The Halo series has been an Xbox mainstay since 2001, but which of Master Chief’s adventures are the best and which ones can be skipped?
The Halo series is nothing short of video game royalty. The sci-fi franchise is considered to be one of the most influential first-person shooters of all-time. It single-handedly saved the launch of Microsoft’s original Xbox console and it pioneered an online game matchmaking formula that is still in use today. Two decades after these accomplishments, it has made its super-soldier poster boy – Master Chief – one of the undying faces of gaming; but what Halo game deserves to be crowned as the best?
The series has undergone a number of changes throughout its lifespan and there are even more to come. Current Halo developer, 343 Industries, is preparing to release Halo Infinite in the fall of 2021. The upcoming launch will be the first title from the franchise created for the Xbox Series X/S, and it will try to spark the same excitement and intrigue that Halo: Combat Evolved did 20 years ago.
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There have been eleven Halo releases, not counting rereleases like Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Each has left its own mark on the franchise, for better or for worse.
#11 – Halo: Spartan Assault (2013)
Spartan Assault was the franchise’s first mobile-compatible game, which went down as nothing more than Halo‘s debut on smartphones and tablets. Its top-down and twin-stick design was a major departure from any other release in the series, but it didn’t leverage these new controls to add anything to Halo as a whole. While the new perspective for the game was fun from the get-go, most missions were short-lived and repetitive compared to the game’s predecessors. Its story served to fill the gaps between Halo 3 and Halo 4, but it failed to make any revelations that would make it a must-play.
#10 – Halo: Spartan Strike (2015)
Spartan Strike was 343 Industries’ second attempting at making the Halo series popular on mobile platforms. The release included some significant improvements to Spartan Assault, like a larger arsenal of weapons and more vehicles, to diversify the gameplay. Its story jumped between events in Halo 2 and Halo 4, but it didn’t offer much in the way of crucial lore. Spartan Strike remains the best mobile iteration of Halo, but it pales in comparison to major releases.
#9 – Halo Wars 2 (2017)
Halo Wars 2 was a collaboration between 343 Industries and real-time strategy developer Creative Assembly. The release was the second attempt to make Halo into an RTS monolith, one which never came to fruition likely because of how cumbersome it is to play the genre with console controls.
It was released eight years after the original Halo Wars but offered little in the way of major gameplay improvements to elevate the RTS experience on the Xbox. The title included some eye-popping cutscenes but didn’t contribute to the main Halo arc in any meaningful way.
#8 – Halo 5: Guardians (2015)
The most recent addition to Halo‘s main storyline was also the most disappointing. 343 Industries maintained high standards for its multiplayer, striking visuals, and satisfying gunplay, but its campaign was subjected to many controversies. The biggest points of contention were a result of major changes made to Cortana’s character, and those were exasperated by the game being from Spartan Locke’s perspective more than Master Chief’s. Halo 5: Guardians also ditched the series’ long-standing split-screen mode, which made it a shaky entry to the main arc.
#7 – Halo Wars (2009)
Halo Wars was 343 Industries and Creative Assembly’s first attempt at making the franchise into what it was originally envisioned to be, a real-time strategy game. The primary objective of this title was to formulate how to map complex RTS controls onto consoles. This ambitious goal resulted in a bare-bones game compared to heavy-hitting RTS franchises like Blizzard’s Starcraft, and a plot that fumbled where previous Halo titles shined. Halo Wars was a monumental undertaking for its devs right from the start, and while the end result was solid it never quite reached the heights of other series installments.
#6 – Halo 3: ODST (2009)
Halo 3: ODST made a risky shift in narrative direction to expand on the game’s universe that ended up paying off. It was the first Halo title that didn’t star Master Chief, and instead put gamers in the boots of a novice soldier who needed to scour the shadowy city New Mombasa for their missing teammates. Its gameplay held up compared to previous installments, but lacked any major upgrades from Halo 3.
#5 – Halo 4 (2012)
Halo 4 was when original-developer, Bungie handed the reins of the franchise over to 343 Industries. Not only did it look stunning on the Xbox 360, but it made significant developments in the relationships between Master Chief and Cortana that more clearly defined their relationship compared to preceding releases. This was 343 Industries’ trial by fire, and it didn’t disappoint.
#4 – Halo: Reach (2010)
Halo: Reach was proof that Bungie had perfected the art of crafting sci-fi FPS titles, and it was a precursor to the developer’s eventual release of the Destiny series. This installment was a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved that didn’t feature Master Chief but introduced fans to various Spartan classes. It was the first Halo game that included armor loadouts with specialized abilities, which took the single-player and multiplayer experience to new levels.
#3 – Halo 3 (2007)
Halo 3, the final piece of the original trilogy, was everything it needed to be and more. It provided a satisfying ending to Master Chief’s narrative arc and leaned into perfecting Halo 2‘s multiplayer game modes, which were exploding in popularity at the time. It added a custom map editor and a Theater Mode that let players record all of their games, which led to endless Halo YouTube videos, further expanding the series’ reach.
#2 – Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
It’s the release that started it all and is still considered one of the most monumental launches of all time to this day. Few things compare to the sense of wonders Halo: Combat Evolved gave payers when Master Chief first stepped on that beach. Only a year before it hit shelves, Bungie was acquired by Microsoft, and it was tasked with making the game to anchor the launch of the first Xbox console. Needless to say, it succeeded.
The title included a LAN multiplayer mode that surpassed GoldenEye 007, back when PvP shooters were only just getting started. Its multiplayer innovation would eventually lead to a seamless, online multiplayer experience that would etch Halo in the annals of gaming history.
#1 – Halo 2 (2004)
While Combat Evolved introduced gamers to the vast Halo universe, Halo 2 brought fans of the series together unlike anything before it with Xbox Live’s introduction. Players no longer had to rely on LAN to play with friends and could switch on their Xbox to begin gaming with players from around the world instead.
These were the glory days for the Halo series. Gamers would spend sleepless nights grinding the Halo 2 ranking system, which would influence countless other titles like Overwatch. It united a generation of Halo fans and ensured the franchise would see many other releases.
Next: Halo Timeline Explained (& When Infinite Takes Place)
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