< Thoughts on Halo

I think it’s time Halo takes a page from the books of Fallout and The Witcher. The chief needs a vacation and a new direction. If you threw me into an open-world galaxy with nothing but Cortana, 117’s identity and a UNSC ship maintained and piloted by my own free will, I’d be hooked on digital crack. 343 Industries should knock on the doors of Bioware and Bethesda, because while Halo and its on-rails gameplay has been fun for the past 13 years, it’s flat against a wall now.

For the past week I’ve played and finished Halo 1 – 5. For the most part it’s been a great experience, and fascinating to play through more than a decade of evolution in gaming. I highly recommend getting Halo: The Master Chief Collection for XBox if you haven’t already.

The game changes very little if at all throughout the series, and I have mixed feelings about it in general. You’re effectively pushed through each game in a wheel barrow. You make no real choices whatsoever, and assume none of the Master Chief’s identity as a player. Most milestones in every game are accomplished by activating three or four gizmos to unlock a door or shut down a barrier. It gets tedious and repetitive to say the least, accentuated by a constant lining of random and unforeseeable events in combat that kill you and undo your progress. Towards the end of my Halo marathon I found myself sighing longer than I thought humanely possible.

Negatives aside, blasting through quirky aliens with their own weapons across the galaxy can be tremendous fun. It’s a game you can pick up and enjoy almost immediately. The story is interesting enough, too — your mission is to race an alien species to reach the controls of Halo, a huge ring that can destroy all life in the galaxy. Your character Spartan 117 has been groomed from birth to be the perfect soldier, but he is cold and devoid of human qualities. His companion Cortana, a female artificial intelligence, is sensitive and humanistic.

I think the experience comes to a point in Halo 4. The relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana faces some serious turning points as her AI begins to expire and decay. The graphics are a feast for the eyes and the sound design has to be the best in the series. It’s the one Halo game that convinced me to turn my speakers up loud.

Halo 5 is a disappointment. The game isn’t as fun and the story isn’t nearly as deep. I welcome the new vaulting, dodging and ground slamming moves, but they’re easily overlooked in a game that rips you out of the helmet of 117 to play a group of B-character spartans on some vague detour mission. What made the first Halo work so well was its focus and simplicity, but having played Halo 5, I need a moment to collect who and what the game was actually about. It was a broad smear of experiences I’ll probably forget in the next few days.

Right now, I think Halo needs to go away. The gameplay feels old and tired in this day and age, and the story is beginning to spread thin as it fans out from the Halos, Master Chief and Cortana. All in all, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series despite its occasional monotony, and no matter what the games do from here on out, I can not wait to see what becomes of the Covenant, the Master Chief and Cortana.