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    What Happened to Halo?

    What has gone wrong with Xbox's first mascot?

    The History of Xbox is intrinsically linked to the History of Halo. Every single Xbox console over the last twenty-two years has had a flagship Halo game as its main selling point. This began with Combat Evolved in 2001 on the original Xbox and has continued with Halo Infinite, which was released twenty years later on the Xbox Series X|S.

    However, since 343 took over the franchise in 2011, the quality of Halo games has slowly deteriorated over time. Additionally, as of the most recent Xbox Showcase, Halo was absent at the main conference and the extended showcase. So why? Why has the franchise that put Xbox on the map been neglected so much in the last few years? What happened to the Halo franchise that has caused it to have so little support from Xbox?

    History

    The cover art for Halo Combat Evolved

    Halo Combat Evolved was released alongside the original Xbox in November 2001. The game was developed by the Washington-based studio Bungie. Before Halo, the company worked on other first-person games like Marathon exclusively for Apple/Mac products. Halo was a new venture for the company. Despite Bungie’s inexperience, they succeeded at crafting their first-ever console experience.

    Halo was a massive hit, reaching over six million sales. That success continued, with Halo 2 getting two million more copies sold and Halo 3 selling five million copies alone. Halo is by far the most beloved IP that Microsoft has under its belt. This is partly because of its intriguing story, iconic soundtrack, and simple yet complex gameplay.

    Each level was styled like a sandbox filled with possibilities and variety. You could treat it like other classic first-person shooters like Doom, or you can make a point to destroy every vehicle by using only rocket launchers for the entire mission. This, combined with local multiplayer, LAN play, and online features as standard, made Halo an unmatched experience and arguably the only reason to buy an Xbox from 2000-2010.

    In 2007, Bungie officially split from Microsoft. There is not much concrete information about why they broke, but the consensus is that Bungie wanted to stop making Halo. They wanted to make new games like Destiny and more. They’d still work on other Halo games, such as Halo 3 ODST and Halo Reach. After the latter, though, Bungie was officially done with the franchise.

    343 Industries

    Key Art for Halo Infinite

    From there, the Halo franchise was handed off to 343 Industries. The company comprised many new talents and people who had worked on the Halo franchise for years. In theory, it seemed like a perfect match. However, this is where the issues started. Their first effort was Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary. On the surface, this was an incredibly faithful remake of a ten-year-old game. It controlled similarly to Halo Reach and implemented the still unique feature of switching between original and remake graphics with just a button.

    There was one minor issue. The updated graphics were, for lack of a better word, far too bright. The atmosphere that Halo Combat Evolved was known for became diluted through more glowing lights that ruined some of the more terrifying levels, such as ‘343 Guilty Spark’. At the end of the day, though, these were nitpicks. Plus, there was always the option to switch back to the original graphics.

    A year later, Halo 4 was released. This, too, was a controversial release. Mainly, the gameplay was far removed from traditional Halo gameplay. They doubled down on armor abilities, added new vehicles in the form of giant mechs, and made the gunplay far too similar to something like Call of Duty. Sure, the game was fun, but it wasn’t Halo in any meaningful way. 343’s efforts were hindered, too, by a quote from director Frank O’Connor who said they specifically hired people “who hated Halo.”

    Halo 5 and Halo Infinite

    Halo Infinite

    Things only grew worse with the release of Halo 5: Guardians. Every problem that people had with Halo 4 was only exemplified. The movement options and gunplay were more derivative of franchises like Call of Duty and Titanfall. The story went in a direction that no one was fond of, turning the beloved series character, Cortana, into a villain and introducing series newcomers that no one particularly cared about. They even cut out split-screen in both co-op and multiplayer.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. Between Halo 4 and Halo 5, a Halo 1, 2, 3, and 4 collection was released with broken multiplayer. They released a Halo game exclusively for mobile devices that nobody cared for and traded out player communication and honesty for microtransactions and loot boxes.

    By the time Halo Infinite was released, 343 had no choice but to try and course correct. For a while, it seemed practical. The gameplay and multiplayer felt more like traditional Halo. The story was in-depth and filled with more beloved characters and exciting villains than before. The multiplayer was even completely free.

    However, in recent years, this has seemed to be false. Primary content was excluded upon launch, such as map creator mode ‘Forge’ and the beloved horde mode ‘Infection.’ Seasonal updates have been few and far between. There was a year wait between Seasons 2 and 3. Content such as co-op couch multiplayer was cut entirely. In interviews, they talked about how Halo Infinite would serve as a platform for the next ten years of Halo. This now seems invalid, as even the story ended abruptly, and fans were okay with that because there was the promise of more updates later.

    So, What Now?

    Halo Infinite Season 4 Infection

    Phil Spencer, now head of Xbox, once stated, “If we lose our way with Halo, we lose our way with Xbox.” I want to say that the franchise is still going strong, but it’s not. In the last few years, several key developers have left 343. These include story writer Joseph Staten as well as creative director Bonnie Ross. In recent updates, series staples ‘Infection’ and co-op were finally readded into the game. Additionally, Halo wasn’t mentioned a single time at the recent Xbox Showcase.

    The future of Halo is currently uncertain. While there were rumors about a battle royale mode being added, there is no information about it. There’s no news about any upcoming expansion, DLC, or sequel. The only updates we have to look forward to are Seasonal updates, with the next one set to arrive on June 22. However, even those are few and far between. Even Bungie have left Halo behind, with their next game set to be a brand-new entry in the Marathon franchise.

    So to answer the question of what has happened to Halo, it has been neglected by all parties involved. Few can deny that the franchise is currently on the back burner for not just 343 Industries but Microsoft as well. Xbox is now focusing on games like Starfield and other products from Bethesda and Activision. That is a remarkably depressing reality for a franchise that defined the Xbox in the same way that Super Mario Bros. defined Nintendo and Crash Bandicoot defined the PlayStation 1.

    Saras Rajpal
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras is a passionate creative writer, with a love for immersive sims, superhero games, and Persona. He is currently writing a thesis about Persona 5 and is pursuing a career as a full-time writer.

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