For keen fans of Microsoft’s Xbox, the lack of Halo was a noteworthy footnote to E3 proceedings. For all the 4K showreels and all the great new experiences on show, the lack of Master Chief was a notable omission, one that caused fans to feel dismay on social media. The reality though is that Halo’s absence is probably for the best in the long-term for the franchise.
That’s because Halo hasn’t had the best of times in recent years. 343 Studios tenure at the helm of Microsoft’s premier studio has yielded some wildly inconsistent results. Halo 4 was fine for what it was, if you didn’t mind the game feeling slightly underwhelming. The jump to Xbox One though brought a number of problems into the mix; not least the laughable state of The Master Chief Collection. What should have been a love letter to Bungie’s efforts turned sour very quickly for those who dared venture online (and remains as such to this day).
Really though, it was Halo 5 in 2015 that really harmed the franchises prestige most of all. The reaction to that game was akin setting off a fart bomb in your high school toilet – nobody wanted to near that mess. It was a mess of a game, confused with no vision for what it wanted to be. An awkward middle chapter that lacked momentum and underlined the downward spiral Halo has been riding since Xbox One’s arrival.
Fast forward to 2017 though, and good old Master Chief barely got a mention at the Xbox E3 Presentation. His absence added to the feeling of underwhelming returns for the Xbox show, which really underlined just how far Microsoft’s opinion of the franchise has fallen. No hints for Halo 6. No appearance for the long-desired Halo 3: Remastered. By its absence, Halo cast a long shadow over proceedings.
Some fans have slated Microsoft for not pushing the franchise out in some form. Given it’s AAA-status, it might have helped to bolster the lineup at E3, which notably lacked any real punch. But for me, it’s a good thing that Microsoft didn’t show off the next Halo project. It means the company is finally acknowledging that it needs time to change. That whatever 343 Studios does next – it needs to be a damn good game to fix the mess the franchise is in.
By taking focus off Halo and not over-hyping, Microsoft may finally be giving the team at 343 Studios a chance to work on something without the specter of failure hanging over them. E3 was about 4K this year and Xbox One X – Microsoft selling a vision for a seamless ecosystem. As great as a Halo game in 4K would be – a great game would be preferred.
There’s also a sense that the series has suffered slightly from over exposure. One of the hallmarks of the series has always been its quality. It’s never strived to match the likes of Call of Duty for annual releases – yet in recent times, there’s been a Halo game every year near enough. Whether a remaster, a new entry or a spin-off – fans are seeing a bit too much of the franchise. The link between this and decline in overall quality and sales within the series can’t be a coincidence – audiences are kind of bored of Halo.
This is a problem for Microsoft – because Halo is Xbox. It’s the franchise that helped launch Xbox as a serious gaming platform. It’s the franchise that made Xbox Live so essential at its release. It’s the game that helped rubber stamp Xbox 360’s unquestionable dominance in 2007. While Sony was struggling; Halo 3 was the envy of the gaming world.
I’m not counting the remasters as great games in this context, because they’re not totally 343’s work. Sure they look good, but it’s Bungie’s epic work that makes them standout. 343 Studios have yet to craft a great Halo experience of their own; something that needs to change if the franchise is to stand a chance moving forward. If the series is to remain one of Microsoft’s biggest hitters, it needs to be doing better.
The pressure on 343 Studios right now is immense. If they mess up again, and Halo 6 turns into a fiasco like the last main entry, no amount of esports pandering will save it. Fans want a definitive Halo experience; one that takes them across the stars and pits them in epic battles. They want a great game to show off the franchise they love. They might be annoyed now that they don’t know what’s coming, but that’ll be easily forgotten if the next game matches the series best.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. For Halo, time out of the spotlight may be just enough to give the franchise time to become truly great again.