Halo is a titan of the gaming world. The series nearly single handedly launched and established Microsoft in the gaming world with their new console, the Xbox. Rivaled only by Gears of War, it exists as the Xbox’ crowning IP. From the game’s release to today, the history of Halo is a telling of a relatively new series becoming larger than most. A lot of games date back to the 80s and 90s, but this relatively new game series is as young as it is influential. With a new Halo game on its way, it seems like a great time to review the history of Halo and its impact on the gaming world.
The Story of Halo
The history of Halo and its series starts, in a way, in the past. In the game, a race of advanced aliens called the Forerunners slowly built a vast empire in space. That empire included the Milky Way galaxy, as well as over three million fertile worlds around the universe. The Forerunners saw their role in the galaxy as the architects of advancing all races. Before them, the Precursors played the same role, ensuring stability as best they could across the galaxies. The Forerunners believed there would come a time that they would need to pass their duty down to the next race. They believed that race would be humans.
Unfortunately, the Forerunners battled endlessly with an alien parasite called the Flood. The Flood infect inside sentient life, and slowly but surely overran the galaxy organized by the Forerunners. Because nothing else seemed to work, the Forerunners created a super weapon called the Halo Array. The Halo Array is a collection of 12 ring-like devices that could be activated to destroy all life in the galaxy. In order to try and preserve any sort of defense against the Flood, they activated the device. Samples of lost lifeforms reseeded into the galaxy, and the Forerunners disappeared.
The United Nations Space Command runs in the 26th century, and serves as humanity’s way of colonizing space. Slipspace travel, in which moving from planet to planet happens instantly, helps humans arrive at the far reaches of the galaxy. Like any colonization, the process isn’t pretty. Stable, elderly established colonies, known as the Inner Colonies, have few problems. The Outer Colonies, newer and more recently established, don’t take to the process as well. A Civil War begins between the colonies, and the UNSC begins creating enhanced super-soldiers. The year is 2525, and it’s possible to create the perfect soldier.
The Spartan-II program is meant to suppress rebellions in a secretive manner. Shipping soldiers to various worlds, groups of soldiers take out those trying to create unrest in the galaxy. While trying to keep rebellion at bay, human worlds are suddenly under the attack of the Covenant. This theocratic race of aliens is a collection of species reseeded by the Forerunners. Because of this method of creation, the Covenant sees the Forerunners as their Gods. Thus, they begin a holy war of genocide against humans for acting as heretics against the plans of the Forerunners.
Humanity’s Last Hope
One major stronghold is standing after the Covenant begin wiping out humans. On the planet Reach, the Covenant overruns the UNSC, and only two Spartan soldiers are left alive. One of them is Master Chief, a Petty Officer whose name is coded as John-117. Master Chief and an AI program, Cortana, escape from Reach and travel to random coordinates set by the ship, which just so happen to lead to the fourth Halo ring.
From here, the games play out as Master Chief looks for a way to protect humanity, and in turn, the galaxy. We won’t dive into spoilers on the story from here on out, but we will start with Halo: Combat Evolved, the first game in the series, as we begin talking about the history of Halo games.
History of Halo Games – Original Trilogy
Image Credit: Microsoft
Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
The history of Halo starts before the Xbox had hit shelves. In 2001, the first Halo game, Halo: Combat Evolved, released at the Xbox’ launch. The game also intended on releasing to PC and Mac at that time, but a delay occurred until 2003. Bungie developed the game, and Microsoft Game Studios published the title. Bungie started work on Halo in 1997 as a real time strategy game. Eventually the concept seemed overdone, so they moved to a third person style shooter, where the camera looks over the main character’s back. Soon after, the game moved to the first person experience that the game has stuck with. The game was also meant to release on PC, until Microsoft began work on the Xbox, its first video game console.
Halo: Combat Evolved is often praised as the greatest shooter of all time. Hundreds of games sought to match its style and gameplay, leading to the label “Halo Clones.” It sold five million copies in its first four years of release, and truly launched a reason to buy an Xbox.
Halo 2 (Xbox)
Halo 2 released in 2004 on Xbox, and in 2007 on PC. While Bungie still worked on the Xbox version, a Microsoft Game Studios team called Hired Gun developed the Windows port. The game utilized the new Havok physics engine, and added a ton of new features. On top of new weapons and vehicles, multiplayer became a major focus of the series. Thanks to the further developed Xbox Live, multiplayer modes like Slayer and King of the Hill became staples of the online gaming community. A multiplayer map pack furthered the games lifespan, and pushing the unique player count to 6.3. The game also led to over 500 million online matches, and over 710 million hours of online game time.
Despite its controversial cliffhanger ending, Halo 2 topped the original in sales, becoming the best selling game for the original Xbox.
Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
In 2007, Bungie and Microsoft worked together to release Halo 3, arguably the biggest game in the series. With saved gameplay video, file sharing, and map editors, multiplayer in Halo 3 only increased and improved from its predecessor. Plus, new weapons, vehicles, and gameplay features helped push the game forward. Interestingly, Halo 3 entered development right after Halo 2 shipped. A multiplayer beta for the new title came with copies of the game Crackdown, and Microsoft went so far as to spend $40 million hyping it up in marketing efforts.
It paid off; Halo 3 sold 4.2 million copies on the day of its release. It made over $300 million in its first week, and over on million people played the game on its first day. Since, 14.5 million copies of the game have sold. It’s critically and fan acclaimed, and often mentioned in the greatest video game discussion, just like Halo 2.
History of Halo Games – Second Trilogy
Image Credit: Microsoft
Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
343 Industries took the reins this time around. Bungie, under contract with Microsoft to only produce Halo games, wanted to do other projects. Bungie left to start development on Destiny, and in 2012, Halo 4 hit shelves. The game introduced new enemies, known as Prometheans, who are mechanical warriors created by the Forerunners. Many new weapons and game modes came with the new title as well.
The game’s shift to emotional storytelling is clear, and would guide the second trilogy. The game made $220 million on launch day, and $300 million in its first week. Again, like Halo 3, the game saw over one million players on Xbox Live in the first 24 hours.
Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One)
The second title from 343 Industries, Halo 5: Guardians arrived in 2015 on the Xbox One. The game splits time between Master Chief and Spartan Locke. The story hopping makes the story one of the more interesting narratives in the series. Some disliked the lack of missions with Master Chief, but the change felt fresh. The game uses motion caption for its animations, bumping things up a notch. Not to mention, the Xbox One looks much better than the Xbox One.
The game made $400 million in its first 24 hours of release, and is the best selling Halo game to date. Reviews were positive, but people did mention the story felt short and underwhelming. Nevertheless, the gameplay is wonderful and polished perfectly.
Halo Infinite (Xbox One, New Xbox)
Halo Infinite will close out the second trilogy. The game is expected some time in 2020, likely with the launch of a new Xbox. The game is a follow up sequel to the last game, Halo 5: Guardians.
History of Halo Games – Non-Mainline Halo Games
Halo Wars (Xbox 360)
Halo, if you remember, started as an RTS game. Well, Microsoft never gave up on that idea. With the team from Ensemble Studios, veterans of RTS games, Microsoft published Halo Wars in 2009. The game is an overhead Real Time Simulation game starring human Spartan soldiers fighting against the Covenant. It was concerning at first to think of an RTS game on consoles. Most RTS titles, like Age of Empires or Civilization, are PC games that utilize the multiple keys of the keyboard. Nevertheless, Ensemble worked hard to make the game work, and it earned positive reviews from fans and critics.
Ensemble received news they would be fired from Microsoft before the game ever released. The move was to cut to save money, but the game did quite well, selling one million copies in its first 6 months.
Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)
When ODST arrived in 2009, it’s release brought harsh criticism. The game’s campaign takes place without Master Chief or any Spartan-II soldiers. The game’s mechanics and feel mirrored Call of Duty more than Halo, and many considered it a failure. Critics were not as cruel, and despite criticism, the game sold 3 million copies worldwide. The game’s biggest contribution was Firefight Mode. Players battle waves of enemies, like any Horde or Survival mode, and score points. It was new for the Halo series, but has survived since.
Halo 3: ODST earned the respect of everyone. People enjoy its’ change of pace, surrendering criticisms and dislike.
Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)
In 2010, another Halo title released, this time, a prequel to the very first game. The title, Reach, refers to the planet Master Chief retreats from upon a Covenant onslaught. The game occurred so closely to ODST because Bungie split into two teams. The decision to release a prequel title was not necessarily a meaningful one at first. The game’s concept came from a lack of drive to further the main story. Likewise, the team wanted to use the environment’s destruction as a character of sorts to tell a story of hopeless somber. At the time, Microsoft put more money into Reach’s marketing than any other Halo title.
The game made $200 million on day one, moving 3 million units its first month in North America alone. Critics loved it, and fans liked it more than ODST. This would be the final game Bungie would make in the Halo series.
Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One)
Despite Ensemble Studios shutting down before Halo Wars released, the game did not relate to their employment situation. As mentioned, Halo Wars was a big hit, and in 2017, 343 Industries developed Halo Wars 2. Set just after Halo 5: Guardians, the story follows the main story with a cast of side characters. Creative Assembly worked with 343 Industries on the title, and the goal was to provide the same gaming experience as the first, but in the storyline of the main series.
Critics and fans loved the game. It launched on PC as well as Xbox One, and critics felt like seasoned RTS players would be bored by its simplistic mechanics. Despite this, the console experience was hailed for being comprehensive and easy to navigate.
History of Halo Games – Looking Forward
Image Credit: Microsoft
Halo Infinite is the next game up. It goes without saying that the series is going to continue to be an important part of the Xbox lineup. As each game releases, it continues to break records and top the last title. It’s not easy to do, but for almost 20 years, the series has built better and better experiences. Fans love the series, and the developers love them back.
Enjoy looking back at the history of Halo? Check out our other history pieces on Fire Emblem, Mario Kart, and Super Mario mainline titles. As always, keep reading Comic Years for everything gaming, comics, and pop culture.
Taylor loves to play video games in his spare time. He has two degrees in Political Communication and wrote his thesis on Marxism and the exploitation of college athletes. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his wife and two Toy Australian Shepherds. He’s always got headphones in, and he’s a diehard Cubs fan.