Halo 5 is secretly the best game as a service

When Halo 5: Guardians released in October 2015, many fans had a mixed reaction. The core gameplay was sound, recalling back to Combat Evolved in the best way. However, plenty of seemingly vital content just wasn’t there. Gravity Hammers, Oddball, Big Team Battle, and Forge were all missing in action. 343 Industries promised frequent updates, but players were skeptical. Fast forward to 2019, and that’s all changed.

Halo 5‘s arsenal is impressive by any measure and new maps still ship on a consistent basis. All of this is in spite of 343 shifting focus towards Halo Infinite. Other games get the spotlight for their live services, but Halo 5 just chugs along in the background giving fans the best Halo multiplayer experience ever.

Halo 5: Guardians | Reaping the Cartographer’s Gift

Halo 5

Of course, it helps that Halo 5 builds on Halo‘s legacy of fanmade content. Few others in the console realm have a fanbase willing and able to craft maps and game modes that match with whatever the developers come up with. While Halo 5 didn’t ship with Forge, it came in one of its earliest updates and it’s been key to the game’s long shelf life.

While the original focus of mapmakers was to create the large maps needed for Big Team Battle, every playlist in 2019 has some form of fan-generated content. In addition, thanks to advancements in the toolset, a player unaware of Forge would have no way to distinguish between an “official” map and one cobbled together from assets.

343 works directly with those who create content to shift it towards what the game needs at any given time. Sites like ForgeHub act as an extension of official support, sorting through the noise to promote the absolute best maps to matchmaking.

This relationship has consistently given Halo players new arenas for almost four years. These aren’t just new arenas either, but classics maps meticulously rebuilt in the new engine. Plus, maps don’t stick around in matchmaking permanently. If the balance is an issue, or if there is a better alternative, 343 isn’t afraid to mix things up. If these new maps were the only additions to Halo 5, it’d still be something to talk about.

Halo 5: Guardians | Diving into Infinity’s Armory

Halo 5

Of course, 343 helped everyone along by adding several years of new toys to the game’s multiplayer sandbox. There were the necessary additions. The Gravity Hammer is a key part of certain gametypes and Assault and Firefight joined the roster. However, some additions seemed tailor-made for longtime fans. The addition of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s mythical overpowered pistol and Hunter assault canons came as a welcome surprise.

New vehicle variants and other classic weapons followed. The rocket Warthog from Halo‘s first PC port showed up along with the Anti-Air Wraith seen in a couple of levels of Halo 3‘s campaign, the unique “noob tube” grenade launcher from Halo: Reach, and the technologically advanced tanks and mech sporting rail guns and plasma cannons. It seemed like every corner of the Halo universe was getting its own special tribute. By the end of these updates, there truly was something for every stripe of Halo fan.

Halo 5: Guardians | Reclaiming the fanbase

Halo 5

And that’s what it really all comes down to. From the beginning with Halo 5, 343 has consistently listened to fan feedback and implemented necessary changes. Nothing occurs with haste and the changes aren’t drastic. It’s a ton of small tweaks to try to satisfy as many as possible while holding onto that core gameplay that the team nailed in the beginning. The developers are constantly streaming and offering support to all their games, no matter how popular they ended up. Do you remember Halo Wars 2? 343 Industries does.

All of this support does come at a price though. However, Halo 5 has an advantage in that arena as well. It’s a first-party experience, which means it has the same cash flow advantages as Sony’s big single-player epics. But even though Guardians focuses on multiplayer, it has crafted a fair system that lets players unlock everything at a good pace. The big card-based microtransactions mode WarZone is a side experience, and the core Arena Multiplayer remains pure. There’s never a predatory push to spend money, but it likely allows for such extensive support from Microsoft and the gameplay is good enough to be its own reward anyway.

With all of this in mind, it’s easy to be excited for Halo Infinite despite it being such a mystery. For years, Halo 5: Guardians has brought back the Halo fandom from the brink. 343 made decisions that benefited players at every turn, even if it wasn’t the most flashy or exciting things the team could do. In an industry full of live services that promise the moon and fail to deliver, Halo 5 got out with several years of workman-like support that made everyone happy. Whatever the future holds, we should look back on this release as a model of how to do long term multiplayer development going forward.