I called the lack of splitscreen co-op in Halo 5: Guardians a "crime" in an opinion piece that was written before I had played the game. I wanted to revisit this topic now that I've finished the campaign, and see if the decision to cut what has been, until now, a series-defining feature from the game was the right choice.
I don't think I'll surprise many people by saying I stick with the original claim. Removing splitscreen co-op from Halo 5 is a crime, and the game that came from the decision does little to justify this approach to the series.
I'm not alone
It's far from scientific, but I asked my Twitter followers whether or not they agreed with the decision now that the game has been released and many of them have played it. This isn't a scientific sample, being made up only of people who follow a particular reporter who writes about games, but the results still give us another data point.
There is definitely an emotional reaction from many who responded. If you grew up playing Halo with others, often on the same TV, the lack of that ability removes much of what made the series so special to begin with. Halo wasn't just a game we played, it was a game we played with others.
@BenKuchera I was invited over by my friend to play with him like all other Halos. Had to tell him that we couldn't anymore. Tradition over.— Daniel Baxter (@bearisgaming) November 2, 2015
What's even sadder is that Halo is a mainstream game, played by many who don't spend much time reading previews or even reviews of games. Many players purchased the game without much worry about the feature making it into the game. Why would it be removed? This led to a few frustrating situations like the following, posted to Reddit:
Half an hour later, I've got a heartbroken little boy who doesn't understand why a game company decided to remove the ability for him to play with his dad. I got him started on the campaign solo, held him in my lap while he played, but his heart just wasn't in it. He asked if we could just go watch some Netflix together instead.
While he went and brushed his teeth, I googled this issue further, found loads of posts about it. Partly this is on me, sure. I probably should have read up on the game a bit more before buying it I guess. It sounds like they did it to ensure the game runs at 60 fps?
I hope the tradeoff ends up being worth it for them. They've lost a pretty dedicated little fan. My son is now asking if it would be possible to get his money back. I know he probably can't, so I'll end up just taking care of that for him. Anyone want to buy a barely used copy of Halo 5?
"With Halo 5 we are delivering massive scale environments, improved AI behavior, increased visual and gameplay fidelity … something that truly takes advantage of a new platform," Josh Holmes, studio head at developer 343 Industries, wrote on the official blog post explaining the decision.
"Many of our ambitious goals for Halo 5 would be compromised in a split-screen setting and the time spent optimizing and addressing split-screen-specific issues would take focus from building other parts of the game. Game development is a balancing act of resources, time and technology, and in this case we made the tough decision to sacrifice something that’s been near and dear to us all."
It couldn't have been easy decision to remove one of the foundations of Halo as a series, and in exchange we received ... a slightly larger scale? One of the most frustrating aspects of this situation is the fact that gaming seems to be losing what used to be basic features, and it's hard to tell what we're getting in return. That's the point of a more powerful, more expensive system: The promise is that it's able to do everything the previous system did and more. Instead we're leaving important features on the table, and alienating fans.
It couldn't have been easy decision to remove one of the foundations of Halo as a series, and in exchange we received ... a slightly larger scale?
I had my own depressing talk with my son where I had to explain why we wouldn't be able to play together, and it sucked. He had, like the younger child in the Reddit post, simply assumed such a large part of the series would continue in the latest release. It's even more of a letdown after seeing how much of the game is tuned specifically for co-op; this would have been the perfect opportunity to re-invest players in the joys of playing together in this way.
It's very possible those who care this deeply about splitscreen co-op are in the minority of gamers, but I'd argue we may be some of the most passionate Halo fans. This is, in fact, what attracted so many of us to Halo to begin with; the ease in which you could share the game and play with others. What we're left with is a slightly larger battlefield, and a series that lost one of its key differentiators.
If you want some nice splitscreen co-op in the meantime? Star Wars Battlefront is out soon, is beautiful, and made it a priority to allow multiple people to play together on the same screen, with only one copy of the game. It's a shame the team behind Microsoft's flagship game wasn't willing to do the same.