Halo, one of my pet loves for many years has undoubtedly gone through multiple changes and shifts throughout its’ 15 year lifetime – Starting with Bungie Studios, the franchise began with Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001 back as one of the original Xbox’s premier titles; the franchise has since spawned multiple new games and remakes, but has never quite reached the height of popularity back in it’s halcyon days – Why is that? Well, many people often pin it down to a set of design choices switched between Halo 3 / Reach and Halo 4.
One main switch between Halo 3 / Reach to Halo 4 has to be the story, and the shift in drama, tension and focus on external lore that wouldn’t be available to the general player unless they bought various extra books, novels and researched the lore – With Halo 1 through to 3, players could understand the lore, characters and world easily through the main narrative; extended pieces of information could be found through hidden Terminals, that offered minor backstory to things like the various members of the Covenant, humanity’s extended history, or some background information about little things like what the Elite’s homeworld was.
Halo 4 began a shift that started to unfortunatley neglect people who weren’t caught up on the lore of Halo, especially since the game’s main antagonist, The Didact, is nothing more than an average baddie in the game – The issue here is the The Didact, in the expanded lore, is one of the most prolific, and dangerous antagonists to grace the world of Halo, yet is reduced to nothing more than a B-Grade baddie. The same can be said about things such as the Forerunners, whom appear as your primary enemies in Halo 4; the Forerunners had been encountered before in every other Halo game in the form of the Sentinel enemies, however their proper strength had only been hinted at through the story – The Forerunners only appear to be standard enemies, with funky-looking weapons and effects, yet within the books they’re the creators of the Halo Arrays, the Ark, and many more story-prevelant locations and mechanisms that fuel the entire series…Yet again…They’re reduced to just standard baddies.
The same can be said for the Master Chief too, where his limited personality takes a much more brooding, afflicted twist, having to deal with the struggles he’s encountered within his journeys, the Chief has turned from a run-and-gun, light hearted, slightly comedic personality into a no-nonsense, all-serious warrior that wants nothing more than to just sit in a corner and mellow out his problems – I’m not by any way or form calling this a bad thing, however, since I for one appreciate the new Chief, and love to see him deal with his PTSD and horrible recollections of past events and lack of any forms of emotion, but the snap between Halo 4 and 5 is near-immediate, with nearly no transition at all.
Another thing that plenty of people are more than happy to point out that changed between Halo 3 and Halo 4 would be the massive change in art direction, from character and vehicle design, to environments, weapons and even the UI – The changes are definitley apparent, even with Halo Reach, despite it being Bungie’s final Halo game; one could possibly say that Bungie themselves wanted to start invoking these style changes with Reach, allowing 343 to use it as a template, but for fans of the first three games, these changes are a big, BIG change. In my opinion, both styles hold a place in my heart, but nobody can deny the breakneck speed of which Halo changed it’s look; allow me to show you a gallery of images to show you how much the style had changed between the years with Halo, so you can build up your own judgement.
Another large part of Halo that has switched in recent times has been the direction of the franchise – Halo was a franchise that always aimed to evolve, and to excel upon the last title in the franchise, however with the last few Halo releases, there have been a series of questionable choices made to the story and gameplay, with notable examples being the dumbing down of the story, locking it behind external lore, the Requisition Microtransaction system brought into Halo 5, and the Loadouts prevelent in Halo 4; a lot of people look to this period as 343 beginning to ‘COD-ify’ the franchise, bringing in elements from other popular first-person-shooter franchises like Call of Duty, Battlefield and others in an attempt to ‘innovate’ upon the Halo formula.
This, admittedly, worked more as a hinderance towards 343 and Halo as a whole, where previous iterations of Halo innovated through including features such as Dual Wielding, Forge, Equipment and other such tweaks, Halo 4 only introduced Loadouts, with Halo 5 only really bringing the Requisiton system to the table. It’s easy to see why long term fans are angry at 343 for not matching the innovations from previous titles; one could even say that Halo fans are just eager, or hungry for that little bit extra to be put into a new Halo game, that really makes the most out of all the evolutions present throughout the years.
Business Practices & Advertisement
Finally, we have what could be one of the largest shifts in Halo’s history, the way that they worked their business practices, and conducted their marketing – Halo 5 especially is the biggest offender of this, with the Requistion system, and the various adverts surrounding the game hyping up the events included, which only lead to a cliffhanger ending and minor changes – Halo began as a standard flagship series, with its’ fair share of adverts, commercials and media appearances within the first three games, however with the inclusion of Halo Reach, both Bungie and 343 Studios both got a bit more hungry for the old green dollar; instead of being promoted through fan content like Red VS Blue and Machinima, Halo started to open up to partnerships with big food and drink companies such as Mountain Dew and Doritos brands, offering in-game perks to players who opted to buy these snacks such as Double EXP – Whilst this is a common practice within a franchise such as Call of Duty, this is the exact thing that Halo fans wanted the franchise to stay away from.
Going back to the Requisition System introduced into Halo 5, 343 had the smart idea to introduce everyone’s beloved bugbear, microtransactions into the game; whilst mainly cosmetic, these microtransactions allow players to earn weapons to use instantly within the new Warzone gamemode, allowing people to spawn in with Rocket Launchers, tanks, and even extra abilities which can lead to an unfair advantage within this specific game mode – Within a £50 game such as this, it’s a bit ridiculous to see cosmetic, and even advantage-giving microtransactions.
Given this, however, Bungie themselves aren’t innocent from extra purchases from their games, especially with the File Browser within Halo 3, where players could purchase “Bungie Pro”, which expanded their storage space on Halo 3, allowing them to install maps and gamemodes from online for a yearly fee.
All in all, Halo as a franchise has taken a dramatic shift in tone, quality and direction across all of its’ 15 years; one could call it modernising, another may call it greed, some even pandering – However, one thing is certain; Halo unfortunately isn’t the franchise it once was, and yes, this may be down to nostalgia, or just a thirst for the ‘old Halo’ back, however it’s undeniable that Halo has changed. Whether it’s for the better or the worst is ultimately up to you.