The Problem With The Post-Bungie Halo Campaigns

The Problem With The Post-Bungie Halo Campaigns

Halo used to mean quality. Its campaigns were all heroic military sci-fi, full of brilliantly-designed levels and enemies. The multiplayer was some of gaming’s best, supplying pulse-pounding firefights and thrilling victories. There was a time when a new Halo game was a guarantee of greatness. Since developer Bungie moved on and custom Halo house 343 Industries took the reigns, it has become clear that something is wrong. Halo is suffering from an identity crisis.

I don’t think 343 Industries understands Halo, at least not when it comes to the campaign. This is a dangerous claim to make — any time a new developer takes on a franchise, fans flock to forums to tell the world why this change or that artistic interpretation are mistakes. That’s happened with Crystal Dynamics and Tomb Raider, Bethesda and Fallout, Ninja Theory and Devil May Cry, or, yes, even 343 Industries (also known as 343i) and Halo. The last thing I want to do is come across like an entitled fan who complains about the same few talking points. I’m going to make my case to the best of my ability. If, at the end, you’re not convinced, then no harm, no foul.

Before we start, let’s give credit where credit is due: after the missteps of Halo 4‘s attempt at a Call of Duty Jr multiplayer, 343 did the right things to help make Halo 5 multiplayer a satisfying experience (they even hired some pro gamers, which may have helped). By all accounts, Halo 5’s multiplayer is a great step for the series as a whole. The production value for the series is off the charts. 343i employs some of the best artists, animators, and sound designers in the business. Playing a shooter at 60 frames a second on a console is a rare thrill.

When 343i’s boss says she wants to run the series like George Lucas ran Star Wars, it sounds like a great goal; after all, Lucas managed to make six movies he had complete control over, multiple television series, and a massive merchandising empire. It’s next to impossible to do that without a major corporation taking over, but Lucas managed it for over 30 years. Star Wars’ cultural impact was massive. Truth be told, I think Bungie’s version of Halo could have become like Star Wars, but I don’t think 343i’s can, because of some fundamental misunderstandings about what made Halo‘s universe so great.

We’re going to be covering a bunch of Halo stories, including the events of 4 and 5, so if you haven’t played those games, consider this a SPOILER WARNING.

It’s impossible to talk about what Halo isn’t without talking about what it is, especially when it comes to the game’s campaigns. So let’s get right down to that: Halo has always been about heroism.

In the first game, you play as Master Chief, a super soldier who crash lands on a mysterious alien artifact. Outclassed and outgunned by the alien alliance called the Covenant, you prevent them from unleashing a superweapon — the biological monstrosity known as the Flood — on an unsuspecting galaxy.

Throughout the game, you’re always placed at a disadvantage. You’re weaponless for part of the first level, and when you do get a gun, it’s just a pistol. Later missions have you rescuing helpless marines from alien assault and imprisonment, attacking heavily defended alien positions, and fighting through nigh-impossible gauntlets. You’re always going to win, of course, because it’s a video game, but Bungie does a tremendous job of making the odds feel like they’re stacked against you.

Halo 2 is all about how you, as Master Chief, attack the alien Covenant. This time, they have accidentally located Earth and are attacking it relentlessly. These levels are interspersed with you playing as the disgraced Covenant Arbiter, who turns against his alien overlords to free his people.

Halo 3 begins as an even larger Covenant fleet arrives to attack Earth, but then the Flood arrive, putting Earth in even greater danger. That ups the stakes. You, hero that you are, eliminate the Covenant and Flood for good.

Even the Bungie-made spinoffs put you in the position of the heroic space marine: as ODST‘s rookie, you help capture a Covenant creature, the Engineer, which helps turn the tide against the Covenant. In Reach, you bore the brunt of the Covenant invasion of the planet Reach, helping thousands of civilians escape and helping Master Chief and his ship, The Pillar of Autumn, escape.

Every single Bungie Halo is about heroism, and that’s achieved through elements of the story, the context of your actions and the game’s difficulty. The story says “hey, bad guys are attacking, but you’re the good guy, so you take them on.” The moment-to-moment play emphasises that: you have to assault a heavily-defended alien ship to rescue some comrades or rush through the hallways of The Library, with endless waves of Flood attacking you.

The difficulty, assuming you pick the one that’s tuned right for you, reminds you that you have to earn your victory. Personally, I’m all about Heroic. It’s tough, but it encourages a balanced mix of Halo’s combat trifecta — shooting, grenades, and melee — while strafing, instead of hiding behind cover. It also has a nice level of churn. That’s where you never have quite enough ammo to keep your favourite gun, so you’re constantly switching with whatever’s available, rather than resorting to one predominant strategy.

Halo, especially when played at Heroic or Legendary difficulty, is not a power fantasy. It makes you feel great because it puts you in a position of disadvantage and then demands you earn your happy ending. At its best, every moment in Halo feels earned.

Then it all changed.

Halo 4 begins where 3 ended. Chief is floating in space, far from any allies. He suddenly attracts the attention of a massive alien artifact masquerading as a planet. He crashes, fights his way through the Covenant, and manages to alert some nearby human forces.

It’s all too… coincidental. An alien planet just happened to be there, and an allied ship, the Infinity, just happened to be close by. Chief tries to alert everyone, but just so happens to wake up an evil alien who was in stasis. Every single moment feels like a massive Rube Goldberg machine of happenstance, and this is accentuated further by the seemingly-lazy plot progression.

The Infinity’s captain doesn’t seem to like Chief for some reason, but this is never explained — the captain’s a jerk, and it seems like the only reason he’s a jerk is because, later on, he gets deposed. This is supposed to feel like some big victory, but instead we just have some dude who’s a jerk being replaced by some dude who isn’t a jerk, and, uh, that’s… that’s the end of that. Doesn’t feel very heroic, does it?

Then there’s the Didact, the game’s main bad guy. He’s all, “Hi, I hate humans, and I’m telekinetic, also I have a death ray, and you are my enemy, read my books, mwahahaha!” Yes, he has a death ray. They call it the Composer. It’s supposed to turn humans into computer programs, but it turns them into skeletons instead.

Truth be told, nothing about the Didact makes a lot of sense. If you read the books, he’s more interesting. But the number one rule about franchised media is that, while it all connects, each work has to stand on its own, too. If the answer to “this doesn’t make sense” is “well, if you read the books…” then it’s a bad answer. One of 343i’s biggest problems is that they seem to be consciously ignoring this rule, so their characters tend to be pretty weak on their own.

The Didact isn’t compelling or interesting, so beating him isn’t either. It feels heroic to narrowly escape a crashing spaceship under attack by hundreds of alien forces. It doesn’t feel heroic to fight a guy with unclear motives and a skeleton-making laser beam just because someone said The Fate of the Universe is at Stake. Halo 4’s big mistake is assumed empathy. It says “the stakes are high, therefore, the player will care more.”

Eventually, some threats just get too big for us to care about. A lot of bad stories make the mistake of assuming that the bigger the threat, the more the audience will care. That couldn’t be further from the truth: we care about things the more personal they are.

How many people actually cared when the Imperials blew up Alderaan in Star Wars? Nobody. Sure, it was a whole planet. The scale of that event was a big deal, but we didn’t care because it wasn’t personal. We cared a lot more about Luke blowing up the Death Star because his friends were dying one by one, and because Luke had a personal stake.

So a dude going “mwahaha, I will kill all the humans” just isn’t compelling to the audience, because there’s nothing to empathise with. The Didact is like the bad guy in Transformers 3, who is so forgettable that I don’t remember his name. There’s no personal stake in Halo 4, which means there’s no room for heroism.

Halo 4‘s co-op Spartan Ops mode is interesting because it has a story, but the story is also weird. Put simply, Dr. Halsey, the head scientist of the Spartan project, is now considered a war criminal, for some reason. ONI, the government is still portrayed as shady, just as it was when Halsey worked for them, so why they aren’t protecting her or her work is unclear. All we’re really told is that she’s persona non grata around the military. Everyone treats her like she’s the scum of the earth.

Halo 4 expected us to read external sources to understand some of its characters, but if we do that for Halsey, reading the earlier novels, playing Halo: Reach, and reading the journal that came with Reach’s collector’s editions, she’s a far cry from the mad scientist Dr. Menengle-type she’s treated as in Halo 4 and 5. It’s a weird history revision that goes against both the character and the people who responded to her.

In Halo 5, Halsey is treated with the same disdain and disgust. Her characterization is different from every other source as well. She seems like an evil crone. So… why bring this up? Because the response to Halsey indicates a massive shift in the way the game perceives its characters.

Before this, Master Chief was a hero. Halsey was a brilliant scientist and a mother figure. Halo was strong military sci-fi, presenting the people who fought to save humanity as intelligent, capable, and resourceful. Rebooting Halsey as an evil mad scientist and Chief as the victim of her tinkering makes Chief less cool, less noble. Master Chief is, in Halo 5, the living embodiment of a war crime, which makes his whole epic war hero thing seem way less cool.

If that weren’t enough, Halo 5’s big bad is Cortana, your friend of several years. Everything you have been through together since 2001 is recontextualized. Cortana wants to be a dictator over the entire galaxy for some reason. Like Halsey, it’s a massive character shift, and it kinda taints the memory of everything you’ve done.

It would be like watching the new Star Wars this Christmas and discovering that Han Solo isn’t a smuggler with a heart of gold, but someone who drugs people and puts them into slavery, and he’s been this way since the first movie, but we just didn’t know. Cortana’s “I want to rule the galaxy” twist puts this massive damper on the game and robs a lot of past actions of their sense of heroism.

343i’s final nail in the coffin is… that you don’t even play as Master Chief for most of the game.

At the end of Halo 4, Cortana, your friend of fifteen years, apparently died. Halo 5 reveals that she’s alive. It’s a poorly done moment, but one might think: “Alright, so this is a story about how Chief gets his friend back.” That would, after all, possess the personal stakes. Rescuing a friend is heroic and awesome. After three years of assuming Cortana was dead, now we hear she’s alive! Not only that, but we’ve played as Chief for years. This is his goal, sure, but it’s our goal too; we’ve played as him over the course or four games and fifteen years!

The motive should be great, so what do we do?

We play as the guy whose plot function, whether he realises it or not, is to stop Chief from saving his friend. For the majority of the game’s missions, we play as Locke, a glorified hall monitor, a guy whose entire existence is defined by the fact that he needs to stop Chief from doing the thing he wants to do the most. Is there anything less heroic than being the guy whose job it is to stop the hero from being heroic? If Locke were as cool as Boba Fett, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. But he’s not as cool as Boba Fett. He’s just some dude whose orders were to stop Chief from being badass.

So, to recap: all our friends are actually bad guys, we’re the living embodiment of a war crime, and we don’t even get to do the thing we want, because we actually have to spend most of our time trying to stop ourselves from stopping our good friend who is now bad from bringing peace to the galaxy by force.

Does it sound confusing? That’s because it is. That’s not even considering how there’s this evil robot named Warden trying to protect Cortana from Chief, which is weird, because Cortana effortlessly puts Chief in an evil space egg like it’s nothing. I’m not sure what that guy thought he was doing other than being a boss fight over and over again. Seriously, you face him, and only him, like seven times. He’s the only boss fight in the game, and the only change to his formula is that sometimes you fight more than one of him. Why is Warden in the game? I don’t know. Any good game designer knows you can’t just repeat the same boss fight seven times in a row. I definitely didn’t feel like a hero fighting him.

There’s no reason to do anything in Halo any more, and that’s in large part because there are no opportunities to be a hero. Nothing makes sense. There are no stakes. It’s just a bunch of “what if the good guys were actually bad?” as if that mattered.

But, hey, the gameplay’s fun, right?

I wish.

The difficulty tuning is off. In Halo 4, Normal felt too easy and Heroic felt just… wrong. It was easy if I played it like a pop and stop shooter, but Halo’s all about strafing and dodging and throwing grenades and melee. It’s a game about movement, about dancing through the combat space. With Halo 4, your armour has the durability of wet toilet paper. It’s easy to die, and worse still, the enemies are massive bullet sponges.

The same is true of Halo 5 on Heroic. I once unloaded half a clip from a BR, a shotgun round or two, and a punch into a Forerunner Soldier’s face. For my trouble, I was downed instantly from a single punch by the Soldier. I’ve shot enemies 3 and 4 times with a sniper rifle before killing them, used an entire BR clip on an enemy with no perceptible effect. Once, I told three spartans to target an elite, then dashed back to get some ammo. When I returned, they hadn’t even brought the elite’s shield down. The much-touted squad system is useless.

I watched as the Warden repeatedly killed my entire team of AI companions with a single blow of his sword. I’ve seen a jackal take three or four shots from a battle rifle without dying, where previous Halo games would have seen him die with the first trigger pull.

Rather than feeling like I earned my victories, I felt like I couldn’t play Halo to its strengths: instead, I was just hiding behind cover and popping out from cover to shoot enemies. In Bungie’s Halo games running around punching aliens in the face made me feel like a champion. I don’t feel like that in 343’s games. I feel like I’m supposed to play it like Battlefield or Call of Duty, relying on cover and standing still.

It’s like all the fun has been sucked out of the game, because strafing, which was emphasised heavily in every one of Bungie’s games, is no longer a viable tactic on Heroic difficulty, and Normal still too easy. Sure, you have a cool dodge button, but I find that using it is more likely to get you killed than not. Reach’s Heroic felt like it had been tuned for me specifically; it made me feel like I earned each and every victory.

Ultimately, 343i’s Halo games just don’t sit right with me. They look great, sound better, and have some of the best cutscenes in the business. Everyone I know loves Halo 5’s multiplayer modes. But I was always in it for the story, and that’s Halo 4 and 5 fall flat. Chief’s friends — my friends — are now enemies. My victories feel unearned and uninspired. Bungie’s games drew me to the series, but 343i just hasn’t maintained the magic that made Halo.


  • Hmmm, i was trying find out why i felt the same with halo 4 and 5. But you nailed it, i feel exactly the same. The games have never been the same since reach. They just said lets make everything 10x bigger, but theres no point if you dont have a good story with emotion attachment.

  • I agree with a lot of that, it would be interesting to sit down with the 343i team and ask “what are you going for here guys?” I very much agree that 343i are guilty of telling stories that require the player to have read most of the Halo novels and know the whole backstory, not sure what they were thinking there.

    Honestly though, one of the biggest problems they have is the fact that Master Chief survived Halo 3 – don’t get me wrong, he’s an awesome character but his awesomeness should have culminated at the end of Halo 3 via a glorious death. Had this happened then 343i would have had a clean slate. As it is they have inherited a character that has, in a way, done all there is to do – I mean, he has saved humanity over and over again so where do you go from there?

    I reckon 343i have set up a seriously interesting scenario to lead into Halo 6 though, should be good. I Don’t agree that Cortana’s previous good deeds have been washed away by Halo 5 – the pretty clear message is that Cortana is in fact dead….this new AI looks and sounds like her but isn’t her at a fundamental level.

  • Ages ago Mark Serrels wrote an article about how it’s bad to show too much of the fictional universe you’ve created, and to me I think that’s one of the biggest problem with 343’s Halo. They’ve taken away so much mystery from the series by giving answers to everything, and those answers themselves just aren’t that interesting.

    Before the Forunners were this mysterious, long past civilisation. You didn’t know exactly who they were or what they did, but their impact of their existence could still be felt everywhere in the galaxy. Now we know everything about them. In fact in Halo 5 they’ve become common enemies as the Prometheans are refered to as Forerunners several times.

    We know the origins of humanity and their relationship with the Forerunners. We know the origins of the Flood. We know a bunch of information about the Precursors. The setting feels a lot smaller for all that information being out there.

    And it’s not just the backstory they’ve shown too much of either. In Bungie’s series Master Chief was one of the last Spartans. You never even saw any of the others in the main games. You were a lone super soldier trying to save the galaxy. But in 343’s Halo is feels like everyone is a Spartan. You could argue that that’s the logical advancement of human military technology, but it also takes away from what made the original series so fun I think. There’s no longer that same feeling of both isolation and heroism.

    • To be fair, MC was supposed to be a Spartan II. The last of the original Spartans ended up as a security officer on the UNSC colony ship Marathon that set off for Tau Ceti. 😛

      But you’re right. Bungie’s strength in their writing has always been that they provide hints at things larger than actually telling things outright. They like unreliable narrators, talking in code and honestly sometimes making stuff up on the fly and letting people run with it. Marathon was the same. It’s hard to know in that game whether you’re seeing actual hints at real details or just stuff they put in because it sounded cool.

      That said, after Destiny I’m not sure that Bungie still has the ability to write a decent game plot any more either. The last expansion improved things but it felt like it did so by going toward a Halo 4-style approach.

  • As a fairly new Halo player (Never really got into Halo 1 on PC back in the day), recently finishing MCC and Halo 5. In my opinion, the Halo 4 campaign was the most exciting and action packed campaign that the series has done. Halo 5 multiplayer is by far the best console FPS experience i have ever had.

    • Not an attack on you. I played the original Halo campaign on the original xbox on every difficulty. I have never done that with a game since. It was this grand new thing that I’d just never seen before. Maybe it’s all nostalgia, but even the 2nd game is more memorable than the 4th for me.

  • Holy shit am I glad I never bought a Halo game after 3. This sounds dreadful. But everything stated about 4, which I could still play splitscreen on a pal’s box, rang true. “Who are you? What’s your problem, man? Why so angry? Seriously?”

    • Arrr dude, you forgot about muti player. Halo 5 is super super impressive. All the best modes that halo does better than any other shooter, Slayer, big team battles, capture the flag and with great level design

  • I thought the stories in halo 4 and 5 were pretty good. I never read any of the books nor did much research so it’s from a stand alone point of view. Sure there isn’t the weight of the first 3 stories but I can’t think of any stories once they get to 4,5 and 6 being better. Looking at bungie’s destiny – what were they thinking with the story telling in that.

  • I think the problem with halo 5 is what we are having with movies lately. They stretch a good story into 2 parts which lead to part one feeling boring and drawn out and part to feeling disjointed and rushed as everything is set up in part 1 one and quickly resolved in part 2

  • The Problem With The Post-Bungie Halo Campaigns

    Oh-ho! Have I got several reams of text to type out here!!!

    …nah, I’m doing my own thing at the moment and this article is doing an excellent job explaining the problem with Halo at the moment.

  • I agree with 99% of the article. The author hit the nail on the head. But I would make a couple of points.

    First, a correction. Halsey was already a complicated and divisive character very early on in the expanded material. On the one hand she is a somewhat mother-like figure to the Spartan IIs, on the other hand she is a genuine war criminal for her clandestine-like Spartan II program – kidnapping children to be forcibly trained and engineered into supersoldiers – regardless of the cost. What Halo 4 and Spartan Ops failed to do was explain why Halsey was being interrogated and why she is a prisoner on the Infinity. This was actually explained in the novel “Halo: Glasslands”, but obviously most people did not read it let alone were aware of it.

    In Halo 4, the thing I cared about above all else was Cortana. For the entire game I was concerned for Cortana, and her deteriorating condition pushed me through the game because I wanted to see what would happen to her next. I wanted to bring her to Halsey and get her fixed. And then at the end she “dies”, which left me genuinely bummed out. I spent the whole game fighting to save Cortana as my personal objective, but in the end she decides to sacrifice herself to protect John. That final and all too brief moment between the two was an emotional payoff. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was handled quite well. 343i was hinting all the way throughout the game that one of them wasn’t going to make it. I fought against it, but it was always meant to be. I thought 343i fleshed out the characterisation of and the dynamic between John and Cortana commendably well in Halo 4. It’s one of the few things they got right story-wise in the campaign.

    I read and watched all the extraneous material leading up to the release of Halo 4, so going into the game I knew who is who and what was going down. However I fully understand the confusion experienced by the vast majority of players who were unaware of the various books that served as background for Halo 4. There were way too may questions left unanswered, some of them very basic. It wasn’t a good move by 343i and, sadly, they repeated that same mistake in Halo 5.

    Halo 5 campaign is a let down for the reasons explained in the article. Like the author, I was attracted to the Halo series for its campaign and the lore. Unfortunately 343i let us down in the areas that drew a lot of people to the games in the first place. I’m hoping they will listen to the constructive criticism and learn from their mistakes.

    • What Halo 4 and Spartan Ops failed to do was explain why Halsey was being interrogated and why she is a prisoner on the Infinity. This was actually explained in the novel “Halo: Glasslands”, but obviously most people did not read it let alone were aware of it.

      See, this is a huge problem here. That was by far the most interesting cutscene in Halo 4 and I was so disappointed they never let that mystery pay off in the game. It felt really cruel to open the game with this cool, shady, mystery plot and then leave it hanging. Now my disappointment is multiplied that it was hidden away in some novel.

      Care to summarise it for me?

    • Spot on re Halo 4 I think. It was all about Chief and Cortana and I thought that part of the story was excellent.

      Halo 5’s campaign stinks, but the multiplayer is good to very good (particularly SWAT). I don’t think it’s better per se but it is fun.

      But hey, I also loved Reach and miss firefight badly. Looking forward to the backward compatibility coming through to play Reach again!

  • I agree especially about needing to go through material other than games such as the novels and collecter’s edition content and it is getting ridiculous. The last straw came for me when i booted up Halo 5 for the first time and suddenly, as though randy orton was slamming me face first onto the floor boards, goddam blue team shows up, all chummy with chief again, no explanation, nothing. Last I heard they’d been stuck on Onyx (a shield world similar to Reqiuem) since Reach fell, with Kurt dead and i’m pretty sure Linda was in a coma. But then, and this links back to the authors mention of Rude Goldberg like happenstances, they are suddenly found and retrieved from Onyx, all in the name of plot, and basically so that 343 could have teammates for the stupid squads thing. That my friends, is utter bullshit.

    • Yeah, the fate of Blue Team was expounded upon in the novel “Halo: Glasslands”. You can read the plot summary over at Halopedia.

    • Article is spot on. I don’t think games should be referencing events that take place off screen to drive their own plot points. I think it’s a kind of franchise mismanagement rooted in the desire for HUGE universe and selling books and comics. The fall of Reach novel is nearly 15 years old. Better go read the wiki and watch some Halo the Game: The Movie on youtube.

      I think Blizzard has been doing the same thing. Lore that is vast and so far up it’s own arse that important events can take place offscreen often between expansions and you’re just expected to be up to speed with all the C grade novels and comics they put out.

  • The turn Cortana takes seems like something the Cortana of halo’s 1-3 would have snarked about.
    Overall the writers for the new halo’s seem to be taking some of the really interesting ideas of earlier content (Halsey’s questionable methods for the greater good and A.I. rampancy) and taking them way too far (Halsey is now a war criminal and Cortana is every powerful well intentioned A.I. gone mad trope). It’s disappointing.

    • I mean, one thing I do give 343 credit for in the “Cortana is bad now mmkay” arc is that MasterChief does have a long history of getting into trouble by just blindly obeying AI (Thanks GuiltySpark!) and Cortana has been exposed to virtually every corrupting factor on the face of the earth at this point – wasn’t she cohabitating with fricken GraveMind for a year or two!?

      On top of a bit of newfound deity, I didn’t see the swing as completely out of character. She’s always been big for her boots.

      But then I haven’t read the books, so maybe there is more or less justification there that I’m missing.

      • There’s definitely justification for it but most of that went into the rampancy plot in 4. Going with the crazy dictator A.I. route after she had the breakdown and self sacrifice ending in 4 just seems too much. Like they couldn’t decide whether they wanted Cortana to go out nobly or as an evil boss character so they just said “LET’S DO BOTH!”. It just seems bad to me.

        • The way I read Halo 5’s plot was not that Cortana was now crazy dictatoring it up, but that she’d moved past what they thought was the final stage of a human-created AI (Rampancy) and into a state of ‘super-sanity’. Cortana states as much in the game, and acts in a way that indicates that her Rampancy is a thing of the past. She’s now in charge of the Mantle of Responsibility, which demands the preservation of all life in the galaxy, not just humanity, and that is exactly what she’s working towards. It’s the very definition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place; she has to choose between the moral path (side with Master Chief and continue to fight a battle that they will eventually lose), or the most effective path (utilise the Guardians to force the galaxy into peace via the fear of retribution and annihilation). It’s putting an arguably good character into a no-win scenario.

          Granted, 343i did a terrible job of communicating this through the campaign, but the intent is there.

  • There is a lot of this that I agree with, particularly your points about the original stories vs. the new ones. Show not tell definitely seems like a Bungie mantra, and one that 343 certainly hasn’t adopted.

    That being said, I do think your analysis of the difficulty (and resulting gameplay) is needlessly simplistic. I too played through Halo 5 for the first time on Heroic (my attempt to begin on Legendary was… jarring, to say the least) but I didn’t experience the Call-of-Duty-esque cover-based action shooter you outline here.

    Were there moments when the damage I was doing and the damage they were taking didn’t add up? Sure, I’ve wasted plenty of clips on a pack of grunts or jackals only to find one or two miraculously still standing as if I’m a Stormtrooper and they are Grunt Skywalker or Jackal Solo or something. Sure, I’ve boosted in for a melee attack only to find my fist hitting the promethean making what I can only assume to be the sound a feather makes when it hits a steel wall at 100 km/ph and his return hit punishing me with disappointing ease.

    But those moments were definitely the minority. Far more times I was able to use the ground pound, the shoulder charge, the button boost in order to position myself to pull off a string of attacks which definitely reminded me of the old Halo heroism. While not quite as sprawling as the Halo levels I remember, I do think that 343 did a good job of hiding a lot of weapons in plain sight – I don’t think I played a single level (bar those cinematic non-levels; what the hell was that?!) where I couldn’t find a shotgun or a sniper or something overpowered at some point and say to myself “ohhh yeah, something is about to die right.”

    In fact, one of the strongest things I had coming away from the first Halo game I’ve ever played without being able to do so cooperatively (another gripe here, my brother and girlfriend both love Halo – but I guess continuing the coop tradition I’ve had with my family for more than a decade isn’t as good as a slightly fresher coat of paint right?) was that even without a buddy to fall back on, I could still forge my own daring moments of grandeur in the face of adversity – even if they did feel a little hollow without anyone to turn to and say “did you see that?!”.

  • Did anyone else feel like you could’ve swapped the roles of Locke and Chief without really affecting too much of the plot?

    If Locke had somehow gotten close to Cortana and Chief had to race around the galaxy to try and stop him – you would have the inverse in the level distribution and people would actually be playing Chief for the majority of the game. I’m not saying it wouldn’t take some rejigging to get the story in the same place, but the central conflict would stay the same and the storytelling wouldn’t be so disjointed by MasterChief’s lack of presence.

    • It was a shit story anyway. I reckon the entire plot could have been condensed into a proluge and the actual story could have had the classic grand scale mixed with high stakes.

      • Yeah if we want to go all the way back to the drawing board; I agree with you. The elements were all there, but what was stringing them together seemed pretty thin.

  • TBH, I always though Halo’s campaigns were garbage. Not the flaming pile of walrus shit that is modern military shooters, just not very interesting and inadequately explained. I only every bought them for the multiplayer component.

  • Halo 4 wasn’t anything special story wise, but Halo 5 (which i enjoyed playing at the time) is ageing like a fucking bottle of diet sunkist. I don’t normally feel ripped off by a shit story but Halo 5 genuinely makes me angry that I invested my time and eyeballs into its bullshit. The robot aliens who I cant care to remember are shit, it was cool in 4 but they should have killed them off and made something fresh. If you’re thinking about buying halo 5, get rise of the tomb raider instead. If only that game got the same level of marketing.

  • I thought I was the only one who felt this way…..

    The story development 323 has taken is horrible imo. They have lost the soul of the games, there character introduction is sloppy, the motives of everyone is questionable….I could rant for longer than this article but I wont…In general I was SUPER disapointed with Halo 5 (I could forgive Halo 4 tbh, I didn’t mind it so much).

    I’d of proffered it if Halo 4 was about Master Chief finding Onyx and linking up with that story line (read the book, decent read). They could have contained the story there by him fighting off the covenant, finding the lost spartans etc. whilst dealing with a slowly ‘turning crazy’ Cortana. Story could have ended with them escaping and recontacting earth or something a long these lines? The story would be more personal, a story of the relationship between John and Cortana, a point in life when John could question the things he had done.

    Halo 5 would than have been a story about the new arising threat of reawakened AIs/Forerunners, the covenant civil war and humanitys own civil war. For those of you that don’t know Humanity was slowly destroying itself, outer colonies breaking away from earth etc. Spartans where the elite teams to kill off insurrectionists/ innies.

    Halo 5 would be a story about regression. Humanity is still killing itself whilst new threats are still existent. The story could have been a few years after Halo 4 and begins with the spartans killing off insurrectionists (be a cool change to show master chief in a now so heroic light, the trick would be to portray him as not agreeing with it). On top of this an added element would be that the new spartans are lesser than the old one (I hated that the new spartans were on par with john etc.) adding another layer of internal strife. This plot line would have addressed the already implemented story points developed during the back story of the spartan project.

    The plot shifts when they find that the outlying colonies/innies are beginning to disappear, showing increasingly strange objectives and have new weaponry etc. At this point a new threat is introduced, maybe the diadect or someone else. Guiding these outlying humans to there own ends whilt eliminating those that would not join them. In a hunt for answers the Spartan project takes on a new role and has to hunt down this secret force behind the innies dragging them to X, Y and Z location. During this stage it reinforces that John is a hero, saving human lives, even rebelling innies, he puts aside the military orders because he knows there is a greater evil now. The final location could have been the elite homeworld (coincidence but I feel adds a layer to the plot). The elite homeworld holds the key to the mystery/ or a part of the key. Here you are found fighting two fronts. The covenant on one side, the new ‘threat’ on the other. The game would end with…something.
    I feel like this story could have conveyed the pettiness of humanity, the conflict with John (to follow or to lead), keeps the covenant active i the story whilst introducing new enemies gradually and in an interesting ways (humans/robots etc.).

    Tbh this is all off the top of my head. I just wanted to convey that I feel 343 studios had an entire tool book to play with in Halo 4 and 5 but decided against it to the detriment of the series.

  • I feel really similar about the Locke/Master Chief angle. I felt like the game was constantly saying “we interrupt your precious Halo experience to force you to play as a character with no personality who’s entire goal is to prevent the person you care about from doing what’s important to him”. And you play as Locke SO much, and it’s worse because you’re constantly reminded about the Chief … who you’d rather be playing as.

    Locke was painfully bland. He had no character. I went and watched the TV show about Locke thinking that 343i had hidden the meat of his personality there but the show was equally dry. I know 343i wants us to really care about Locke with the whole marketing campaign that seemed based around picking a side, and the way that Locke does the kind of cool things in cutscenes that Chief would have done. But I honestly can’t think of any reason to empathise or get behind Locke.

    And speaking of that whole #huntthetruth marketing campaign that (after being highly disappointed with Halo 4) got me once again intrigued and interested in where the story was headed … what a flop. Stuff like Captain America Civil War and the new Superman movie interest me a lot because they challenge you to think about your heroes as maybe not being the heroes you thought they were. It’s very cool. So I thought Halo 5 was going spend a lot of time in the grey areas and be pretty interesting and present this really conflicting angle, but it was very straight forward and the truth got exposed rather easily and without fanfare and you pretty much have a grasp on what’s really going on pretty early on. There was a lot of good stuff in Halo 5’s campaign, so I’m puzzled as to why 343 went to great effort promoting an story angle that was so thinly explored in the final product.

    • If they want to replace Chief then they should go all in, not attempt to go halfway by letting you play as Chief at certain times. Especially not resolving the ‘hunt’ in the fourth mission.

      • I agree. And I honestly expected they would replace Chief, that could have been a cool idea. But instead they invested in Chief more.

        They said it was gonna be the ‘reclaimer trilogy’ and they made Chief into sci fi Jesus, his abilities a result of the forerunners planning his destiny to so he’d be genetically perfect, and putting some gene song in him to make him even better, make him the next step in the evolution of humanity, making him worthy of inheriting the Mantle. But then in Halo 5 they just drop Chief and make Locke the star, put him on the cover of the game and give him all the cool things to do, give him a TV show, even make him seem more powerful than chief. I’m not sure what 343 are doing.

        Do they want us to idolise Locke? Is this supposed to be a passing of the torch to a new hero? If so, it’s the most clumsy, fumbling hand over I’ve ever seen.

  • Informative article. Couldn’t agree more! I am finding it hard to digest anything 343 does. After Reach everything has just been sliding downhill.

  • good article. agree with the heroism angle, and the halsey angle as I’ve only played the games.

    I remember playing the first halo for two hours in an ebgames store. I’ve never played a display game for more than 5 minutes before or since, but I just couldn’t put it down. I think the AI in Halo CE has never been bettered. Truly good AI has to be tailored and tested room by room, and today online multiplayer has taken away from the drawing power good AI used to have. I’m happy, online multiplayer is manna from heaven.

    Permanent team doubles playlist please! No-one talks on online games anymore. Two people communicating and taking down the rushing folk are about half the fun of halo.

  • You had me until you mentioned Halo 4 which I think had one of the best campaigns out of the whole lot, lots of variety and very emotional. Reach was by far the worst of the series, so boring and uninvolving, you talk about people having to have read the books but Reach was by far the most guilty of that, it made no sense to me and felt like Bungie on contractual obligation autopilot. Yeah but that aside Halo 5’s campaign did nothing for me so I agree with you there, would be very interested to hear from 343 as to why the story and campaign was like that..

  • Honestly. I’ve played all the Halo’s numerous times now over the years. 1-3 was lost on me, I started with them and they didn’t hold my attention. Reach was awesome though. People complain about the story borrowing bits and pieces from its expanded universe ‘now’? but like, I had no idea why the covenant were bad guys in the first trilogy, why am I killing flood, where did they come from? Why do I care other than ‘gotta save world?’ there is a reason people originally complained before about Halo’s story, its always been all over the place. They are all still great games gameplay wise and that adventure factor has certainly been amped up with 4 and 5’s set pieces. I dunno, some complaints about the new games seem a bit redundant. Most of the time I feel like these articles are just for the hardcore fans to poop all over the series to make themselves feel better about missing the original trilogy. Also Locke having no personality like its a crime against the series – excuse me when did chief ever have any personality? If anything Locke actually gives chief more character development in halo 5 by being opposed to his actions, in turn giving us perspective on chief from someone other than chief. Not saying I’d rather Locke over chief as a main character but just, cmon.

  • In Halo CE, the Covenant weren’t trying to use the flood as a superweapon. They didn’t intend on releasing them/it at all. They wanted to activate the Halo ring(network) and wipe themselves out with everything else in the galaxy, sending them on a great journey to “salvation”. In the end the biggest threat to the Chief and Cortana was Guilty Spark trying to activate the Halo ring, but he was stopped when the Master Chief and Cortana made the Pillar of Autumns engines overload and explode causing the destruction of Installation 04 (the Halo ring found during Halo CE).

    The Flood was an unhappy accident to both the UNSC and the Covenant and is part of the Forerunner backstory.

  • You just voiced all of my concerns with the story, but there’s so much more that could be said. If they wanted Chief to “seem” to be the bad guy, then why not jump on the current trend of “the government is against us, and spying on us”? ONI, the shady government sector, could have played an even greater part using this tried-and-true formula.

    Not only is the movement odd, but the aiming is wonky. I can’t quite put my finger on the precise issue, though the acceleration feels off.

    I don’t think I even enjoy the multiplayer. I strongly dislike the added agility movements. Trying to nail someone with headshots over long range feels slippery while shooting someone up close is cumbersome.

    Not only that, but the great touted Warzone leaves me bruised and battered as I throw myself against the enemy base hoping that the other 11 players on my team might be able to spawn a random weapon/vehicle and assist.

    I’m beginning to tune out to the word Halo. As far as I’m concerned, the first three games are the core Master Chief Saga, with ODST and Reach being fan-fare.

  • This was an interesting read, to be honest i’ve been struggling to get through Halo 5’s campaign, I just… don’t care. This coming from someone who had a day 1 original xbox and spent frankly horrifying amounts of time playing Halo 1-4 so you’d think i’d be the target audience but… meh.

    Sure the story is a bit messy and empty and switching between teams just isn’t working in a narrative sense but for me the biggest issue with the campaign is that the Forerunners just aren’t that enjoyable to fight. It’s interesting the phrase you used “with no perceptible effect” when emptying entire clips into the soldiers, this is spot on, the feedback on the guns and the enemies is nearly non-existent when fighting the forerunners.

    Covenant grunts still have a satisfying pop from headshots, elites shields erupt when under fire, the sounds rumble when you hit, these are all ways the game is telling you you’re having an effect, but with the soldiers I have no idea if i’m even hitting them until they break apart and disappear, a decidedly dull payoff. Perhaps i’ve been spoiled by the intensely satisfying “popping bubble wrap” feedback of enemies in Destiny but i’ve just really struggled to enjoy Halo 5’s campaign, and I’ve been TRYING to enjoy it, which isn’t the best sign.

    Lastly… did 343i ever playtest this game in single player?? Strip the option for couch co-op and then make it so the (repeat) boss battle is designed to be taken down by a team, near impossible with the useless squad AI on heroic or legendary.

    At any rate to end on a positive, it is a stunningly gorgeous game, the craft on display is incredible, and the competitive MP is an absolute blast to play, they most definitely nailed that half of the package.

  • I feel like Halo 1-3 made the Master Chief feel like this mythological hero, and Halo 4-5 have focused more on humanizing the Chief, by exploring how he deals with loss and betrayal. Personally, I love what 343i has done with the character, making him more human, and less of a robot the player inhabits and controls.

  • What is it about middle games in the Halo trilogies and playing half the game as some mook you don’t care about instead of the Chief anyway?

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