If you had asked me at the start of this year my opinion on Halo, I wouldn't have had anything to say. I'd played 10 minutes of multiplayer with my cousin the better part of a decade ago, but that was it. Since then, I've played through every single mainline Halo game - from Combat Evolved to Infinite. This article catalogues my opinions on each of the games in the order I played them. I played all of the games on my Xbox Series S as part of the Master Chief Collection (MCC) with the exception of 5 and Infinite, which I played through their standalone games. I'll only be discussing the campaigns, as I have scarcely touched the multiplayer.
I'll be avoiding spoilers for the most part. If I've got anything specific to mention about the campaign, then I'll place it in a "Campaign Specifics" box down the bottom of the entry. I recommend reading those sections after playing through the games as they won't make much sense otherwise. This means that even if you haven't touched the series, you can rest assured this article won't ruin your experiences. I also just want to give a thanks to my friend Sebastien who advised I get into the series. It was a good call.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved, often abbreviated to CE, is the first game in the series. It sets up what is to come and excels at it. The gunplay feels terrific, and the story flows with ease, painlessly holding audience attention.
While the graphics have most definitely aged, I still recommend playing it without the anniversary graphical overhaul. The overhaul somewhat changed the tone of the game - especially the later missions. Everything became a lot brighter, and some of the hit boxes don't line up quite as you'd expect.
CE also introduces the iconic Halo theme. I don't quite know how to express my love for this theme - it's superb. It is super versatile and can be applied to just about any situation without feeling out of place. Every variant hits differently. Whether it's a slow piano version in an emotional moment or a fast, intense version in the heat of battle, it just works, and immediately pulls the audience into the moment.
If you're interested in dipping your toes into the series without fully submerging yourself, then start with CE. It has a nice ending that, while being open, supplies an easy and satisfying stopping point.
Also, the pistol in this game may as well be a sniper rifle. It's super overpowered.
CE has a pretty strong campaign except for one level. That being - "The Library". Not only must you deal with 343 Guilty Spark for the entirety of the level, but you must also battle through several repetitive, monotonous Flood-filled chambers. There are also a few minor slipups in the voice acting due to rushed production. These include Cortana's use of British slang and the infamous line "This cave is not a natural formation".
Halo 2 looks at CE, throws out what didn't work, improves what did, and then cranks everything up to 11. It feels like a film you can play. The stakes are high, and the quality is higher. The seamless integration of intense action sequences and stellar storytelling creates an immersive experience that kept me firmly on the edge of my seat.
Graphics have received a significant upgrade here, both the original graphics, and the anniversary variant. I recommend trying both and settling on what you prefer. Personally, I played with anniversary graphics. The cutscenes with anniversary graphics are really marvellous. They look more real than reality itself.
While Halo 2 keeps most of its predecessor's music it also sees a huge step up with the inclusion of some truly epic electric guitar. The guitar elevates the music to something somehow even more exhilarating than what CE accomplished.
The gameplay sees several improvements with dual wielding, vehicle hijacking, and the new playable character taking the game a monumental step forward. These enhancements somehow push the game into something even more dynamic and immersive then CE.
The only things I can speak negatively about are the aimbot sniper jackals at higher difficulties and the ending. The game concludes with quite the cliff hanger. This is due to Bungie, more or less, creating the entire game in about 9 months, and having to slice the game pretty much in half to push it out in time.
Halo 3 concludes the original trilogy and does a stellar job at it. It ties up the cliff hanger of 2 and concludes at a well-fitting point, providing appropriate closure.
Halo 3 may not look all that great, at least compared to other games from the seventh console generation, but it has a lot of charm. The cutscenes of 3 are animated in a very specific way that leads them to feel almost cartoony in nature and provides a wonderful sense of energy. These cutscenes are my favourite of the series and my favourite parts of 3.
I can't say it's my favourite game in the series from a gameplay perspective as it didn't really add much to the experience other than deployable equipment and the gravity hammer. While I didn't find myself using the equipment all that often I did love the gravity hammer. The gravity hammer is super powerful and sends enemies into the stratosphere with ease. The lethality and power paired with its animations make it feel weighty and menacing. The game also excelled at continuing the story and did an admirable job broadening the in-game universe.
Halo 3: ODST
ODST follows the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, a subset of the UNSC marines that drop in from the sky in specialised pods to aid in battle. This is the first game in which you don't play as Master Chief at all. Instead, you take the reins of the Rookie, an ODST. This leads to the game being a captivating departure from the previous games in the series. You don't get the armour or strength of a Spartan, and this shows in the gameplay.
This game is notably different to the rest of the series, and it's best experienced on a harder difficulty. ODST plays best when a slip up ends you in the most dire of situations. I had the most fun when, on recommendation of my friend Sebastien, I played on a harder difficulty on a dark, raging evening. You need to feel scared and take care because you aren't playing as the Master Chief. You're the marines that you've witnessed fall around you during the last 3 campaigns.
The graphics in this game are a noticeable step up from Halo 3. Everything from the textures to the lightning just looks better. It's also bathed in that sepia tone that the seventh generation of game consoles are known for.
The music of this game, much like the gameplay, is a sound departure from Halo tradition. Gone is the orchestral grandeur of previous games and in is smooth jazz (blues is probably a better description but smooth jazz is much more humorous). While it may seem peculiar, it's oddly fitting. The blues, jazz, and noir influences have a notable impact on the game's urban and mysterious setting. It relies on ambient sounds to create an atmosphere that captures the feeling of walking through dark, rain-soaked streets, perfectly constructing a sense of isolation and introspection.
The story is told by very different means with the player piecing it together through flashbacks, the environment, and objects littered throughout it. It creates a very unique experience that pairs elegantly with the style of gameplay ODST strives for.
Reach is, in my opinion, the best game in the Halo series. I won't say too much here out of fear of spoiling it for someone, but it is so very good. In all honesty, I came very near to giving up on Reach towards the beginning. After having already played 4 games from the series, I was starting to tire. Following ODST I kinda just wanted to jump back into the story as Master Chief and was chasing that high of the original trilogy. I'm so extremely glad I saw it through though for the game is stunning in every aspect.
Gameplay wise it improved on the equipment mechanic from Halo 3 by incorporating Armour Abilities, a more varied, refined equipment system. It also improves on the weapons with everything having a distinct, and recognisable, purpose. The enemy AIs also see a marked improvement and are considerably more fun to fight with troops, such as the Elites, moving a lot more erratically.
The music of Reach is wonderful. Much like ODST it strays away from the series' iconic Gregorian chant. Reach doesn't wander as far as ODST though with its vocals and strings remaining very reminiscent of the theme found in the mainline games. What really makes Reach's soundtrack is the game's simple leitmotif as heard at the start of Long Night of Solace. The swelling strings instantly pulls me into the melancholy feeling of Reach.
Being released towards the end of the Xbox 360's lifespan, the graphics are a huge jump from anything seen in the Halo series previously. This is unfortunately the last game in the series made by Bungie, the series creators.
I touched on almost giving up on Reach. I felt this way for a number of reasons. The first level, Winter Contingency, was just kinda dull. It didn't do anything really interesting and that set the tone for the first half of the game. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible, just alright. Where it really picks up is with the level Long Night of Solace. The story starts to get deeper, the tone darkens, the stakes increase.
Members of Noble team start dying and the game takes on a whole new feeling. A feeling of emptiness as the impending doom setup from the opening starts to reach you. As your team slowly dies and your tasked with delivering Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn it just clicks. The game simply falls into place.
What really made me love Reach was the epilogue. As you fight the losing battle against the Covenant on the planet's surface there is nothing you can do but try to survive. You can't keep them off forever and nothing you can do will change that. Your death is imminent, just as the very start of the game alluded to.
Halo 4 is alright. It's not terrible, but I can't say it's the best. It's mediocre. This is the first game to be developed by new series holder, 343 Industries; a subsidiary of Microsoft constructed exclusively for creating Halo games.
It introduces quite a few new enemies which aren't particularly fun to fight and changes up the visual style a fair bit. The story was decent enough, and I like the ending, although the overall implications on the series lore are pretty huge.
I don't have much to say. It is a game that exists and is just kinda alright.
Halo 5: Guardians
This game could be better titled "Call of Duty in Space". It doesn't feel like Halo. It doesn't look like Halo. It doesn't play like Halo.
This game outright refused to save my progress. At one point, I walked through a railing that had no collision and plummeted to my death. This set me back an entire hour of gameplay. For the rest of the game, I played on easy. I completed this entire game in one sitting. Not because I enjoyed it, but because I was worried about what would happen should I stop.
The only positive thing I can say about this game is that the opening cutscene is outstanding.
Seeing as this game is exclusively available on the Xbox, I wouldn't sweat it if you can't play it. Read a plot summary, watch the cutscenes, and move onto the next game in the series.
Halo Infinite is a true return to formula. I believe that this is what Bungie wanted to make when they created Combat Evolved. CE was intended to take place in an open world, but it simply wasn't feasible on the hardware of the original Xbox.
The game plays exceptionally. The grappleshot is a wicked gameplay addition which allows Master Chief to swing and traverse the new open world map. Speaking of the new open world structure, its implementation is marvellous. It permits free movement without jeopardising the flow of the game or story.
The entire experience looks top-notch. It's realistically realistic. It doesn't make every bit of metal so shiny it's overwhelming and instead looks more like a higher quality Halo 2. The somewhat cartoony qualities of the cutscenes are back from 3 and really shakes off the stiffness of 4 and 5. Master Chief's armour also looks the best it ever has. It's got a new level of intricacy and realism unmatched by any of the other games.
This instalment also marks the return of the legendary music. It's a triumphant return of the iconic theme as heard in CE. It once again adapts to context with ease and shows how much this game is pushing forwards while staying true to the franchise's roots.
The story repairs the mess of the previous two games and paves the way for the future ahead. I really do look forward to seeing how they build on what was setup in Infinite and what the next instalment brings to the table.
I hope that you gained something reading about my thoughts on Halo. I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the franchise, so leave them in the comments.