Here Are Nine Takeaways We Had From Playing Every Halo Game in Chronological Order

Here Are Nine Takeaways We Had From Playing Every Halo Game in Chronological Order

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Dan Webb.

With Halo Infinite’s much anticipated open-world campaign dropping next week, we, like many others we imagine, have spent the last few months working our way through every Halo campaign available on Xbox consoles, just to familiarise ourselves with the game’s story. And by ‘every’, we mean every! From Halo: Combat Evolved to Halo Wars 2, from Halo 5 to Halo: Spartan Assault – that does mean, of course, that we didn’t touch Spartan Strike or Fireteam Raven as they didn’t release on Xbox consoles, but everything else we played through.

And that’s the thing: playing the lot through – in chronological order – we actually noticed a ton of things that we didn’t when playing them years apart. In fact, it’s only when you play the games back-to-back that things really, really stand out. Not just in terms of the evolution of the franchise, but how both Bungie and 343 managed to elevate it above other first-person shooters – well, more so Bungie than 343, but we’ll get to that. Anyway! Without further ado, here’s our 9 takeaways from playing every Halo campaign – in chronological order.

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1. All First-Person Games Need Third-Person Cutscenes

There’s been a lot of chatter, especially recently, thanks to the release of the first-person only Cyberpunk, about first-person cutscenes in first-person games, and the first thing that Halo really drives home – in fact, from as early as the opening moments of Halo: Reach – it’s that first-person games really need third-person cutscenes.

There’s one thing to be said about feeling immersed in a first-person game, seeing it through the eyes of your character and all that, but there’s something else to be said for seeing your character in the world. Seeing him as a part of the world. Not just some cipher.

Reach’s opening, with the different choreographed shots of Reach offer perspective, they ground your character in the world. They make you feel like you’re the lead character in a movie. From taking down the Covenant Cruiser to seeing New Alexandria at the beginning of the Exodus mission, everything about it makes the world just seem so much bigger and gives you something to fight for. It makes the world so much more believable.

And this isn’t just Reach either, although it’s one of the best examples, it happens throughout the franchise. Everyone can remember that epic shot of Master Chief and the Arbiter after taking down the Prophet of Truth in Halo 3, right? So, so good! It’s those moments that are the payoff, and they’re only fully realised in third-person.

So, a word to the wise: if you are making a first-person game, it’s clear from playing through the Halo series that third-person cutscenes are an absolute must. If you nail the cinematography of it, you’ll create moments that stick with the player long after the console has been powered down.

2. Halo’s Pacing is Second to None

If there’s one thing that is blindingly obvious about the Halo FPS campaigns, it’s that their pacing is second to none and the variety in their action sequences is staggering. And this isn’t one campaign either: this is all of them – yes, even Halo 5 to some extent, but we’ll touch on why that fell flat shortly.

Halo campaigns are in the perfect position of offering so many different styles of play and things to do that it makes it fairly easy to mix things up from one sequence to the next, which, in turn, contributes to their practically on-point pacing. Halo campaigns will take you on a journey. A journey where you’re on the battlefield, a journey where you’re driving a Scorpion, stealthing through a Covenant encampment, then onto a Warthog for a bit, then you’re fighting through a base, then taking on the Flood, then you’ll to take to the skies in a Banshee, and the thing is, nothing overstays its welcome. Sure, it helps that the combat is excellent and has hardly changed since the original – the same could be said for the vehicle controls, too – but the variety of action spectacle, intertwined with the cinematic moments (everyone remembers the Warthog scene from the end of Halo 3, right?) means that way they never drag on. Well, that’s the magic of a Halo campaign.

Let’s just use Reach as a case study here. The campaign basically goes: tense investigation, all-out war, then a vehicle scene, then a stealth sequence, then another vehicle section with a sprinkling of on-foot combat – but in a different setting, of course – then a bloody space battle, and so on and so on. This is all before the fantastic New Alexandria mission and beyond too - including the tower defence scene from the end of The Package mission. Halo: Reach is an astonishing bit of gameplay design, something that Bungie nailed and 343 have been trying to replicate ever since. Again, more on that in a wee second.

But finally, before we move on, it is worth saying that Halo isn’t just about the pacing, it’s the little bits in between that flesh out the world and breathe life into it. The witty comments from companions, marines pumping bullets into Covenant bodies, the skulls, the secrets, the world design, and so on. The attention to detail is also second to none, and it helps bind together some great moments and create an incredible pacing.

3. Halo 3 is Definitely the Best Halo, But Reach Comes a Close Third

Okay, it wouldn’t be a takeaway list if we didn’t rank the first-person campaigns in some kind of order, so here goes, and strap yourselves in, this might be a little controversial for some, but you know what they say, opinions are like arseholes… everyone has one, and we’re no different!

First things first, clearly the best Halo FPS campaign is Halo 3. From start to end the campaign just really flows, chock full of that legendary pacing we were just talking about. It’s a game full of moments, memories, and that game has them around every corner. It’s peak Bungie. Next up is Halo 3: ODST, which is a different Halo game, one where you’re not the powerhouse that Master Chief is, but instead you’re thrust into a world where you’re vulnerable, lowly Orbital Drop Shock Trooper looking for clues as to the whereabouts of his squad, and it’s your first taste of an almost-open-world Halo experience. It was brilliant, there’s no other word for it, and honestly had some of the best Halo music in it to boot too! Next up is Halo: Reach, a game that, as we said, just flowed from a pacing perspective – the mood was entirely different to that of any other Halo game, which was good, obviously, but Halo and Master Chief for us go hand-in-hand. Still, don’t get us wrong, Reach was an absolutely excellent video game, and we’re talking minute degrees here. The truth is, Halo 3, ODST and Reach could be interchanged as the top 3 and we wouldn’t be offended.

Where you might be offended is where we’re putting Halo 4’s campaign, which we’re putting slightly above Halo 2’s, which while still very good, Halo 2 didn’t quite cut it in the grand scheme of things for us. For one, it did the whole The Last Of Us 2 Abbie switch before it was cool – and the truth is, Arbiter isn’t as cool as Master Chief. And two, the Halo 2 ending was far more abrupt than Mass Effect 3’s original ending. Bang. Game’s over. Have fun. Goodbye. I’ve got to say, after playing it after so many years, it’s shocking how abrupt it actually is. Meanwhile, Halo 4 had the F-41 Broadsword level (Midnight), the sequence with the Mantis (infinity), and the Pelican level (Shutdown) – which was excellent, by the way. Again, two very good Halo campaigns, but we’d take Cortana’s rampancy plot over Halo 2’s unsatisfying ending every day of the week. 

Next-up we have Halo: Combat Evolved, which was fine – now it is, obviously, at the time it was revolutionary, of course. Combat Evolved boasts a fairly self-contained story, one that’s solid enough, but it’s clear from the retreading of ground in various missions that Bungie ran out of development time and kind of had to cut corners. And considering it went from an RTS to a third-person game to an FPS, well, that kind of makes sense.

And then there’s Halo 5, which I’m fairly sure everyone will agree that’s last, right? Not everyone won’t agree on the order, but, whatever happens, we can at least all agree that giving the Flood weapons and allowing them to drive vehicles is a ridiculous design decision, even to this day, right?

4. Why Did 343’s Halos Not Hit Home?

We haven’t said a lot about Halo 5 for a reason. Because this is where we get to pick apart Halo 5, and to some respect Halo 4. Why weren’t they as good Halo 3’s for instance? Why aren’t they as good as Reach? Well, honestly, it’s quite easy to work that out if you rock from the old Halos straight into the new Halos. It’s actually shockingly obvious.

Sure, there are two obvious standout reasons: 1. You only play Chief in 3 out of 15 missions in Halo 5, which is kind of ridiculous; and 2. The enemies, the Prometheans, introduced in 4, well, they’re just not as satisfying to fight as the Covenant are - part of 4 and 5’s problems. But there are more issues with Halo 5 than just that. Deep underlying issues.

Stories aside, let’s just break the games down into sections. As we mentioned earlier – while we waxed lyrical over the franchise’s pacing – 4 and 5 is where it started to fall apart a little from a pacing perspective. New developer, so that makes sense. But 343 Industries clearly looked at the older Halos to see what made them successful – heck, a load of the devs worked on those games anyway, so that makes sense. The difference between the original trilogy and Halo 4 & 5, for instance, is the quality of the sum of its parts. Sure, each sequence is different, each sequence 343 was trying to mix things up, but those individual sequences just don’t meet the quality levels that was set by Bungie. And on top of that, a lot of the levels just seemed to outstay their welcome, something that Bungie’s levels never did - as we pointed out earlier. Longer sections do not equate to better sections. 

The Ghost escape sequence in Halo 4, the Forerunner mission, for instance, is basically 343 attempting to recreate the Halo level – the final level – from Halo 3 - which in turn was an homage to Combat Evolved’s The Maw sequence. But the problem is it doesn’t hit home the same. There’s no tension, no fear of the ground falling away under you as you drive for your life. Instead, you pretty much drive in a straight line and go over some jumps. That’s it. It’s a poor imitation of Halo 3’s Halo level. But you can see what they were trying. The same goes for many sequences across Halo 4 and 5, in fact. It’s exactly like when Disney tried to spark the nostalgia senses of Star Wars: A New Hope when they created The Force Awakens. Same thing. They clearly wanted to recreate the magic, and looked to the originals for inspiration.

The problem was that the quality of the newer combat scenarios just wasn’t quite as good as the original 5 Bungie FPS campaigns - for instance, the Phaeton missions from Halo 5 were as dull as dishwater. On top of that there wasn’t enough set piece moments or mission variety; they shoehorned in crappy QTE scenes; the vehicle sequences lacked that drama; there was far too much screen-shake; some of the writing was just dire – in 5 mostly, but 4 did have its issues; and probably one of the most overlooked aspects was that 343 lost the services of Marty O’Donnell and his iconic scores, which are as important to Halo as John Williams’ scores are to Star Wars.

“These Covenant seem more fanatical than they did before” said John in Halo 4. But did they? Did they really? No, they didn’t, John, that’s just bullshit script writing. Plus, refighting the same boss over and over again was just… annoying. We’re talking to you Halo 5.

5. The Story is All Over the Place

What makes Halo work is the set pieces, the gameplay, oof, the pacing. They’re really fun games to play. From a lore perspective, boy is it a confusing mess though. It started out fairly simply, with a giant space weapon that needed to be stopped by a juggernaut of a hero. And then a plague of a species started to play a massive part and become a massive threat to life in the galaxy as we know it, and then there’s also an alliance of alien races who want to decimate everyone. Everyone is fighting. It’s simple, easy to follow, enjoyable. Fun to be a part of.

Then, ladies and gents, 343 was certainly drinking from The Matrix Kool-Aid. The Mantle, the Librarian, the Composer, the Didact, they all sound like something from the Wachowskis’ minds. All I needed was Chief to walk into a room full of TVs with digital Chiefs shouting “that’s bullshit” and I’d have felt right at home. The truth is that the Forerunners and their lore is just needlessly complicated. You’d need a degree in Halo to have any real clue about what is actually going on at any point of time.

And before we start pointing fingers, this isn’t just 343’s fault either, even if they did exacerbate the issue; this started to creep into the game around Halo 3, on Bungie’s watch. I will say though, credit where it’s due, 343’s Rampancy storyline in 4 was actually pretty great. Shame they ruined that hard work in 5, eh? Yikes!

I guess the beauty with Halo, though, is that from a really grand perspective, it’s actually just about a super soldier being called in to single-handedly save the universe. Again, and again. Well, except 5, which was about Master Chief lusting after his AI friend. I kid, I kid. I actually don’t know what it was about except from racing through the John Locke sequences as fast as possible to get back to Master Chief. Don’t tell me what I can’t do, folks!

6. Halo Developed An Ammo Problem

From Halo: Combat Evolved to Halo 5: Guardians, the minute-to-minute gameplay hasn’t really evolved all that much, but you know what, it didn’t need to. Bungie pretty much nailed it in the first instance and has been iterating on it ever since – with 343 picking up the mantle… no, not that Mantle! Halo’s gameplay is timeless, so there wasn’t really much need to play around with it all too much.

What they clearly played around with was the ammo – or lack thereof. We can all agree that the Battle Rifle and the DMR are the best Halo weapons, right? They’re just so satisfying to shoot! I posit the question then: why would both Bungie and 343 limit the uses of it in the main campaign. Sure, you want to balance the game, right? But don’t you want your players to enjoy it more? More often than not, though, you’re having to use what you can find on the battlefield, and, well, Halo’s history in weapons is a bit all over the place. From the sublime to the potato.

Let’s run you through a bit of a refresher of how it started and how it ended, from an ammo perspective, of course. Firstly, Combat Evolved was excellent – it was the only time that the assault rifle was actually a viable weapon (until Infinite, of course), but not only that, when you do get a sniper rifle, it carries 60 bullets. This is how it should have been: empowering the player.

The earlier Halo games did actually just keep replacing your weapons when you started a new mission, which was rather annoying – considering you literally carried on where you left that. I get it, but it still annoys me. As you get further into the franchise, the amount of ammo you get never actually feels enough – especially on Heroic or Legendary – in fact it diminishes, but in Halo 4 guns just straight up disappeared off the ground, and with Halo 5 they doubled down on the ammo shortage by giving you guns with less capacity. What’s up with that?

I get it, I think: Bungie and 343 wanted to encourage users to use all these guns that they spent years developing. But honestly, should that be at the expense of fun? So yeah, Halo has an ammo problem. It really well and truly does… unless you like using the plasma rifle, that is, and if that’s the case, what kind of a monster are you? Although dual wielding Brute Plasma Rifles in Halo 2 was pretty fun…

7. Heroic Offers the Perfect Challenge

In all my years of playing games, I don’t think anyone has nailed difficulty levels like Halo. Easy is a walk in the park, normal is like a slow jog in the park, Heroic is like a good sprint through said park; and Legendary is like being attached to a monster truck’s tire… as it races through the park. My point is: Halo on Heroic, across the board, is the perfect challenge. It sits comfortably between: enough of a challenge to not get bored and not too much of a challenge that you get frustrated. It’s genuinely the perfect setting for players. And that’s not specific to Halo; that’s for all games, too!

If Heroic was the perfect challenge, then, Legendary just seems like some kind of joke by the devs – and don’t get me wrong here, junior, I’ve solo’d more Master Chief games on Legendary than Master Chief has had paste ration dinners. That’s a lot, in case you were wondering. My thing with Legendary is, everything about the ammo shortages intensifies, you resort to the “noob combo” where possible and creep around corners, while the vehicle sections are pretty slow with no degree of tension, because you can take one big shot and your vehicle is kaput. That’s where my issue lies: you’re Master Chief (for the most part, that is), you’re meant to be a galactic space badass, and Legendary doesn’t make you feel that way. Still, it’s a good challenge if you’re feeling particularly sadistic, but I’m not sure who actually enjoys those runs. Heroic, though, I loved every single part of it!

The beauty of Halo is that no matter what difficulty you’re playing, Bungie – and 343 since – have absolutely nailed the game’s checkpointing. Halo should be the poster boy for how checkpointing should be done – you know, by the bucket load. Sure, they can be erratic sometimes – like saving me when I flipped a Scorpion tank and dying instantly every load, but that happened once in my entire playthrough of all the games. In short: Heroic is fab, checkpointing is ace, more of the same, please, 343.

8. The Halo Wars Games are Severely Underrated

As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve mentioned a lot about the Halo FPS games, but we’ve not really mentioned the spin-offs yet. Well, that’s because I wanted to dedicate a whole point to them! And wax lyrical over how bloody good they are. We are of course talking about the hugely underrated Halo Wars games – and, to my shock, the actually really cool Spartan Assault game.

I’ve known for quite some time that Halo Wars – both of them – are really cool games, but playing them at the beginning and the end of our marathon was actually the perfect appetiser and dessert, either side of the main course.

As a bit of a secret strategy fan, who’d have thought that a strategy game set in the Halo universe would be right up my alley? Well, I did. Everyone before they launched was saying, “RTS games don’t work on consoles!” “The controls are too fiddly!” Halo Wars was basically a big two fingers up to those naysayers. Not only was it simple to use and intuitive, but it took its lead from the campaign FPS titles, in creating loads of different scenarios, to keep things interesting. Throw in some stunning CGI scenes, its own cast of characters, and a narrative that’ll keep you gripped from start to finish, and you can’t really fault them! This isn’t just some half-cooked cash-in, the Halo Wars games are genuinely great. Plus, the fact that 343 allowed Creative Assembly to introduce the Banished in Halo Wars 2 – the antagonists from the upcoming Halo Infinite – should speak volumes as to the trust and faith that Xbox has in their RTS spin-off.

And as I alluded to previously, give Spartan Assault a try, too. It carries no plot or bearing on the world of Halo, but it’s a really fun little twin stick shooter to kill a few hours!

9. The Anniversary Editions Are Bloody Excellent

And last, but by no means least, credit must be given to 343 for the Anniversary Editions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. As I previously said, the gameplay of the Halo games is pretty damn timeless, so giving them the remaster treatment allowed me to revisit the titles in glorious HD, which was wonderful. But not only that: flicking back and forth between the original and remastered visuals on the fly is not only fantastic to see how far games have come, but hearing the new remastered music compared to the originals is an audible treat, too. Follow in Flight, for instance, where you first fly a Banshee in Halo 2 as the Arbiter is incredible in its remastered form! Add on top of that the new and shiny cutscenes, which are just so awe-inspiring, as well as the new terminals, which flesh out the Halo world even more! I will say, though, it’s pretty criminal there’s not a Halo 3 Anniversary.

Having all the games available on Game Pass, and the Master Chief titles accessible under The Master Chief umbrella, made everything so easy as well. I fully recommend playing through them in chronological order if you have time, as it offers a completely different perspective on the franchise. Going from Halo Wars to the moments preceding the fall of Reach, which builds straight into Halo Combat Evolved – why the Pillar of Autumn is where it is and all that – and then introducing the origins of Cortana, well, that’s a pretty stellar start if you ask us.

But, for the real chronological experience, jumping from Halo 2, after the New Mombassa opening, where the Covenant Cruiser goes into the slipspace stream and devastates the city, into ODST, you really feel the impact of the events on-screen. Especially when you deploy in a drop pod while it’s happening in the ODST opening, it definitely enhances the experience to the nth degree. Sure, after that it’s plain sailing until the end in terms of games order, but it definitely makes you appreciate ODST that much more in this order… which is probably why we ranked it second on our all-time list – and if Halo Infinite’s campaign is half the game that ODST is, then we’re surely in for a treat!

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So, there you have it - our nine takeaways from our monster Halo campaign marathon. Not long now to see how Halo Infinite shapes up as well! What happens with the Banished? Will we see Halo Wars 2’s antagonist, Atrioc, the leader of the Banished? Where will it rank in the series? Hopefully above Halo 5! Will the open-world work? What can we expect from the pacing? From the set pieces? Only time will tell… and there’s not long left now!

Halo Infinite's campaign launches for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC on 8th December, and will be available day one via Xbox Game Pass.

Comments
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  • so when do people prefer to play ODST...after 2? before? during? possibly even during 3? to each his own...

    playing the games in order ( i can't stand the re-recorded dialogue of the Ann. versions - it's awful...but the games as a whole are nice) is a great experience but the ever-changing weapons (magnum cough-cough) can be frustrating.

    but i really have little to complain about with 1-3, ODST and Reach. they're fantastic. well, i hate the flood to be honest. the flood just plain sucks. ;)

    4 is ok (didn't care for the prometheans) and 5 is meh. the grunts still make me laugh. the hunters are still a challenge. that one Australian guy is still my favourite comrade. the vehicles were consistently fun and engaging. wait...TWO scarabs? i have to fight two of them?!? the repetition could get tiresome at times but it was all worth it in the end.
  • Bungie did it best.
  • You know that you’re tired when you read the headline as 9 takeaways we had whilst playing and thought that you were doing food reviews.
  • I feel that Halo CE pacing was better than Halo 3. Definitely right about the ammo problem. Mainly in Halo 4 and 5. In a SHOOTER you should never run out of ammo to the point where its frustrating and more difficulty. Difficulty should come from gameplay, not ammo shortage for viable guns.
  • Halo 2 easily has the best quotable dialogue from the series
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