This review contains story spoilers of the entire Halo 5 campaign. If you don’t want the game spoiled, consider this your first and only warning.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let’s address the main concern of this review. Halo 5 has a great story. Such an opinion seems inconsistent with what many other outlets are reporting, but one thing I’ve noticed from reviews complaining about the game’s story is that they all fail to consider one thing: execution of the plot is different from the plot itself.
It’s well understood that 343i is taking Halo in a new direction, and for most this is regarded as a welcome change from the way Bungie handled the story. Gone are the days where the extended universe is largely ignored by the main games. Halo 4 introduced a character that was directly from the Forerunner Saga, and had not made an appearance nor even hinted at prior in the earlier games. Likewise, with Halo 5 we see a dramatic shift in story priority, with the new Spartan IVs taking the limelight away from Chief and his team. For many this shift in narrative was detrimental, for me I think it’s a philosophically significant movement away from what we consider Halo to be. Halo can be Halo without Chief and Cortana, at least as the main protagonists. And this is successfully demonstrated in particular with the ending of Halo 5.
The elephant in the room here is obviously Cortana’s status as the new main antagonist. This is a twist I welcome—even if reluctantly—knowing full well that our beloved virtual assistant isn’t going away anytime soon as a quirky sidekick (albeit one that wants to take over the galaxy). Furthermore, the ending had a punch to it that diehard fans of the Forerunner series in particular should find incredibly enjoyable: the Created are the true inheritors of the Mantle. What one should make of that is up for debate, but all I know is that this game opens up a world of possibility for the Halo expanded universe.
We’ve seen the flood replaced with the covenant, and the covenant replaced with Prometheans. Now we will have the opportunity to see AIs replace Prometheans as the primary enemies (though I am well aware one could argue that Prometheans are a type of AI). I no longer miss the terror that was the gravemind, and though I long for more stories on the nature of the Precursors, I am content to let that remain a mystery if this new story is any indication of the direction Halo is moving.
All these plot points aside, the game plays as fantastically as many news sites have suggested it does. But while I thought the length of the campaign was satisfying, I think the reason many people complain about the playtime is due to its pacing; at times it feels a bit overlooked. For example, there are a few missions which last literally a handful of minutes that involve talking to an NPC or two. Such a mission—if we can even call it that—should not exist as its own section, and it sort of takes away from the overall experience of story progression. Moreover, another complaint I find myself sympathizing with is that Blue Team, the most famous Spartan team in active duty, perhaps even ever, has only a couple of missions which fit the following formula: Listen to this NPC tell you something-find a thing to scan-kill waves of guys-move forward-kill more guys or boss-cliffhanger cutscene.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the Locke missions were truly compelling, but I think the lack of character development made those missions feel more like a chore, and when you finally got to play as Chief and the crew you were limited to only one mission lasting 30 minutes at the most and then it was back to Fireteam Osiris. Don’t get me wrong, the story has its share of problems, but if we’re looking at the story itself I can say honestly that it was well thought out and just good enough to make you anticipate the next game. The content is solid, it’s only the execution that suffers most.
I’m not a fan of giving reviews numerical values, as it seems to suggest that we can objectively assign a number to what is inherently our experience and say that someone else’s experience should be similar. Despite this however I feel that for illustrative purposes numbers are easier to digest. For this reason, I give Halo 5’s campaign an 8.5 overall.
Side note: This totally happened.