Halo 5: Guardians is here, and it's one of the biggest Halo games yet, in every way possible. The first game in Microsoft's beloved sci-fi shooter series that's been built specifically for the Xbox One, Halo 5 offers a twisting storyline starring both longtime protagonist Master Chief and newcomer Spartan Locke; a four-player co-op mode; and what looks to be the most robust multiplayer offering the series has yet seen.
If you're looking to get up to speed before saving the galaxy from ancient alien threats (as usual), here's everything you need to know about Halo 5: Guardians.
What is Halo 5: Guardians?
Halo 5: Guardians is the latest core installment in 343 Industries' long-running first-person shooter franchise. It delivers a multi-protagonist campaign and tons of multiplayer modes. It's out now for Xbox One, and will cost $60.
Is the game any good?
We found Halo 5 to be a huge evolution to the Halo formula, offering incredibly dynamic gameplay, a huge campaign and tons of fun multiplayer modes. For more on our verdict, be sure to check out our full review.
What's the story so far?
Halo's "humanity vs. myriad of weird space monsters" storyline can get pretty convoluted, but there are a few key themes driving its plot. The core Halo story revolves around Master Chief, a genetically augmented super-soldier (or Spartan) who generally protects the universe from any alien race looking to blow it up, and Cortana, his trusty purple virtual assistant.
The first three Halo games largely tell the story of Chief taking down the Covenant, a fanatic alien group whose religious beliefs convince it that humanity must be extinguished, as well as the Flood, a zombie-like parasitic race whose only purpose is to kill. During a galaxy-spanning adventure, Chief is able to defeat the Covenant's leaders and flush out the Flood, but gets stuck drifting in space for several years.
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Halo 4 flashes forward a few years and brings the focus to the Prometheans, a race of robotic warriors looking to (violently) reclaim the galaxy the Prometheans helped create. If that wasn't enough to worry about, Cortana starts suffering from rampancy, a disease that causes AIs to go haywire towards the end of their working lives.
Chief and Cortana eventually stop Promethean leader The Didact from zapping the Earth to grow his own power, but they do so at the expense of Cortana's last bit of digital life. Chief returns home, but isn't quite the same without his best bud.
That brings us to Halo 5: Guardians, a game whose mysterious plot paints the Master Chief as a possible traitor and introduces us to new Spartan Jameson Locke. With Chief seemingly abandoning orders for his own personal mission, the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) sends Locke and his fireteam to hunt him down. Players will experience the story from both Chief's and Locke's points of view; it's the first time since Halo 2 that the core series has offered multiple playable protagonists.
If you need more background, Xbox UK has a series of videos that sum up each Halo game in 117 seconds. You should also check out 343's excellent Hunt the Truth podcast, which helps set up the hero-or-traitor storyline driving Halo 5. If you prefer to play all four of the previous core Halo games yourself to catch up, The Master Chief Collection is a great place to start.
What's new in Halo 5, gameplay-wise?
Halo 5 introduces Spartan Abilities, which give players a whole suite of dynamic movement and combat options. These include the ability to boost in mid-air, shoulder-charge an enemy while running and crushing enemies from above with a devastating ground pound.
The game also brings four-player co-op back to Halo, as Chief and Locke tackle each of their missions with their trusty fireteams. When playing solo, you can issue orders to your teammates, and, for the first time in the series, can revive your pals when they've fallen in battle.
What's Halo 5's multiplayer like?
Halo 5 aims to be the biggest and best multiplayer Halo game yet, with two major components focused at different types of players.
Arena delivers the pure competitive Halo experience, with a variety of deathmatch and objective-based modes that focus on skill by starting all players out with the same weapons and equipment. In addition to classics like Slayer and Capture the Flag, you'll be able to try new Arena modes such as Breakout, a tense elimination-style competition in which players only have a single life per round.
Warzone, on the other hand, is Halo multiplayer on steroids. This mode features sprawling battlefields in which teams of 12 battle not only each other, but a variety of computer-controlled enemies as well. Players can unlock virtually any of the game's weapons and vehicles throughout the course of a match, guaranteeing a good level of chaos every time.
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For the first time in the series, all of Halo 5's upcoming downloadable multiplayer maps will be totally free. Instead of charging for maps, 343 will sell "Requisition Packs" that include cosmetic items for your character as well as weapon loadouts for Warzone mode.
Are there any fancy special editions of the game?
If you like spending more than you need to on a video game, Microsoft has you covered. The $89 Digital Deluxe Edition gets you the game, the Halo: The Fall of Reach animated series and a variety of Requisition Packs and special items. A $99 physical Limited Edition has all of the same aforementioned content, a metal replica of the Guardian character, various story-inspired documents, a 14-day trial to Xbox Live Gold and a special steelbook case that holds the game.
Those looking to go all out can get the $249 Limited Collector's Edition, which gets you all of the same goodies as the other special editions in addition to a detailed commemorative statue of Master Chief and Spartan Locke.
Is Halo 5 coming to PC?
Halo 5 is an Xbox One exclusive now, but there may be just a sliver of hope for the mouse and keyboard crowd. In an interview with GamesRadar, franchise director Frank O'Connor said that porting Halo 5 to Windows 10 wouldn't be impossible from a technical perspective. While he later followed up on Twitter to reiterate the slim chances of the game coming to PC, he did say that "it's not out of the question."
While the Halo games are Xbox system-sellers, it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see the game cross over to PC given Microsoft's recent commitment to Windows 10 gaming. Popular Xbox One titles Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Killer Instinct are headed to Windows 10, and the upcoming Fable Legends will launch for both platforms at once.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.