My Halo Journey
Halo Infinite came out with campaign a few days ago and this was the 8th major Halo game I've played. Some video games come out yearly, but Halo does not and the first Halo came out way back in 2001. So lets turn back the clock and and go through each Halo with a bit of personal commentary.
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
The original Halo that started it all, famously rumored to be originally intended for Windows/Mac until the Microsoft purchase of Bungie (Company behind Halo) leading to a launch title for the original Xbox.
I didn't actually get to experience Halo until running into a family friend who had both an Xbox and the game. Our family did not have an Xbox and it took way too much convincing and chores to even get our first console of that generation - the Gamecube. I think the industry looks back at the Gamecube as a failure and I would agree when I first got to an experience an Xbox with Halo.
The controller with two sticks to navigate took some skills to master, but the game felt so fluid in comparison to like 007: Nightfire on Gamecube. You felt more in control of your character and competing against friends led to thousand hours of fun. Though, Halo CE lacked one thing that the future Halo's would pioneer and that was networking.
Halo 2 (2004)
Halo 2 for me is probably lodged as the best video game of all time. This game released improving on every aspect of the previous Halo, launching an insane amount of features.
Lets talk first about how this game launched with matchmaking which folks today just assume every game will have. The ability to simply party up with friends and enter Xbox Live and be matched with an enemy team was insane. The past of this was either networking with LAN events or tricking games together with dedicated servers to bridge a LAN environment. Not only did Bungie add matchmaking, but friends/clans and complex online stats existed.
Looking at game's launched today, some games don't even offer a way to have insights into stats from played games. Bungie did this 20 years ago when hosting websites was probably a bit more complex at a big scale.
The game had an insane campaign that pushed Master Chief (Spartan 117) further into media and culture worldwide. This game led folks to camping out at Best Buy days in advance - what other game started this culture?
Halo 2 is also what started showing how easy it was to cheat in these games as well as modify an Xbox. This led to my journey of modding each Xbox as well as converting one Xbox into a media center.
The game is what brought global attention to competitive gaming with MLG (Major League Gaming) showing that a career can be made playing video games. The nerd students were talking about Walshy and Orge2 so even the names of pros were known.
With the revolutionary online multiplayer I could not stop playing this game. Unfortunately as mentioned above I dug into the unethical cheating aspect of this game and many accounts were banned. For a good part of this journey though, I did compete legitimately and enjoyed every moment of playing like 1 flag CTF on Headlong.
As rumors became real - the Xbox 360 was launching and a new Halo title was coming with it.
Halo 3 (2007)
A new Xbox was here (Xbox 360) and Halo 3 was firing on all cylinders in the marketing department. Seeing the above commercial during the Superbowl just sent shivers down my spine of another Halo game coming.
This campaign was insanely good, we learned so much about the lore and it ended on such a cliff hanger, with the Chief presumed dead to the masses floating out in space in cryosleep.
The multiplayer launched with maps like The Pit and Guardian with remade maps like Blackout (Lockout) and Last Resort (Zanzibar) from the previous game. The game felt crisp and a new ranking system was introduced with real military ranks alongside a number between 1-50. This is where the phrase, "I'm a General in Halo 3" came to be.
I played 4,179 games on my account, power leveled a few friend's accounts to Level 50 and just never got bored of this game. It had an insane amount of customization with the introduction of Forge (map editor) and Theater (watch games) which took machinima to a new level.
The competitive scene grew even larger and Halo 3 had the team names that all Halo folks had memorized - Final Boss, Str8 Rippin and Carbon.
After a trilogy of games - many wondered if the reign of Halo was over and it did seem that way until another game launched.
Halo 3: ODST (2009)
ODST launched including Halo 3 multiplayer, so this game might not be able to be qualified as a full game. However, the Firefight mode of playing against harder and harder enemies was revolutionary again.
This was the first game so far to not focus on Master Chief, instead learning about the lives of the troopers that dropped in. The campaign and gun battle was nothing like Halo 3, but was niche and unique enough to really play well. Firefight was played for hundreds of hours attempting to beat levels like the addiction of playing 50 waves of Horde in Gears of War.
Though many were waiting for the next big Halo and Halo 3: ODST was all they needed to hold them off for the next big release.
Halo Reach (2010)
Halo Reach would be Bungie's last Halo game as after this game they decide to split from Microsoft leaving the IP of Halo behind to go create the Destiny franchise.
As an aside, Destiny 1 ended up taking 2,000+ hours of my life, so I followed Bungie at first before returning to my roots in Halo.
Reach was showing another side of the Halo ecosystem with a team without the Chief. This was an odd campaign for me, because before you even start the story you know the outcome of this poor team. We follow Noble Team as they attempt to evacuate Cortana from the falling planet of Reach and we know since Halo 1, 2 and 3 occurred that Cortana is saved and Reach falls.
So I just found it a quite bit odd to play a campaign when the story is already known.
The multiplayer here is where my first distaste for the Halo franchise began. Halo Reach introduced bloom, which in short is your shot landing anywhere in the bubble around your aim. The faster you shoot - the larger that bubble becomes. So even if the reticle itself was directly where you intended - the shot might land elsewhere.
This was infuriating beyond belief, even if at times it worked in your favor. It rewarded slow shooting to keep the bubble small, but even then every gun battle was luck based instead of skill. I never really understood why this was added and I don't think the pros did either. Since Halo Reach was removed from the MLG Pro Circuit after only 1 season of a full circuit.
As many begged though, a patch came out. Now bloom was configurable and removed in some playlists, it was a mix of starting weapons depending on the playlist and it just seemed like the game didn't play well. Additionally, taking over a year to fix an issue that caused so many to quit didn't sit well with me.
I gave up playing Halo Reach at Colonel Grade 3 because it seemed to me that Bungie was more focused on their new journey (Destiny) and it was time for 343 (The new company behind Halo) to prepare the next iteration.
Before 343 Industries released the next major Halo though, they did release an anniversary refresh of the first Halo on the 10 year anniversary. This added such an unique campaign experience that a single button click would pivot you between the original graphics and the new. Since the MP aspect was built from the Reach engine, I figure its not worth discussing this refresh.
Halo 4 (2012)
Halo was back and this time Master Chief was the focus! 343 Industries had announced that a new trilogy of games code-named Reclaimer had begun. The connection between Chief and Cortana was insane and the story went into parts of the Halo universe that I was completely unaware of.
This was such an immersing Halo with cut-scenes looking as real as movies as they dove into the spartan program and how children were exploited to create soldiers. The Forerunners were front and center with the Didact. This was a ruthless bad boss that at multiple points in the campaign just killed people instantly. This reminds me how a killer would truly act, because any film/game that has delays surrounding a death so something can intervene isn't being truthful.
This campaign also started adding a sad tale to the Chief and Cortana story, because she was reaching the end of her AI time deteriorating her code known as rampancy. At the end of this campaign we see her pretty much sacrifice herself to save the day.
Unfortunately, this campaign was short and multiplayer introduced load-outs, sprinting and ordinance drops. It just honestly felt like a Call of Duty game to me, because why would Halo which had never had load-out spawns ever introduce them? You could spawn with a different variety of guns and that is not Halo.
The REQ packs and magnetism on weapons also just didn't feel like Halo. I could have like 20 different versions of a Battle Rifle and those different versions were more than just visual. So it was just maddening that a friend could spawn with a more powerful weapon than me from either spending more money or having better luck.
So I stayed in basically one playlist that was consistent with gun battles, but I knew that while I enjoyed this game - it didn't hold me anywhere near Halo 2 or Halo 3 did. It seems it was just a rough patch for the Halo series, because even the Pro Circuit for Halo 4 did not excel. There was only 1 official MLG event for the game, so once again alignment between the casual and the pro of the state of competitive play.
Now Bungie left 343 Industries with Halo Reach which was not well perceived and 343 had to grow into the shoes of holding the mantle of Halo. Unfortunately attempting to compete with Call of Duty and the inching of monetization into the game was not classified as a success to me. However, there were two releases on the horizon to attempt resolution of this issue.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014)
With Halo 1 getting a 10 year refresh, folks were definitely hearing rumors of a new Halo on the 10 year anniversary of Halo 2. This was my anticipated jam - a Halo that included all the other Halo's combined & remastered iteration of Halo 2. I could now hopefully play my favorite Halo 2 and 3 on the Xbox One.
My hope was crushed and it seriously affected my love for the series. I had never bought a game before that just didn't work. Games never started in matchmaking and if they did - the leader could just boot people. Partying up with friends was near impossible, requiring all to be on the dashboard with game closed then joining together slowly.
I blogged about this in detail, because if we look at the original date of Halo MCC at 2014 - the game effectively did not work until August 27, 2018. So remember as we go through this remaining timeline that 2018 restored my trust in 343, but I purchased a game that simply did not work as advertised for 4 years and sulked.
However, in certain settings of custom lobbies patches did come out to resolve game-play so pro play could occur on Halo 2 Anniversary. So yes, we did get to experience about a year competitive lifespan of H2A which was a good trip down memory lane to watch. Even if the game frequently crashed or had issues during the competition. Though, it kinda hurt because H2A did not play at all like Halo 2 to me.
I can't claim that Halo 2 this many years later plays as a great game, because you can play it on MCC now and it doesn't feel that great compared to normal shooters. Though, playing Halo 3 on MCC was very fun - it was just the mixture of seasons, DLC and more on a broken game that pushed me to games like Overwatch and Borderlands instead of playing Halo. That was until the next major non-anniversary Halo was launching.
Halo 5: Guardians (2015)
A new Halo was out on a new console (Xbox One) and it waged Spartan Locke against the Chief in the classic portray of the leader going rogue, but going rogue for the right reasons. We had to watch the remaining bits of Cortana fall rogue, Spartans compete to only join together against the true enemy. The lore was so invested in the Forerunners and these huge structures known as Guardians.
Cortana who was once just an AI in the head of Chief, becomes a flawed enemy attempting to cleanse the world via forced allegiance to the Guardian she controls. We are left ending this campaign with corrupted Cortana controlling Guardians across the galaxy as the chief sits on the UNSC Infinity.
On the Multiplayer side, we got the most configurable custom game/forge mode ever. I can't even remember how many hundreds of hours were spent playing custom Halo 5 games like Duck hunt, Toilet bowl, Sumo and more. It was the first Halo game for me that I spent more time in the social and custom games instead of grinding ranked for a competitive score.
I could probably make excuses why I didn't play ranked as much, but the game was too tough to play for me. Sprint was added and while the weapons felt clean, the maps meant that you could basically be anywhere in seconds. I just remember the stress of attempting to hold high ground, but there were like 9 different routes I could be ambushed. I think back to like Halo 3 "The Pit" and I can remember sitting on sniper tower and knowing exactly what few angles could attack me.
Aiming with stabilizing, clambering and ADS (Aim Down Sights) mixed together with sprinting just changed the game. Halo was meant to be played with map control and controlling weapons, but it turned into another just run and gun game.
Pro play finally had a place for Halo 5 and the first million dollar tournament was in the game. Tournaments continued with new names entering the scene as players moved industries due to the decline of Halo competitive play since the release of Reach.
I was also at a different place in life when Halo 5 came out - I was trying to graduate college and get a job. Moving here and there really meant that there wasn't that much time like the past to just play Halo. So every time I returned and got destroyed - I realized you really had to play Halo often to stay good at it.
I enjoyed building stat sites though as Halo 5 launched with an amazing API. I built Leaf for the competitive insight into leaderboards as well as PandaLove to track personal clan games and stats.
Years went on and the scene faded and Halo 5 competitive play ended with a few pop-up tournaments to return to the then patched Halo MCC (2018). It seemed like 343 Industries focus was now back at fixing MCC and we might not get another major Halo.
That was until an E3 demo in 2018 advertising the new Slipspace Engine, but as everyone now knows - COVID was near and the next Halo would not be released until 2021.
Halo Infinite (2021)
Was it COVID? Was it a new game engine? Was it the fixing of MCC? The final game of the Reclaimer trilogy was released 6 years after the release of Halo 5.
The game launched directly to PC and Xbox boosting a 120FPS on consoles and was free-to-play for multiplayer. Cross-play was native allowing Xbox and PC gamers to play together with no issues - a feature that became popularized by Fortnite.
After the loot box drama of Halo 4 and 5, Infinite did away with loot boxes instead opting for a complex chain of seasonal unlocks for customization. However, already a few weeks in this appears to be greedily designed. Many unlocks are simply rewards to "challenge swap", which swaps a challenge to alternative one. You are forced to use these because you cannot pick a specific type of playlist - leading to challenges incredibly difficult to obtain. This pushing most to believe that you are supposed to spend more money to unlock more things.
You can grind and play for 150 games and unlock the color blue that looks identical to the color blue given to you at start. You may unlock a visor, but its only for a specific armor. You can't mix and match to create a personal spartan, so you are left grinding a game for next to 0 XP to unlock 1/12 of a specific spartan design.
EDIT: The has been changed to 50 XP per game
EDIT2: This is now daily XP for just playing.
The game launched with a new training mode with bots and weapon training, but announced that Forge would not be ready till Season 3 (ETA 6 months). Campaign co-op mode is additionally not ready at launch and won't be till Season 2 (ETA 3 months).
Halo Waypoint announced it would release a "vNext" a newly designed iteration site to see all your stats!
Though, it launched and the famous tab called "Stats" shown on the release blog post was no where to be found. So the entire current purpose of Halo Waypoint for Infinite is for customization, looking at your Battle Pass and buying credits for monetization.
This just bugs me. The game took years on years to build with the longest Halo release cycle ever. The game lacks features that many other Halo's launched on day 1. The game added features that I spent sub hour on and will never return. It has no official stats outside of the game. The game launched with 1 ranked playlist just called "Arena". A Halo game after 20 years that didn't launch with Team Slayer just blows my mind.
Though, I'm incredibly conflicted. The game plays in combat very well and feels like old Halo to me. I love the gun battles and the classic game modes are back with a slight twist. The work 343 Industries did with pro players to adapt the sandbox was the right move. Though, I fear there is an internal struggle with upper management to become Fortnite rich affecting the other purposes of the game.
I've had to see Bonnie Ross apologize once for the horrible launch of Halo MCC and watch previous Halo's get abandoned from pro play. I don't want to see another Halo game fail.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh. Halo 2 had one console to support. Halo Infinite supports PC and a variety of different Xboxes. Perhaps games are getting way too complex and this is leading to features being cut and more. However, when I see a flawless feature involving monetization my thought changes back to greedy management.
Halo Infinite is still brand new only officially released under a week ago so I'll give it time. Especially since my childhood was Halo I deserve to get this game a chance.