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The Rise and Fall of Halo, Part III: Guardians of the Galaxy

The Rise and Fall of Halo, Part III: Guardians of the Galaxy - Article

by Evan Norris , posted on 22 November 2016 / 13,458 Views

Although Halo creator Bungie and benefactor Microsoft collaborated on five successful games between 2001 and 2010, their relationship was far from perfect. In 2007, seven years after Microsoft had acquired Bungie and repurposed what would become Halo: Combat Evolved into a launch title, Bungie split from Microsoft Game Studios to become a privately held independent company. According to a deal between the two, the Halo intellectual property would belong to Microsoft.

With Halo: Reach in the books and Bungie gone, Microsoft needed a new studio to take ownership of its most recognizable property. That studio was 343 Industries, named, ominously, after a duplicitous, untrustworthy character from the Halo series. 343 began work on Halo 4 in 2009 and released the title in 2012 as the first part of a new Halo trilogy.

Halo 4 Promethean

Although Halo 4 was a smash hit for Microsoft — it grossed $220 million on launch day and $300 million first week, setting a new record — it proved to be the worst and weakest entry in the Halo franchise, a game that strayed far from the series' successful staples. How and why 343 botched the development of Microsoft's most beloved property is a long and unfortunate story.

Two things contributed to the mediocrity of Halo 4: the developers at 343 focusing resources on the wrong things, and their misguided belief that Halo needed "fixing." Before Halo 4, campaigns in Halo had sourced their strength from three main, interrelated items: open level design, cutthroat artificial intelligence, and improvisational gunplay. Yes, Halo campaigns during the Bungie era featured a number of linear corridor levels, but always there was a certain freedom of movement and tactics.

Halo 4 story

Instead of building off of that foundation, 343 went in another direction, focusing intently on art direction, graphics, world-building, and storytelling. The result was a game gorgeous to watch and rich in backstory that nevertheless played poorly. Levels in Halo 4 are painfully linear; enemies are decidedly dumber than in previous installments; and the opportunities for spontaneity in enemy firefights relatively non-existent.

Aggravating those problems was Bungie's insistence that the Halo formula needed significant tweaking. 343 brought in developers and programmers from over 25 "AAA" studios, many of whom disliked Halo. "We had people who were hired who hated Halo because of 'X'", said Frank O'Connor, former community evangelist for Bungie and current Halo franchise director. "But what that really meant was 'I feel like this game could be awesome because of 'Y input' that I'm going to bring into it.'"

Halo 4 mp

That "Y input" turned out to be a healthy dose of Call of Duty. For the campaign that meant more straightforward level design and an influx of scripted events and QTEs. For multiplayer, which was partially farmed out to Certain Affinity, that meant custom loadouts, ordnance drops (basically kill streaks), perks, and killcams. Bungie had flirted with loadouts specific to game type in Halo: Reach, but 343 went even further in Halo 4, offering up to players fully customizable loadouts.

The result was a muddled, messy, unbalanced multiplayer mode that was neither Halo nor Call of Duty but rather an uncomfortable hybrid that failed as both a twitch and arena shooter. Consequently, the online community in Halo 4 began drying up several months after launch. Three years later, 343 would listen to fan feedback and make amends for its multiplayer failures in Halo 4. Its stewardship over single player, however, would only deteriorate in the years that followed.

Halo 4 screen

The new Halo trilogy continued in 2015 with Halo 5: Guardians. Set eight months after the events of Halo 4, Guardians follows two units: Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris. Shockingly, the campaign in Guardians is even worse than the one in 4. Learning nothing from the metaphysical meanderings and unexplained characters in its freshman effort, 343 doubled down on a vague, context-less story in Halo 5 that begins in media res and requires extra-curricular research, even for Halo veterans.

Even more detrimental is the campaign's focus on co-op. Halo has featured co-op play since its 2001 debut, but never did it impinge on the solo experience. By shoehorning in co-op features to fit a particular narrative, 343 robbed Halo 5 of its strength as a single player adventure. It's not much fun babysitting three Spartan teammates who wander around aimlessly soaking up bullets. Making matters worse is Halo 5's lack of offline and split-screen options, a staple of Halo multiplayer going back to its origins.

Halo 5 co-op

Luckily, the campaign failings in Halo 5 did not translate to competitive multiplayer. The game represents a true return to arena shooting. Loadouts, ordnance drops, and armor abilities are gone. Fixed weapon spawns are back. "A big part of it is just putting all players on an equal footing," said Executive Producer Josh Holmes. "Making sure there’s an equal playing field. [Creative Director] Tim [Longo]’s been very passionate about making sure every player has the same set of abilities that they can employ and use as tools on the battlefield."

343 further enhanced multiplayer in Halo 5 with "Warzone," its single greatest contribution to the series. A twist on Battlefield's "Conquest" mode, Warzone is a 24-player, objective-based mode that incorporates some player vs. environment aspects. Although the action is diminished somewhat by a dubious "requisition" system, Warzone stands as a brave new entry for the long-running franchise.

Halo 5 warzone

Although it fixed some of the self-inflicted wounds of Halo 4 and introduced in Warzone the biggest game-changer for the series since Forge, the staff at 343 Industries have been poor guardians of the Halo property, especially when compared to series starter Bungie.

By emulating Call of Duty, focusing on world-building instead of game design, and eschewing local multiplayer options, 343 (and by extension Microsoft), have demonstrated either ignorance of or hostility towards what makes Halo great. Multiplayer in Halo 5 is however a step in the right direction; one that will hopefully be a stepping stone to a better all-round package in Halo 6.


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47 Comments
shikamaru317 (on 23 November 2016)

Eh, I have to disagree with some of the stuff in this series. While Halo 4 was definitely a step back in terms of multiplayer, it was a step forward in terms of singleplayer (even if the new characters did suck compared to the old ones Bungie killed off). Oddly, Halo 5 was the opposite, it has the best multiplayer in the series, but pretty mediocre singleplayer, largely do to Brian Reed's poor writing and the bait and switch marketing campaign. Overall I can't really call Halo a rise and fall, it's more like a slightly bumpy road.

  • +13
AsGryffynn shikamaru317 (on 23 November 2016)

I am with you here. A main problem with multiplayer problems in the previous Halo was thanks to buggy and poor design rather than the features themselves. I've had more fun in multiplayer for the last three games than the first two and Combat Evolved was particularly awful.

As a whole, I feel they have the power to create a game better than the Bungie trilogy ones, but they have to devote resources from the right places. Asking Reed, a comic book creator, to write the story to a game was never a good idea in the first place.

  • +3
shikamaru317 shikamaru317 (on 23 November 2016)

Yeah, it's a shame that Chris Schlerf moved on to write Mass Effect Andromeda and Destiny 2. While his new characters in Halo 4 were mediocre compared to to the old ones Bungie killed off in Halo 3 like Johnson and Miranda, he made great strides for the series in emotional storytelling, making Chief and Cortana seem human for the first time in the series. Unfortunately Brian Reed has came in and ruined most of the groundwork that Chris laid down in Halo 4. We waited years for Blue Team in a game, then they were tragically underused. M'dama was killed off much too quickly, just to make Locke seem cool. The bait and switch marketing campaign that hinted at Oni being the secret bad guys of the series and a big Chief vs. Locke fight was a total waste.

  • +4
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

I agree with OP. Halo 4's story was terrible and most everyone I know that started in the Halo 2 or Halo 3 era hated it. I don't know anyone IRL who liked Halo 4's storyline. Halo 5 multiplayer is certainly not the best in the series. Complete joke. First three Halos remain better. Also, look up my gamertag "OMG im Dan" I played Halo 5 (only warzone) It is an easy game and I hate it. Halo 4 and Reach stats were played by my brother because I hated those games, too and used to run like multiple tags at once.

  • -4
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

Take it from me. I have an 8 k/d in Halo 5's warzone and the same mechanics apply to regular multiplayer. Sniping requires zero skill and everything is extremely easy to aim because of the ridiculous bullet magnetism. You give me a base sniper rifle and I can get about 10 kills out of that 12 every time.

  • -3
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

I have a friend who is top 20 FFA champion and even he agrees Halo 5 multiplayer is trash.

  • -4
shikamaru317 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

Well, you're certainly welcome to your opinion. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. While I didn't find Halo 4's story amazing, I did like how Chris made Chief and Cortana seem human for the first time in the series, the ending was downright touching. As for Halo 5's multiplayer, it's loses out to my memories of playing Halo 2 and Halo 3 in the old days, but compared to actually playing them now, Halo 5 wins by a landslide. I spent a fair amount of time playing Halo 2 and 3 multiplayer in the Master Chief Collection, and it wasn't the best experience. Movement speed felt like a crawl, the lack of hitscan was awful. Halo 2 and 3 just feel dated by today's standards. So for me at least Halo 5 is currently the best Halo MP, even if it isn't the best Halo MP of all-time, if you get what I mean.

  • +2
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

Halo 4 campaign rant:

garbage level design with fan service attempts and nothing original, terrible AI, exploitable AI due to being retarded, knights regen health ridiculosly fast due to teleport counting towards regen health timer making them OP due to reloading and finding them taking about all the time it takes for their shields to come back, i beat solo legendary blind launch run in under 6 hours...died at total of 12 times according to waypoint so for me the game was easy, why? because they stack overpowered weapons at every corner for the player and you can downright run past a ton of encounters

story: chief saves everyone in halo trilogy, but all the new spartans, marines, and commanding officers act like he is nothing and generally treat him like crap. the last or one of the last known spartan iis from the human covenant war, but no one cares that the living legend himself is a live. plothole because the way he is treated is not logical.

the infinity being a thing is a plothole on about 10 different levels, how fast it was built, it being built during a war where all our planets were getting glased, covenant should have found it, it should have been used against the covenant, why is the infinity aggressively patroling the universe when we have humanity reconstructing at the brink of extinction and probably need defending from new invaiders. new faction of covenant existing is dumb but even still humanity should leave the infinity at home in case of something like that happening, they have planets and colonies with insurrectionists that could easily be attacked and are vulnerable, the infinity is huge to be huge it is empty and boring and stupid. infinity = plothole

the chief, new covenant faction, and infinity all fall into requiem at exact same time LOL genius writing 343. convenience plothole

ancient human race is random as hell and super advanced for ??? reasons ???, forerunners are a$$holes who don't realize humanity is running from flood they just wipe humans out without questions which makes zero sense, their method of devolving humanity is some wtf type garbage plothole

librarian babbles about some plan of thousands and thousands of years for humanity to take mantle...yet they devolve us and there are so many ways we could have become extinct before that happened. so did the librarians plan account for stalin, hitler, cold war and the black plague, ect. plothole again.

chief is emotional person who needs to be loved by AI and hugs. lol i really just hate how chief and cortana were portrayed. also, reading marathon lore it actually does make sense that cortana turns evil and power hungry as while generic as hell, that is a much more realistic threat of AI then them dying because they get emotions.

prometheans have no personality at all, didact is a psycho who apparently learned nothing for why the librarian put him there, didact meets chief, has dramatic speech before throwing him because ????, does not check to see if he kills chief because ????, and runs away in soccer ball because ????

Please someone explain to me where the halo 4 had great singleplayer comes in?

  • -4
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

shikamaru317 subscribed to late night gaming or halo follower confirmed. No one in OG halo community would agree and seeing that many likes is honestly disheartening. It's just becoming more obvious that Halo is so dead it's never coming back.

  • -4
teamsilent13 shikamaru317 (on 26 November 2016)

Lack of hitscan? Halo CE and Halo 3 are projectile based games. That is why imo they are my favorite Halos. Lack of hitscan is nothing to be ashamed about. CE pistol was a projectile based weapon and has more advanced mechanics than anything in Halo 5. You can complain about Halo 3 BR spread or something like that, but projectiles in general require more skill and are a better mechanic than hitscan. Having projectiles allows for leading your shots and guns to become harder to use at further ranges making it easier to balance guns and find a niche instead of a lot of clone guns that all do the same thing. However, Halo 2 is also hitscan so how is Halo 5 less clunky than Halo 2 in that department? All they did is make aiming even easier and more dependent on connection. No ping bars in Halo 5. There is literally no skill in shooting in Halo 5 which is nothing to be proud about. Thrusting around the map isn't some revolutionary mechanic that adds skill. 343 copied EXACTLY from Advanced Warfare on almost all of their mechanics...hell I'd even say I prefer it in Advanced Warfare on PC with the higher FOV. To Halo, thrusting adds randomness to gunfights and makes gunfights about twitchy connection based gunfights and locking on to targets abusing ridiculous auto aim and connection. Halo was about constant movement which Halo 5 slows down. The maps have been all made crap now which makes grenades more about luck than predictable placement or strategy. Halo wasn't checkers. It had a lot of depth the way it was before. It didn't need a lot of additions on top of the formula to make things more random. I think Halo 5's art style is crap. I prefer Halo 3 or ODST to Halo 5 even which is 9 years old. I would much rather have a better graphical Halo with better animations than the 12 year old meme camo skin Halo and clambering and ground pounds. Let alone I don't even know any Halo 5 fan that can justify the spartan charge. The thing is broken and OP. Sprint alone killed Halo. You don't agree. That's fine, but I look at the maps. I don't enjoy the maps anymore because of the movement. The maps in Halo 5 all feel very generic and copy pasted with very little unique details that set them apart from each other. There isn't artistry in the environments...certainly not in any meaningful way to affect gameplay. Even though I don't like hitscan, Halo 2 had double shot which was one of the best glitches in FPS history...a glitch that only skilled players could pull off with great reaction timing. Hitscan by itself doesn't make a good or bad game. projectiles don't do that either. It is more about weapon balance which Halo 2 got right. Halo 5 has decent weapon balance, but using those weapons requires zero skill. Halo 4/5 were codified. Anyone who denies that is blind or a shill.

Halo needs imo a brand new engine. New art style, bring back mature rating style atmosphere, it does not need DOOM level gore but it needs miltary feel and realistic blood or gore when it makes sense, bring back projectiles, recreate double shot and make it entirely based on the same limited timing it had before, weapons need to look military inspired instead of overly sleek or plastic toy, and covenant need to go back to their Reach style...just better graphically, i would like projectile based weapons like Halo 3 but with more sound mechanics and consistent spreads on weapons. the Halo 3 BR shot in a triangle that made distances like base to base on standoff random. this was to reduce the range of the BR and balance it behind snipers. flawed but i still prefer it to Halo 5's shoot five feet off the shoulder let's register all 3 bullets as headshot.

  • -4
Goddbless (on 23 November 2016)

I think Halo 4 was better than Halo 3. Halo 5: Guardians has the best multiplayer since Reach which was the best one after Halo 2. If they put the single player from 4 with the multi in Halo 5 for Halo 6 we have a new champion.

  • +2
pray4mojo Goddbless (on 26 November 2016)

Disagree. Armor Lock ruined Reach to the point of breaking it. Jetpacks also changed the formula too much. I would rank the MP Halos as 2,3,1,Reach,5,4.

  • 0
shikamaru317 Goddbless (on 27 November 2016)

Yeah, Armor Lock ruined Reach for me as well. I rank the multiplayer 5, 2, 3, 4, 1, Reach personally.

  • +1
shikamaru317 Goddbless (on 27 November 2016)

Armor lock and no BR actually.

  • +2
Azuren (on 23 November 2016)

Halo 4 wasn't bad, but it was definitely mediocre when set next to 1-3.

  • +2
malistix1985 (on 23 November 2016)

how can a series be named "the rise and fall" when both part 4 and 5 received almost exclusively positive reviews and are considered good games. Sure someone might think the campaign of one of the bungie games was better, that doesn't meen the series "Fell"

  • +1
Azzanation malistix1985 (on 23 November 2016)

I 100% agree. Saying the series fell when both Halo 4 selling over 9m with great reviews and Halo 5 selling approx. 5 million with great reviews and offering the best MP in the entire series is far from failing.

  • 0
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Veknoid_Outcast malistix1985 (on 23 November 2016)

Thanks for the note! Don't get too hung up on numbers. I spent three articles summing up my perspective on the rise and fall of Halo, independent of what some strangers on the internet consider greatness. This is an op-ed, and thus unique to me as a writer. Remember that it's not the job of reviewers simply to copy and paste the most common attitude. It's to challenge prevailing narratives and provide analysis. Hopefully that's what I've done here! I'm happy to debate the finer points of the essay but please don't dismiss it out of hand just because of sales numbers and metascore.

  • 0
pray4mojo malistix1985 (on 26 November 2016)

It's because Halo 4's MP died almost overnight and Halo 5's sales overall. Halo isn't the cultural icon it use to be. Once Bungie checked out after the third game, the series fell behind COD and never returned.

I would still take Halo 5 over COD but that's just the truth.

  • +5
NeoMahi (on 29 November 2016)

One of the big problems with Halo 5, Gears of War 4, and even the Forza games (Yes all Microsoft and Xbox exclusive games, though many other games suffer from it as well) and I hate to sound like a fanboy but has never come up with Sonys Force to be recconed with Uncharted, was micro - transactions. What do we have to do to get what we paid for? Quit hacking up games, charging us $60 for the game and then picking our pockets for the rest. Halo 5, Gears 4, and the Forza games do this. DLC was a big mistake from the beginning that's evolved into the mess we have now. Free-to-Play is also a terrible business model giving you an incomplete and horrible experience because developers no longer want to create a good game that's fun, but have become greedy to pick your pocket. If you're going to make a Free-to-Play for the fans, fine, keep it that way but if you're going to put your heart and soul into the game, give it your all. Don't chop it up into pieces and sell it later down the line. Complete the game and sell it at a AAA price, and then give away the DLC. You think DLC will keep consumers from trading in games, but it's proven it's not working. Consumers that want to, will trade in their games, no question about it. But Halo5 is also struggling for this reason, Microsoft wants to pick your pocket and Gears of War will suffer the same fate if Micro - transactions continue with that franchise as well.

The Xbox One is suffering enough as it is already. Find ways to draw in consumers, not scare them away. Sonys announcement of trading games against Microsofts, then, DRM policy was huge and won over the gaming community.

Finally, why Microsoft, are your game cases backward? It's like being in Britain and driving on the wrong side of the road.

  • 0
TurboElder (on 27 November 2016)

I liked Halo 4 campaign and loved campaign in Halo 5.

  • 0
HisHalfElf (on 26 November 2016)

I LOVED Halo 4. I could never go back to multiplayer without a jetpack. Having played Halo since I was a kid, including 1-3, ODST, and Wars -- H4 is my favorite by far.

  • 0
hershel_layton (on 23 November 2016)

Sure, halo 4 wasn't praised and whatnot, but I remember it having generally good views. Am I missing something?

  • 0
Veknoid_Outcast hershel_layton (on 23 November 2016)

I don't think so. This isn't a news piece covering sales figures and critical scores. It's an editorial. Hopefully I've explained my perspective and justified any controversial opinions.

  • +3
Normchacho hershel_layton (on 23 November 2016)

Halo 4 was a good shooter, but not a particularly great Halo game.

  • +1
Nibblo (on 28 November 2016)

Halo 4's campaign was a drastic step up from Reach. To me Reach was boring and formulaic just presenting small open areas for you to die in with no real connection between areas and a terribly boring story. Halo 4 really engaged me and I cared about the characters and I thought the distinct looking areas and new enemies were fantastic.
Halo 5 dropped the ball so badly in it's campaign that I always wondered if the team changed somehow as it was like night and day from Halo 4.

  • -1
Normchacho (on 23 November 2016)

Wow...I'm actually surprised that someone gave these articles the okay.

That being said, I could have written these articles. 343 decided that in order to make Halo more popular it needed to be more like other popular shooters, and they really hurt the franchise in doing so.

  • -1
teamsilent13 (on 26 November 2016)

The Halo trilogy and the Modern Warfare trilogy are two examples of amazing FPS campaigns. Some of the new COD campaigns are decent, but they are certainly not the same. The 343 halo games are by far the worst I have played in recent years. Halo 4 killed Halo imo, Halo 5 is just a ghost which is why it is so empty and void of plot. I don't want to come off as trolling, but seeing so many people who clearly started with Halo 4/Reach and pretend they started earlier then claim the newer games are better grinds my gears. As much hate as COD gets, I know the Halo community went through way more crap than COD fans ever have had to deal with because we have a new developer that doesn't get Halo and a new fanbase that wants Halo to be dumbed down, codified, and childish.

  • -2
Azzanation teamsilent13 (on 27 November 2016)

Its been stated by critics and fans that Halo 4 has one of the best Campaigns in the series followed by Halo 5 having the best MP in the series. If 343 can merge 4 and 5 together to make 6 than it would be a very good year for Halo fans.

  • +1
Puppyroach (on 23 November 2016)

What kind of a crap is this? A series of articles seemingly written by some angry Bungie-fan? Halo 4 got great reviews and seen by many as having the best story of the series since CE and Halo 5 got close to 90 meta. This articles series is completely unprofessional in its writing and is just very weird to find in this segment. Hope you improve VGC and let the kinds of rants as seen above be a part of the forums instead where they belong instead. This article just make you look silly.

  • -2
Veknoid_Outcast Puppyroach (on 23 November 2016)

Thanks for your comment! Are you suggesting all opinion pieces should reflect the critical consensus? That wouldn't leave a lot of room for diverse perspectives...

  • +1
busbfran Puppyroach (on 23 November 2016)

I couldn't agree more! idk where on earth halo is falling?

  • +2
Normchacho Puppyroach (on 23 November 2016)

Halo 5 got close to a 90 meta? Well, it got closer to an 80 meta...It's single player is easily the weakest game in the series and I am not hopeful that 6 will improve on it.

  • -1
Puppyroach Puppyroach (on 25 November 2016)
  • -5
Normchacho Puppyroach (on 25 November 2016)

Halo 5 has a better single player than Halo 2? Talk about going against the consensus...

And if you're going to complain about how an article is written, then provide some examples and actually try and provide some constructive criticism. Because as it stands it just sounds like you don't like the point the article is making.

  • +3
Azzanation Puppyroach (on 26 November 2016)

@Normchacho Halo 5 also offers the best MP out of all the Halo games, even beating Halo 2. Halo 5's campaign was short and the story wasn't the best, however the Gameplay, Sound, Visuals are all superior to previous Halo games. Halo 6 looks set to have a very good future, if it can carry Halo 5's polish and push into the story more in its campaign than we will have a masterpiece.

  • +3
Normchacho Puppyroach (on 27 November 2016)

@Azznation It's fine to have different opinions on the games. But he's saying the articles shouldn't exist without giving any other reason beyond not agreeing with their point of view.

  • 0
Rolyatthegoon (on 25 November 2016)

Whoever wrote this garbage needs their ass kicked...well

  • -3
CGI-Quality Rolyatthegoon (on 27 November 2016)

User was warned for this post.

  • -2
pray4mojo (on 23 November 2016)

When Bungie left, Halo died.

  • -3
Azuren pray4mojo (on 23 November 2016)

I agree.

  • -1
foodfather (on 23 November 2016)

I'm not sure what the point in this ''series'' of articles is. The are very few worthwhile analytical pieces on the Halo series. This is not one of them. You can't condense several epic entries into three articles. You will need at least 30 minutes PER game. Look at the Halo ''x'' years later series on youtube. You finish off with saying Halo 5 is in the right direction. No. People are started to kick themselves in the foot for all the crap they game Halo 4. That game looks like a masterpiece compared to the mess that is Halo 5.

  • -4
Veknoid_Outcast foodfather (on 23 November 2016)

I did spend over 3,000 words on these seven games. I think it's a pretty good start. I was reluctant to do a deep dive into individual games because I don't think the audience is there. Really, this is just a jumping off point. The comments section can serve as a forum for further unpacking and debate. Hope this helps answer your criticism!

  • +1
foodfather (on 23 November 2016)
  • -5
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