Halo is, for many fans, the heart and soul of the Xbox, and was a game changer in the way first-person shooter titles were able to be both fantastic shooting games and maintain a great campaign in the process. And with Microsoft showing off new footage for the upcoming Halo Infinite at E3 recently, the Halo series is back on the minds of many gaming fans.
However, with the series on unsteady territory due to the mixed reception to Halo 5’s narrative direction, there are big expectations for the Halo Infinite campaign. And while Halo 5 may not have been the best storyline in the series, many other series titles have taken gamers on amazing journeys through their respective campaigns. Here are my top 5 Halo campaigns that stand out from the pack.
5. Halo 4
Halo 4 had a lot riding on it when it was first released. As the first game to be released in the series after 343 Industries took over from Bungie, there was a lot to live up to in terms of making sure this change in developers wouldn’t impact the quality or integrity of the series. And while it’s not a perfect game and the campaign does suffer from repetitive gameplay and missions, the emotional depth that 343 Industries were able to bring to the narrative was unexpected.
The game was a fresh start for the Halo series. However, what made makes Halo 4 stand out isn’t the reimagining of the series but the way it brought in an emotional depth and complexity to the games most important relationship. Mainly, the relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana and the bond the two share. Their journey throughout the game to stop Cortana from rampancy, essentially the equivalent of death for an AI, added an urgency to the storyline.
Additionally, this game really highlights the great voice work Jen Taylor and Steven Downes do as Cortana and Chief respectively. While Downes’ previous portrayals of Chief had been quite emotionless, this game added nuance and humanity to the Spartan. Similarly, Taylor shines as Cortana and brings a humanity to the character.
Therefore, while the campaign may have struggled to emulate Combat Evolved in setting up an exciting new narrative, the surprising emotional depth does make it an enjoyable play-through. For fans of the series, the new weapons and gameplay elements are an interesting edition to the well-established Halo formula.
4. Halo: Combat Evolved
The game that started it all. Halo: Combat Evolved revolutionised what first person shooters could be. Not only that, the game introduced us to some of the most iconic gaming characters of all time. What’s more, the campaign of this game really set the foundations for the whole series. It introduced fans to the game’s world, which has since become one on the last well-developed and lore-driven fictional worlds in all of entertainment.
The Covenant, the Flood and the whole Halo lore was first introduced in this game, featuring some of the best missions in the whole series. The Silent Cartographer being one of the best to play through. It features a wide-open sandbox for the player to explore and traverse. Real-time infantry battles with lots of vehicles for the player to command and muck around in. And a wide variety of enemies for the Master Chief to battle his way through. What more could you ask for from a Halo campaign?
The gameplay really was an evolution and it’s no wonder that the series was able to be so successful. It has the perfect blueprint to work off of and one that developer Bungie utilised throughout the rest of the trilogy. As a game though, Combat Evolved proved that gameplay driven games and FPS’s can still tell fantastic stories too. It featured enough twists and turns to keep the playing on their toes and it did so with a killer soundtrack to boot.
3. Halo 2
Building off the success of the first instalment, Halo 2 raised the bar of what to expect from a Halo title. Particularly what to expect from the campaign of the games. While the first game established quite a clear good versus bad narrative, the sequel chose to turn this on its head. While the player still follows the journey of the Master Chief, they also play through the game as an elite called The Arbiter.
The juxtaposition of playing as Chief and The Arbiter makes the player question who the true villains of the series are. It no longer becomes a mere fight between humans and aliens. It becomes a nuanced narrative of how even within The Covenant, a civil war is brewing. This inner conflict within the enemy ranks making the game more than just a safe an easy sequel.
Additionally, the campaign built upon the gameplay elements of the first to introduce more variety and a larger arsenal of weapons for the player to use. In turn, adding a greater sense of freedom and variety to how one is able to play through the levels and navigate the battles.
2. Halo Reach
This game stands out from the rest on this list. Simply because it is the only title on this list to not follow the journey of the Master Chief. Halo Reach, a prequel to the main story, was the perfect last game for Bungie to put out before handing the series over to 343 Industries.
The campaign is spectacular. It has fantastic gameplay and action set pieces and gives the player a whole squad of spartans to work with, Noble Team. With the player taking on the role of the final member of the team, Noble 6. The narrative of the game campaign is what truly makes it a masterpiece. Any Halo fan knows that the Master Chief is the only Spartan left. This fact is made clear during the first game. Therefore, from the onset, the player knows that not only will the character you are playing as die, but that the other members of Noble Squad will as well.
As the player, you enter the game already knowing the outcome. And yet the brilliance of the campaign is that you can’t stop yourself from getting drawn in. From not becoming invested in the characters around you, wishing and hoping they don’t meet the end you know they reach. The game is a tragedy from the onset, one that only becomes more gut-wrenching as the story unravels. It’s a true masterclass in how to tell a story and how to do so without compromising the integrity of the Halo essence.
1. Halo 3
The game that served as the conclusion to the original trilogy. And boy did it do so in spectacular style. With the Halo franchise well and truly cemented as an Xbox powerhouse by the time of this game’s release, the hype and expectation for this game was tremendous. What was so fantastic about the campaign was the way it really became a culmination of the first two.
The stakes were higher than ever, and the time the game spends on Earth literally and emotionally grounds the humanity of the story. And with the fan favourite character The Arbiter working alongside the Master Chief, this particular instalment begs for gamers to grab a friend and play through the campaign together. It may be one of the few games where people actually want to be player two. After all, who would turn down the chance to play as an energy sword-wielding elite?
The genius of this game’s campaign is the the journey it takes you on from beginning to end. It’s very rare that a narrative can end on such a cliffhanger that actually leaves fans satisfied. However, Halo 3 does a fantastic job of wrapping up the original story in spectacular fashion. The campaign is emotional, complex and of course, epic; Halo 3 is not only a fantastic game in the Halo series but the campaign that had it all. It perfected what a campaign in the franchise should be and is one that players come back to time and time again.
With the upcoming Halo Infinite reportedly more of a reboot to the series, here’s hoping the campaign is able to live up to the legacy of these great games. Let me know in the comments below if you agree with this list and if not, which Halo you think has the best campaign.