Remember Halo? Yea, me too. After a string of bad news, delays, missing features, and radio silence, Halo fans deserve better.
Halo was the first gaming franchise I fell in love with. It began while watching my brothers play Halo: Combat Evolved together as they fought the flood. I thought it was some kind of horror game, but instead of hiding my eyes, I couldn’t look away. I was only a kid then, but everything about it spoke to me. The world, the lore, the characters, I was enthralled with every aspect of its design.
I was a shy kid. Didn’t speak much, and I had very little friends. Reflecting on it now, that’s probably why I related so much to the green space man fighting all of these aliens. He, like me, didn’t say much, but his bravery and courage shook me to my core. He inspired me, and most of all, he was my friend.
Just like Superman, Master Chief was my hero. I felt like I was there with him as I played the original trilogy of Halo games. We fought side-by-side as we both explored this alien ring-world together in Halo 1. I had his back as we found ourselves on the covenant holy city called high charity in Halo 2. And we both stood brave together, as we saved the entire galaxy from the halo rings being lit in Halo 3.
Even as I aged, my love for Halo and Master Chief never left me. When Xbox announced Halo 4 during E3 2011, I was left speechless. At that time, Bungie had moved on from the franchise and the trilogy had ended 4 years prior. As far as I knew up to that point, Master Chief was gone.
Yet here came a newcomer to the series, 343 Industries, the studio tasked with handling one of the most beloved IP’s in the gaming world. Everyone was skeptical, including me. Nobody could have predicted the downward spiral that was to come.
Halo’s Rocky Road.
343 Industries have done some good things. I enjoyed the Halo 4 narrative, Halo 5 multiplayer gave me 100s of hours of fun, and Halo Infinite was serviceable. But there in lies the issue, it’s all a big jumble of “just okay.”
I can talk for weeks about how much I love Bungie’s Halo trilogy, how each games nuances are so fantastic and still amazing to this day. This isn’t just nostalgia talk either, as Bungie pushed the boundaries of the first-person-shooter genre. Halo 3 launching with a fully functional campaign, multiplayer, and innovative additions such as forge and theater is something unheard of in comparison to todays gaming landscape.
Halo used to be genre defining, it used to set the standard for what a first-person-shooter should be. Now, Halo can’t even launch with all the features day one.
Theres a significant stain on each of 343’s games, that tarnish each of their legacies. Halo 4 changed the entire art-style and look of everything you grew up loving about Bungie’s trilogy, which confused and angered all the hardcore Halo fans. Not to mention, the horrendous call of duty rip-off multiplayer killed the competitive halo scene.
Halo: the master chief collection. Enough said.
Halo 5 without a doubt has the worst story in the entire series, dare I say one of the worst narratives in video games. For a franchise so known by amazing stories, Halo 5 was a tough pill to swallow. Not to mention the game launched with content missing like forge and big team battle. It was also loaded with micro-transactions.
Halo Infinite… man. We waited 6 years for Halo Infinite. This was the game that was supposed to bring Halo back. The old art-style returned, and there seemed to be a real focus from 343. Everyone in the Halo community felt that 343 really wanted to knock this one out of the park.
It wasn’t all bad, but everything just seemed half-baked. The campaign was good, but it’s clear that so much was cut. With only one biome in the open world, it seemed that infinite still needed two years at the minimum to cook. The multiplayer launched with the least amount of content I’ve ever seen for a shooter. Forge wasn’t at launch, campaign co-op wasn’t at launch, and couch co-op split screen wasn’t in the game even though previous 343 studios head Bonnie Ross said specifically that it would be. (https://www.pcgamer.com/halo-games-will-always-have-split-screen-going-forward-says-343-industries-founder/)
As a massive fan of Halo, I’ve consistently scratched my head during the 343 era, often asking myself “what are they doing over there?”
Halo was once a juggernaut, but now most would laugh at you if you even dared putting Halo and juggernaut in the same sentence. Faith in 343 is at an all time low. If there’s anyone in the Halo community that still believes in 343, you can probably count them on two hands. This is a billion dollar IP owned by one of the largest companies in the world. Why are we even having this conversation?
Microsoft’s Mismanagement of Gaming Royalty.
Game development is incredibly difficult and a string of bad launches and bad press should never just fall on a studio. Publishers should always receive a healthy amount of the blame as well.
If you are the publisher of a billion dollar game, it’s your job to assure the game is in the hands of the best creators possible and that they have any resources that they need. If there’s something they need, you give it to them. Something isn’t working? You fix it.
Nintendo’s management of their core franchises is the gold standard. Mario has been relevant for 40+ years and still we are receiving genre-defining experiences. Mario hasn’t lost an ounce of mindshare, and in moments where it sunk a little, Nintendo did what was necessary to bring it back up.
At Nintendo’s lowest moment after the Wii U, they picked themselves up and prepped for what was next. They needed a strong launch lineup of exclusives to push Nintendo Switch sales, so what did they do? They didn’t go out and purchase big name second party games or publishers, they gave the Zelda and Mario team the resources necessary to create masterpieces. Two of their oldest IP were carrying the switch hardware 30 years after their creation with Breath of the wild and Super Mario Odyssey.
It seemed Microsoft was primed to do the same with Halo Infinite being the big launch title for the Xbox Series X|S. The first Halo game to launch with a new system since Halo: Combat Evolved. It was crucial for 343 to nail this one. Instead, we got a disastrous gameplay reveal and a year delay. Even after the year delay, the game launched with over half its features missing.
The Covid pandemic was still raging on and had an industry wide impact, but Halo infinite was in development long before the pandemic started. As seen below, thanks to reporting from Bloombergs Jason Schreier, Halo Infinite was having development trouble long before Covid.
So, how do we fix it?
Where Halo Goes From Here.
Earlier this year there was big changes at 343. Long time Studio Head Bonnie Ross announced she was leaving the studio for personal reasons and the majority of the campaign team was fired:
There’s now three studio heads at 343, and while I hope they can turn the franchise around, I’m left with no faith in the studio.
The path forward is that hopefully with all the studio changes, Halo can finally get back on track, but I think I speak for all Halo fans when I say we’re out of patience.
I hope things work out, but in my opinion, other studios should get a chance to work on Halo. It’s no easy task for a studio who has been working on Halo since its conception to try something else, but the mismanagement of Halo cannot continue further. If anything, letting 343 stay on as a support studio while another team takes over main development responsibility could work out.
343 have proved they don’t understand Halo, nor that they can launch a complete experience that lives up to players expectations. Some may think this is being harsh, but they have had plenty of chances. Halo is Xbox’s most important IP, and it has to be great.
Although I have been rather cynical here, I just want to express that I want what is best for Halo. I speak only as a concerned fan of the series. I want Halo to be great, and to be the juggernaut it used to be but recently it’s been anything but.
If these leadership changes at 343 lead to Halo getting back on track, then I’m all for it. I sincerely wish 343 nothing but the best.
That being said, if Xbox sees 343 can’t handle this, that they can’t produce a title to the quality level gamers expect, then a new team needs to take over. Because after all, the franchises health is all that matters.
Halo means everything to me, Master Chief means everything to me. I want them to shine, and be the industry leader like I know they are. After all, Master Chief is my hero. I hope we can get there soon.
Were it so easy…