There’s no denying that Microsoft’s Halo franchise has a lot of quality in its history. From the humble beginnings on the original Xbox all the way through to Xbox One. There’s very polarizing opinions though on what makes a great Halo experience. For some it’s the single player experience, a story and cast of characters that drives the universe forward. For others it’s all about the online side of things – a deep and customization multiplayer component that lets gamers dive in with their friends.
We decided to have a stab at giving our ranking for Microsoft’s flagship shooter – all the way from its handheld offerings to the main franchise players. If you don’t agree, let us know what your rankings are!
11. Halo: Spartan Assault (Windows Phone/Steam/iOS, 2013) – Good news is I can totally understand what they were aiming for here. The bad news is that it’s not very well realized. Twin stick games are a nice novelty but playing this on a touch-screen was about as much fun as buying a Windows Phone. The game itself is well presented but at times the gameplay suffers from some incredibly jarring difficulty spikes that really jam the games progress. The underlying story is hilariously poor, the excuse to cram a game into the chasm between Halo 3 and Halo 4 seemingly too much to resist. But there’s no tension, no underlying pull to drag you through the 25+ missions that the game comes with. Shame as the production values and sound design really elevate this beyond the typical touchscreen fare. Oh and those micro-transactions can go to whichever hell Windows 8 finds itself these days.
10. Halo: Spartan Strike (Steam, 2015) – A notable step-up in quality over its predecessor, Spartan Strike manages to bring a familiarity with it that both works in its favor and provides some of it’s biggest drawbacks. Because of the cinematic focus, the opening few levels feel slower than necessary, dragging the pace to a crawl. Luckily things pick up and thanks to clever additions from Halo 4’s lore additions, we get a much more vivid experience. Overall, arguably the best mobile offering though I’d be lying if I said you were missing much by skipping over it.
9. Halo 5: Guardians (Xbox One, 2014) – Halo 5 makes a serious play for being the worst experience in a mainline Halo game – with a bland outing that feels like it was lifted from the pages of a fan fiction website. You’re dragged into the shoes of the universes least exciting protagonist, Spartan Locke. Fireteam Osiris’s antics are about as dull as you can expect – which is a shame as the level design was on cue throughout the single player. Repetitive boss battles and tedious story will test your patience, as the much promised confrontation between Chief and Locke never really materializes. Overall it just feels lackluster and when you factor in the awkward removal of local multiplayer; a series staple up to this stage, it’s hard to generate goodwill towards Guardians. Still when the multiplayer works it works brilliantly and managed to bring a refined experience to the show. So, there’s that at least.
8. Halo Wars (Xbox 360, 2008) – Halo Wars represented something of a leap of faith for the Halo franchise into the unknown. Console RTS’s have a bad reputation and with good reason; they usually suck. But Halo Wars set out to change that perception – being designed from the ground up for the controller. The result is a compelling if slightly limited approach to RTS. The action is frantic, the controls offered expansive and the story is an intriguing slice of Halo history. On top of this, Wars features one of the best soundtracks in a Halo game while the closing levels of the campaign are genuinely exciting. It’s just a shame that it feels so inconsequential to the wider series.
7. Halo 4 (Xbox 360, 2011) – Halo 4 manages to stick the landing, although it does so with some harsh grounding. The core mechanics remain as strong as ever, 343 clearly nailing the basics. Perhaps it’s the fact that the overall story feels like one huge transition segway that steals from its grandeur. The single player levels never truly gives you that sense that you’re fighting in a huge open area like Halo 3 managed, instead offering up a fairly bland selection of levels that do little to remain memorable. Regardless there’s a fair amount of fun to be had and while the multiplayer didn’t excite everyone as was hoped; it was a solid stab at re-imaging the Halo online experience. Honestly not half bad and nowhere near as bad as some fans will try to insist – it’s one of those games that needs a few playthroughs to be truly appreciated.
6. Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One, 2017) – Halo Wars 2 is a solid evolution of the Halo Wars franchise. The CGI cutscenes feel very in keeping with the franchises high production values and the jump to PC affords the game more choices in control. The campaign also has a grander feel to it, that places it slightly ahead of the original title. That being said, the lack of scalability on PC ultimately on hinders its crossover appeal. Halo Wars 2 is a hugely enjoyable outing, and well worth a look if you’re into the wider Halo mythos.
5. Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360, 2009) – Halo took a huge step away from the Master Chief saga and instead placed you in the role of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. The result is a much darker, much richer environment that’s open-ended. The story is sequenced through flashbacks; granting the sense of horror at the scope of the destruction some real gravity. The gameplay shifts focus to stealth and fore planning, asking the gamer to think before diving in It’s just a shame that the overall package is somewhat lacking, feeling more akin to an expansion pack than a full standalone experience. This all being said, Firefight mode was an excellent addition and really helped to round out the overall package for those who opted in.
4. Halo 2 (Xbox, 2003) – Halo 2 is a very divisive entry. Some say it’s one of the best entries, underrated and unfairly critiqued. For me though it’s a misstep by the series, one which tries to raise the stakes but doesn’t do so very well. Yes the multiplayer component was excellent and basically redefined what it was to be Xbox Live – but that doesn’t really take away from the fact that the single player is a dumpster fire of ideas that didn’t really come together. Splitting time between Master Chief and The Covenant’s Arbiter was a terrible idea; destroying the games pacing and throwing a lot of needless fluff into the mix. The level designs just didn’t feel as exciting as those found in Halo: Combat Evolved, futuristic Earth proving to be something of a damp squib. It’s only when Master Chief finds another ring that things pick up again; by the time you’re already close to reaching the games non-ending. Honestly if this list was being ranked by multiplayer alone; this would be higher.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001) – The game that started it all still plays well to this day. What makes it so great? For a kickoff the Halo ring you land on feels strangely unique – the varied spaces beg to be explored while the blend of vehicle and shooting sections felt revolutionary back in the day. The single player feels like a triumph of progress, the game pushing you naturally through a space drama that all the compelling characters within playing their role. Combat Evolved re-defined the console shooter, making it feel like a true achievement, with grand spectacle. Sure it’s multiplayer offerings were primitive but they set the bar for what followed. I still remember seeing this in a Toys R’ Us demo booth and being blown away – it was that good.
2. Halo Reach (Xbox 360, 2010) – Halo Reach was very much the boom fiesta to Bungie’s Halo party and what an ending to leave on. The culmination of years of building ironically took gamer back to where it all really started. The unfolding tales of Noble Team are tragic, the characters feel fleshed out as their fates become increasingly more bleak. It’s the twists and turns though that really sell the entire thing – pushing you to invest more and more in a world you know is destined for dust. Perhaps though it’s this focus on story that brings the innovation to a halt – Reach opting instead to retread the ground Halo 3 had established. It’s a safe bet and the focus on refinement lends the game a grander sense of atmosphere. It’s touching, fun and incredibly moving at times, even if there are moments where it feels slightly overdone. Plus the multiplayer options were just badass – a strong final salvo from Bungie who wrapped together the best of what came before.
1. Halo 3 (Xbox 360, 2007) – Halo 3 is arguably one of the most expansive packages put forth by Bungie, managing to jam content up to the ceiling in both single and multiplayer. The introduction of 4-player co-op opened the single player experience to all kinds of fun while the scope of events felt genuinely intimidating. The story itself is slightly naff though, losing it’s footing around the time The Flood re-emerge. It’s a shame but not a game-breaking issue. The scale of levels is slightly daunting at times, maybe too daunting for some but thankfully most of the levels emit a unique charm. The battles are frantic, the set pieces grand and by the end there’s a sense that you’ve reached the logical conclusion for Master Chief’s space opera. It’s the culmination of what made the original Halo trilogy such a great franchise, evolution over revolution and while some may not place as the best; for us it’s the Halo game that made us feel sorry for this universe the most.