The Halo 5 Multiplayer Beta offers us our first full glimpse of the next installment in the Halo franchise. While we won’t see any of the campaign, we’ll get a good sense of the gameplay. Already, Halo 2: Anniversary has dropped some hints as to the story of Halo 5, mainly that Agent Locke, a new Spartan, has asked The Arbiter for help in finding the Master Chief, who has gone AWOL.
We know that the game will run at 60 frame per second, which sets it to be the most beautiful, fastest flowing Halo game ever made. Also, Bonnie Ross, 343 general manager, has hinted that this game is “massive.” Does this mean open-world Halo? Or does she mean that the technology being put into Halo 5: Guardians is incredibly revolutionary? I hope it’s both.
I want to do some hardcore space exploration in the next game, maybe on the scope of Mass Effect. Or rather, since Halo has always been about planetary romance, I’d love to be able to explore a new Forerunner planet (everything we’ve seen of the new game so far teases a desert filled with giant monsters) more completely than ever before.
The mysteries of ancient alien technology have always been one of the series’ strongpoints. What if Chief is out looking for pieces of a larger puzzle that will bring Cortana back? Undoubtedly, this game will be about getting Cortana back. Chief wears the head chip around his neck because he hasn’t forgotten about his best friend. Whether Cortana will make a return in Halo 5 is anyone’s guess, of course, but I have a feeling she’ll be in one or two flashbacks.
Either way, this is an emotionally scarred Chief, who’s heading into the next battle, ready to send those damn Prometheans and Covenant rogues back into the hell from whenst they came.
Guessing what Halo 5 is going to be like isn’t all that difficult. What you need to do is realize that at their core, all the games in the series are pretty much the same; there’s a formula. Of course, some of the games have been more successful at using this formula than others. Halo 4 might have done it best.
Go ahead, you can say it: Halo 4 cleaned up the mess that Halo 3 left behind. The core story elements of both of these games are basically the same (although you wouldn’t really be able to tell since 343 offers an almost entirely new feel to this series), but Halo 4 handled them in a way that made the narrative experience feel completely fresh.
First off, there’s a narrative experience in Halo 4, which is a lot more than I can say for the choppy storytelling in its predecessor. Bungie seemed to backtrack with the culmination of its trilogy, much more interested in the fanfare than buttoning up the story in an exciting way. Gone was The Arbiter’s story, for example, which I think was a big mistake. You don’t take out twists/subplots that turn a sequel on its head. A middle sequel should almost ALWAYS introduce brand-new stakes that make the final chapter that much more compelling. Think where The Empire Strikes Back would be if Vader WASN’T Luke’s father…
Halo 3 was all about being epic. The universe was shed of its mystery. All the plot points were in place: crazed religious alien cult wants to blow up the galaxy with a giant weaponized ring (twist #1 happens about a minute into Halo: Combat Evolved!), said ring is actually used to contain/exterminate a bloodthirsty parasite swarm that wants to eat its way through the entire galaxy (still one of the best twists in video game storytelling history!!), there are actually GOOD members of the Covenant (it’s important to show the villains as multi-dimensional characters), and there’s something called The Ark where you can build more rings/detonate them all for maximum cataclysm.
As you can see, these twists build up throughout the first two games, while the third is completely void of them. So we get a bland ending, nothing to really make us jump. We see EVERYTHING coming…yes, even when the Flood land on Earth (no brainer!).
So these are the two basic elements that illustrate how a Halo game works: a new alien construct/superweapon is introduced (Halo, Delta Halo, the Ark, Requiem) and a new alien species/a new viewpoint on a known alien species is introduced (The Flood, The Arbiter, Gravemind, the Prometheans).
There WAS one thing that Halo 3 introduced, but didn’t execute as well as it should have: Cortana’s rampancy. If you look back at the old “Finish the Fight” trailers, you’ll see how the game was pretty much built around the fact that your AI companion was going nuts and might serve as some sort of a villain. You’d be driven to make a decision: save her or destroy her.
Of course, none of that happened. Instead, we get a remix of the famous drive-the-Warthog-off-this-thing-before-it-blows-up scene, and Cortana and Master Chief sail off into space on whatever is left of their ship. Very Titanic, sorta.
343 took the “rules” of the series (it’s really great that video game storytelling has reached a point where one should consider narrative rules [no one EVER say Halo isn’t a sophisticated work of art]) and bent them to their will.
Back was also the fleeting relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, who is at the peak of her rampancy. These expert developers made sure her end was not with a whimper, but with a bang. And they fooled millions by doing the old-switcheroo that didn’t quite work for Bungie in Halo 2, but worked fantastically in Halo 4: they took the focus off of Master Chief and zoomed in on another character.
The best way to examine what might happen in Halo 5 is to first understand that the fourth installment is Cortana’s story. You, the player, are a secondary character, the vessel that holds in its hand/head the center of the story. Cortana has been your guide throughout this series, and now more than ever, she guides you through the rings of Hell inside her head like a cyberspace Virgil.
Few characters complement each other as well as Cortana and Chief. The AI’s painful cries are really the soldier’s. Chief is wasting away in the same way as Cortana. But Chief’s emotionlessness really belong to a machine. These characters really represent each other. And that’s the mirror. The whole point of Halo 4.
When Cortana meets her end, you are affected by a) the ultimate sacrifice that leads to her death, and b) the transformations these characters have gone through by the end of the game: Master Chief is more machine and Cortana is more human. Cortana shows WAY more emotional depth by then, but she’s the machine. We can’t imagine what the countless slaughters Master Chief has inflicted on the universe must have done to his psyche. At this point, he’s a creature of habit. More reflex than heart. That’s my reasoning behind why we get that final glimpse of the faceless hero’s eyes before we fade to black. We look into his soul for what might be the only/final time.
It’s a no-brainer that Halo 5 will be a much more intimate story about Master Chief. It should be centric to him. 343 has teased that the fifth installment will be much darker than its predecessors, and what better way than to bring us up close and personal with the man turned machine? He’ll be angry, vengeful, A LOT MORE RECKLESS (Cortana was his voice of reason throughout much of the series after all). Master Chief will act in uncharacteristic ways. He has always done what’s been asked of him for the good of mankind, so it might be interesting to see him do things for himself…because he can. He will definitely be more selfish. We have a chance to see a much grittier, violent Chief, and I don’t think the opportunity should be wasted.
The big question will be whether 343 decides to bring Cortana back somehow. I’d say they would be undoing this brand-new creature they’ve built if they decided to take the fairytale path. We saw glimpses of what the UNSC is like post-Covenant War. This whole war business has become a lot more sinister, and perhaps Chief should get a new AI that reflects that. Maybe an AI that will choose to go loud a lot more often than Cortana did. One thing is certain: Chief needs a new AI that will serve as the voice of consciousness. Without that voice in your head, players are bound to have a pretty bland experience (oh hey–maybe that’s why the first half of Halo 3 is kind of boring).
I think the return Dr. Halsey is no accident. After the events of Spartan Ops, these two characters are almost certain to meet up/face-off. I wonder what tricks Halsey has up her sleeve (the last time we saw her, she had joined forces with the Covenant Remnant). Is she a true defector? Will we maybe see Chief sympathize with her and join forces with the Covenant to complete their yet-to-be-revealed agenda (there will definitely be some new twists!). That will allow Lasky and Palmer to make a return and join the fight for Master Chief.
Master Chief could definitely go rogue in the next installment, something we haven’t seen in past games. It was very interesting to see The Arbiter do the same in Halo 2. There is no better time to do it than the present. Undoubtedly, Halo 5 will show us a side of the Chief we’ve never seen before.