Halo 5: Guardians: How to define the new generation of Halo

By Steve Watts, May 16, 2014 8:15am PDT

This morning's announcement of Halo 5: Guardians was our first glimpse--albeit a small one--into the long-running franchise's journey to Xbox One. By setting the release for fall 2015, though, Microsoft has ceded its spot as an early leader in the console generation.

We can already take a look at some of the trends defining this generation and how those might impact Halo. For it to keep pace with other games, it needs to at least match some of these trends, if not reach beyond them. We've taken a look at some current trends that will need to be addressed, along with some wild speculation about what 343 could do.

Seamless Multiplayer

Even before the new consoles launched, this was quickly becoming the most prominent trend. Games like Need for Speed: Rivals remove the barrier between single- and multiplayer modes, while Titanfall eschews single-player altogether. The industry seems to have collectively decided that connectivity is ubiquitous, and so it's finally being treated as a given.

Including this kind of functionality in a game that stars a singular hero like Master Chief is tricky, but it could be done. Watch Dogs shows how a game can treat each player as a protagonist in their own adventure. By making the context itself asynchronous, you could appear as Master Chief to yourself and as another character to other players. The name and artwork may hint at this idea, as you could appear as a so-called "Guardian" alongside someone else's Master Chief, while they do the same in your game.

Dynamic AI

343 Industries made a point to mention an all new engine for Halo 5, and smarter AI should be among the top features of it. While both Bungie and 343 squeezed a lot of mileage out of the prior Halo games, the behavior patterns of enemies has started to grow predictable. Halo is defined by its tightly-designed combat puzzles, as groups of enemies are arranged just-so to create a challenge.

Now is an opportunity to redefine that gameplay loop. Smarter enemies should respond with greater variety, forcing players to rethink their strategies and improvise on the fly. Especially if multiplayer is integrated as described above, we need villains who can outthink multiple players at a time. Except Grunts, of course. Grunts can remain stupid and cowardly.

1080p, 60 FPS

343 Industries did specifically mention 60 frames per second in its announcement, but left the notion of resolution conspicuously absent. It's no secret by this point that Microsoft has struggled with a perception problem in its new console, as third-party games are routinely coming in at a higher resolution on PlayStation 4. Whether that's a product of hardware power or developer familiarity, the narrative needs to change for Xbox One. If third-party developers haven't reached platform parity by fall 2015, Microsoft itself has to prove it can be done, or risk losing that comparative point for the foreseeable future.

If this is an issue of power, the recent untethering of Kinect could turn out to be a strength. Microsoft has already implied that it could boost processing power without Kinect. With more than a year of a cheaper, Kinect-less Xbox One on the market by the time Halo reaches stores, we may see more players without Kinect than with one. And who wanted to swing their arms to throw a grenade anyway?

SmartGlass Support

SmartGlass already seems to be getting less and less use, but second screen support isn't entirely down for the count. As a major Microsoft initiative, Halo may make some use of SmartGlass. Be it in the form of additional tactical information or live multiplayer data, Halo 5 will be a bellwether for SmartGlass support going forward. If it's fallen out of favor so much that even Microsoft itself doesn't use it in a flagship franchise, we can probably assume the tech has been quietly scuttled.

Integration with Spielberg live-action show

The announcement was sure to mention that 2015 will also be the year that the new Steven Spielberg produced TV series will debut, not coincidentally set for autumn as well. It will stand on its own, "as well as complement and enrich the game experience." Given the similar release dates, this would make an excellent opportunity for Microsoft to take what it began with Spartan Ops in Halo 4 and push it to the next level. Episodic content like Spartan Ops could go hand-in-hand with episodes of the show.

Microtransactions

Put away your pitchforks, folks. This isn't a hopeful note so much as an acknowledgement of a very real possibility. Microtransactions have been commonplace on PC and mobile devices for years, but console manufacturers like Microsoft didn't have the infrastructure to support the financial model very easily. The new consoles are built to handle a greater breadth of pricing structures including microtransactions, but Microsoft seems to have taken the concept and ran with it on its first-party games.

Rhyse: Son of Rome, Crimson Dragon, and Forza 5 all used microtransactions in one way or another. Killer Instinct is free-to-play, so naturally it lends itself to that model. Microsoft has walked back some of its more unpopular policies, especially in Forza 5 wherein you bought the ability to purchase cars with in-game currency, but Microsoft is almost certainly still looking to experiment with different payment schemes. Don't be surprised if you can pay some change for a new visor.

What do you think Halo 5: Guardians will (or should) include to make it a new-generation experience? Let us know in Chatty.

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