(EDIT: Due to time constraints, the original post for today will be posted tomorrow. This is now the post for day 10, and I hope you enjoyed it.)
Hello everyone, and I have returned to give an extra post as a sort of follow-up to yesterdays.
There are a few points intentionally left vague that have come to my attention, and I wish to give more clarification as well as a deeper look into the game’s story. I apologize for the necessity of this follow-up, but today’s post will not be affected by this. I also thank you for bringing these points to my attention, and now we shall begin.
To start with, there was an error I made in my review yesterday. While Halo 4 is the first game in which 343i took up the bulk of development, they did have a hand in Halo Wars, supported Halo Reach immensely post-launch, and oversaw the development of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Halo 4 does represent the point where 343i made the mainstream content of Halo truly theirs, but their role in the franchise does stem back to their inception in 2007.
Another thing pointed out is the expanded universe and my standpoint on it. My idea of Halo’s expanded universe is all material existing outside of the game’s (such as books, comics, and films), with features like the Terminals and Audio Logs serving as great ways to expand on a game’s story from within. It is important to note the difference in how Bungie and 343i approach the expanded universe as well. Bungie’s idea was very in-line with how Star Wars approached all fiction outside of the core saga, (being the films) with game’s coming first in canon precedence and all other materials such as books and comics coming second. With the exception of slight variations in The Flood from Halo: Combat Evolved (which are by nature inconsequential), all entries in the Halo universe could peaceful exist. The only exception to this rule is Halo Reach, as it has some discrepancies with The Fall of Reach in exactly how the battle played out. In the novel, the Fall of Reach is presented as a Pearl Harbour sort of attack; in the game, it is presented as a month-long campaign. While 343i has made a great effort in alleviating the conflicts between the two, it should still be noted that this is a case where Bungie put the games ahead of the expanded universe.
343i is quite different in regards to its approach to the expanded universe. Instead of games>everything else, they treat every piece of canon as equal and even have interconnecting webs that link everything together. The Didact’s (or Ur-Didact for those of us that have read Silentium) backstory is presented through the novels, all leading up to his appearance in Halo 4. Buck’s transition from the leader of Alpha-Nine to a member of Fireteam Osiris is presented in New Blood, and so on. I love this concept, but I cannot ignore some of its flaws by design. For one, those who immerse themselves in the expanded universe are rewarded when everything comes together in the games, and casuals are presented to a deeper layer of Halo’s overarching narrative. However, there is the issue when important aspects in a game are not clarified from within the game, or not direct enough to leave the more casual fans scratching their heads.
Halo 4 did not have too much of an issue with this, but it still exists in the game. The Didact’s motives are very complex, and more so than Halo 4 may imply to someone who has not read Silentium. Jul ‘Mdama may seem like a ‘big baddie’ sort of Sangheili for one that only plays through Spartan Ops and Halo 5, but his motives and characterization are not as two-dimensional for those of us who have read Glasslands and The Thursday War. The latter example is not of leaving essential facts out, but casual fans are presented with a very different character than lore fans are. The resurgence of the Covenant could have also been further explored in Halo 4’s narrative, but it is not a huge problem with the two huge plot points being the awakening of the Forerunner legacy (which I accidentally called the ‘Forerunner awakening’ yesterday) and the relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana.
In terms of plot points left unexplained in Bungie’s games, there are definitely some that exist. How did the Master Chief return to Earth before Halo 2? What is Doctor Halsey’s importance to the universe (for those who have only played Reach)? How did the war with the Covenant start prior to Halo: Combat Evolved? While these are further expanded on in great detail in the novels, (with the specific issues above being explained in First Strike, The Fall of Reach, and Contact Harvest) they are not essential to understanding and appreciating the plots of these games. The are background details left vacant, and I will not argue if one states that Halo 2 is not a true sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved in some aspects, or that Halo Reach uses the expanded universe materials sloppily but does not necessarily require them for an appreciation of the game. The Didact is an essential part of Halo 4’s plot, and while the Terminals do an adequate job at explaining his backstory, imagine how amazing it would be if Greg Bear’s characterization for the character seeped in more seamlessly.
While the issue of connectivity between the expanded universe and mainstream media existed in Halo 4, it is a much bigger issue in Halo 5. While aspects of the game can be enjoyed, characters in Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris could have used stronger characterization within the game. I feel as if players will only truly appreciate the development and subtleties of characters such as Tanaka and Locke if they have prior knowledge of their backstories, as it weaves them together in stronger ways. Had the emotion of Tanaka’s survival on a glassed planet or Locke’s former team being ripped apart from the inside been portrayed more directly in the game without being too numbingly obvious, casual fans would have gotten more out of these characters and not put Tanaka in ‘Top 5 Worst Halo Characters.’ (Sigh.)
Required reading may not be essential to getting the gist of these characters, but those not versed in the expanded universe will not fully appreciate them as the strong characters that they are. Fireteam Osiris is a spectacular concept and each individual character is strong overall and connect in meaningful ways throughout the game, but leaving important details to more off-the-path lines and novels have been left to more meaningful interactions with these characters that can be more directly showcased to the casual audience.
One example is where Buck is in Halo 5 as opposed to Halo 3: ODST. New Blood explains how Buck went from point A (being ODST) to point B, (5) but it is referenced nowhere in Halo 5. The ultimate fate of Alpha-Nine is not touched on, and the ultimate fate of its members (minus Dare) are not touched on. In Halo 2, it can be inferred that Master Chief got back to Earth in the Longsword, (despite this being impossible) and some casuals just think Johnson died in the Legendary ending (which is not canon, if you did not know) and somehow came back to life back on Cairo Station. While a better explanation could have been offered in-game (and you should read First Strike anyways) I feel as if Buck’s transition from Halo 3: ODST to Halo 5 could have been greatly touched on in-game. It almost turns to Halo needing a ‘codex’ feature of sorts to catalogue its vast lore that cannot be crammed into exposition. Bits of lore like Blue Team’s history and what the Domain is (and not leaving casuals with the ‘Forerunner Domain’) could be easily spun up, and I am in all support of this idea.
In terms of Blue Team’s appearance, this is technically not their first game. Linda is present in a cryo pod in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and her and Fred are present in one of Halo 2 Anniversary’s Terminals. However, Halo 5 is their first mainstream appearance to the wider audience of the franchise. And I was incorrect in saying their place in the Halo canon is not reflected in Halo 5: it is definitely is, albeit in brief lines of dialogue. And while they appear in more than three missions, they are only playable in three. The most disappointing aspect to me is how much could have been done with these characters and how ripe they are in storytelling opportunity, and their introductory cutscene is a very effective one at showing their current relationships. It is perhaps a flaw that stems from Bungie’s reluctance to ever use or even mention these characters outside of a few loadout names in Halo Reach, as they are some of the most important characters in the Halo universe that have only appeared in the mainstream media so many years after their introduction.
And yes, Kelly is lame in Halo 5. Ghosts of Onyx’s amazing scene where she flips off an Onyx Sentinel oozes characterization that Halo 5 does not come close to imitating. Fred and Linda do not suffer too much in this regard, but at the same time, I feel as if 343i did not do enough with these characters to fully cement their place in Halo 5. This may be due to time, but I wish these characters were used in more dynamic ways. As 343i does seem to listen to our concerns, Halo 6 will hopefully alleviate my issues with Blue Team’s portrayal in Halo 5 that feels so much more stagnant than it should be for these characters that represent the accomplishment of Halo’s place beyond just games.
In terms of my issues with the ‘AI rebellion’ story commenced out of left-field, it perhaps does make a bit more sense when the term ‘history repeating’ is applied. I forgot about Mendicant Bias, and how the Primordial inflicted him with the Logic Plague. This convinced Mendicant that the Flood were the ultimate form of peace for all life, and he then turned on the Forerunner’s and caused great devastation in his wake. However, there was always a difference between humanity’s relationship with AI’s as opposed to the Forerunner’s. The latter treated more as tools than as individuals of sorts, while humans do treat them as people in a sort of way. (Despite their application as, well, tools) The mistreatment of AI’s and how they are not content with their situation of a seven-year lifespan has not been addressed at all in both the mainstream media and expanded universe and even goes against what we know. It does make sense for the offer of immortality to be appealing, but the defection of most human AI’s was not built up, unlike all the other plot-points that Halo 5 dropped into an endless void.
As well, the assertion that the Librarian planned for ‘the Created’ to claim the Mantle comes out of nowhere to justify their takeover of the galaxy.
Another issue is how 343i wants players to believe that Cortana is a grey character in Halo 5. She is in the wrong and doing more than something we simply disagree with. While I stated that she killed millions, the activation of the Guardians did cause potential collateral damage of immense proportions, and it is implied throughout the game and Dominion Splinter that she has complete control over the Warden Eternal and the Prometheans. This means that the people of Meridian were harmed by Cortana’s actions, and furthermore, in Rossbach’s World, she may have killed off the entire populace of Sydney when a Guardian used an EMP on a ship directly above the city. The EMP’s themselves could cut off significant infrastructure that could cause further harm with medical equipment shutting down, and plenty more than people rely on from a day-to-day basis. One frightening thing is that one of the AI’s that pledges their allegiance to Cortana in the last mission is used for education, and the potentially propaganda and indoctrination is something that can shake up the entire Halo universe as we know it.
While there are many flaws to Halo 5’s story, I do believe that 343i can salvage it without writing it out of existence. Having humanity being the underdogs again is interesting, and the totalitarian threat of the Created could make a nice blend of an Orwellian story in Halo’s climate. I do hope the solution to fighting them is a lot more complicated than ‘shutting down the Domain’ or something of a similar nature, and from this past year alone, 343i seems to be vastly improving the landscape of Halo’s lore and stories. Mythos and Fractures are excellent, and Halo Wars 2 is looking to be an excellent story both as a follow-up to the first game and an introduction into this uncertain phase of the universe.
And yes, Halo’s story is ultimately told through every form of media from its beginning to end, but the games are the forefront. They shape the Halo universe for many, and I only hope 343i weaves the story more effectively going forward.
As always, thank you for taking your time to read this, and I will be back later today. 🙂