What Made Classic Halo Great?

Following an intense mission escaping the Pillar Of Autumn, an escape-pod burning and splintering crashes into the ground. Screams of terror fill up what little room is left from the combustion of the falling pod. After the fade-to-white, the player comes to on a strange and mysterious planet. Among the burned marine bodies only one survivor is found in the midst of the wreckage: The Master Chief.

Looking off in the horizon reveals one of the greatest moments in sci-fi history. This isn’t a planet that is commonly understood. This is a ring and The Master Chief is currently planted on the interior surface of this mystifying marvel. Though distracted by this sight Cortana quickly cuts into the admiration: “Warning, I detected multiple Covenant dropships on approach.” The musical score swells and a faint hum of a covenant dropship grows ever louder as it nears Chief’s position.

These are some of my fondest memories of Halo. I remember playing this portion of the game at a Sam’s Club and being instantly mesmerized by the world. Though I had spent minimal time engaging with the lore and story, the tone set in this early mission had me hooked. Despite my love for the original Halo trilogy, I and many like me have become disinterested in the modern Halo experiences. 

The Declining Chief

Halo 5 is understood by many passionate fans to be the worst game in the franchise. In a similar way, Halo 4 was once considered to be the worst until Halo 5 stole the crown. Obviously there seems to be a declining appreciation for the franchise. Some would argue that this is just the touch of 343i. After the franchise left the clutches of Bungie, 343i seemingly was unable to make great games in the series. Interestingly, Bungie’s own Halo 3: ODST suffers from the worst Metacritic score of any.

Though reviews aren’t everything, it paints a picture of it not solely being 343i that derailed Xbox’s most prominent franchise. There are a plethora of differences from modern Halo to classic Halo. The sprint mechanic. The book-locked lore. Master Chief not being the main character. But gamers can’t help but wonder what quality of early Halo’s made it one of the most engaging experiences of the time?

It’s the Journey…

The Halo franchise brought many unique innovations to the gaming landscape. The control scheme. Online multiplayer. Enemy AI. Perfectly encapsulated in those first few moments on Alpha Halo is the idea that Halo is a campaign-first franchise. The Master Chief journey makes classic Halo work. Since the end of Halo 3 many have felt that there’s not a reason for there to be a new chapter of the story. The fight feels finished yet players are asked to keep fighting. The legendary Master Chief feels like a hero without a mission.

The latest entries of the series have completely left the campaign behind. Though they have brought on a lot of innovation to the gameplay, they leave behind the more endearing quality of a peculiar sci-fi narrative. The mysterious world. The interesting religious aliens. Ancient universal threat. This is the lore that set the franchise into motion and I believe is a key to it returning the franchise to positive perception. 

Campaign Overflow

Both Halo 4 and 5 suffer in part from only aiming to deliver a fantastic multiplayer suite. But many fans find that Halo has amassed most of its following and appreciation from the multiplayer side of the experience. And I believe this to be true as well. This is an admirable goal, but campaign matters too. With this understanding it may seem counterintuitive for a multiplayer-first game to double down on the lesser appreciated story portion. However, having a great campaign shapes the multiplayer side immensely.

In multiplayer, everything from weapons to maps to vehicles have strands of lore that are attached to events that occur in the campaign mode. The most iconic weapon in the series, the Covenant Energy Sword, received most of its context from the campaign. The hiss of the sword enabling means that players should be on lookout or face certain death.

Multiplayer with Character

Even the gameplay design of the sword itself seems to have been influenced by the campaign. The sword is understood to be an intimidating force in the hands of a competent wielder. Fans learned the lethality of this weapon by being one-shot killed by cloaked Elites. These same fans were later enthralled to learn that the weapon felt just as devastating in their hands during multiplayer. Though multiplayer is incredibly important the focus has to be in making the campaign interesting. The unique ideas found in the Halo campaign have an overflow affect on every other part of the game.

Though there are a multitude of reasons for why classic Halo stands tall, the campaign being well-crafted has proven necessary. As Halo: Infinite’s release grows closer one of my biggest hopes is that 343i has a renewed campaign focus. I do not see the franchise returning to its former glory without the campaign being a labor of love. The trailers for the game so far have instilled a lot of hope in the campaign being put first. But only time and the upcoming first look will give fans peace of mind. Here’s to wishing on a falling Chief that 343i delivers an unforgettable Halo campaign.       

Stay tuned to Generation Xbox for the Xbox Games Showcase where we will get a first look at Halo: Infinite. And go give the podcast a listen for our predictions on what else we will see at the showcase.

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