The Definitive Ranking of Every Mainline Halo Game

By Nick Edwards

With a brand spanking new console entering the marketplace, Microsoft needed a killer game to prove its worth to potential fans. Bungie had existed since 1991 and had a steady stream of finely received games since. What followed next helped launch the Xbox brand and introduced the world to a new series and a beloved new character, spawning multiple comics, books, canceled movie projects, toys and more. With multiple developers and genres attached to the Halo franchise, how do they stack up to one another and can we say that any are definitively better than the others?

Yes we can.

With a confusing ad campaign that pitted the series hero Master Chief against Spartan Locke, the actual story was a short uninteresting mess as you jumped back and forth between the new characters in a muddled way that tried to expand the universe. Compounding a short and disappointing campaign was the decision to remove couch co-op, and while it would eventually make its way back in it was a choice that irked many fans. The multiplayer was as good as it has always been, and probably the only saving grace of the game itself.

The first Halo game after developer Bungie broke free from Microsoft, 343 had a massive uphill battle resurrecting what many had thought to be a very complete story. The story revolved around the more emotional connection between Master Chief and Cortana and introduced some new enemy types, the mechanical Prometheans. It wasn’t enough though to make it feel like a worthy continuation of the story. In the end, the Covenant were back, most of the weapons from the previous series were back with some (I will admit) very cool looking new Promethean weaponry, but it felt too safe and therefore boring. Not to mention the strange removal of couch co-op.

While the lowest reviewed entry on the list, Halo Wars 2 does something the previous two entries did not. It not only managed to thoughtfully and interestingly expand the Halo universe, it did so with a different type of game that most fans of the series were used to. The gameplay was accessible and the controls had been redefined. Not to mention even having a direct sequel to Halo Wars was honest and refreshing to most fans of the original.

By the time Halo released, many people were familiar with the FPS genre, but as the name suggests, it really felt like something new and exciting. You had big sweeping epic music, this grand ambitious sci-fi story, a stoic badass hero, a good mix of humor, and what would be a first for many people, gathering a group of friends and playing together on the couch through the whole story or the innovative multiplayer mode. The mark and legacy that Halo left on the gaming world can still be seen almost 20 years later.

What started out as a smaller title to hold fans over quickly grew into a full fledged unique game within the Halo universe. You weren’t playing as Spartans but an eclectic group of drop troopers, with probably the most star studded cast of actors that had been in a Halo game to date. As the rookie of the team, you are separated from everyone else and must track them down and discover what happened in the Covenant controlled city of Mombasa. Gameplay took a turn from making you feel like an unstoppable genetically enhanced super soldier and made you take a more stealth based approach while you tracked down your team. Story, theme and mood really made this game stand out.

Halo 2 took the groundwork that Combat Evolved had laid and ratcheted everything up to 11. Everything about Halo 2 felt more cinematic and epic. We were introduced to dual wielding for the first time and got left with one of the most memorable cut scenes in gaming, ‘Return to Sender’. It was almost hard to believe how much better everything was in Halo 2 considering it was still running on the same system as it predecessor. The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is due to the very public problems it had with production, leaving the game to feel cut short on a cliffhanger rather than being a full complete story within a trilogy.

Back when Halo Wars was released in 2009, RTS games on consoles were usually shoe-horned ports with messy controls. Halo Wars changed that, being designed first and foremost for the Xbox 360. It was also the first game to look away from Master Chief being the main focus and expand the world. Battles were fun and gently put you through the paces as many had not played an RTS before. The graphics were incredible and seeing multiple Covenant units and supporting UNCS in a different type of game was fun and memorable.

The conclusion to the original trilogy felt like it took ages to finally arrive, even though it had roughly the same development time between the releases of 1 and 2. The excitement for this game had saturated everything and when it finally released fans were not disappointed. Bungie had managed to keep things fresh and exciting by adding new elements of gameplay to the formula.

You could rip off turrets and carry them around which further cemented 117 into a gaming legend. Bungie also somehow made ponchos look cool with one of the first images we saw of Master Chief in trailers for the game. Halo 3 gave fans a tremendous sendoff and one that left it open for other games, but also one where we didn’t really need any more games. In addition to the campaign a brand new level editor for MP was introduced. Players could spend hours fine tuning custom maps and rules to play online.

Halo Reach is the prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved and chronicles the story of one of the last full units of Spartans and the fall of the human colonized world of Reach. While each game up to this point had you seeing how powerful Chief was, Reach let you get a glimpse of what a full squad could do, as you played through the campaign trying to stop the devastation, helping the rebels armies, recusing the creator of the Spartan program and stopping the Covenant from gaining the info you’re after. While we only got these characters for one game, the way it ended is probably the most heartbreaking and memorable of the series. Topping it off was the vast improvement to multiplayer, making it the most fun and complete version of the series.

Do you agree with our picks? Let us know in the comments and tell us which is your favorite Halo game!

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