Halo is a military science fiction media franchise centered on a series of video games managed and developed by 343 Industries, a division of Xbox Game Studios. Halo was originally developed by Bungie Studios. The series centers on an interstellar war between humanity and an alliance of aliens known as the Covenant. The Covenant, led by their religious leaders called the Prophets, worship an ancient civilization known as the Forerunners, who perished while defeating the parasitic Flood. The central focus of the franchise builds off the experiences of Master Chief John-117, one of a group of supersoldiers codenamed Spartans, and his artificial intelligence (AI) companion, Cortana.
Other characters, such as Noble Six from Halo: Reach, are also introduced in the series. The term “Halo” refers to the Halo Array: a group of immense, habitable, ring-shaped superweapons that were created by the Forerunners to destroy the Flood, but which the Covenant mistake for religious artifacts that, if activated, would transport them on a Great Journey to meet the Forerunners. They are similar to the Orbitals in Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and to a lesser degree to author Larry Niven’s Ringworld concept.
The games in the series are critically acclaimed, with the original considered the Xbox’s “killer app”. This led to the term “Halo killer” being used to describe console games that aspire, or are considered, to be better than Halo. Fueled by the success of Halo: Combat Evolved, and by marketing campaigns from publisher Microsoft, its sequels went on to record-breaking sales. The games have sold over 65 million copies worldwide, with the games alone grossing almost $3.4 billion. Halo has since become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time and one of the highest grossing video game franchises.
Take a look below for our list of 10 of the best and most epic Halo games.
1. Halo 3
Halo 3 is a 2007 first-person shooter game developed by Bungie for the Xbox 360 console. The third installment in the Halo franchise, the game concludes the story arc begun in 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved and continued in 2004’s Halo 2. Halo 3’s story centers on the interstellar war between twenty-sixth century humanity, a collection of alien races known as the Covenant, and the alien parasite Flood. The player assumes the role of the Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier, as he battles the Covenant and the Flood. The game features vehicles, weapons, and gameplay elements not present in previous titles of the series, as well as the addition of saved gameplay films, file sharing, and the Forge map editor—a utility which allows the player to perform modifications to multiplayer levels.
Bungie began developing Halo 3 shortly after Halo 2 shipped. The game was officially announced at E3 2006, and its release was preceded by a multiplayer beta open to select players who purchased the Xbox 360 game Crackdown. Microsoft spent $40 million on marketing the game, in an effort to sell more game consoles and broaden the appeal of the game beyond the established Halo fanbase. Marketing included cross-promotions and an alternate reality game. The game was released in September 2007.
Halo 3 grossed US$170 million in its first day of release, and $300 million its first week. More than one million people played Halo 3 on Xbox Live in the first twenty hours. To date, Halo 3 has sold in excess of 14.5 million copies. The game was also the best-selling video game of 2007 in the U.S. Overall, the game was very well received by critics, with the Forge and multiplayer offerings singled out as strong features; however, some reviewers criticized single-player aspects, especially the plot and campaign layout. Halo 3 is frequently listed as one of the greatest video games of all time. A prequel to the game, Halo 3: ODST, was released worldwide in September 2009. A sequel, Halo 4, released in November 2012, developed by new studio 343 Industries. Halo 3 was re-released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One in November 2014.
2. Halo Reach
Halo: Reach is a 2010 first-person shooter developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, originally for the Xbox 360. The fifth installment in the Halo series and a direct prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, Reach was released worldwide in September 2010. The game takes place in the year 2552, where humanity is locked in a war with the alien Covenant. Players control Noble Six, a member of an elite supersoldier squad, when the human world known as Reach falls under Covenant attack.
After releasing Halo 3 in 2007, Bungie split into teams to develop two different games—what would become Halo 3: ODST and Reach. The developers decided to create a prequel to the original Halo game trilogy, freeing themselves from the obligation of addressing old story threads. As the game would take place on a human world doomed to be destroyed, they focused on making the environment a character unto itself. Longtime Halo composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori returned to compose Reach’s music, aiming for a more somber sound to match the story.
Reach was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009 in Los Angeles, California, and the first in-engine trailer was shown at the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards. Players who purchased ODST were eligible to participate in a Reach multiplayer beta in May 2010; the beta allowed Bungie to gain player feedback for fixing bugs and making gameplay tweaks before shipping the final version. Microsoft gave Reach its biggest game marketing budget yet and created award-winning live-action commercials, action figures, and interactive media to promote the game.
The game grossed US$200 million on its launch day, setting a new record for the franchise. Reach sold well in most territories, moving more than three million units its first month in North America. Critical reception was positive; reviewers from publications such as GamePro, IGN, and Official Xbox Magazine called it the best Halo title yet. Critics generally praised the game’s graphics and sound, but the plot and characters were less positively received. Reach was Bungie’s final Halo game; subsequent games have been overseen by Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries. The game was released for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One as part of the Halo: The Master Chief Collection in December 2019.
3. Halo 2
Halo 2 is a 2004 first-person shooter game developed by Bungie and published by Xbox Game Studios. Released for the Xbox, the game is the second installment in the Halo franchise and the sequel to 2001’s critically acclaimed Halo: Combat Evolved. The game features a new game engine, added weapons and vehicles, and new multiplayer maps. The game shipped with global multiplayer matchmaking via Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. In Halo 2’s campaign story, the player assumes the roles of either the human Master Chief or the alien Arbiter in a 26th-century conflict between the human United Nations Space Command, the genocidal Covenant, and the parasitic Flood.
After the success of Combat Evolved, a sequel was expected and highly anticipated. Bungie found inspiration in plot points and gameplay elements that had been left out of their first game, including online multiplayer. A troubled development and time constraints forced cuts to the scope of the game, including the wholesale removal of a more ambitious multiplayer mode, and a cliffhanger ending to the game’s campaign mode. Among Halo 2’s marketing was an early alternate reality game called “I Love Bees” that involved players solving real-world puzzles. Bungie supported the game after release with new multiplayer maps and updates to address cheating and glitches. It was released in November 2004
Halo 2 was a commercial and critical success. The game became the most popular title on Xbox Live, holding that rank until the release of Gears of War for the Xbox 360 nearly two years later. Halo 2 is the best-selling first-generation Xbox game with more than 8 million copies sold worldwide. The game received critical acclaim, with most publications lauding the strong multiplayer component. In comparison, the campaign and its cliffhanger ending was divisive.
Halo 2 was highly influential for online gaming and cemented many multiplayer in-game features such as matchmaking, lobbies, clan organisation and user emblems. Halo 2 marketing heralded the beginnings of video games as blockbuster media. A port of the game for Windows Vista was released in 2007, followed by a high-definition remastered version, Halo 2 Anniversary, released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection in 2014.
4. Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved is a first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released as a launch title for Microsoft’s Xbox video game console on November 15, 2001. Microsoft released versions of the game for Windows and Mac OS X in 2003. The game was later released as a downloadable Xbox Original for the Xbox 360. Halo is set in the twenty-sixth century, with the player assuming the role of the Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier. The Chief is accompanied by Cortana, an artificial intelligence. Players battle various aliens as they attempt to uncover the secrets of the eponymous Halo, a ring-shaped artificial world.
Bungie began the development of what would eventually become Halo in 1997. Initially, the game was a real-time strategy game that morphed into a third-person shooter before becoming a first-person shooter. During development, Microsoft acquired Bungie and turned the game into a launch title for its new video game console, the Xbox.
Halo was a critical and commercial success, and has been praised as one of the greatest video games of all time. The game’s popularity led to labels such as “Halo clone” and “Halo killer”, applied to games either similar to or anticipated to be better than it. Its sequel, Halo 2, was released for the original Xbox on November 9, 2004. Halo spawned a multimedia franchise that has grossed more than $4.6 billion worldwide, incorporating games, books, toys, and films. In addition, the game inspired and was used in the fan-created Red vs. Blue video series, which is credited as one of the first major successes of machinima (the technique of using real-time 3D engines, often from video games, to create animated films).
More than five million copies had been sold worldwide by November 2005. A high-definition remake, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, was released for Xbox 360 on the 10th anniversary of the original game’s launch. Anniversary was re-released for Xbox One as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection in 2014, and was released on Windows PCs in March 2020.
5. Halo 4
Halo 4 is a first-person shooter developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox 360 video game console. The fourth mainline installment and seventh overall in the Halo franchise, the game was released on November 6, 2012. Halo 4’s story follows a cybernetically enhanced human supersoldier, Master Chief, and his artificial intelligence construct Cortana, as they encounter unknown threats while exploring an ancient civilization’s planet. The player assumes the role of Master Chief who battles against a new remnant faction that splintered off of the Covenant, a former military alliance of alien races, and against mechanical warriors of the Forerunner empire known as the Prometheans. The game features a selection of weapons, enemies, and game modes not present in previous titles of the series.
Development of Halo 4 began in 2009 and continued until September 2012. Halo 4 is 343 Industries’ first original title within the Halo series—previously, development of the main series was undertaken by Bungie, the creator of the franchise. In the developmental process, 343 Industries decided to explore the Forerunner fiction within the Halo universe, leading the team to design a new setting, enemies, and main antagonist. Existing characters and assets received visual overhauls, recreated from the ground up, and motion capture was used for animation within cutscenes. A goal for Halo 4’s story was to incorporate more human elements; to achieve this, the developers chose to delve more deeply into the relationship between the two protagonists, Master Chief and Cortana. Several external studios assisted 343 Industries with developing Halo 4, and over 350 people worked on the game in total.
The game was officially announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 (E3) on June 6. Prior to launch, Microsoft stated that Halo 4 was the most expensive video game title the company had created so far. The game was marketed with promotional events and videos, including the creation of a live-action film, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. Halo 4 grossed US$220 million on its launch day and $300 million in its opening week—a record for the franchise. More than one million people played Halo 4 on Xbox Live within the first 24 hours of its release. The game was acclaimed by professional critics and received multiple nominations and awards from the press. It was re-released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One on November 11, 2014. A sequel, Halo 5: Guardians, was released for the Xbox One on October 27, 2015.
6. Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST is a 2009 first-person shooter game developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The fourth installment, it was released on the Xbox 360 in September 2009. Players assume the roles of United Nations Space Command soldiers, known as “Orbital Drop Shock Troopers” or ODSTs, during and after the events of Halo 2. In the game’s campaign mode, players explore the ruined city of New Mombasa to discover what happened to their missing teammates in the midst of an alien invasion. In the “Firefight” multiplayer option, players battle increasingly difficult waves of enemies to score points and survive as long as possible; Halo 3’s multiplayer is contained on a separate disc packaged with ODST.
Bungie initially conceived ODST as a small side project to produce in the lull between Halo 3’s completion and Halo: Reach. Instead of featuring recognizable characters such as armored protagonist Master Chief, the developers focused on the ODSTs. Story director Joseph Staten penned a detective story utilizing film noir designs, settings, and characters. Composer Martin O’Donnell abandoned his previous Halo themes to create a quieter, jazz-influenced sound. During development, the planned expansion grew in scope to that of a full-sized game. Release marketing for the game included a tie-in comic, live-action trailers, and print and web advertisements.
Upon release, ODST became the top-selling Xbox 360 game worldwide. The title received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the atmosphere, music, and story approach. Reviewers were divided on whether the relatively short campaign and included extras were enough to justify the game’s US$60 price tag. The game was the top-selling title in the United States in September 2009, and sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. Softpedia, Time, and Wired were among publications that declared the game one of the year’s best. The game was re-released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for Xbox One in May 2015.
7. Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians is a first-person shooter video game developed by 343 Industries and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox One. The fifth mainline entry and tenth overall in the Halo series, it was released worldwide on October 27, 2015. The game’s plot follows two fireteams of human supersoldiers: Blue Team, led by Master Chief, and Fireteam Osiris, led by Spartan Locke. When the former goes absent without leave to track down the artificial intelligence construct Cortana, Master Chief’s loyalty is called into question, and Fireteam Osiris is sent to retrieve him.
343 Industries started to plan concepts and objectives for Halo 5 shortly after the release of its predecessor, Halo 4. In late 2012, the team set out goals for the game, including larger campaign and multiplayer areas. Like Halo 4, it uses motion capture for character animation. It features new abilities and character designs, but does not feature any offline capabilities or local networking. It has a game engine that scales its resolution to maintain a frame rate of 60 frames per second.
Microsoft announced the game at E3 2013. The game and its related hardware grossed over US$400 million in its first twenty-four hours and US$500 million in its first week, outselling the opening sales of Halo 4, which then held the best-selling record for the franchise. Despite this, it had the lowest opening sales of any Halo game in Japan and the UK. Upon release, Halo 5 received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise directed at its gameplay, visuals, level design and multiplayer modes. However, the game’s single-player campaign met divided responses, with criticism directed at its short length, story, writing and ending. A sequel, Halo Infinite, will be released in 2020.
8. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a 2011 first-person shooter game set in the Halo universe and is an enhanced remake of Halo: Combat Evolved. Microsoft announced the game alongside Halo 4 at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo. The game was released in November 2011—the 10th anniversary of the original title’s launch—for the Xbox 360 game console, and re-released as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection for the Xbox One in November 2014. A PC version was announced in March 2019 and was released in March 2020.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was developed as a partnership between development studios 343 Industries, Saber Interactive, and Certain Affinity. 343 Industries, the Halo series’ franchise overseers, approached Saber Interactive to develop a remake of the original Halo in time for its tenth anniversary. After considering whether to remake the game entirely or to adapt and add features to the existing PC version, Saber decided to use its game engine for reproducing the original’s appearance and the original Halo’s engine for gameplay. A development tool for toggling between the old and new visuals became a game feature. Anniversary’s enhancements include a complete high-definition visual overhaul, support for cooperative and multiplayer gameplay via the Xbox Live online service, new and remastered sound effects and music, and extras such as achievements and hidden in-game collectibles. The game is the first in the series to include Kinect support.
Critical reception to Anniversary was generally positive. The updated graphics, sounds, and ability to toggle between the remastered and original visuals were praised. Complaints included technical glitches, faults with the original game’s level design, and the multiplayer mode’s implementation.
9. Halo Wars
Halo Wars is a real-time strategy (RTS) video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 video game console. It was released in Australia on February 26, 2009; in Europe on February 27; and in North America on March 3. The game is set in the science fiction universe of the Halo series in the year 2531, 21 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. The player leads human soldiers aboard the warship Spirit of Fire in an effort to stop an ancient fleet of ships from falling into the hands of the genocidal alien Covenant.
Halo Wars was unveiled at the X06 Xbox show in 2006. Ensemble designed the game specifically for the Xbox 360 controller, in an attempt to circumvent issues present in previous console RTS’. Ensemble was closed by Microsoft before the game’s release, but soon after Robot Entertainment was founded by many of Ensemble’s former employees; this new company continued to support Halo Wars with updates and downloadable content.
Halo Wars received generally positive reviews. Reviewers lauded the game’s pre-rendered cinematics, attention to detail in replicating the Halo universe, and intuitive control scheme. Complaints against the game included the lack of an option to play as the Covenant faction in campaign mode as well as the lack of strategic options during play. Critics from GameSpot and USA Today wrote that experienced RTS players would find the strategic elements of the title shallow. The game sold one million units worldwide through March 2009, making it the best-selling console real-time strategy game to date. An enhanced version of the game—Halo Wars: Definitive Edition—was released for Windows and Xbox One in December 2016. Halo Wars 2, a sequel developed by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly was released in February 2017.
10. Halo: Combat Evolved Custom Edition
Halo Custom Edition, commonly abbreviated Halo CE, is a standalone, multiplayer-only, expansion for the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved. The expansion was released on March 15, 2004 by Gearbox Software as an unsupported version of the original game. Similar to its PC version, the expansion requires a key-code during installation.
Halo Custom Edition allows players to browse and play user-created content and maps created with modding kits. Modders would use the Halo Editing Kit to incorporate custom models, images, physics, and data into an easily distributed .MAP file, which is compressed and uploaded. The amount of custom content varies widely but is limited by the game engine’s capabilities. A few examples of user-created content may include custom character models that uses an Elite biped instead of the default Spartan biped, a Call of Duty-inspired level or even special animations and effects for weapons, melee and reloading. Most of these user-created content and maps are available in dedicated modding community websites such as Modacity and halomaps.org.
Two small features were added to the game such as the ability to display the specific for the gametype currently being played in the server (by pressing F2), and the ability to display the name of all players in the same team above their respective green arrows (by pressing F3). Additionally, an arguably better net-code was put into Halo: Custom Edition as well. The game has noticeably reduced latency issues compared to Halo PC.