Microsoft’s Halo series was once the jewel in Xbox’s crown. Nintendo has Mario, Sony has Nathan Drake but for Microsoft, it’s always been about Master Chief and his space-based adventures. Yet these days you don’t hear much about the franchise. After the mixed reactions to 343 Industries Halo 5: Guardians and a few no-shows at the last few E3’s, the franchise feels like it’s lost all momentum. Sure hardcore fans hold out hope – but what kind of future does the series have when its present is so non-existent?
Once upon a time though, it was inconceivable that a mainstay Microsoft home console would exist without a major Halo presence. For as long as Xbox has existed – Halo has been the mainstay franchise. It’s the franchise that not only announced Microsoft’s arrival in the console space – it screamed it. Halo 2 practically existed as a showcase of Xbox Live – and helped sell the dream of mainstream online console gaming to the masses. Heck, few games in the Xbox 360 era matched the hype around Halo 3’s arrival.
So went wrong?
It’s unfair to put the blame squarely on 343 Industries. Being handed the reigns of such a monstrously huge franchise was a big ask for anyone – particularly a studio that was created purely to fulfill that purpose. Bungie’s staff had years to gel their ideas and form a coherent vision – 343 Industries were expected to not only mimic that style but add their own. It’s why Halo 4 was such a frustrating game – a game that wanted to be seen as an equal to Bungie’s classics but struggled to form a coherent (or particularly memorable) outing. With more time in development – they could have done better work. But Microsoft wasn’t thinking in the long-term.
Really though, the damage was done with Halo 5: Guardians. Some fans insist it’s great but I wouldn’t even put it in the top 10 first-person shooters on Xbox One. It was a mess all over the show – a bizarre attempt to shunt one of gamings biggest icons into the role of supporting cast member. The story so daft and wildly unfocused that I’m sure someone at Microsoft was probably cradling their head in their hands at the mess they’d overseen. It’s no secret that Microsoft was looking to spin off any number of television series and movies from the introduction of these characters. By handicapping 343 Industries with this bad idea – the end result was always destined to disappoint.
I’d even go as far as to say that every decision made since Bungie handed off the franchise has been a bad one from Microsoft. Chief among them was the decision to push Halo 4 out on Xbox 360 – given that it felt like a step back for the series. Halo Reach was the perfect swansong for Bungie’s tenure – the cherry on their Halo cake. To then add Halo 4 – the big arrival for 343 Studios – to the latter days of Xbox 360 felt like a bad idea. Microsoft was desperate for a big name in the 2012 Christmas period – but their short-sightedness robbed 343 Industries of their true coming out party. Imagine what an extra year of polish and the hype around Xbox One could have done to Halo 4? It sold well on Xbox 360, but it caused more damage to the franchise than I suspect many within Microsoft will be willing to admit. It also left the Xbox One without a proper Halo game until the arrival of The Masterchief Collection – and we all know how that turned out.
Speaking of the Masterchief Collection – not returning to fix that mess also probably played a huge part in souring fans. When the original games are so revered and adored by their audience, delivering a botched HD collection really wasn’t the best way to win them round. So bad did the situation get that Microsoft effectively abandoned the collection – stating that they wouldn’t be committing resources to correcting the multiplayer issues that blighted the game. It’s another bad decision by Microsoft that all
It’s not just heresay to say all this. Sales figures for the series have notably dipped since Halo 3. While that outing managed to ship a reported 12.14 million, Halo 5 Guardians barely crawled over the 5 million mark. Sure those numbers look impressive – but how many people do you hear gushing about Guardians online modes? To many, the series isn’t a major player on the Xbox One – it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
It leaves the franchise at something of a crossroads. Audiences aren’t convinced by the current creative direction – that blame falls to 343 Industries. Continuing down the current path (Which has seen Cortana turn full on villain) isn’t likely to impress anyone. Likewise continuing to push the main Halo games as a team based shooter would be heresy. The idea was so tediously executed on Xbox One that I suspect many wouldn’t be willing to give it another try. 343’s attempts to infuse their own ideas into the franchise have all but harmed it – I can’t imagine them being allowed to do it again.
A creative reboot would be awkward too – given that Microsoft has already been milking that cash cow. The release of Halo 1 and 2 Anniversary editions already serve as the nostalgia wing of the Halo franchise. To reboot so soon after releasing those would be shocking – dare I even say damaging to any future installments. Reboots (ala Tomb Raider) only work because audiences want a complete shift in focus. I suspect that a large number of Halo’s core fanbase just want the series to return to the aspects that made it great, to begin with – instead of leaning on its newfound desire to melodrama.
Some of the words coming out of 343 Industries suggests that Halo 6 is a long way off yet – with the focus falling back on Master Chief. The big question I have to wonder is how long will gamers be willing to give 343 Industries before writing them off completely? Having already helmed 5 Halo games (Halo 4, Halo 1 Anniversary, Masterchief Collection, Halo 5: Guardians and Halo 2 Anniversary) there’s certainly an argument that their time with the franchise can’t continue if they don’t knock the next one out the park.
Really though, it’s Microsoft themselves need to look at the state of play within their Halo universe and ask if they’ve done enough to protect it. Instead of trying to get a Halo game out every year – perhaps the company should be focusing on quality over quantity. Instead of milking Bungie’s best work – the series should be looking forward. There won’t be too many more chances to fix the Halo mess they’ve created.
What do you think Halo 6 should be? Are 343 Industries the team to get the series back on track?