Navigating the Halo Universe

Master Chief’s next adventure is nearly upon us

December 8th marks the arrival of Halo: Infinite, and Halo fans new and old across the world are anticipating the biggest adventure to date. Some are excited for the campaign, to dive into Zeta Halo and take the fight to the Banished as series hero, Master Chief. Others are excited for multiplayer, for endless matches of Slayer and Big Team Battle long into the night with their friends. Many are excited for both, equally: for that special blend of incredible storytelling and engaging multiplayer that makes Halo so special to so many of us.

Halo is now 20 years old. For many fans, Halo: Infinite represents another adventure in a science fiction setting we’ve come to cherish and adore. Personally, it’s my favorite sci-fi setting of all time, beating out the likes of Star Wars. But if Infinite marks your first foray into the series, or perhaps over the years you simply lost touch with the story beats, it can be difficult to know where to begin, and it can be overwhelming if you’re new to the series entirely. With Halo: Infinite launching on both Xbox and PC with free to play multiplayer, the likelihood of a lot of Halo first-timers being around is high. I’m going to help you navigate the Halo universe and be as prepared for Halo: Infinite as you want to be.

Halo is, to put it lightly, massive. Its universe is comprised of video games, novels, comic books, graphic novels, film, animation, and more over the last two decades. To help condense it all and know where to begin, we’re going to split this into two sections: an overview, where we look at all the material available to consume, and a recommended outline, where we look at what media I think is best to experience to prepare for Infinite and beyond.

Overview of Halo Media

The Games

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001): The game that started it all 20 years ago. Halo: Combat Evolved tells us the story of the Master Chief, a super soldier living in the 26th century. Humanity is at war with a vicious group of allied alien races known as The Covenant. That war changes when Master Chief and the crew of the UNSC Pillar of Autumn locate an ancient alien ringworld known as Halo. The game centers around the conflict between Master Chief and the Covenant to uncover the mysteries of Halo.

Halo 2 (2004): The direct sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved sees the Covenant taking the fight right to our doorstep. The Master Chief must defend Earth from the alien threat and stop the Covenant from destroying humanity.

Halo 3 (2007): The direct sequel to Halo 2, and the final piece of the original Halo trilogy. As the games tagline suggests, Master Chief is finally preparing to finish the fight between humanity and the ruthless Covenant.

Halo Wars (2009): The first non-mainline Halo game, Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game that takes place 27 years before Halo: Combat Evolved. It tells the story of the UNSC Spirit of Fire and her crew: Captain James Cutter, Professor Anders, Sergeant John Forge, and Serina, the ship’s onboard AI.

Halo 3: ODST (2009): The series first expansion pack, Halo 3: ODST runs in the Halo 3 engine and tells the story of a group of marines attempting to survive the aftermath of a massive explosion in New Mombasa, Africa. Though it is an expansion pack, it is worth noting the game’s events take place during Halo 2.

Halo: Reach (2010): The prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved. Telling the story of Noble Team, a group of Spartans is charged with defending the planet Reach against Covenant invasion. This takes place mere hours before Combat Evolved.

Halo 4 (2012): The direct sequel to Halo 3, and the first mainline game to come after the original trilogy. Following the aftermath of Halo 3, Master Chief finds himself drifting through space, coming into contact with a mysterious planet. The battle to reconnect with the UNSC and find a way home begins.

Halo: Spartan Assault (2013): A twin-stick shooter following Spartan Sarah Palmer, taking place between Halo 3 and Halo 4.

Halo: Spartan Strike (2015): A second twin-stick shooter that sees an unnamed Spartan taking on combat simulations from Halo 2 and Halo 4.

Halo 5: Guardians (2015): The direct sequel to Halo 4, and the direct prequel to the upcoming Halo: Infinite. Jameson Locke, ONI assassin turned Spartan, is searching for Master Chief ever since he went absent without leave.

Halo Wars 2 (2017): The direct sequel to the RTS Halo Wars, the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire have found themselves in a new part of space, facing war against a new threat: the Banished, a Covenant splinter faction that has risen to extreme power.

Halo: Fireteam Raven (2018): An arcade game experience that can be played wherever you can track down a cabinet. It takes place during Halo: Combat Evolved and tells the story of a group of Marines trapped on Halo during the original conflict.

The Books

There are dozens of books that expand the Halo universe. Some deal with concepts and characters shown in the games; others are their own self contained stories taking place in difference parts of this wondrous setting. (Worth noting that even by this point, this image provided by Alex ‘Haruspis’ is a bit outdated; there’s more! Also, more on Haruspis at the end of this article.)

  • The Original Quadrilogy: Fall of Reach, The Flood, First Strike, Ghosts of Onyx
    The original four Halo novels.
  • Grey Team Series: The Cole Protocol, Envoy
    Stories of Spartan Grey Team and the backstory for Captain Jacob Keyes.
  • The Forerunner Saga: Cryptum, Primordium, Silentium
    The origin story of the Halos and those who built them, taking place over 100,000 years ago.
  • The Kilo-Five Trilogy: Grasslands, The Thursday War, Mortal Dictata
    A series depicting the events between Halo 3 and Halo 4 in a post Human-Covenant war era.
  • The Alpha Nine Series: New Blood, Bad Blood
    Stories of the ODST Team Alpha Nine and Halo series favorite, Edward Buck.
  • The Ferrets Series: Last Night, Retribution, Divine Wind
    Detective stories involving Blue Team and the Office of Naval Intelligence.
  • Rion Forge & Ace of Spades Series: Smoke and Shadow, Renegades, Point of Light
    A series of books following Rion Forge on a journey to find her father on board the UNSC Spirit of Fire.
  • A Master Chief Story: Silent Storm, Oblivion, Shadows of Reach
    Stories specifically involving the Master Chief and Blue Team.
  • Battle Born: A Halo Young Adult Series: Battle Born, Meridian Divide
    The stories of young kids trying to survive the Battle of Meridian.
  • Individual Novels: Contact Harvest, Broken Circle, Hunters in the Dark, Legacy of Onyx, The Rubicon Protocol
  • Individual Novellas: Saint’s Testimony, Shadow of Intent
  • Anthologies: Evolutions: Essential Tales of the Halo Universe, Fractions

The Comics

There are a half dozen different Halo comics spanning over 50 different issues.

  • Halo: Uprising (4 issues)
    Bridges the gap between Halo 2 and Halo 3.
  • Halo: Helljumper (5 issues)
    A set of stories about Alpha Nine; a group of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.
  • Halo: Bloodline (4 issues)
    Spartan Team Black is stranded and must make an uneasy alliance; set before Combat Evolved.
  • Halo: The Fall of Reach (12 issues)
    The comic adaptation of the “Fall of Reach” novel, of which there is also an animated movie.
  • Halo: Initiation (3 issues)
    The origin story of Spartan Sarah Palmer, who appears in Halo: Spartan Assault, Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.
  • Halo: Escalation (4 volumes, 24 issues)
    A series of comics depicting events taking place after Halo 4 and the state of the galaxy afterwards. (Sidenote: The real ending to Halo 4 is also in these comics. More on this in the Recommended Outline.)

The Graphic Novels

  • The Halo Graphic Novel
  • Halo: Tales From Slipspace

The Shows & Movies

Excluding the up and coming Halo TV show, there are already several Halo animated and film projects that exist. While they aren’t super high budget projects, they have a certain Halo charm about them and are easy to consume. Halo: Legends is the only one that is more removed from the mainline Halo story, but it is still extremely worth watching. It’s seven animated shorts together in one package that are both wonderful and in some cases pretty hilarious. (“Odd One Out”, shown below.)

  • Halo: Legends
    A collection of 7 short, animated films taking place in the Halo universe (except for Odd One Out; this is confirmed as non-canon. Still comical though.)
  • Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
    A movie depicting the life of Thomas Lasky and his early days in the UNSC prior to becoming Captain of the UNSC Infinity.
  • Halo: Nightfall
    A story about Halo 5: Guardians protagonist Jameson Locke prior to becoming a Spartan.
  • Halo: The Fall of Reach
    The animated adaptation of the “Fall of Reach” story; the origin of Master Chief and his fellow Spartan II’s.

The Recommended Outline

Okay, I know. I know. I am critically aware of two things:

  1. “Hey, check out these 34 books. They make the games so much better!” is not necessarily appealing.
  2. You may not have the time to devote to consuming even a fraction of my recommendations.

So it is critically important you remember this rule before we go any further:

When I tell you what books to read, what movies to watch, and what games to play, while I’d love for you to individually experience everything, I’m aware you may not want to, nor have the time. So at any point, it is absolutely acceptable, and even encouraged, for you to replace “watch this movie,” or “read this book,” or “play this game,” with read or watch a synopsis online.” That’s right. Cheat. Do whatever you want. I am only here to advise on the what, not on the how. Without further delay, here are my suggestions for not just preparing for Infinite, but getting into Halo as a whole.

Watch “Halo: The Fall of Reach”: The Fall of Reach is a critical story for understanding the series hero, Master Chief, and his closest friends on Blue Team, as well as fantastic insight into the human military presence in the Halo universe: the United Nations Space Command. While the novel adaptation is absolutely fantastic, the animated movie provides a far quicker avenue for experiencing the origin story of the Master Chief and his fellow Spartan super soldiers.

Read “The Forerunner Saga”: The only novel’s among all of them I deem story critical. These tell the story of the Forerunners: the ancient alien race that manufactured the Halo’s. Not only is it phenomenal insight into the games universe; the Forerunners and their history are playing a larger and larger role in the newer Halo games, including Halo: Infinite. Also, when it comes time to play Halo 4, you’ll thank me. Halo 4’s antagonist is so, so much better when you understand the events of this trilogy.

Play Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3: The original trilogy is what made the series what it is today. For their history as games, and for their history as a science fiction world, these are critical. Thanks to 2014’s Halo: The Master Chief Collection, all three games (along with Halo 4, Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST) are all available, gloriously remastered in one title, and it is undoubtedly the best way to experience them. (NOTE:  While Halo 3: ODST is not part of the required games to understand Halo: Infinite, it is worth nothing if you choose to play it, to play it after Halo 2, not after Halo 3. While ODST uses Halo 3’s engine, the events take place during Halo 2, making it far more impactful to play at that point.

Optional: Play Halo: Reach: While Halo: Reach is not critical to understanding Halo: Infinite, it’s a fantastic game. I wanted to note that it is very important (in my opinion) to play it after the original trilogy, not before. While it is a prequel, causing many to suggest it to be played first, it was developed after the original trilogy. As a result, Reach, for many, feels like one of the best Halo games to play from a design perspective. So playing Reach and trying to go back to Combat Evolved can really show the original’s age, and thus it’s why I recommend playing it after. (Besides, Reach is a stand alone story. It can be played and still make sense at literally any time.)

Play Halo Wars: Halo Wars 2 is the real target here; the events of Halo Wars 2 are extremely relevant to Halo: Infinite and introduce series enemies “The Banished” in a very exciting way. While the events of Halo Wars 1 aren’t as critical, playing it does help to relate to the characters more and have better context of the beginning of Halo Wars 2.

Watch Halo: Forward Unto Dawn: Halo: Forward Unto Dawn tells the origin story of Thomas Lasky, a senior naval officer in the UNSC. It’s fantastic insight into UNSC life, and it makes the relationship between Thomas Lasky and Master Chief more meaningful during Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.

Play Halo 4: The first game in an all new trilogy after the original. It’s an excellent Halo game and my personal favorite, but it is admittedly a little out of left field if you have not read or are not aware of the events of the Forerunner Saga novels.

Read Halo: Escalation Issue 8, 9, 10: The Halo: Escalation comic had a three part story arc consisting of issues #8, #9 and #10 called Halo: The Next 72 Hours. This immediately follows the events of Halo 4 and is, in my opinion, the true ending to that particular game.

Watch Halo: Nightfall: Halo: Nightfall tells the story of Jameson Locke prior to him being the protagonist of Halo 5: Guardians. Not everyone was a huge fan of Locke, partially because replacing Master Chief in the games for any amount of time is always contentious. But also because it felt like he came out of nowhere. Nightfall makes him more relatable and a more enjoyable protagonist.

Play Halo 5: Guardians: The direct sequel to Halo 4 and prequel to Halo: Infinite. Halo 5: Guardians is one of two games that will directly and immediately relate to Infinite, so it goes without saying this one is a must-experience.

Play Halo Wars 2: The second game in the RTS series, showing off the UNSC Spirit of Fire’s conflict with a new enemy: the Banished. The events of Halo Wars 2 are likely to be extremely relevant in Halo: Infinite as the Banished are also the main antagonists there as well. Therefore, I deem it the second of two games that immediately relate to Halo: Infinite, and it is essential to experience.

Halo is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it’s the most compelling science fiction universe I’ve ever come across, and I love nothing more than opening the doors for people and helping them love it even fractionally as much as I do. I hope I’ve done that today. If you’re feeling like you want some more in-depth direction than even what I’ve provided, I’ve got you covered there, too. Or rather, Haruspis does.

The image above of all the Halo novels was whipped up by Alex ‘Haruspis’: an avid Halo fan and Halo lore enthusiast. He has set up an incredible website, a treasure trove of Halo lore and extended universe explanation. Games. Books. All the forms of media. A terminology glossary. A universe scale timeline. You name it.

I encourage everyone, Halo fans new and old alike, to check out his wonderful project: PREVIOUSLY ON HALO.

Halo: Infinite arrives on December 8th. I hope I was able to instill some sense of direction on how to get ready for Master Chief’s latest adventure. As always, I welcome questions personally and can be reached on Twitter: @joeysisco.

Rest up, Spartans. I’ll see you all on December 8th.

By Joey ST

Father. Husband. Son. Friend. Gamer. Writer. Cook. Hailing from Eastern Canada, the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, I've spent my entire love loving video games. In my adult years my horizons expanded to writing and cooking; now I spend my days as a family man enjoying my passions and enjoying life.

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