“Halo 2” is another of the “Halo Series” I played back in High School but didn’t have the chance to beat until I bought the “Master Chief Collection” when it came out for PC. This game improves on the gameplay from the first game and adds a ton of lore (a lot of which is to explain the events of the first game) and overall it is good. The things that bring it down are some of the cliche story elements, some of the added story from “Halo 5” and the fact that it is clearly the middle of a Trilogy storywise so the ending isn’t as complete as it could be. Either way, if you enjoyed the first game and are invested in the lore like me this one is well worth your time.
The game was Published by Microsoft Studios and developed by Bungie, Blur Studio and Certain Affinity.
The story follows Master Chief who has returned to Earth when the Prophet of Regret of the Covenant attacks Earth. At the same time Thel ‘Vadam the Elite Commander who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo is made into the Arbiter as he begins to learn more about the internal politics of the Covenant and the truth behind the faith they follow.
The Cinematics – Blur Studio has created some of the best looking cinematics I have seen in any game. The Anniversary edition gives us movie level quality between missions and crafts some fantastic drama that fully captures the unique design of the Covenant species, the epicness of the ships and the personalities within the individual characters on screen.
The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack once again captures the epic nature of the events you are taking place in. This time it does some in a hard rock fashion, which I thought would be distracting but still work really well and gave an apocalyptic feel to some of the scenes. The sounds from Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori from the original game with Kazuma Jinnouchi using it in the new edition is simply handled beautifully.
The Gameplay – The gameplay does nothing but improve upon the first game. Vehicles are easier and actually fun to control. You can dual wield guns and you have the energy sword that is absolutely deadly, fantastic and fun.
The Covenant – The Covenant story is the most compelling part of “Halo 2.” Within the game we get to see the power struggle between the Prophets (Regret attacks Earth early in order to bring about the Great Journey and become a God) ends in failure and Truth lets Mercy be devoured by the Flood on their Capital of High Charity when the Flood invade. He also starts the Civil War by blaming the Elite’s for Regret’s death and being a major reason for the Brutes ascending to Honor Guards. This Civil War is what dominates the narrative and the historical records we get from the Terminals are fascinating as the Prophets go into how they came to dominate different species and brought them into the Covenant.
Tartarus and the Brutes -Tartarus and the Brutes are the new antagonist in the game as we see them become the new Honor Guard in the Covenant. They are large, gorilla-like aliens that take a lot of hits and can go into Berserk mode when enraged. Their leader Tartarus is clever too as he uses the Arbiter to get Guilty Spark to the Prophets and nearly succeeds in achieving Truth’s goals. They are a fantastic threat and were really fun to fight. After “Halo Wars 2” and the Banished faction it was really cool to see their origin in the Covenant and the Brute’s rise to power in this game.
The Prophets – The Prophets are one of the fascinating antagonists of the game. Regret acts quickly and ends up defeated by Master Chief and consumed by Gravemind and the Flood. Mercy is attempting to keep Harmony among the different species that make up the Covenant and Truth is ego and power and only sees others as means to an end. In the end he outmaneuvers the others, causes a Covenant Civil War and is on his way to Earth to activate the Ark and bring about “The Great Journey” which he believes will bring about his ascension to Godhood. This game made me appreciate the Prophets as antagonists.
Gravemind and the Flood – Gravemind is this lovecraftian horror made up of all the minds it has consumed. It is ancient and extremely intelligent as it uses Master Chief and the Arbiter as weapons against High Charity to weaken it’s defenses enough for it to invade. At the end of the game he has control over Cortana as well giving him control of the Forerunner technology, the Covenant (The Prophet Regret and probably Mercy at this point) and Cortana for humanity. It is extremely creepy and scary and the design for this being is nightmare fuel.
Attack on High Charity – One of the funnest parts of the game is the Attack on High Charity. Gravemind warps the two of them to the Capitol City of the Covenant as they seek to stop Tartarus from activating the Halo Ring and the Prophet of Truth from reaching the Ark. Tartarus is stopped but the Prophet of Truth escapes and in the chaos and destabilization of the Capitol City the Flood take hold and you witness their consuming of the installation over the course of both missions. It is horrifying as you witness a Civil War in real time when Truth blames the Elites for Regret’s death and call for their annihilation and of course the horror as the Flood arrive and consume. This whole segment is really fun to play and keeps the stakes high in a way the original game kept consistent throughout.
Betrayals – This is a game full of betrayals. Regret betrays Truth and Mercy when he attacks earth Early who in turn betray him. Tartarus and the Prophets betray the Arbiter have her gets them Guilty Spark and the Prophets betrays the Elites. On top of this Gravemind uses and betrays the Arbiter and Master Chief, though I doubt they ever trusted the creature at any point.
Thel ‘Vadam the Arbiter – Keith David is absolutely amazing voice the Arbiter Thel ‘Vadam. Vadam was the Elite who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo in the first game and is punished for it, being made the Arbiter which the Covenant have turned into their enforcer to send on impossible missions. His arc is realizing that all he learned about was a lie and in turn becomes a leader among his people when the Covenant turns on them. He is also the first to reach out to humanity after he defeats Tartarus and prevents the newly discovered Halo from being activated. This a character with self-hatred who finds his dignity once more and never stops fighting or caring about his people.
Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief and Cortana are at the point where they can nearly predict what the other will do. They are the perfect fighting team so this game works hard to seperate them as in the end the only way to save the world is for Master Chief to get onto the Prophet of Truth’s ship while Cortana stays behind on the Covenant homeworld of High Charity as it is consumed by the Flood and she is captured by Gravemind.
Sargent Avery Johnson and Commander Miranda Keyes – Sargent Johnson and Commander Keyes are alright. Sargent Johnson has the “devil may care’ attitude and somehow survived the first game (2 only addresses as classified, which is lazy). Commander Keyes’s father Captain Keyes is the Captain consumed by the Flood in the first game and here she carries on his legacy in the fight against the Flood and Covenant. Like Cortana and Master Chief they never get out of the tropes but they were compelling enough to keep me involved.
Damsels to be Saved – Commander Avery is captured by the Brute leader Tartarus and it is up to Master Chief and Sargent Johnson to save her. Cortana is captured by Gravemind at the end of the game too. This is a shame as before this both characters have a lot of agency and drive the action. It is only turned around at the end the Bowser equivalents of the game capture them.
A Story Caught in the Middle of a Series – One of the biggest things that goes against the narrative and wonderful story we are given is the fact that it ends on a Cliffhanger so things can be concluded in “Halo 3.” Gravemind has captured Cortana and High Charity, The Prophet of Truth is going to the Ark on Earth (with Master Chief on board) and plans to activate the Halos to end the Universe and the Arbiter teams up with Johnson and Keyes. These are huge hanging threads which leaves the game feeling incomplete, unlike the first “Halo.”
The Added Content from “Halo 5” – There is an added scene at the beginning of the Arbiter talking to new Spartan who is hunting for Master Chief and it sets up the game as him recounting the story. I wasn’t a big fan of this as it took away of the stakes of the narrative of any major character being at risk. At this point the Arbiter and Master Chief are both confirmed alive at the beginning of the game. This hurt the stakes immediately.
Master Chief Rides a Bomb – Master Chief becomes God Level at this point and I was no longer afraid of him ever being truly at risk. He rode a disarmed bomb and destoryed a Covenant carrier and landed safely on an UNSC. The first “Halo” had nothing like this so within the game it still felt like Master Chief could get hurt or experience pain. After this act of insanity that he walks away from untouched he ceased having any kind of vulnerability.
The greatest parts of this game are the stories that come out of the Covenant. The Civil War that arises where we have Arbiter and the Elites with Hunters and Grunts on their side facing against the Prophets, Brutes, Jackals and Drones. The politics and how compalling Thel ‘Vadam’s arc is is what made the story work. The human story when Master Chief isn’t doing the impossible is fine but it never elevates itself. The characters are never as complex as the heroes and villains that make up the races of the Covenant and that is why I can’t rate the game higher. As an experience it is very well done and I still highly recommend it, especially the “Anniversary Edition.” This is a beautiful, fun and compelling game and I look forward to when “Halo 3” is released on PC within the “Mater Chief Collection.”
Final Score: 8.6 / 10 The human story never reaches the height of the Covenant story and the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger setting up “Halo 3” and the Trilogy of the war against the Covenant brings it down from feeling complete and from being rated higher.