It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that without Halo, console shooters and the Xbox brand wouldn’t exist as they do now (if at all). And though Microsoft’s beloved series has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs, it’s still around, and it’s still Xbox’s biggest tentpole franchise. Later this year, we’ll get to see what the future holds for it with Halo Infinite, but before that, here, we’re going to take a look at its past and rank all of its mainline entries from worst to best.
#9. HALO WARS
Halo Wars definitely had some good ideas, and it was by no means a bad game. Its campaign was solid enough in its own right, online play was fun, and it was surprising how well developer Ensemble Studios managed to make a real time strategy game work on a console controller- but there just wasn’t enough here for anyone to really latch on to. For Halo fans, it was a nice distraction, but not exactly what you’d expect from a Halo game, while for RTS fans, it was far too simplified and shallow to be anything more than a decent yet largely forgettable game.
#8. HALO 5: GUARDIANS
The absolute lowest point of the Halo franchise’s numbered entries, Halo 5: Guardians represented a series that just didn’t know what to do with itself anymore. Ask any Halo fan what their least favourite campaign in the series is, and the overwhelming majority will name Halo 5, which for some reason decided to focus on Fireteam Osiris, and Master Chief receding into the background. That could have been forgiven if it at least told a good story- but of course, that was definitely not the case here. Thankfully, Halo 5: Guardians had a great multiplayer component, one that made some smart changes and improvements to the series’ formula. Aggressive monetization was a letdown here as well, but by and large, there was a lot to love in the game’s multiplayer offerings.
#7. HALO WARS 2
Much like its predecessor, Halo Wars 2 deserves credit for translating the real time strategy experience to a console gamepad with surprising ease- but again, much like its predecessor, that came with some sacrifices. As a strategy game, Halo Wars 2 was far too simplified and pared back for genre fans to really be able to get much out of it, and it didn’t help that on the multiplayer side of things, the game was largely a step back from its predecessor. That said, Halo Wars 2 had a solid campaign, with excellent production values, cinematic and flashy cutscenes, and a surprisingly compelling story that explored some interesting parts of the Halo universe. Is it a must-play for Halo fans?Maybe not. But it’s still a solid enough game in its own right.
#6. HALO 4
343 Industries and Microsoft had a lot to live up to with Halo 4. Bungie redefined the entire genre and took the industry by storm with a number of stellar games released over the course of a decade, so of course, Halo 4 had to live up to impossibly high expectations. And maybe it didn’t exactly do that- it was definitely not nearly as good as its predecessors, but it was still an excellent way to start off the series’ next era. In spite of a convoluted story that made the ill-advised decision to focus way too much on extended universe plot elements, Halo 4’s campaign was a blast to play through, with 343 Industries proving beyond a doubt that at least where the core shooting and mechanics of the series were concerned, they were more than up to the task of carrying Bungie’s legacy forward. Multiplayer, though not perfect, and though not on the same level as its recent predecessors, was still a heck of a lot of fun, and laid down solid foundations for its successors.
#5. HALO 3: ODST
A shorter expansion-style game that had relatively sparse multiplayer offerings and didn’t feature series protagonist Master Chief whatsoever? Halo 3: ODST should have been a recipe for disaster- and yet it was a masterstroke by Bungie. No, it never touched the heights of other Halo games that came around it, but as series fans will tell you every chance they get, it still deserved more of the spotlight. It had an excellent campaign that brought a very different tone and style to the series than what we had come to expect from it in previous years, while on the multiplayer front, Firefight was an addictive, tense experience that fans seemed to just never got bored of. The fact that it shipped with Halo 3’s excellent multiplayer made it that much more of a compelling experience.
#4. HALO 2
How do you follow up on one of the best, most influential games ever made? That was the question that Bungie was faced with while developing Halo 2, and in retrospect, it’s safe to say that the answers they came up with were the right ones. The sandbox shooting of Combat Evolved was taken to new heights in Halo 2, which, crucially, introduced dual wielding, while the multiplayer offerings were a huge improvement over the first game, and pretty much set the standards that Halo as a series is still following to this day. Sure, development constraints meant that Halo 2 was not without its issues – the campaign, in particular, is far from perfect, not least because of its infamously abrupt ending – but by and large, it was a worthy follow-up to its spectacular predecessor.
#3. HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED
The one that started it all, and the one that, frankly, is in so many ways what the series is still aspiring to even now. Halo: Combat Evolved was an absolute revelation, delivering a brand of sandbox shooting against vibrant and deviously intelligent enemies the likes of which were had rarely been seen in games before. Its campaign was packed full of incredible, memorable moments that captured audience’s attention and are fondly looked back on two decades from its launch, and the fact that the series still largely abides by the gameplay foundations laid down by Combat Evolved should tell you how timeless they were. Seriously, even today, going back and playing this game is an absolute joy- and that, after all, is the true mark of an unabashed masterpiece.
#2. HALO: REACH
Halo: Reach was the game that Bungie signed off with, the game that would bring about the end of an era for this massive franchise and usher in a new age at the same time- and boy did it live up to expectations. Sure, at the time it ruffled a few feathers with the introduction of abilities that many felt had no place in Halo. But once people calmed down and actually played the game, they realized that Bungie had managed to find the perfect way to implement them without compromising the series’ identity. A stellar multiplayer component was backed up by what is probably the best ever campaign in a Halo game here, all of it coming together in a game where Bungie were at their absolute best.
#1. HALO 3
Think back to the months leading up to Halo 3, and try and come up with a game that demanded as much hype, anticipation, and expectation as Halo 3 did. There aren’t many. The series was on top of the world back then, and millions upon millions were chomping at the bit to “finish the fight” with Halo 3. And without the shadow of a doubt, the game somehow managed to live up to those impossibly high expectations- it was just such a well-rounded experience. An excellent campaign that closed off the trilogy’s story in satisfactory fashion and was full of excellent levels and firefights, and a brilliant multiplayer component that commanded the attention of a deluge of players who logged in every day for a long, long time to come- to this day, in fact. Halo 3 was an absolutely incredible game that took the biggest strengths of all its predecessors and took them to their absolute zenith, to deliver the perfect refinement of Halo formula.