Halo 5 launches today, and the launch of a new Halo game always makes me nostalgic. For almost 15 years now Halo has been Microsoft’s tentpole franchise and the backbone of the entire Xbox brand. Since I’ve played every game from Combat Evolved at the launch of the original Xbox to today’s Guardians on the Xbox One, I thought I’d take a look back at every mainline game in the Halo series and rank them based on my own opinion. Since each game varies so much between single and multiplayer, I’ve decided to split this list up into two parts. Right now I’ll be looking at the singleplayer campaigns of each game* – but I’ve ranked the multiplayer right here. Make sure to check out both parts to see where I rank your favourite Halo game, and be sure to leave a comment telling me where you’d put each game. I’d love to hear from you.
Let’s get started.
After Bungie left the series, many were concerned with where the Halo series could possibly go. 343 Industries, while made up of Halo veterans, was mostly an unproven studio that had the weight of the world on their shoulders as they showed us the first real glimpse of their vision for Halo. Unfortunately, 343 gave us the weakest Halo campaign to date, which, while not a bad game by any means (even a bad Halo game is better than most other shooters) is definitely the weakest in the series.
Halo 4 is probably the best looking game on the Xbox 360, but those visuals come at a cost. Halo 4 pushes the system a little too hard, and as a result the levels are a lot smaller and linear than those of games past. Halo was a series built on it’s freeform, wide-open combat areas, and Halo 4 features the fewest of any game in the series. Add to this a story that makes zero sense unless you’re intimately familiar with Halo expanded universe, and Halo 4 becomes a game that’s not quite sure if it wants to be a game for the hardcore Halo fan, or a game that appeals to the Call of Duty audience.
It’s not all bad, though. Halo 4 also introduced the Prometheans, bringing with them new classes of weapons and enemies, giving the series a much needed breath of fresh air. Like I said, a bad Halo game is still a great game overall.
In all my life, I’ve never seen a game hyped as much as Halo 2. In the months leading up to it’s release I was convinced that Halo 2 was going to be-all end-all of videogames. It’s perhaps because of this all-encompassing hype that I walked away disappointed. After all, how could anything live up to what, is in your mind, perfection?
Halo 2 took the foundation established by it’s predecessor and added to it. More weapons, more enemy types, bigger levels and badder villains. It was mostly a success – the new weapons were a welcome addition and new features such a dual-wielding weapons added a whole new dimension to the combat. unfortunately, not everything was perfect. The new enemy types weren’t as fun to fight as original enemies (I’m still not a fan of fighting the Brutes) and the level design was just as confusing as it always was. The story wasn’t as interesting and a load of technical problems and texture pop-in hinted at the real reason Halo 2 fell so short of my expectations – the game was just too ambitious rushed out the door to make launch. Nowhere was this more evident than in abrupt ending. There was no big finale. Halfway through a mission the game just kind of… stopped.
That being said, the Halo 2 campaign didn’t actually do anything all that poorly, it just didn’t do anything as well as the games that came before and after. If you’re disappointed that Halo 2 ranked so low you might want to check out my Halo Multiplayer Ranking.
Finally, Halo brought into the next generation! For many people, Halo 3 was the reason to buy an Xbox 360. Luckily, Bungie brought their A game and delivered one hell of a Halo experience. Halo 3 featured everything that had made the series great – wide-open combat areas, fantastic enemy AI, spectacular vehicular combat – and expanded upon it with new vehicles, weapons, and features. Equipment and support weapons were new to the series, and they (especially the equipment) changed the flow of combat, giving players new tactical options. Halo 3 was also the introduction of 4-player co-op into the series, taking the series’ best feature and making it exactly twice as good.
Halo 3 was filled with breathtaking moments in both story and gameplay, and had one of the best endings of Halo game. The only reason I don’t rank it higher is that I feel the story fell apart in the second half, a shame given what was set up in the previous games.
Bungie’s final Halo outing ranks highly in my list, and for good reason. Halo: Reach took us back to the time before Master Chief was the hero and put us into an unnamed Spartan as a member of Noble Team, and let us take part in the legendary Battle of Reach. Reach is where Bungie perfected their gunplay, taking the already wonderful-feeling shooting and tuning it to perfection. Everything that Halo 3 did so well was done even better in reach. Other than a few new features (such as armor abilities), Reach wasn’t exactly a great leap forward for the series, but that’s okay. It’s real triumph was refining everything that made Halo great and producing the best-feeling, best-playing entry in the series.
Oh, and who could forget the incredible last stand that took place during the credits, which, for my money, is the single greatest moment across any of the Halo games.
Halo 3: ODST
ODST started as an expansion for Halo 3 before spinning off into it’s own game, and I’m certainly glad it did. It did something unique from the rest of the series in that you weren’t playing as the Master Chief or even a Spartan at all. Instead, you donned the visor of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper on the night following the battle of New Mombasa. It was a change of pace for the Halo series, going from a super soldier to a regular (albeit highly trained) human. You were much weaker, and as such the encounters were much more intense than they ever were playing as a Spartan. In addition, ODST featured a relatively open world, allowing you to explore the city and find artifacts from the day’s events, allowing you to step into the shoes of that soldier and play through their missions as the day slowly unfolds, with each one usually ending in the very spot you were standing when you found the object. Presenting the game as a semi-open world and telling the story through small vignettes was a novel way to approach a Halo game, but it was so incredibly well done I can’t help but rank it near the top.
If it weren’t for the disappointing final mission and conclusion, ODST would be far and away my favourite Halo campaign.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The launch game for the original Xbox is still the finest game in the entire Halo franchise. Combat Evolved was such a massive leap forward for the genre that it repaved it’s very foundations. Grenades being on their own trigger, a two weapon limit, regenerating health, vehicular combat, hell, even proper dual-analogue controls, all either debuted in or were popularized by Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo become the blueprint for what a First-Person Shooter should be, and it’s effects are still felt today.
Even without it’s numerous “firsts”, the original Halo is an incredible game. It’s enemy AI and open battle arenas made combat dynamic and exciting, and it’s use of vehicles and large stages gave an unparalleled sense of scale. Missions design was world-class, being both varied and focused, and every weapon had it’s place (yes, even the stupid Needler). But what really struck me about Combat Evolved was it’s atmosphere; hard sci-fi that slowly becomes more mysterious and scary. The titular Halo ring was, and is, an incredibly unique backdrop that drives the player and presents what is still the best world-building and storytelling the series has to offer. The Halo Ring felt like more than just a backdrop – it felt like an actual place. The first time you step out of the crashed escape pod and look upwards, seeing the ring stretch into the sky and circle back around the the very spot you’re standing, is one of the most powerful moments in any videogame.
There’s a reason that, for years, any great FPS was hyped as a Halo-killer that would dethrone the king. It’s for this same reason, Halo‘s incredible quality and innovation, that Combat Evolved is still on top.
Here we are – my favourite Halo campaigns, from worst to best. If you’d like to see where I’d rank the multiplayer, check it out here. Do you agree with my rankings, or am I way off base? This is just my opinion, but I’d love to hear yours – leave a comment and let me know how’d you rank the Halo games. We all love Halo, so let’s talk about it!
* Halo 5: Guardians is not included in this list. Since it releases the same day this article is posted, it’s too new to give an accurate ranking to.