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Rest Day Recommendation: Halo 5: Guardians

One of gaming’s best franchises of all time takes a masterful leap forward.

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M&F Rest Day Recommendations: Because you can't train every waking moment of the day.

Apologies in advance if you typed “Spartan” into the search bar and were looking for workouts from the movie 300 or trying to prep for a Spartan Race. In either case, we’ve got you covered here with the 300: Rise of an Empire workout and with our Spartan/adventure race workoutToday, though, we’re focused on the Spartans of Halo with the release of Halo 5: Guardians upon us.

As rich as the sci-fi world of Halo is, it has never been enough for its developers to tell a new chapter of the story. With each game, 343 Industries, like Bungie before it, aims to raise the bar for gameplay. The original Halo was the first to map PC controls onto a console in a truly seamless way and Halo 2 changed multiplayer shooters forever. Subsequent entries made subtler but no less groundbreaking achievements: raising the graphical standard, perfecting online matchmaking, and innovating rewards and ranking systems.

As for the latest entry, Halo 5 is the first shooter to create a deep, story-driven campaign that is built for co-op—yet as satisfying and tactical during a solo run as it is with other human teammates.

You begin the game as Spartan Locke and his Fireteam Osiris (Nathan Fillion reprises his role as Edward Buck from Halo 3: ODST). After an opening cinematic and subsequent skirmish with Covenant forces—a mission that drops you right into the new squad-based mechanics that allow you to call the shots and direct your fireteam to prioritize different targets—the bones of the story are laid out: Chief has gone AWOL in search of Cortana, his AI counterpart who went rampant (and died, essentially) at the end of Halo 4. But Chief knows Cortana is out there somewhere, and aims to figure out how she's still alive. At the risk of spoiling too much, suffice it to say the reasons for her survival seem ominous from the outset, and will keep the story in motion through Halo 6.

The game then takes turns swapping viewpoints between Locke and Chief. What's surprising is that Chief—ever the lone wolf in series canon—is also working as part of a four-man squad: Blue Team. Besides allowing you to approach huge, incredibly busy (and gorgeous) battlefields however you deem appropriate, the squads change the nature of death in Halo. Rather than respawning at the previous checkpoint (and having to re-do perhaps a sizable chunk of the game) when your energy is totally sapped, you'll instead collapse, your armor malfunctioning for a set period of time. If a teammate (AI or human) can revive you in that time, then you'll rejoin the fight without penalty. If the time runs out, or a powerful enemy from the later stages totally disintegrates you, then it's back to the previous checkpoint. Revival isn't a new game mechanic, of course. Other games—and other shooters like Gears of War and Destiny—have used it, but Halo makes it feel fresh thanks to the fact that it works so well in both the solo and co-op campaign.

With Halo 5 being the middle chapter of a new trilogy that began with Halo 4, comparisons with Halo 2 seem unavoidable, so 343 Industries seems to have embraced them. Just as you split your time between Master Chief and Arbiter in Halo 2, you now split your time between Spartan Locke and Master Chief, with more time actually skewing toward the former. Arbiter even makes an appearance as a main character here. And don’t be surprised that just like Halo 2, Halo 5 offers no clear resolution to its story—it’s a bridge chapter and there’s no way to avoid that in a trilogy.

As for competitive multiplayer, it feels like classic Halo—get ready to war over heavy weapon drops—but there are enough new gameplay quirks like short-term thrusters and the Spartan charge to give Halo 5 its own distinct flavor.

All this is simply to say: Don’t miss this game.

A Collector's Heaven

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It’s hard not to go overboard for the release of a new Halo game. Unlike an annualized franchise like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, we only see a new Halo game once every three years or so. And more than that, Halo 5: Guardians is the first original Halo title for the Xbox One. With that in mind, Microsoft took out all the stops in commemorating the occasion with a ton of specially-themed collectibles and gear: collector’s edition controllers—one skinned in Master Chief’s green and orange colors, one in Spartan Locke’s gunmetal and blue—and a collector’s edition console with a full terabyte of storage.

The cream of the crop is the collector’s edition copy of the gamewhich comes in a massive crate carrying two enormous statues—one of Master Chief and one of Spartan Locke. They’re each more than a foot tall and exhibit a breathtaking level of detail, Chief carrying a classic assault rifle and Locke looking down the sights of a battle rifle. The two pieces lock together with magnets in an archway when you set them side by side, and when they’re like this they appear to be working together. Or, the pieces can be separated to face each other, a nod to the large portion of the game when Locke is hunting Chief. Or they can decorate separate parts of the house (your wife/girlfriend will love it!) Of course, this crate comes with the game, too—a Halo 5 steelbook with a download code that gets you the game, the Halo: The Fall of Reach animated series, and 14 in-game req packs. There’s also a metal Guardian model to build yourself, plus the other kinds of goodies you’d expect from a collector’s edition, including Spartan Locke’s classified orders, dossiers on Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris, and a 14-day Xbox Live Gold trial. At $250 it’s probably a splurge, but you’ll certainly walk away with your money’s worth. If that’s too rich for your blood, there’s also the Limited Edition version of the game for $100 (the standard is $60), which carries everything mentioned in the collector’s edition except the statues.

Alternately, Insight Editions’ latest release is a hardcover Art of Halo 5 coffee table book. With an introduction by series director Frank O’Connor, you get 208 pages of art that tells the visual history of the making of Halo 5, from concept art to the finished product. You get to feast your eyes on never-before-seen character, weapon, and vehicle sketches, and much more stretching back through the three-year development cycle of the game. It’s a better bet than a walkthrough guide (no spoilers here) and makes a much better display piece that anyone can enjoy. The book also comes with a download code for an in-game req pack to use in Warzone mode. It retails for $45 but Amazon has it now for $28which is a steal for any serious Halo fan.

Halo 5 releases October 27, 2015, and is available exclusively on Xbox One. 

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