As you've probably heard by now, Halo 5: Guardians is pretty great. It's a huge improvement over Halo 4 and worthy of the very best the series has produced but it's not without a few problems. Among them being the series' iconic protagonist, Master Chief, who does very little to the point that I started to wonder whether the game might have been better without him.
Marketing for Guardians has attempted to seed the idea that Chief might not be the hero we know him to be. He has gone rogue and the game's second playable character – Spartan Locke – has been dispatched to capture him. It's fairly obvious, however, that Chief won't be turning his back on the good fight, but some mystery could have been maintained if he was kept out of the picture.
As clear as it is that Chief won't ever be swayed from fighting the good fight, being put in his enormous green shoes only reinforces that. If the iconic suit armour had only been glimpsed every now and then as Locke and Fireteam Osiris pursue him – then maybe even the smallest element of doubt may have been cast in players' minds.
It would have been easy to remove Chief as well. Locke is absolutely the main character of the game, starring in 12 of the game's 15 missions. The other three missions played as Chief and Blue Team aren't even close to the best the game has to offer, with the third a disappointing slog which may have soured the entire game were it not for the excellent finale that follows.
Locke is a disappointing character, barely any different from Chief. The only vaguely interesting stuff the game scrapes the surface of in terms of character development comes toward the end, when he has to prove his mettle as a soldier every bit as able and heroic as Chief. Other characters tell him he's no match for Chief throughout, but Locke never displays any of the self-doubt that may have made him interesting. He just maintains his monotonous booming baritone throughout.
Warning: Major spoilers follow...
Chief's levels represent the most interesting parts of the game's story, each setting up the next big plot point and moving everything along in some way. While these only pepper the rest of the game, it loses some of its momentum overall – with the cliffhangers at the end of Chief's levels giving way to levels starring Locke which have little to do with what just happened.
One of the game's problems is that it reveals its hand too early. Locke and Chief have their one fight early on and then we don't see them in the same scene again until the very end. Too much of the mystery involving Cortana and the Guardians is revealed too soon. While we don't learn that Cortana has genuinely gone bad until near the end, it's fairly obvious that's what will happen.
343 Industries should have structured the story so Chief, acting alone, is in pursuit of the Guardians as they're awoken around the galaxy, attempting to find out what they are and what they want. That would be hidden from the player, though, who plays as Locke in pursuit of him, seeing the evidence of his passing through but never knowing Chief's exact role in what happened. This would set up the question of whether Chief is the cause of the devastation the Guardians have unleashed, which would be reinforced by the player never playing as him.
If Chief was only glimpsed throughout Halo 5, every time proving just beyond Locke's reach, then that would reinforce the mystery surrounding his role in proceedings. Perhaps an actual fight against Chief could take place halfway through the game, in which Chief says nothing, merely fighting Locke because he's in his way. Chief would barely say a word and ultimately win, getting away again. By making him the target of the player's aggression, that reinforces the idea that he might be the villain. Even if ultimately the player doesn't believe this to be the case, it gives them reason enough to doubt it in the heat of play.
Only at the end of the game should we find out for sure that Chief is fighting the good fight. The only mystery the game gives us is: "What is Cortana up to and what will Chief do when he finds her?" The answer is Cortana is up to no good and Chief doesn't really do much at all. As it is, the story of Halo 5 only makes Chief look like an idiot, when instead it could have used him in a much more interesting way.