When Bungie Studios first created Halo, intended as an open world shooter with vehicles and large-scale environments, it couldn’t have envisioned the heights of success it would achieve. That Microsoft purchased the rights to the franchise should have been enough of a hint that there was something special about the game. The first game cemented Halo as a first person shooter and AAA title to be taken seriously; Halo 2 took this and elevated it to blockbuster status, earning $125 million in its first 24 hours on sale. That may be considered chump change in today’s era of Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, but the sequel also introduced online multiplayer which pretty much opened the door for online shooters on consoles.
Something began to happen in the lead-up to Halo 3 though. Maybe it was the fact that the Halo games were based on a series of sci-fi novels, which began receiving wider coverage, or the Halo Graphic Novel which featured several artistes like Tsutomu Nihei of Blame! fame. Enthusiasm for the franchise was incredible and Halo 3 was going to be an even bigger success. Surely enough, the game grossed $300 million in the first week. Halo pretty much blew up after that. A movie was planned, Bungie decided to create an off-shoot in Halo 3: ODST, a prequel was in development to explore the Fall of Reach and a strategy title was in development by the now-defunct Ensemble Studios. Halo Waypoint was eventually introduced to cater to the massive community of Halo fans.
"Something else happened when Bungie finally left Microsoft after 10 years of working on Halo. There was a collective thought process on what to do with the franchise."
Something else happened when Bungie finally left Microsoft after 10 years of working on Halo. There was a collective thought process on what to do with the franchise. Obviously the series’ main revenue came from its video games. Another sequel was of course to be expected but now that the series was a cultural icon, perpetrating through both the mainstream and hardcore fan base with Machinima, animated movies, comic books, etc., what else could be done to properly exploit it?
Thus with Halo 4, we had some new hooks. There was a new team now devoted entirely to developing for the franchise. A new mode called Spartan Ops, with its own campaign and episodes, was introduced and multiplayer was now consistent across the entire game. A new app was created to promote on Windows Phones, as SmartGlass promised new ways to interact with your game. But there was a new focus with this latest iteration – Microsoft was aiming for the main stream like never before, reaching out to both console and mobile users.
Of course, as Microsoft announced the Xbox One and its Cloud initiative, we wondered how Halo would tie into it all. The CG-animated teaser from E3 2013 didn’t really indicate much but it came off of a recent announcement for Halo The Television Series. Yes, Microsoft was going in that direction with the franchise. This year began with leaks that said Halo 5 was indeed real but would be out next year. meanwhile, we’d see Halo 2 Anniversary this year, and Ridley Scott was reportedly creating a Halo feature alongside Steven Spielberg’s TV series.
"Now Halo 5: Guardians has been confirmed for the Xbox One and the question arises about whether Microsoft has begun straying away from the essence of what made Halo so popular."
Halo was now a flagship property on Xbox Originals, Microsoft’s original TV content, and the company began to seek a Software Development Engineer for “building the next generation of backend services to power the Halo Universe”. The listing itself indicated that Halo would indeed have Cloud functionality in the future and another listing said that Microsoft is “creating a best in class experience for fans to dive deeper into the Halo games, story, products, and community across the web, Xbox One, and mobile platforms.”
Now Halo 5: Guardians has been confirmed for the Xbox One and the question arises about whether Microsoft has begun straying away from the essence of what made Halo so popular. After all, the first game was a success because it introduced sand-box style gameplay in a first person shooter environment. 343 Industries’ Halo 4 was decidedly more linear in that approach but something about the game just indicated that the trademark Halo atmosphere was diminished. Sure, multiplayer was fun and the story was intriguing but if nothing else, the experience felt disjointed.
The series is trying to branch ever further into the mainstream. Even if you didn’t count Halo: Spartan Assault being available to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 PC users, it feels like the franchise is everywhere at the moment. Everywhere, except the one place that matters most – the games. Even in this respect, if the leaks are true and Halo 2 Anniversary is announced to tide us over until Halo 5: Guardians releases, it would serve as little more than a stop-gap until 2015. The next true sequel could either make or break 343 Industries since it will now test their ability to above and beyond expectations to create a compelling, AAA experience that still does justice to Halo.
"Maybe it will follow the same path as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and introduce a bunch of new features while trying to keep the basic shooting mechanics."
Meanwhile, Bungie is busy creating an epic persistent online shooter based on the hunt for the Holy Grail in a brand new sci-fi universe with a massive scale and loot system. We don’t expect 343 Industries to make that kind of leap between Halo 4 and Halo 5 in terms of revolutionary new features but when the franchise’s original creator is trying new things while still getting the hardcore crowd to care, it makes you wonder what Halo 5: Guardians could possibly do next.
Maybe it will follow the same path as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and introduce a bunch of new features while trying to keep the basic shooting mechanics. Maybe it really will feature a larger sand-box environment than before and channel the old Halo titles. As of now, there’s no solid information on Halo 5: Guardians’ gameplay but the franchise itself is becoming a mish-mash of cultural goings-on to further promote the series. What began as neat little additions now feel like blatant attempts to actually market what was once a hardcore FPS to the mainstream.
Will it work? 343 Industries is working hard to take full advantage of the Xbox One, making Halo 5: Guardians bigger and better than its predecessor. It will feature a new engine, hints at two protagonists – with a female Spartan joining Master Chief – and dedicated servers along with a 60 FPS frame rate. We’ll find out how the game pans out in the coming months but 343 Industries has its work cut out for it.