What 343's halo campaigns are missing - the threat

Before you read on, know that I am a commoner, and a casual when it comes to the Halo Storyline.
While you may think I am not qualified then to speak on it, you might actually be dead wrong. Here’s why.
Most fans of stories in movies, games, tv shows, are like me, they are Not the hardcode fan base. Also, I do not play the other halos like halo wars, and I didn’t even finish ODST. I did play reach though, which I feel is part of the main storyline, like a Halo 0.

GETTING TO THE POINT
Halo 1-3 were great, with a slight, ever so slight pinch of disappointment in Halo 3 as I felt they played it too safe with the warthog run ending, and yet another escape from exploding place ending. But, nevertheless, the story was presented so well that I didn’t care.

WHERE THINGS DEGRADED. Halo 4, mid way through.
The reveal of the metal planet, rebirth of the didact, and the forerunner reveal were quite exciting on paper. But, the presentation was mid. Compare this to the reveal of Halo 1 flood, and it clearly shows that this was exact point when Halo lost it’s magic. Further implanting this disappoint was about midway through Halo 4 when didact was coming after you in the orb, and it just didn’t feel threatening. It started to drag, and let me highlight this point again and summarize why Halo 4, Halo 5, and Halo Infinite all ended up being a big let down…

LACK OF THREAT in the campaign.
The didact was going to point a laser at the Earth… alright… not shown well, but okay… I guess it can seem threatening, but obviously didn’t feel that way, and not hyped to be either. It was then completely Anti-Climactic as nothing happens to the Earth at the slightest, and no sighs! gasps! or reactions were seen after the save either. Fast forward to end of Halo 5, and Cortana has the power of the Guardians! And what does she do with them? Absolutely nothing. Did any of the Halos get activated since Halo 2 ending? Nope. Any halo blow up since Halo 3 ark? Nope. Any halo blow up at all? even in a flashback, nope. The game is called HALO you know. You’d have thought at least one of the Halo’s would fire by now. And, I’m as average of a fan as you get, you need to appeal to me. Blow stuff UP!

OVERUSE OF CORTANA
You have an entire game, Infinite dedicated to Cortana’s demise, who really cares. AIs are easily replaced. Why are you forcing a narrative down audience throats that she’s the single reason for Master Chief’s existence. HOW? Not once has it been “convincingly” shown that Cortana provides some advantage over the Enemy. She’s a bloated GPS. Chief’s the one gunning the enemies down. She opens doors, and collects “battle intel” which honestly Miranda Keyes could do as well (if she was shown to be a hacker). I’m only partial kidding, I love Cortana, we already gave her enough attention at the end of Halo 2 and Halo 3 with a mission dedicated to her. Let’s move on. No need to dedicate an entire game (Halo 4) to kill her, and then another game (Halo 5) to show her as bad Cortana, and then kill her off once again (Halo Infinite).

Anyways, back to COMPLAINING ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN.
The story hasn’t been worked with passion.
The writers have been timeboxed, and not allowed to completely use their artistic expression with an unbound imaginative, emotional approach with liberal ideas and themes. It’s clear to me that far less time was given to the writers to create a campaign story than it was needed for the Halo Franchise. Halo Infinite story felt uncooked, undeveloped and partially finished rough drafts were given the green signal to be made into a game. The funny thing is that game was delayed 1 year anyway.

CHOICE OF STORYLINE, terrible.
Maybe spending 1 extra year to write the Halo 6 campaign would not have been so bad.
Sometimes spending more time in the design phase, can mean less time in the later stages of the roadmap. You must of thought you didn’t have enough time to carefully tailor and care for a triple A franchise’s campaign, and you were WRONG, 3 times.
Maybe crafting the story should have been #1 in priority over other campaign “hindrances” (like open world formula, cliff-hanger ending requirement, “spiritual reboot” initiative, and recycled formula use from previous Halo games, like Re-Introducing Cortana). So many Shackles were put in place to Jail the mind of the story writers before they even began to write.

SHAME

P.S. This is not a bait post. Perfectly timed post implied to mean that the recent corporate restructuring seems unsurprising.
Also sorry, I edited the title and thus accidentally bumped it. I swear it’s like the forerunners are on my side or something.

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Blockquote liberal ideas and themes

Ah yes, in Halo 7, Chief fights the very patriarchy he once represented.

Huge agreement here.

Frankly, a part of it is that people simply can’t be sold the same thing twice. When you create a full narrative that includes the world almost ending and Humans being on the brink of extinction, you cant just restart after and create a new big baddy and sell a new trilogy.

It just seems dumb, and diminishes the value of the original story. Marvel is realizing that now, I think.

The crazy thing is that Halo 1 starts damn near the end of the war. If the war is 2525 - 2553, we start a year from the end. If they wanna make more halo, make prequels.

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Prequals are just as messy as sequals, if not worse.

You know how things end in a prequal, and almost every prequal ends up with timeline issues and retcons.

How many different versions of “Covenant invade planet, spartans/marines fight till planet gets glassed” do you make?

They could make quite a few stories with exactly that storyline and they’d all be more interesting and believable to me than 4-Infinite have been.

Do you genuinely feel like they should just keep escalating and making up new threats forever?

I’m opposed to their repeatedly starting of stories and then abandoning them, but a new story and threat that sticks around? Sure.

Their bad story telling would just carry over to any prequal games anyway.

Have any of the threats they’ve made up seemed worth keeping around? Would you be happy to be on a third game fighting the didact? Or a second one fighting Cortana? Do you want another game fighting the exiled or the neverending?

OP

Really?

Halo 4 Didact was going to kill every human on Earth and then world by world. It’s a pretty big threat comparable to releasing the Reapers in Mass Effect

Halo 5. Cortana conquers the Galaxy. I wouldn’t call that doing nothing with the Guardians. Like she conquers Earth in the day, it’s a massive threat and it’s only because of the retcon this gets glossed over.

Halo Infinite. Is the only game where I’d actually agree. The game is very consciously keeping the stakes low and personal and the Banished are never close to repairing the ring and quite bluntly I don’t think it’s a finished campaign. Definitely part 1 and they will have to raise the stakes next game.

They focus on Cortana because it’s one of the few things they got praise for. Even Halo 5 is a complaint that boils down to “why did Khaleesi burn down the city” she’s a good AI. It’s actually kind of novel having a love story in a video game TBH. I am not opposed to them doing another Reach (which BTW also involved saving Cortana cough cough) where it’s just your silent protagonist shooting things to music. But it’s the golden goose and part of the series at this point.

Well given they killed off Cortana and bar some twist with the Weapon I could see the Weapon being more of a background character. So they’re doing that I guess.

Except reach which was imo, fantastic

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I think Halo infinite’s goal was to narrow the scope a little since Halo 5 was tough to chew. I think this was a safe idea and I think its a good setup. imo

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I mean there’s narrow in scope and then there’s the games climax being you saving a Pilot. Like it’s got the lowest stakes of any Halo game.

As I said, they did their character focused game were Chiefs dealing with losing Cortana. That’s done. Now you have to focus on escalating the stakes and making it more of a war.

By all means they can keep it set on Zeta Halo. But the threat has to be more serious than a half hearted effort to repair a Halo ring and releasing some sus aliens.

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Provided the didact and prometheans were handeled well…yes. It’d keep the story of the forerunner active in halo and there’s new places you could go with it. They were flawed but I think with some tweaks or careful handling could have worked.

I’m not a fan of the cortana/created arc. I feel the AI rebellion story, at least the way it was done, has no place in halo, which has generally been about human/ai cooperation.

As for the endless, they’ve offered us nothing so not particularly.

Just because 343 has been bad at introducing new threats doesn’t mean that a new threat is inherently bad. It also doesn’t mean they’d be good at writing covenant war era stories either. They’ve handled the UNSC exceeding poorly in all 3 games and they keep treating Chief like he’s a super hero instead of a super soldier.

Doing more covenant war stories pretty much excludes the flood and the forerunners. As the more you involve them the more CE doesn’t make sense.

Reach was great, but even it was lambasted by the community at the time for lore inconsistencies.

But just as I don’t want every halo game to be chief crashing on a halo and blowing up said halo at the end. I dont want every game to be the tragic story of the death of a planet.

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She isn’t a replaceable AI. She’s as integral to the story as Master Chief. They are introduced early, together. You watch them both evolve over time. It’s not a traditional love story, but it is a romance. A mostly silent, stoic man had someone with him that understood him better than anyone and he opened up to her in ways he didn’t expect. Having the dynamic shift to her being “evil” and having the arc into Infinite was necessary for Chiefs development and to give proper closure. Weapon is the closest thing a man and AI could have as a “child” and it will be interesting to see how that dynamic goes in future games.

Infinite having a more contained story was fine with me. Chief working through his issues and loss, while facing what threats he did was fine. Could the story be expanded with some DLC? Sure. But sometimes you need the quieter, more personal (and intimate) battles instead of taking on an army.

This is one campaign I chose to defend as their story together is why I’ve enjoyed this series for as long as I have.

I’d say had he been used more effectively the Didact would have stood as just as much a threat as the original Covenant was. You have a foe who can access Forerunner technology easily and he has the potential to revitalize the Covenant remnant’s faith. Throw in his potential use of the Halos as massive Composers and that’s tense.

Interesting… personally was just never a fan of the didact, felt like part of a long trend towards cheezy villains with deep voices. Yes, it was momentous to have a living forerunner, but it was just kinda anti-climactic to me, and once I witnessed the forerunner equipment waking up, all the mystery of Halo was lost for me.

I’m also not a big fan of the created arc. Frankly, I think that doing a soft reboot was a half-measure and they needed to fully reboot after they went so wrong with Halo 5. They could have retconned Halo 4 and made a decent game out of the pieces they kept. Halo 4 would likely be well received if they rolled back the arbitrary cosmetic changes.

I like your phrasing about Chief being treated as a super hero instead of a super soldier. Overall it feels like 343 forgets that this is Military Science Fiction.

Reach had some major inconsistencies and to this day I do not understand how they messed that up, but damn it’s a good game and it hits hard. You can make players very invested in a story without having the stakes be the end of the world. Hell I would love to play a new Halo game as an ODST or Marine where the stakes are literally just whether or not your character will survive the war. Leaning into horror elements and violence and giving the player a weaker character will help a lot to raise the stakes without inventing another extinction-level event.

Halo: Reach as an amazing game with just never before seen content from the studio. I loved the grind for the Inheritor and there was always such a great variety of game modes to play in matchmaking. More prequels sounds amazing to me!

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TBH, I think the level of threat in 343’s campaigns have been fine (though, as a PC player, I have only synopses and playthroughs done by others for H5, so do take my opinions there with a grain of salt as I haven’t directly interacted with that game), but what I think hurt both H4 and H5 in terms of overarching plot are the dripping melodrama (the Didact’s monologues were not my favorite) and the rapidity with which the threats presented were resolved and minimal carryover from one game to the next to explain events, especially for the broader gaming audience that isn’t interested in the EU.

Now, H4, IMO, has a lot going for it on paper - exploring AI and rampancy and this impacting Cortana, exploring the Forerunners and peeling back some of the mystery, and finally rescuing Chief and reuniting Chief with humanity. However, when we finally meet the Didact and when we finally meet the folks of the Infinity, both the Didact and Captail Del Rio are melodramatic (albeit in different ways) for no reason. The Didact’s speeches are long, drawn out and Del Rio’s entire characterization is his emotional outbursts, both dripping with unnecessary melodrama and devoid of real characterization. This is frustrating, to me, because of the great characterization I feel they lay out with Chief and Cortana throughout H4 and just a sprinkling of that on the Didact or Del Rio would have made a big impact on the story. Add onto this the fact that the Didact and Del Rio, both set up as antagonists to Chief and Cortana, are dealt with in a single campaign and don’t have a chance to build the feeling of impending doom and inevitability - it’s simply over too quickly.

Then, with H5, the transition from H4 isn’t handled well - Cortana’s alive and is a bad guy now, what? Players never had the chance to see and experience the details that show this, as H4 - to most everyone - seemed to indicate that Cortana had died completely, with the game never detailing how the personality shards she expelled worked or interacted, and also failing to detail the slipspace vortex on the Didact’s ship. It was simply an awkward handling of that transition that could (and should) have been handled with a cut scene. Follow this up with Locke being underdeveloped, with all of his characterization being derived from cryptic (melodramatic) statements, and you end up with a situation where a great concept (your best companion has gone nuts and is holding the galaxy hostage and you have to try and stop them and save them from themselves, taking great inspiration from what Bungie set up with the Cortana Letters before CE even launched) and neuters this impact with an unlikable main character and a story whose beginning is so awkward that people just felt confused and weren’t able to escape that confusion to see the forest through the trees in terms of the concepts at work for the overarching story.

With Infinite, they did repeat some mistakes (all it would take is ONE cutscene to explain H5 → Infinite, but they leave leave people who haven’t played H5 or other past games hanging), but I also feel they did improve somewhat. Escharum does get more well done characterization despite having so many monologues, and the Harbinger I feel is a well done mystery, especially if you pay attention to the audio logs. The Hand of Atriox was under-developed I feel, but was a good idea still I believe - setting up a threat to Spartans (therefore you as the player embodying Chief) and establishing the Banished as more than fodder. Setting up an arc that spans multiple games allows a slow burn on revealing the mystery of the Endless and Zeta Halo (they really, really gotta touch on the Flood and Primordial here…), which allows for more time and narrative energy to be spent on detailing motivations and implications.

I think perspective on why the original trilogy worked so well as a story is necessary - CE set up the world and provided details around an important set piece in Alpha Halo, but didn’t move the ball very far with the overarching threat - the Covenant - and introduced the Flood as another threat. Halo 2 upped the ante with the discovery of Earth and the Gravemind, and introduced a twist on the Covenant threat with the Great Schism while also leaving things in a dire state for Earth. H3 was the light at the end of the tunnel and the culmination of the work from the other games - the payoff, if you will, where the threat was lifted. The original trilogy stumbled on occasion with writing quality and gameplay decisions and changes, but overall this continuity and multi-game arc set it up to be enjoyable and memorable.

All told, I see parallels with CE and H2 in Infinite’s story setup (cliffhanger like H2, establishing the world and moving the ball only a little like CE, a maintaining of mystery to be later unraveled like both games) and so I have hope that any sequel would continue to move in a good direction. Infinite isn’t perfect, but I do think there is evidence of lessons learned present, and an indication of attempting to implement them. What will be the big deciding factor there, IMO, is how recent events shake out in terms of the attention afforded to any future campaign content, especially in the narrative department.

Agreed on the dripping melodrama! I get tired of hearing folks asserting that Halo 4 was somehow this brilliant campaign… the writing is all just… laughable. The melodrama, particularly from the didact, was absolutely ridiculous.

IMO, Infinite just continued down that route. They improved a bit in certain aspects, and Chief and Cortana 2.0 were both sympathetic and interesting characters, but damn Escharum was silly.

Mostly, I think they simply cannot create any sense of “threat” in a game that they say they plan to make last 10 years. Infinite is the third game in what was originally called a trilogy. Instead of having any kind of ending, it trashed the previous plots, created another weak one, and then promised to just stick with that plot for ten years. What a way to indicate to your audience that you don’t plan to do anything significant for ten years.

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I remember watching another “why halo was good” vid and they said something that stuck with me

in 1-3, there was never really a “main antagonist”. yes there was the prophets, but they are just the mouthpiece of the covenant. you don’t see em going in doing the work. same with the UNSC. halo then was a war game, basically, where the 2 factions themselves were kind of like characters as well. especially w/ the covenant and how it implodes on itself.

the didact didn’t really act like that. was a bond villain basically and did the dirty work himself. If I was the last of my kind, a war general, and scientist (which I think he was the last 2), I would be working in the background and letting my cronies do all the work. heck I would bring in monitors (or create monitors) soly to work as generals and scientists and, basically higher ups, and send THEM out. essentially to build up my own faction. then the last few missions would revolve around chief figuring out how to get the big mcguffin from destroying the universe…

tho id be more bungie lore accurate in this whole rewrite as well and not retcon a bunch of stuff. like making Chief the chosen one and do my damndest to keep him as the “I’m really good and doing the shooty shoots” guy lol

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I wouldn’t call H4 brilliant, but I did enjoy it overall. There are certainly things I would change, however - though I do also have things I’d change with every single Halo game if I had my way.

For Escharum, he definitely was monologue-y, but I felt he was less silly than the Didact. Sometimes the monologues were a bit much for me, other more often than not I felt like it was a well done way of having him toy with Chief and fleshed out his character more, whereas I didn’t find any interaction with the Didact to be anything but melodramatic, at least for me.

I just finished a Legendary coop run with the group of friends I’ve played games with since CE came out and what is interesting is one of them - someone who is not a lore junky, but generally keeps up with the games and is similarly displeased with the melodrama of the Didact (and who disliked H5 enough to not even finish it) - thought Escharum was the best Brute characterization that Halo’s done, and while this is totally one of those subjective YMMV assessments, I found I did agree with him (Tartarus always seemed a little ham-fisted to me, more a plot device to instigate the Great Schism than a fully developed character). I guess to sum up my thoughts on Escharum and his monologues - it struck me as a mix between the Didact and Truth in the way they presented the holograms and his antagonization of the player. Not a perfect mix, but better than the Didact - IMO anyway, and certainly helped by the voice actor’s, IMO, good performance.

Thinking on it lately, with all the news about 343, I bet Infinite’s “10 year plan” touted by Chris Lee has been dead since the delay. I believe the MP will continue to receive support for a time, but I would not be shocked if there was a whole new game in the '25-'28 timespan. But, we’ll see how that shakes out - I just very much doubt that the campaign will ever be part of the seasonal plans going forward, and that we should expect a more traditional sequel vs dragging the plot out for a 10 year plan.

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