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Halo 5: has the thirst for volume diluted the essence?

The first Halo game dedicated to Xbox One is big. The biggest, in fact. But is it still Halo?


What I saw on the screen in LA was first-person action. My disquiet isn’t based on quality (Halo 5 will probably be an amazing game, if a little dry), but rather that it seems in all its bigness to not look much like Halo any more.

Halo 5 is big, and Microsoft is keen to let me know. Here is a selection of quotes from the 25-minute briefing I saw at E3 telling me, and thus you, what to expect from its hugeness.

“Halo 5, the biggest and most ambitious game we’ve done to date.”

“And then to really take the scale of the experience... and create something bigger than we’ve ever dreamed of before.”

“The story we’re telling with Halo 5 is the biggest story we’ve ever told. It’s a truly galactic-scale story. It includes a cast of characters that is larger than ever before.”

“We’ve also added in a really big core focus of co-operative play... The missions are bigger, more expansive with a lot more options to achieve objectives in different ways. The encounters themselves are bigger. There are a lot more enemies. They’re more complicated, to really accommodate that co-op play.”

“This is the biggest investment we’ve made in Halo multiplayer in series history.”

“We have two different experiences that are part of multiplayer in Arena and Warzone, but we’re also delivering the most content we’ve ever delivered in a Halo game.”

“Warzone is epic, 12-vs-12, PVP-integrated with AI combatants into maps four times larger than any maps before.”

“Warzone, this brand new, gigantic multiplayer mode.”

Now you know. Big. Biggest ever. So, so big. No one's going to be belittling Microsoft's size in the locker room. Halo 5's packing girth. What isn’t so clear is whether or not this is the Halo game you may have been expecting. Or whether or not it’s really Halo at all.

First-person action

I’m no Halo expert, but I have played Halo games. I even finished one once. I get it. You shoot stuff and there’s a specific feel to movement (God love you, Bungie). There’s a story and multiplayer. I know this. It’s a first-person shooter.

What I saw on the screen in LA was first-person action. My disquiet isn’t based on quality (Halo 5 will probably be an amazing game, if a little dry), but rather that it seems in all its bigness to not look much like Halo any more. The floating gun still floats, but the parkouring and squad-commanding looks more like a first-person combination of Assassin's Creed and The Division than anything we've seen from Halo before. Maybe the 343 team got Ubialised in the three years it's been working on Guardians.

Halo 5's E3 campaign demo. FPS or FPA?

And then there's the "Guardians" bit. I mean, come on. The Warzone mode Microsoft revealed at E3 looks undeniably similar to a certain other game associated with "guardians," right down to elite boss units appearing in the middle of large, open areas as an adjunct to a main show. I know the overall make-up is different than, say, Prison of Elders or Destiny's public events, but these arena-based multiplayer sections in Guardians do bear a striking similarity to Activision's super-shooter.

It's no bad thing, I suppose, but when did Halo become this mish-mash of its perceived competitors? Is Guardians the result of a by-the-numbers approach, a desire to create the biggest first-person action title on the market? Does it risk diluting Halo's identity?

The question extends into single-player. It isn't unusual for Halo to branch off into other units and characters, but now, thanks to the four-way drop-in co-op and two separate fireteams, we have a playable cast of eight across the campaign missions. Big, yes, but is it Halo? I can't pretend to know whether or not this is the route forward franchise fans have been hoping for, but I suspect Guardians is borne from a need to have an exhaustive first-person core product on Xbox One, one with unique (ish) online modes designed to batter the competition with Microsoft's resource grunt and an unashamedly glitzy single-player with all the bathroom, kitchen and out-house sinks included.

Everything you could possibly want from a first-person action game appears in Guardians, and the fan service couldn't be more worthy (copious free additional multiplayer maps and dedicated services, for example, have been openly promised). But let's just hope Master Chief hasn't been included as a token effort. I know even the suggestion's unfair, as no one could ever criticise 343's passion for the Halo brand, but let's see how Halo's rabid fanbase reacts later this year.

There's no doubt I'm excited to play Halo 5: Guardians, but it should feel like Halo. Triple-A can be generic enough as it is. There's no need to make matters worse.

Halo 5: Guardians releases on Xbox One on October 27.

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