Halo: Infinite launches on December 8th, 2021. To celebrate, it feels like a great time to give an “official” ranking of the mainline games in the franchise.
Originally launching on November 15th, 2001, the Halo franchise has seen a total of seven FPS games released over two decades. For the purpose of this list, we’re not going to count the offshoots such as Halo Wars and Spartan Assault. We just care about the FPS titles, hence the list of “mainline” games.
As always with these lists, they’re all personal opinion. With that being said, let’s get to it in order from worst to best.
Halo 5: Guardians
Normally in a list for a quality franchise like Halo, I’d preface by saying “one of these has to come in last.” Unfortunately, when it comes to Halo 5: Guardians, that’s going to be the case.
Developer 343 Industries’ franchise debut, Halo 4, was an enjoyable experience that set up the future of the series and its new storyline. With Guardians, 343 tried to do too much to the point where it no longer felt like the franchise we all know and love.
This wasn’t the first time players were playing a character other than Master Chief in the campaign. Yet past titles retained the look and feel we were accustomed to. Playable Arbiter sections, ODST, and Reach still had the look, sounds, and feel of the rest of the franchise. Halo 5: Guardians, however, did not for virtually any of it.
When it comes to multiplayer, Guardians isn’t impressive as I can’t remember a single thing about it. For a franchise that is known for well-executed map design and memorable gameplay, even in its weaker entries, this truly speaks to volumes as to how disappointing Halo 5 is.
Halo 3: Odst
When it comes to a high-quality franchise like Halo, one game has to be
last second to last.
At the time of its release, Halo 3: ODST was controversial for feeling like an expansion pack that came with the price tag of a full game. Upon release, we were greeted with a new story in the Halo universe along with an enjoyable multiplayer offering.
Despite following the story of a group of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, the game looks, plays, and feels like a Halo game through and through. Storywise, strong voice acting is felt throughout and the narrative ties nicely into the original Master Chief trilogy.
ODST also added in some new multiplayer maps for Halo 3 online multiplayer, but the real star was the Firefight mode, one of the best horde modes seen at the time in gaming.
343 had an impossible task at hand: develop a new Halo game in the shadow of Bungie’s success. The result was Halo 4, a genuinely good game! But was it a good game that could hold up to the impossibly legacy it was staring in the face?
Halo 4’s campaign was enjoyable, even if the story was at times a bit out there. It’s one biggest flaw is, undoubtedly, UI clutter. Part of what made the Bungie titles so great was how easy it was to digest information onscreen. You knew who to shoot and, in return, where you were being attacked from. Halo 4, at times, is information overload. Bright colors and loud noises attack you from every possible angle.
So why is Halo 4 not dead last on this list? Well for starters, it’s better than Guardians. Furthermore, the multiplayer retained the classic look and feel of the franchise. Map design was still top-notch and enjoyable, even if the overall experience didn’t have the same longevity as its predecessors.
This was a title worthy of the franchise and one 343 should be proud of. While their follow-up missed the mark, there’s still hope from what we’ve seen of Infinite thus far and what we remember of Halo 4 that the series is in good hands.
There was zero chance Halo 3 had the ability to meet the hype. After the cliffhanger of its predecessor, everyone (im)patiently waited for its resolution.
What they got was a good game, don’t get me wrong, but it missed the mark set by its predecessors.
The campaign holds Halo 3 back from placing higher on this list. Despite some of the best gameplay and weapon arsenal the franchise has ever seen, level design wasn’t its strong suit. The multiplayer, though, remains the best Halo as ever seen to this day. You can make the argument, in fact, that this is the biggest discrepancy in quality between single-player and multiplayer throughout the series.
Everything about the multiplayer in Halo 3 just works. The map design, game modes, weapons, etc. You wanted to stay up late to play this game all night. It was worth it being tired the next day at work or in class. The damage energy drinks did to our bodies, which we are now feeling the ripple effects of today, was 100% worth it.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved hasn’t necessarily aged well. There are parts of the campaign that are beyond frustrating to play through and, at the time, the multiplayer relied on LAN parties to reach their full potential. Xbox Live wasn’t a thing yet until the sequel. So to rank the game this high on the list is truly saying something.
Combat Evolved not only proved that a FPS could work on consoles, but it also revolutionized the entire genre. The game itself grew bigger than the medium and became an experience. People were having parties, get-togethers, and hanging out solely around the basis of playing Halo. Not just the multiplayer, either, but co-operative play through the campaign as well.
Bungie was able to craft an experience so enjoyable and satisfying that people still co-op through the campaign on a regular basis. Multiplayer maps found in the original were re-created and remastered with future releases. The entire Xbox brand that we know today was all possible thanks to Halo: Combat Evolved. It was a beautiful work of art and a masterpiece, and yet, is only the third-best game in the franchise.
“I need a weapon.”
What is there to say about Halo 2 that hasn’t already been said before? The game was a landmark for video gaming. A bonafide blockbuster smash hit. It was larger than life. It was (mostly) everything we hoped and dreamed it could be.
Except for that ending, of course.
Until that infamous cliffhanger and cut to black, Halo 2’s campaign delivered in every possible way. It improved the gameplay, scope, and size of each chapter. It put us in the role of the Arbiter and opened up more to the lore of the Halo universe. As great as the campaign was, though, the multiplayer was even better.
Putting Xbox Live on the map, Halo 2 delivered in every possible way. It was a dream come true and near perfection when it came to multiplayer gaming, only topped by its successor on the Xbox 360. It also gave us the Battle Rifle and for that, I will remain thankful.
When it comes to multiplayer, something I have fond memories of, Halo: Reach was… satisfactory. It had the best Spartan customization the franchise has seen. Maps were, if I’m being honest, satisfactory at best and the same can be said when it came to gameplay. It was a Halo game; nowhere near as perfect as Halo 3, but still enjoyable.
So why is Reach my top-ranked Halo game? The story.
It’s a harrowing and somber tale, one that we know the ending of, and yet we’re still shaken by the events as they unfold. While others have criticized Bungie for not bringing new innovations to the Halo gameplay, I’d argue they didn’t need to. They had perfected the formula and this was their swan song. What better way to go out by focusing on where it all began and letting the story truly shine through.