You won't find a video game this year with microtransactions more awkwardly crowbarred in than Halo 5: Guardians. While 343 Industries has gone to great lengths to ensure an unfair "pay to win" scenario doesn't ruin the game, microtransactions still make a big impact on Warzone, holding back the ambitious new mode.
Small payments of a few pounds/euros/dollars will buy you a pack that is opened to reveal a set of cards representing weapons, vehicles, power-ups, helmets, armours and other customisations. These can also be purchased with experience points earned-in game, and are dished out as rewards in all multiplayer modes.
Only the cosmetic items are used in the classic multiplayer modes of Arena, but everything comes into play in Warzone. This mode sees two teams of 12 compete on a large map to be the first to gain 1,000 points or capture all three bases and destroy the opposing team's core. These points are acquired by holding captured bases and by taking down powerful AI enemy Covenant and Promethean units that spawn on the map.
As the player makes progress and strings kills together they will level up. Each new level unlocks "requisition" items that can be used at spawn or at REQ stations found in bases. This is where the microtransactions come in. It is on the REQ screen that players see what is available to them at certain levels – but only the items for which they have a card obtained through REQ packs.
After a dozen or so games of Warzone I only noticed the absence of more advanced vehicles from the REQ list. The mongoose and ghosts are available early on, but I was quickly left without the option to use the tank, wraith or mech. This where it can feel like a "pay to win" scenario, because being able to spawn a tank and not being able to could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Weaponry was in good supply however, and I have yet to feel any effect of the microtransactions. Allowing players to use items they may have bought only after a certain amount of good play, (which works in exactly the same way for each player) is a good way to nullify the potential negative effects of players who may have bought a large amount of REQ packs, but the mode would be infinitely better without any microtransactions at all.
If everyone enjoyed the same levelling system and received the same rewards for reaching each level that would mean not just a fairer game for all, but one that's easier to understand. Microtransactions are sadly going nowhere, but good game design can mean they don't have to have a negative effect on the enjoyment of those not dishing out for them. In Halo 5: Guardians they don't have the negative impact they might have had, but they do feel tacked on and unnecessary.