I must begin by confessing that the Halo series is a topmost favorite of mine (Halo 2 being my favorite game, no hesitation). My adoration may be because many of the games featuring the hero Master Chief have a consistent, 6-point story structure.
But not all of the games.
Over the course of three more posts I’m going to give a crack at getting that narrative consistency back 😎 Less out of hubris, more out of affection for a fantastic series ❤
What follows is only a look at the story as written that fits the established plot pattern of the first three Halo games: Halo CE, Halo 2, and Halo 3. Talk over mechanical balance, aesthetic, features like multiplayer, and similar will be left to others. However, critiques on complexity and needing to know the expanded universe of the franchise will be addressed.
This post covers the common ground that the proceeding analyses need to make their point. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead. Here’s to it:
The avatar of Halo is the Master Chief. MC (also an abbreviation for ‘main character’) is a hulking human cyborg with the best armor and weapons humanity can muster to fight.
Chief has slain legions of foes, obliterated entire fleets, and stopped multiple galactic menaces. He is a legend among humanity and aliens alike. The former call him “Savior,” the latter (represented by the theocratic Covenant alliance) “Demon.” Other titles:
- “Reclaimer” – From the robots left by the Forerunners that built and then killed themselves with Halo array to win a lost war. (Humanity is meant to ‘reclaim’ the former Forerunner responsibility for peace in the galaxy.)
- “Food” – From the ancient-beyond-reckoning parasitical Flood that Halo was built to combat. (Finally contained in Halo 3.)
All of this would be impossible without his ‘spirit-guide’ and supernatural protector Cortana, the most advanced of the most advanced AI humanity can create. She lives in the circuits of MC’s suit and brain, sometimes transferring to other computer systems to find information, open the way for Chief, and stop their enemies.
Master Chief, Cortana, Halo, Covenant, Forerunners, Flood. Remember these as we proceed.
Context: Theme Among Other Games
The first three Halo titles each internalize the 6-point structure of:
- Greet the Hero
- Fight Off and Crash
- Fight Back with Friends
- Stop the Very Bad (It’s a Trap)
- Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)
- Explosions and Goodbye
These games also represent these points as whole products:
- Halo CE – Greet the Hero. The first title in the series introduces all the main themes, mechanics, and factions that are the constants through the other games.
- Halo 2 – Fight Off and Crash. Chief fights off the invasion of Earth, the spread of the Flood, and an entire city of Covenant. He also aids in the crashing of the entire Halo activation system (needing a reboot in Halo 3) while smashing into a Forerunner dreadnought controlled by the Covenant.
- Halo 3 – Fight Back with Friends. MC joins forces with human armies, Covenant separatists, Forerunner machines, and even the Flood (for a time) to stop Halo being activated and the Flood from spreading. The fight is finally brought en masse to the enemy! A disgraced alien admiral tags along with Chief the entire time as a constant buddy.
If we go a step further, we could consider each trilogy of the Halo franchise internalizing the 6-point structure in each of its titles:
- Halo CE – Greet the Hero + Fight Off and Crash. Introduction of MC who fights off the Covenant, the Flood, and murderous Forerunner robots to ultimately destroy the Halo ring with a crashed starship’s reactor.
- Halo 2 – Fight Back with Friends + Stop the Very Bad (Trap). More allies join the Master Chief as he takes the fight to the enemy (bombing a capital ship, retaking an occupied city, chasing and assassinating Covenant leadership, etc). He must stop another Halo ring from firing, but in doing so, he both leaves Cortana behind and the Flood are released.
- Halo 3 – Stop the Very Worst + Explosions and Goodbye. All the Halo rings can be triggered easily from one location, the Flood spread unchecked, the Covenant have the means to trigger galaxy-wide death, and once allied Forerunner machines turn on the Master Chief (the very worst stuff this is).
MC blows up the Covenant, the Flood, and the Halo ring activation, but his allies think he’s dead (they say “goodbye” to his memory) and Cortana needs to freeze him (they’re both lost in space indefinitely).
In a meta sense, the original creators of the franchise (Bungie) say goodbye as they cease work on further Master Chief stories.
Yes, Halo games follow basic Campbell-like monomyth story structure. For example, Fight Off and Crash is a crossing of the threshold where return is impossible.
However, the Master Chief games have their own flavor of delivering twists on this plot over and over again. When Master Chief is in a Halo story, a person must expect the presentation to conform to the pattern. There will otherwise be consequences (e.g. low Metacritic scoring).
Metacritic is also only semi-useful as a quantitative correlator to narrative conformance. The score takes into account many things, including mechanics and features, which muddle the narrative analysis. If there’s a better scoring system discovered or proposed, it will be used.
For now, it is plain that each Halo title featuring the Master Chief has to follow each beat of the 6-points in itself, the beat of where the title is in the franchise, and where the title is in its own trilogy.
With these conclusions, other titles can be analyzed, improvements put forward, and predictions made to what may be the final title in the Master Chief saga, Halo Infinite.
And that’s the intro! Halo 4‘s analysis is coming next, along with 5 and 6 (this may be the upcoming Halo Infinite, but I’ve yet to decide if we’ll keep the naming conventions). Keep an eye out! Cheers ~