It’s hard to think of a video game series that has had more of an impact on the industry than Halo. Master Chief is one of the most instantly recognizable digital icons, even by those that have never picked up a controller. The Xbox’s legacy is closely tied to Bungie’s brainchild, and one could argue that Halo has been the biggest driver of its success.
Halo Infinite, meant to conclude the Master Chief saga, is set to finally launch later this year. While that’s still a ways away, it’s never too early to drum up some controversy. Just in time for the series’ 20th anniversary, too. A word of warning, there are some Halo series story spoilers ahead.
Here is our definitive ranking of every Halo game, from best to worst. A couple of notes before we dive in. Halo 2 and Combat Evolved will be taken at face value. The remasters, though a beautiful fresh coat of paint, don’t factor into this ranking. Online multiplayer is certainly important, but games like Combat Evolved won’t get knocked for a lack of it.
With that out of the way, let’s begin with the best Halo game out there.
1. Halo 2
Could it really be anything else? Halo 2 proved that Bungie wasn’t going to pull any punches with the series. It took Combat Evolved’s successful formula and turned it completely on its head, foregoing a more linear story for a twin narrative.
The Arbiter’s character is compelling, and is where Halo 2 truly shines. He’s a disgraced Covenant ship commander that has to fight to stick to the values that have been impressed upon him for his entire life. That’s especially relevant when he discovers new truths about the Covenant, which eventually spiral into a Civil War.
It was ambitious to split the story into two parts, and deviate from Master Chief, but it worked. Halo 2 also marked the franchise’s first jump into online multiplayer – a hallmark moment for the Xbox.
2. Halo: Reach
Spartans can sprint?!? What? Outrageous!
Look past Halo: Reach’s armour ability controversy for a moment. It has one of Halo’s most emotional stories, and it doesn’t pull any punches. Kat’s sudden death (sorry for the spoilers) stands as the most shocking moment, to date. As it did with Halo 2, Bungie took a huge risk by taking the focus off of Master Chief, particularly for its final Halo game. But it just worked.
That’s not to mention the multiplayer, which took elements from Halo 3 and made them even better. The armour abilities added a new element to the gameplay that felt like a breath of fresh air. Custom games was at its peak with Halo: Reach.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved
Where it all began. Combat Evolved shook up the scene when shooters were focused less on story, and more gratuitous violence. It does have its fair share of machismo brutality, but that falls behind the narrative.
Combat Evolved throws a whole new universe at you, but it doesn’t feel inorganic. The onus is on you to discover the rich secrets of the ring world, and the story evolves at an incredible pace. None of the information feels like too much, and it’s all quite believable. Levels like “Halo” stand out for their ingenuity, with the ability to approach it from multiple angles.
Admittedly, I was too young to revel in the glory days of LAN. That being said, I had my fair share of hotly contested capture the flag matches with a few of my buddies. Combat Evolved rightly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of shooters, but it’s outdone by a couple of later titles.
4. Halo 3
Bungie’s final game featuring Master Chief is a pretty epic send off. Taking the campaign as a whole, it’s a fitting farewell.
The last few chapters are bogged down by a couple of lacklustre missions (looking at you, Cortana), but it’s totally redeemed in the final act. Driving sequences are Bungie’s favoured conclusion, and Halo 3 does it best. The ending creates genuine mystery and intrigue, with a bait and switch about Chief’s death and the reveal of a mysterious planet. The Gravemind brain-bend sessions are quite the slog, though.
The multiplayer is wonderful, and expanding on Forge mode was absolutely the right call. It’s just that Reach did it better.
5. Halo 4
I was recently able to replay Halo 4 with its re-release for the Master Chief Collection on PC. I can definitively say that it has a worse reputation than it deserves, and 343 Industries did an admirable job taking the reins.
Jen Taylor, Cortana’s voice actor, delivers an outstanding performance. The AI’s descent into madness is totally believable, and her interactions with Master Chief stand head and shoulders above any other interpersonal story telling. The final cutscene drew out genuine tears. As for the rest, the “boss battle” with the Didact is stupidly simple, and I would have liked to see something similar to Halo 2’s confrontation with Tartarus. The section with the Broadsword leading up to it, and an earlier section where you get to fly a Pelican, are great set pieces.
The online experience falls somewhere slightly below average. Forge seemed to take a step back, which isn’t a good thing. The base maps are generally pretty good.
6. Halo 3: ODST
I love the way that Halo 3: ODST’s campaign centres around exploration. Discovery is at the heart of each Halo game, and ODST did it better than any other release since Combat Evolved. I always found ODSTs to be quite fascinating, so a story focused on them clicks for me.
It also introduced some new innovations that would stick around, like firefight and some specific HUD elements. It’s hampered by a lack of unique multiplayer, adding new maps to Halo 3’s rotation, and it doesn’t feel like a complete enough game to justify its original full price tag.
7. Halo Wars
Here’s a well known nugget of Halo trivia. The original Halo was conceptualized as a real-time strategy before becoming a first person shooter. Halo Wars proves that, in an alternate universe, that could have worked.
Does it stand as one of the greatest RTS titles of all-time? Far from it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, though. It can be genuinely difficult in parts, and there’s some real strategy involved with each mission. The multiplayer was great during its heyday as well. And goodness, those cutscenes. They were the most visually appealing until Halo 2’s remaster.
8. Halo 5: Guardians
I did not like Halo 5: Guardians, but I couldn’t justify dropping it any lower.
Making Cortana out to be a villain after the emotional impact of Halo 4’s ending was a terrible decision. Instead of expanding on Chief’s inner turmoil, 343 Industries decided to take the spotlight away and shine it on a new team of Spartans. The only redeeming factor was the multiplayer, which was surprisingly fun.
9. Halo Wars 2
The Banished will be the primary cannon fodder in Halo Infinite, and Halo Wars 2 serves as the faction’s introduction. That does not serve as sufficient reason to go back and play the strategy title. Just read a wiki.
If the original Halo Wars serves as an argument for Halo as an RTS, then Halo Wars 2 is an effective counter. Each mission bleeds together. Nothing seems unique. I was bored after a couple of hours. Moving on.
10. Halo: Spartan Strike
Released with a focus on mobile gameplay, Spartan Strike stands apart from its predecessor. It has more varied environments and enemy types, but the gameplay loop remains the same. It didn’t get an Xbox release, likely due to Spartan Assault’s poor reception, but it worked well enough on a touch screen phone’s interface.
11. Halo: Spartan Assault
See the above entry. Spartan Assault is essentially the same as Spartan Strike, but with less variety.
And there we have it, the best Halo games ranked from best to worst. Do you agree or does your own personal list look completely different? Let us know in the comments, and let’s hope Halo Infinite blasts its way to the top when it finally launches later this year.