The Halo series is one of the most important sets of games in human history if you measure “importance” by how much someone is willing to get in a fist fight with you over the evaluation of videogames. Just as Goldeneye was for the previous generation, Halo set the standard for the kind of games that college students would scream at each other over. In most of these games, you take the role of the Master Chief, a faceless augmented Spartan with the will and the way to shoot his way through virtually every imaginable scenario with his trusty companion Cortana. This simple premise has given over into one of the most complex and impenetrable transmedia storytelling devices, with comics, novels, series and short films that tell the story of the Halo universe and how it responds to the actions of, and around, the Master Chief. Halo 5: Guardians is out next week, so what better time to look back on the long history of this thing that people like? Buckle in for a hardcore, objective ranking of the games of this series from worst to best.
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Unranked: Halo 5: Guardians: Obviously we can't include this thing in our rankings. It's not even out yet.
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7. Halo Wars: Halo wars is a real-time strategy game developed for the Xbox 360, and if that doesn't clue you in to why it is at the very bottom of this ranking, I don't know what to tell you. It's a fine game that took up a good week of funtime play on someone else's console before I promptly filed it away. From a story perspective, this game is the Chronicles of Riddick of the Halo universe in all ways. That's all I have to say.
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6. Halo 4: Halo 4 is the game that I have the least amount of experience with, and a lot of that comes down the the basic conceit of the game. By the time Halo 4 rolled around, I was tired of the formula, and the idea that there would be yet another enemy type to adapt to in my combat strategies was enough to drive me away. It was more of the same, and the slight changes were merely adaptive rather than significant and huge. It's one of them dang ole Halos for sure.
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5. Halo 3: Halo 3 is the culmination of the original Halo trilogy, and it wraps up the story of the longform conflict between the Humans, the alien Covenant, and viral Flood. It's all very inside-baseball by the time you get to this one, and while it was the first Halo for many people, it's still a pretty hostile experience for someone who isn't deep into the franchise. You run around, you shoot enemies with very interesting AI, and you do some objectives. It's a Halo game. It's well-made. But it isn't the best.
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4. Halo: Combat Evolved: The first game in the Halo series was a bombshell. It combined those sweet early 2000s shooter mechanics with some clunky space marinesmanship. It introduced a bunch of factions. It was clearly influenced by 20th century science fiction (compare the Halo ring to Niven's Ringworld and chuckle). It let you go hog wild in this safe-yet-expansive story world, and combining that with a bunch of awesome weapons gave that story some gameplay oomph.
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3. Halo 2: While Combat Evolved contained the basic tripartite structure of the Halo universe's political structure, Halo 2 really gives it to you by introducing the second playable character of the Arbiter. He's a rogue agent of the Covenant, and this game keeps the spice of the first game while adding many story layers of complexity on top of "someone shoots their way from point A to point B."
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2. Halo: Reach: There's nothing I like more than a story that tells you how it's going to end. The Halo games repeatedly set up the stakes of "the fall of Reach," or the destruction of an entire colonized planet that sets off a war. The game tells the story of a unit of Spartan soldiers, and much like a horror movie we see them get picked off one-by-one as the invasion becomes more destructive. It's a Halo game hitting all of its "epic" notes constantly, and it's still a solid experience years later.
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1. Halo 3: ODST: The protagonist of most Halo games, Master Chief, is known for being a big, strong man who gets things done with the right measure of violence and intelligence. ODST abandons Master Chief, instead putting you in the body of an orbital drop trooper who needs to stealth their way around cramped city spaces. It's a 180 degree shift from all of the other games in the series, and it amps up the tension constantly while giving you the most marginal of victories.