assault a Covenant ship, are relegated to cutscenes.

Impressive as the cutscenes may be, the in-game graphics, running at what appears to be a smooth 60 frames per second, are ridiculously good (this clip was capped at 30 due to hardware capture limitations):

See the ground pound in that clip? It’s one of Halo 5‘s signature moves.

The ending of the campaign — which we won’t spoil — sets things up for a potentially way more interesting Halo 6.

The Competitive Multiplayer

Development studio 343’s work on Halo‘s competitive multiplayer has been more successful, to the point that multiplayer seems like Halo 5‘s main attraction. There are two big modes, Arena and Warzone, both of which became available for reviewers late last week in very limited form, hence this not being a review.

Arena is traditional Halo competitive multiplayer and a good place to try out some of the game’s new moves, including the one-button juke:

…and the ability to hover by going into iron sights while jumping:

The new Warzone mode is ambitious and really promising. Four of us played through a couple of Warzone sessions together and had a great time.

A Warzone match involves large-scale battles involving up to 24 players. One pre-launch mode was set on a large multi-base map and challenged both teams of players to try to score 1000 points. Like Titanfall before it, Halo 5 Warzone fights also involve computer controlled ally and enemy grunts. Players get points for killing grunts, more points for killing human-controlled enemies and heaps of points for killing third-party computer-controlled aliens that spawn into the map. Teams also gain points for capturing bases.

A shorter variation timed to just six minutes was cool but not as good due to its brevity Warzone matches are designed to become more interesting the longer they go thanks to the new and potentially controversial “Req” system, in which you call in power-ups like vehicles and advanced weapons based on how well you’re doing in a given match — and, crucially, based on which virtual cards you’ve collected.

The Req system assigns a bunch of various Halo gear/weapons/vehicles to cards that can be used by players for permanent or short-term effects. There are cards for cosmetic character alterations and for gameplay-centric stuff like vehicles you can spawn into multiplayer or single-use buffs to your shield or movement speed.

You get cards from packs that you can buy with in-game currency earned from playing the game, but you can also buy silver and gold packs for $US2 and $US3, respectively.

I opened a gold pack, and this is some of what I got:

Cards have rarity classifications, from common to mythic. Cosmetic cards, like helmets, are equipped outside of matches and are always in your collection, as are additions to one’s options for basic weapon loadouts and any licenses to use more powerful weapons. Vehicle cards, boost cards and special weapon cards are single-use. Each card has an energy cost which comes into play during a Warzone match. For example, playing a Covenant Ghost card costs three energy.

At the start of a Warzone match, every player has just one hexagon of energy and can only use cards that have an energy cost of one. During the course of a match, all sorts of actions earn players a higher energy level. Get enough energy to play your best card and you can help tip the match’s balance.

For example, in one of the Warzone matches I tried this past weekend, I played one of my 10 Ghost cards to spawn a Ghost and defend my base. That was fortunate, since an enemy player showed up in a Ghost, shortly thereafter. I guess they played a Ghost card, too!

Playing a three-energy card depletes a player’s reserve of three energy nodes. That means you can’t just spawn one Ghost and then run to the Req station to spawn another. You’ll stay at level three in terms of having the right to play cards of that cost, but the player’s three-hexagon energy meter first has to slowly refill. Players can earn up to nine nodes of energy during a match. I have some cards that would let me put a massive Scorpion tank into the battlefield, but I would need more energy points to do that.

If you’ve followed all of that, you’ve probably surmised that the Req system reeks of potential game imbalancing microtransaction disaster that would turn Warzone into a pay-to-win debacle. Microsoft seems to have designed against that by randomizing card distribution and metering the ability to play big cards in rapid succession. In theory, big spenders wouldn’t be able to buy their way into having game-ruining advantages, but we’ll only know for sure after the game has been poked, prodded and pushed by players for a while.

On pre-release dedicated servers, Guardians‘ multiplayer matchmaking ran smoothly, though the player population was far too limited to make any fair judgment about speed and quality of matchmaking. Last year’s Halo release, The Master Chief Collection, worked for reviewers but was a technical mess that had broken multiplayer for many weeks after release. We’re eager to see how this game holds up in the wild.

As you can probably tell, this is a tricky one. Halo 5: Guardians has some good parts, some bad and a lot of question marks that can’t be answered until the game comes out and is played by hundreds of thousands of players. We’ll have more about Halo 5 in the coming days, including a full review. For now, if you have any questions about the game, hit us up in the comments.


  • Damn, I’m not all that enamoured with playing online, so the hope was that the single player campaign was going to be killer. A lot of reviews are also saying the graphics fidelity and detail drops in the larger scenes too, which is a shame on the XB1 hardware.
    Lack of split-screen co-op had pretty much ruled it out for me anyway, (can you play co-op offline via LAN with 2 consoles?) but if the campaign was awesome I was going to have a hard time resisting picking up an XB1 and Halo…
    Looks like I will be passing on it, Fallout 4 on PS4 might be my next purchase.

    • I find it incredibly disappointing that the reviews find the campaign rubbish. I have been waiting for a game that let me play and interact with Chief’s spartan classmates since I read the first book. If reviewers are saying it’s “ok, not great”, that means it’s definitely garbage. As much as I love Destiny, sometimes I wish Bungie were still in charge of Halo.

      • I like how most of the reviews are saying “Campaign disappointing, 9/10”, if a large aspect of the game isn’t that great, how did they arrive at the 9/10 score. Microsoft paying for good reviews again?

        • Reviews are just a guide. You could find the story compelling and fulfilling, while it is disappointing to see these reviews I can’t tell you how many movies bomb in reviews but turn out to be fan favorites, not every person is going to like every game. Reviews give you a little insight but unless your see 5/10 everywhere with warning signs going off left right and center I wouldn’t resign the game to the bin just yet, play with an open mind and forget what the professionals think. its their job to pick things apart so they often find fault with things that, while true, just don’t apply to the average joe.

          • Yeah definitely, but most if not all the impressions / reviews i’ve read have made mention of a subpar campaign. So this is one of those “warnings everywhere” times. It’s the main thing I like about Halo games, so it’s a big problem.

            I generally knock at least 10-20% off most reviews anyway. Gaming publications seem to be overly positive about every release, even the bad-average ones.

      • Perhaps they’re just wrong. From what I’ve played of the campaign so far I really don’t mind it. Loads better than Halo 4 for certain in terms of story, and pretty substantially better in terms of gameplay and level design.

        Why would you listen to reviews? Seriously I thought people were aware of how useless reviews were a long time ago.

  • I’m a long time Halo fan, but I’m concerned about the whole card system for Warzone. It really does sound a bit P2W, and I’ll never support that. Still too early to say, but the whole system just doesn’t sound appealing to me. Why can’t we just stick to everyone have equal access to everything like old times? Sigh.

    • Yeah, I never understood the attraction of ‘perks’, the whole enjoyment was that everyone was playing on the same level. I basically never play online any more, and now that the cmpaigns in games are non-existent or uninspired, I think my FPS playing days are numbered.

      • Glad im not the only one to think the perk\XP\p2w barrier on FPS multiplayer games is detrimental to the genre. Sadly i don’t think it ever got any better than rocket arena mod for quake 3. You played the game cause it was fun – not to unlock better weapon\armor.

    • Unlocking stuff through random loot drops provides a sense of progression meaning players are likely to grind away in the multi-player for longer increasing player retention and providing an alternate income stream long after launch sales.

      Yes it sucks but the benefit it provides means it’s probably going to stick around =P

      • Disagree with this – if a games multiplayer is fun it’ll last. It also has the opposite effect on some people (myself for example). I just won’t even bother with it due to the xp/p2w barrier.

  • Sounds like a big let down for me. I was hoping for a good single player as I don’t play much online anymore. I hate the perk systems games are using too, especially when there’s microtransactions.

  • Maybe it is the youtube compression, but something looks a little off in the graphics to me… a bit too shiny and clean, and the faraway set pieces look flat and too close. It kinda looks like the Saturday morning cartoon version of Halo.

  • Yeah, Halo is dying, better just kill it off or give it to someone else who won’t poison it.

  • Awh. But the campaign is the only thing Halo is worth playing for!
    Oh well. Still getting an xbone for it, but I guess it won’t be as urgent. Maybe I’ll get 5 and 6 together or something.

      • Noooo, Halo is all about the reactions to scenery and set-pieces from the characters, the quips in banter. It’s half of what made the OTP of Cheef+Cortana so compelling.

        • Yeah, I watched a playthrough of the first few levels. Was rolling my eyes at what they were doing. Why watch the rest? :3

          • Yeah, who could forget such memorable lines like… uh… ‘Eggheads’, and uh… ‘Chief!’.

          • Uh, eggheads what? I missed something I guess…
            I’m talking about the dry humour of the chief and Cortana, it’s vital to their characters.

            From chief’s understatements:
            “I don’t know if it’s too early to be asking you for favours, but we’re going to run out of breathing room real quick down here. I don’t suppose you’re any good at clearing LZs?”
            “…On occasion. ”


            Master Chief: This could be a trap.
            Cortana: You say that like there’s a second possibility.

            But it’s not just the quips. What about all those moments of dialogue just DRIPPING in pathos, that didn’t happen in cut-scenes?

            “I was put into service eight years ago.”
            “Eight years…”
            “AIs deteriorate after seven, Chief.”
            “We need to find Halsey.”
            “Chief, please!”
            “She made you. She can fix you.”
            “I won’t recover from rampancy, Chief.”
            “If we can just get back to Earth, and find Halsey, she can fix this.”
            “Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep.”

            Quiet moments of someone in a bad way, clinging to their dignity:

            “Assuming we pull this off, and actually make it back to Earth… don’t tell Halsey how bad I got.”
            “I won’t say a word.”

            The odds are good that you’ve never known anyone whose brain is betraying them, their mind falling apart because of stupid malfunctioning human physiology, let alone known someone who loved them, or have been in that situation yourself. And I sincerely hope you never know, first-hand, that kind of situation.

            But when Chief clenches his teeth and says, “Not going to happen,” in reaction to Cortana’s moment of quiet, detached resignation…. that dialogue and how it’s delivered is real.

            That is how people in that situation fucking FEEL – the loved-one who outright refuses to believe that nothing can be done because the alternative is literally unthinkable. As in they refuse to even think it.

            That shit and every single line written about Cortana’s rampancy is writing gold, even if the limited experience of most people means they never realize the truth of it.

          • This is exactly why I love great offline FPS campaigns, and why I was hooked on Halo. So gutted that it is basically just becoming yet another multiplayer shooter.

            Are there any decent FPS games coming out on any platform that have a good campaign, and don’t require me to stay connected to the internet?

          • @poita , I can’t directly reply to your post due to thread limit.
            But I am *absolutely* curious as to how you’re getting that vibe. The humor and story *is there* and is still *great*. I suggest *not* using opinion based reviews as a deciding factor. Watch a few videos on Youtube, see if you enjoy it. It is a good campaign.

  • From how bad the campaign in 4 was, and how this one is looking, I wouldn’t be tototally opposed to number 6 starting off as everything in the past two games was just a dream. Do Spartans dream of electric A.I.’s? Apparently so.

    The whole pay-to-win multiplayer thing doesn’t seem much of a threat. The majority of people that will pay for the “cards” will likely also be the people that will get killed the second they use them. So long as you can still hi-jack a spawned in vehicle I’ll be happy.

  • “15 linear missions”

    Another Halo game, another campaign that ignores the brilliance of The Silent Cartographer. Thanks, you’ve saved me $500+ on an Xbone and Halo games. 😛

  • I’ve been watching the first few levels of it on Youtube, won’t be picking it up for a few months (too much games not enough moniez + impatience). I don’t understand the “Mediocre” comments so far. It’s far more straight forward and entertaining than 4 was, which I personally didn’t have a problem with. Scene by scene looks freaking fantastic as well.

    Realistically you will not get the same ‘campaign / story’ vibe that the first saga gave. At that point you don’t know the universe that well and everything’s still being developed. We’re now into the second saga where characters have come and gone. You will have people that love it and people that hate it (IE: Star Wars). It may not live up to your particular vision, but it’s their’s. I’ve been waiting for something like this since Halo 1. All in all, I’m stoked with it so far.

    Advertisements for the game have played up the drama of Locke hunting down a rogue Master Chief, but their rivalry is undercooked, their confrontation anticlimactic. The theme of a possibly rogue Master Chief was used far more effectively in the first season of the …
    343i has essentially been playing ONI themselves. If you’ve listened to Hunt The Truth and see the parallels between ONI there and the Marketing Campaign that 343i has done, you might understand this more.

    • They can give the same vibe if they open the world up and accept that the initial chapter of the game is done. Too many games/tv shows keep trying to link back to the original story.

      One show that I felt did this well was stargate sg-1. The way they transitioned in to totally new story arcs with new bad guys, new planets, new problems was handled well imo.

      Halo should do the same thing and focus on a new story set in the same universe.

  • You guys must have been playing a totally different game to me. I’ve played through the campaign multiple times over the last two weeks and loved every second of it. Remember this is HALO and not Master Chief, so it’s entirely appropriate to play as and introduce new characters. I also liked jumping back and forward between characters and thought the story interwoven between the two was masterfully done. Visually, the game is beautiful and 60 fps feels just right. Multiplayer is very stable and Warzone is heaps of fun. I gave this game a 10/10 and feel it really deserved it. 343 did good!

    • Did you just say the game looks beautiful? I swear you guys have atrocious standards, the game doesn’t even look as good as PC titles from 5 years ago. Narrow fov, shit linear maps, the story is trite, Warzone is a clusterfuck that has its moments and LMAO like 60 fps is a a revelation or something? 60 fps and 1080 are minimums. It’s amazing to me that you find so much about this game praiseworthy, its another shitty Halo and Destiny literally does almost all of it better. Unless you fap to EU or something? Your musings are pathetic, call a 5 a 5

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