Most Halo fans would argue that the Halo franchise has fallen from grace since the original 2 games on the first Xbox, and has been largely falling further ever since. Each game viewed in a vacuum wouldn’t really be regarded as terrible per sey, but overall as a franchise, it certainly has had its issues meeting fans’ expectations and has had anything but a consistent track record. Pretty much all fans of modern first person shooters, who are over the age of 15 or so, would likely mention one of the first 2 Halo games if you were to ask them what FPS got them into the genre.
Those two games sent the biggest shock waves through the first person shooter genre since Doom and Wolfenstein popularized it back in the day, and its hard to think of any games since that have matched them in terms of cultural impact. The enemies were creative, the story was interesting, and the game play was just accessible enough to get its hooks into young gamers yet intricate enough to keep hardcore players thoroughly amused. On top of being great single player experiences, the franchise also played a major part in popularizing competitive online play and paved the way for other franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and others to carve out their own audiences in that new frontier.
This was an era where online play was certainly doable, and the infrastructure was there with cable internet finally becoming standardized and affordable for most, so Halo came along at the perfect time to really run with it, and run with it Halo did. Major tournaments on college campuses, massive LAN parties that filled apartments and houses with Xboxes and TV’s were a common sight for many years during the reign of Halo and Halo 2. And if you were to tell the 2003 version of me that eventually there would be a Halo game that drove players nuts with how mediocre it was, I’d laugh in your face, but here we are. So what the hell the happened to Halo?
Halo 4 was relatively divisive among long-time followers of Master Chief’s story, with imperfect but still relatively strong showings commercially and critically, but Halo 5 was the final straw for many. 343, actually came out and apologized at one point, admitting that the campaign was full of mistakes and that they would engage in some major course correction in the future.
Lots of complaints were leveled at 343 for the most recent iteration of Halo, From its lack of story substance to complaints about the game play itself being too co-op focused and leaving little room for solo players to also enjoy the game. Terrible AI that reduced non playable characters to lobotomized bullet sponges, unfinished half-baked mechanics and just an overall lack of fun factor all added up very quickly in the eyes of fans and Halo 5 quickly became what is largely regarded as the least favorite among the main-line games. Some of that could also be attributed to out of control hype, which is something lots of games suffer from when their marketing goes too far and fails to paint a realistic picture of what gamers should expect, but ultimately 343 made that bed, and had to lay in it.
However, on the flip side, you could argue that any game 343 would have put out at this point might not have lived up to expectations. 343 was not the original developer of the franchise, and they certainly had their purist detractors for simply making Halo games at all, as we saw from some reviews of Halo 4. On top of that, as I mentioned before, the marketing for Halo 5 had gotten out of hand. This is a problem that can escape developers as they are toiling away on a game, trying to make it good, or at least what they think is good, while the marketing team is in another building, miles away doing their own thing and trying to sell as many copies as possible so they can get more marketing gigs later on.
Both parties are just trying to do a good job, but when there is a “disconnect” as the studio later admitted there was, that can spell disaster for any creative project. Halo was marketed extremely well, and painted a picture of a conflict between the two main protagonists that was sure to make the player see things from angles that, perhaps, they didn’t expect and possibly even make master chief a villain of sorts.
This was intriguing to many and fit right into what a lot of fans wanted at this point, as much of the core Halo audience had gotten older and more mature since the original games, and thus had developed a more refined complex taste in their games. On top of that, Halo 5 was going to be the first real Halo game for the Xbox One, a console that has struggled to deliver quality first party titles up to that point. So the pressure that 343 was under was probably an unfair amount that any developer would have struggled to totally handle. This is not to say that they didn’t drop the ball independently of those factors, as the game that was released ended up being almost nothing like what was implied with the advertising, and left fans feeling lied to, and understandably so, because they kind of were.
So even though the level of scorn that 343 deserved at this point might not’ve been equal to what they ultimately received, they still unquestionably dropped the ball here in many regards. Making a mediocre game is one thing, but when its was advertised as something completely different to a fan-base that has been loyal to the franchise for over 10 years, now you’re really asking for trouble. Add on a bland multiplayer mode with muddy textures, micro-transactions, boring map layouts and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a complete disaster.
This bad combination of failures couldn’t have come at a worse time for Halo 5, either. Fans were clamoring for a return to form after the third and fourth games, which weren’t bad but also weren’t quite the successors that Halo 2 deserved. If there was ever a time that 343 and Microsoft needed to get something right, it was with this game. Any iconic franchise that teeters on the edge of becoming mediocre can be greatly affected by its next installment, for better and for worse.
Unfortunately, when it came down to it, Halo 5 brought the franchise down from what would be described as “an overall good franchise with a couple great games” to “a franchise that used to be good”. Which is a sad place for a series with such high highs to be. Thankfully, 343 does appear to be on the same page as fans now, and its not like they’re a bad developer. 343 certainly wouldn’t have been entrusted with this franchise if they weren’t capable of moving it forward, and now that the bar is where it is, surely the team has the information and direction they need to deliver, at the very least, a totally decent Halo game next time around.
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