Zack’s Halo Rankings – The Campaigns

Hey everyone and welcome to a series that I’ve been planning for a little while now! If you know me, you know I’m a massive Halo fan. I’ve played most of the games, read a great deal of the novels, watched most of the media, and I’m in on pretty much all the backstory. It’s been a while since I played the entirety of the Halo games from start to finish. This is my series, my personal baby, my Halo Rankings!

The catch? I’m going to rank them now, play them all, and then rank them again at the end. As I complete a game, I’ll write an article that goes over my feelings regarding the campaign of that Halo game specifically, and then I’ll move on!

Obviously, this series will go on for a little while. There’s 7 games, 7 campaigns, and 9 articles in total. Plus any thinkpieces that crop up as interesting things to talk about regarding the series. I’m here for the long haul. It’ll be weeks before this series is over, so strap in!

The rules? Each game is to be played with the updated audio, if there is any. Upgraded graphics are optional (these rules only really apply to Halo 1 and 2). Each game has to be played on Normal, and with no Skulls active. No level skips allowed, of course. Yes, this does mean I’ll play through “The Library” on Halo: CE, and “Cortana” on Halo 3. Kill me now. 

Most importantly, all games are to be judged against each other evenly. No rose tinted glasses here!

Oh, and I’m playing them in release order, not canonical order. Just so we’re on the same page!

So, let’s get into my preliminary Halo rankings! 

7 – Halo 5: Guardians

The only Halo campaign on this list I’ve completed one single lonesome time, I don’t remember an awful lot about Halo 5: Guardians. I remember coming away monumentally disappointed, and I can share some of the reasons now. 

The major one is the introduction of “Blue Team”. Now, as a bit of a Halo nerd I know quite a bit about Blue Team. Made up by John (Master Chief), Linda, Kelly, and Fred, they’re a crack squad of Spartan-II soldiers. 

So going in, I knew that Kelly was the fastest Spartan to have ever existed. Linda is the best marksman that Master Chief has ever seen, and Fred was the closest thing to a “best friend” that Spartan-117 has. They’ve been through hell, seen the fall of many Human colonies, and completed countless missions.

Did Halo 5 give us any of this? No, not really. Used instead as mindless drones to help you kill things, or puppets for your friends to control, there was no real explanation as to why they suddenly show up. Every Halo before, Master Chief has been the only Spartan around, and suddenly there’s four of them again? Nah, that’s not it Chief…. Get it? Sorry.

Add in repetitive boss fights, and dreadfully linear missions, and the Halo 5 campaign did absolutely nothing to get me going. I’m hoping my mind will be changed playing it again, but I’m still fearful that Halo 5 will be holding the rest of my Halo Rankings come the end of the series.

6 – Halo 4

Halo 4 may be next on the list, but it’s a large jump from Halo 5: Guardians to here. A campaign jam packed with great moments, visuals, acting, and more, Halo 4 was a strong single player start for 343i.

Dubbed “The Reclaimer Saga”, Halo 4 is the first of a planned trilogy. The last of which will be Halo Infinite. 

Set 4 years after the events of Halo 3, the Human’s war with the Covenant is over as we know it. Some ex-Covenant forces are still fighting, but the war has broken down into skirmishes and mild encounters. Cortana wakes up the Chief, as their ship comes into range of Requiem, a Forerunner installation. Forerunners being the ones behind the Halo rings. Defended by Prometheons, a robot class of warriors left behind by the Forerunners, Master Chief has to stop the Covenant splinter faction from activating a weapon. 

This game also started off Cortana’s “rampancy” storyline. Rampancy is the built-in lifespan for Human created AI. After this 7 year span passes, Human AIs begin to break down, almost like dementia. This was continued in Halo 5, albeit it not particularly well.

I actually like Halo 4. The multiplayer was not my thing at all, extremely disappointing as a Halo 3 veteran, but the campaign? Actually pretty good. So it looks pretty low down at #6 on my Halo Rankings, but that’s only due to the quality of the games before it. Not due to the downfalls of Halo 4. 

5 – Halo 2

Feel like this is probably a hot take, but that’s what I’m here for. Halo 2 was one of my earliest gaming loves. I must’ve replayed the campaign literally dozens of times before finally getting Xbox Live. 

Then I racked up evening after evening playing the competitive multiplayer. Halo 2 was, for me at the time, the perfect sequel. It turned everything up to 11, it forged a new path for online console gaming, and it added a second playable character in the Arbiter.

As I’ve gotten older, my love for the campaign has waned drastically. It feels oddly paced, with the Arbiter missions specifically quite plodding in comparison to the Chief’s. It also feels a little too.. Long? As you make your way through the Flood and Sentinel infested areas later on in the game, the speed at which you’re able to progress feels slow. Really slow in fact.

Ammo conservation was a right pain as well, with the Battle Rifle only holding 108 bullets, as a 3-burst gun. Compared to the mammoth 600 round Assault Rifle in the first game, I find the constant need to be picking up Plasma Rifles more than a mild annoyance. 

Sitting at #5 on my Halo Rankings, Halo 2 is perhaps the one I’m most interested in seeing climb my ranking, or fall. We’ll have to see.

4 – Halo 3

Halo 3’s campaign is legitimately fantastic if I’m honest. It’s paced markedly better than 2, and the missions feel much more varied, and fun, than in the predecessor.  It does again struggle with it’s overall length, but both the introduction and climax of Halo 3’s campaign is up there as maybe the best.

Starting almost as soon as Halo 2 finished, Halo 3 is about the Chief, the Flood, and the Arbiter all trying to stop the Prophet Truth from activating every single Halo ring simultaneously. Not too large of an ask I don’t think! 

Halo 3 does suffer from some genuinely poor level design, but overall the campaign is great. Bungie actually took major risks as well, killing off large characters, introducing others, and overall just adding more depth to the Halo lore. You love to see it. A fitting #4 for my Halo Rankings. 

3 – Halo Reach

For as long as I can think since I played all of them, I’ve struggled with Halo Reach and Halo ODST. On a different day, they might be interchangeable, but today? Halo Reach holds up the top 3. 

The first of the Halo games to feature properly emotional story-telling, it was also the first Halo to achieve the feeling of wartime. Despite every Halo game being set to the backdrop of the Covenant war, Reach is the first game to capture it.

Reach is the catalyst for the entire franchise, after all, Halo: Combat Evolved is set immediately after the Covenant glass Reach. As a prequel, Halo: Reach had a lot to live up to. The problem with prequels is that you know the end result, so their existence has to be justified.

Halo: Reach justified itself remarkably. Based around the Spartan III soldiers that followed the Spartan II programme, Noble Team is a well written squad of battle hardened soldiers. Tasked with an impossible job, they have to defend Reach and, eventually, it’s residents – Cortana and the Master Chief.

Spartan IIIs are well covered in the Halo novels, but their introduction to the games was new so Bungie had a job to make them not feel irrelevant. Which they did, spoilers ahead, by making each member sacrifice themselves for the greater good. 

Halo Reach had some tonal issues, but overall Bungie did a terrific job making it feel at home within the astronomically popular franchise. A wide variety of mission structures, armour abilities, and better shooting mechanics made Reach a blast. It still stands strong today at #3 on my Halo Rankings in my list.

Halo 3: ODST

I have no idea what the general perception of ODST is amongst fans, but personally I think it’s almost pitch perfect. In fact the only thing I don’t like about the story? That you’re not playing as a Spartan supersoldier. Everything else is brilliant. 

Taking place within the events of Halo 3, after Truth’s covenant ship jumps through slipspace in orbit, Halo 3: ODST follows a team of ODSTs.

ODSTs haven’t been given a ton of love in the Halo games, but they’re largely considered the best UNSC soldiers that weren’t part of a Spartan programme. Which is why, for me, it was pretty cool to get the chance to play as one.

Why We Like Halo 3: ODST Better Than Reach - Podcast Unlocked ...

The only Halo game to get inventive with it’s storytelling, you play as Rookie, the newest member of this particular squad of ODSTs. Buck, the team’s leader (ish), is actually voiced by Nathan Fillion who does a pretty great job overall. After crashing in New Mombasa after the slipspace jump of the Covenant ship, Rookie has to search the city for traces of his squad.

What’s cool about this, is that the city in between missions is a semi-open world. Once you find clues for your squadmates, you play a flashback mission where you experience what they’ve been up to. It’s a simple storytelling idea, but it’s very well executed here. 

It is, of course, helped by the fact that the team is all voice acted remarkably well. That and the fact ODST gives you a different perspective of the life of a UNSC soldier. Instead of playing as a supersoldier, with an overshield and massive brute strength, you’re playing as an ordinary human. This makes the covenant forces that you encounter much more threatening, and the first time you encounter a Hunter pair is a memory permanently seared into my brain.

Halo 3: ODST is fantastic, if you skipped it, please play it. Sitting at #2 in my Halo Rankings, it’s only beaten out by one game.

1 – Halo: Combat Evolved

It had to be really didn’t it? The one Halo game from the entire series that I replay at least once every year, it’s something of a dream for me.

The first ever Halo game, released way back in 2001 for the original Xbox, Master Chief’s first ever outing blew me away then, and it’s remarkable how well it’s aged now. It’s easy to spot the age, with areas that aren’t always filled with enemies or landmarks, but I’ll be damned if the campaign isn’t near perfect.

The only bad level from the entire campaign is the forever mind-numbing “The Library”, and even that is bookended by two of the best levels, especially 343 Guilty Spark. I used to get irritated by the backtracking and reused locations from the second half of the game, but as I’ve gotten older my appreciation for environmental storytelling has increased. 

Going back through areas that you dominated versus the Covenant, in your superpowered MJOLNIR armour, and then revisiting them infested with the Flood and at different times of day is just brilliant. The game successfully sells the Flood as a genuinely threatening enemy that always puts you on the back foot, not easy to do when you’re such a threat yourself. 

With levels that I could probably draw on a piece of paper for you right now I remember them so well, and a story that was so beyond anything I’d experienced in a first person shooter it’s just… fantastic. I won’t go into why I love it for any longer, but if you’re curious I’ve written an entire Gem Vault article on it here. I’m extremely interested to see whether Halo: Combat Evolved drops down my Halo Rankings after completion, but we’ll have to wait and see!

Outro

That covers it for my initial ranking of the Halo games! Going purely from memory with this list, I can see a lot of this changing once I’ve played through them all back to back. Seeing Halo Infinite get delayed, which I’m fine with by the way, got me craving some Halo action so I’m extremely excited to get through them all again. 

After all, if it stops me playing a game I haven’t completed and probably should, all the better… right? (Witcher 3, I’m looking at you). 

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