The Halo series is one of the most iconic and beloved first-person shooter franchises in video game history. Even players with only a passing interest in video games can identify Master Chief by his bulky green power armor and distinctive gold visor.
It’s hard to overstate how important Halo has been for the development of modern console first-person shooters and online multiplayer. The influential and storied series has legions of fans, volumes of backstory, and countless spin-offs.
The series has defied expectations and broken sales records for over 20 years. Its latest entry, Halo Infinite, has consistently topped Steam’s most-played games list since its early multiplayer release in November. Today, we’re taking a look back at Master Chief’s adventures and counting down the ten best games in the long-running franchise.
Halo 5 made more missteps than any of its predecessors. Developer 343 Industries released the Xbox One exclusive title in 2015 to ho-hum reviews. Critics and fans remarked that the entry lacked the heart of previous titles in the series.
Despite this, Halo 5 isn’t a terrible game. It sports gorgeous cutscenes and fun—if broken—multiplayer mode. The game introduced several modern touches, like the ability to aim down the sights of every gun.
Halo 5 also utilized an unusual distribution model for its ongoing storyline. The Spartan Ops mode was an evolving campaign that continued the story beyond the conclusion of the single-player mode. Spartan Ops was far from perfect—many levels felt protracted and unnecessary. However, it was an intriguing experiment for the long-running series.
The first Halo title proved that first-person shooters could feel natural on consoles. Developers Ensemble Games sought to do something similar with Halo Wars, a real-time strategy game explicitly designed for the Xbox 360.
Halo Wars isn’t a revolutionary RTS. It lacks the depth of its PC-exclusive cousins, like Command and Conquer. However, the game is noteworthy because it’s both enjoyable and functional. Before Halo Wars, hardcore gamers laughed at the idea of playing an RTS with a console controller. Somehow, Ensemble created an RTS that is fun to play with a controller and still feels like Halo.
The game’s storyline follows the crew of the Spirit of Fire as they battle the villainous Covenant on an ancient Forerunner planet. It’s beloved by fans for offering a different perspective on the UNSC’s war effort. Its sequel, Halo Wars 2, continued the crew’s story after they spent decades floating through space in cryosleep.
Halo Wars 2
Halo Wars 2 sees the Spirit of Fire’s crew returning to active duty after decades spent floating through space. The ship enters orbit around a Forerunner installation called the Ark, the site of Halo 3’s climactic final battle with the Covenant. Halo Wars 2 takes place in 2559, five years after Halo 3’s story.
The game introduced players to a new alien faction, the Banished. The ragtag group has gone on to become the series’ main villains, taking over the role left by the Covenant after their defeat in Halo 3. The entry also introduces Atriox, the Banished faction’s ruthless leader.
Fans of Halo Wars 1 loved the sequel’s return to RTS gameplay. Critics applauded its narrative leap to a time period concurrent with the numbered entries in the franchise. Players who jumped straight from Halo 5 to Halo Infinite should return to Halo Wars 2 to see the introduction of the Banished.
Halo 2 is a landmark game for Microsoft. It was a highly anticipated title; gamers lined up at retailers worldwide for the midnight release. The game’s campaign saw Master Chief fight the Covenant all over the galaxy. Fans delighted in seeing Chief defend Earth from the alien collective, with many commenting positively on the design of areas like New Mombasa.
Halo 2 also introduced a surprise second playable character, an Elite called the Arbiter. The Arbiter gave players a window into the inscrutable Covenant religion and its twisted crusade against humanity. His mistrust of the Covenant’s rulers, the Prophets, boils over throughout the game and culminates in the character’s narratively satisfying face-turn.
The game’s multiplayer single-handedly laid the foundation for Xbox Live. Halo 2 introduced console players to multiplayer lobbies, pre-game chit-chat, and competitive online play. It’s hard to imagine now, but these were groundbreaking features in 2004!
Five years passed between Halo 3’s release in 2007 and Halo 4 in 2012. New developer 343 Industries took over from Bungie in the intervening years. The company impressed fans right away, delivering a memorable single-player story and a tight, fast-paced multiplayer environment.
The fourth main entry in the series sported a slew of new gameplay features, like Forerunner enemies and hard-light weapons. The game’s single-player storyline delves into the history of the Forerunner race, introducing players to mythic characters like the Didact and the Librarian.
Halo 4 proved that 343 Industries has what it takes to carry the Halo series into the future. Its warm, intimate storyline and sprawling combat arenas combined to make an unforgettable experience.
Halo 3: ODST
Bungie originally conceived Halo 3: ODST as a DLC expansion for Halo 3. Thankfully, the project grew in scope to become a standalone game. ODST is beloved by fans as a unique detour in the sci-fi series.
Players take control of the Rookie, a silent protagonist who joins an elite squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. The group drops into New Mombasa to fight off the Covenant during their invasion of Earth. Things immediately go sideways, and a freak accident scatters the group across the city before crashing to the streets below.
As the Rookie, players investigate the ruined city to find out what happened to their squad. Rookie’s detective work plays out in campaign missions as long-form flashbacks, detailing the ODST team’s skirmishes against the alien invaders. The game’s moody atmosphere and jazz soundtrack make it a unique experience in the Halo canon.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved changed the way gamers thought about first-person shooters. Before this series, hardcore players viewer FPS as exclusive to PCs. After all, aiming with a mouse and keyboard is natural. How would a player use an imprecise joystick to aim in a 3D space? Developer Bungie Studios solved this issue with a revolutionary aim-assist function.
Combat Evolved introduced players to Master Chief, an unstoppable Spartan warrior encased in a suit of green power armor. Chief, along with his AI companion, Cortana, battles the evil alien conglomerate known as the Covenant. The game takes place on the titular Halo installation, a ring-shaped construct that orbits a gas giant in a distant star system.
The game’s sandbox-style gameplay transfixed reviewers after its 2001 release. It swiftly became a couch multiplayer favorite due to its addictive co-op campaign and well-balanced player-versus-player mode. Even though it’s over 20 years old, Combat Evolved still feels modern.
Everything old is new again in Halo Infinite. The latest entry in the series is also one of the franchise’s best outings. Players have more tools than ever to use against the returning Banished antagonists. A sprawling open world invites players to explore every nook and cranny of the map for upgrades and collectibles.
Infinite boasts a slew of new weapons and power-ups, too. Among these power-ups is the grappling hook, which injects a new layer of chaos into the Halo formula. Master Chief can use the grappling hook to zipline toward aerial vehicles, to pull weapons to himself, or just to zoom across the map.
The best thing about Halo Infinite is its multiplayer mode. Thanks to the rebalanced guns and thoughtful map design, it’s fair and fast-paced. The game recaptures the magic of Halo’s best entries and offers up an engaging multiplayer experience that gamers will revisit for years to come.
Halo 3 does almost everything right. It follows Halo 2’s cliffhanger ending with an epic campaign. The fate of the galaxy rests on Master Chief’s shoulders during the game’s marathon storyline, and the dauntless super soldier carries this responsibility with grim determination.
Players flocked to Halo 3 on release and raved about the improved multiplayer lobbies on the Xbox 360. Halo 2 broke ground for Xbox Live, but Halo 3 proved that the service was the best online multiplayer interface on home consoles.
Halo 3 also introduced players to the Forge mode, a map editor that allowed for wacky variant game modes. The best of these variants, Griffball, became an e-sport in its own right.
Bungie’s swan song remains the best Halo game ever made. Halo: Reach is a prequel to Combat Evolved and follows the final adventure of the doomed Noble Team. Players take the role of Noble Six, a nameless Spartan who joins the stoic Jun, vicious Emil, and the rest of the group late in the Human-Covenant War.
As the Covenant invades and decimates the titular planet Reach, Noble Team’s members drop one by one. In the end, Noble Six stays behind on the dying world to buy Master Chief and Cortana enough time to get off-planet.
The game is dark but never depressing. It’s ultimately a game about sacrifice, duty, and hope. It also sports some of the franchise’s most inspired multiplayer maps and perhaps the most balanced PvP sandbox the series has ever seen. It’s easily the Halo franchise’s high water mark and one of the best video games ever made.