Microsoft’s Phil Spencer on the importance of Halo 5 to the fate of the Xbox One

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Halo 5: Guardians’ is good fun, but it’s better with friends.

As such, it’s somewhat appropriate that a preview of Halo 5: Guardians was my introduction to the series — it’s the first Halo game for the Xbox One, and it’s undoubtedly a title that Microsoft is looking at as a system seller. He’s been through a lot: fought a few intergalactic wars, staved off an ancient biological threat that would have wiped out every living being in the universe, and lost a few dear friends along the way. There’s a huge amount of story lore to know about Halo at this point — and, perhaps more importantly, the fifth game in a series probably assumes some gameplay and story knowledge on the part of participants.

The campaign mode, which I played for a few hours at a press event in San Francisco last week, sets up a story in which Master Chief is looking for fragmented pieces of himself just as much as he is searching for the next fight. The story will explore the perspectives of both Fireteam Osiris, which is tasked with hunting down Master Chief, and Blue Team, which seems to be following through on Chief’s own personal mission. It’s a refreshing move that builds on developer 343 Industries’ previous major entry in the franchise, 2012’s Halo 4, in which the Chief was humanized in ways the original Halo trilogy didn’t have the capacity or time to achieve. The goal is to turn the Halo on our television screens into the vibrant, sci-fi epic it’s been for years to those willing to dive deep into the franchise’s novels and comic books. The Master Chief mission was set deep in a cold, dark, and generally unfriendly space station, complete with the obligatory (but beautiful) views out the windows of the desolation and emptiness of space.

Your mission is to try and reclaim the station, but things go awry and instead you’re forced to activate a nuclear reactor and blow the place to smithereens. The Locke mission takes place in an entirely different environment; the goal being to take out a massive spaceship called the Kraken that’s laying siege to the rocky, sun-baked canyons and mountains of the planet you’ve landed on. The Halo universe is complicated, almost byzantine, and I had no real sense of what each character’s motivations were at any point aside from “don’t die.” That said, it doesn’t seem fair to judge a game’s story elements when you’re not playing from the beginning. The title is also a big chance for Microsoft’s 343 Industries (the studio formed to handle the Halo franchise after original creator Bungie spun out to make another first-person shooter, Destiny) to show what it can do with huge investment of time and money.

This puts 343i in an interesting position, having to preserve the inherent power fantasy of militaristic shooter games while crafting a narrative about flawed and struggling human beings. Overall, though, the missions weren’t exactly memorable — even a day later, I had a hard time trying to remember exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Everything about Guardians’ two set-piece-heavy story missions I played, totalling about 2 hours of play time on normal difficulty, were designed to take full advantage of four soldiers working together in expansive environments.

The player, as Locke, is following in Chief’s footsteps and trying to unravel why he’s doing what he’s doing and where everything will lead.” I started out on the second level of the game, the first mission with Master Chief. The gameplay was refreshingly varied, though: Both episodes featured plenty of first-person shooting, but there was also some fun (and challenging) vehicle-based sections that did a great job of breaking up wave after wave of enemies. Once reserved to Halo’s novels and comics, Blue Team is now front and center and players can assume the role of either the Chief or one of three other famed Spartans.

There’s a lot of action happening above and below you, making it extra-challenging to know where to train your attention while clearing out a part of the map. Players will also switch between the Chief and Fireteam Osiris, led by newly-minted Spartan Jameson Locke who hunts the Chief after he’s deemed AWOL. But even though the majority of the missions involved mowing down hordes of Covenant Grunts, Elites, Jackals and Hunters, they felt significantly less repetitive than those in Destiny, which is perhaps the most obvious point of comparison.

There are multiple pathways and innumerable aerial vantage points to create firefights that feel more realistic than the standard hallway mazes of older titles. When you’re playing by yourself, Halo 5’s AI controls the other three members of your team; at no point did I ever really feel those companions were much of a help or a hinderance. Notably, you do not have to play this mode with other live humans. 343i has crafted a more intelligent and responsive AI system for the campaign that lets you direct your teammates with combat and location orders.

One of the biggest complaints from hardcore Halo fans is that the franchise’s narrative canon presents one vision for how a seven-foot-tall genetically augmented supersolider fights and the game presents … well, a lamer version of that. There were at least two sections where our team battled several massive Hunters as well as hordes of more standard enemies, and we had to be far more cautious and deliberate than in the single-player campaign. Based on the what I saw of the single-player preview, probably not — this title will most likely appeal to the (large) group of hardcore fans out there, and will probably sell a bunch of Xbox Ones to those who haven’t come on board yet. The experience was a reminder of what makes the tried and true Halo formula so great: Giving players a variety of different avenues to tackle a giant problem.

As for a noob like me, playing with friends made me realize that multiplayer — and in particular, this new co-op mode — is the way to best enjoy Halo. We stayed in touch with the UNSC Infinity, which dispatched new instructions for how to proceed with the attack on the Covenant and the defense of the Argent Moon.

You’ll get to keep your current user name (as long as it doesn’t contain invalid characters, in which case you’ll have to go through a few extra steps to make the transfer), and all your old comments will eventually (not immediately) migrate with you. I felt the same pang of character-driven connection when, in my campaign play-through of Guardians, the Chief has a surreal vision of where he thinks Blue Team must travel next. Designing Locke and writing the new character, we wanted him to feel distinct from Chief,” said Holmes. “We wanted him to be a person who would ask Chief the kind of questions we want him to ask over the course of this mission.” We proceeded to redo the mission as a co-op team. That’s all fertile ground for the story.” As for Holmes, who has been working on the title for almost four years, he said about the fans, “I hope they’ll be surprised.

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