The ubiquitous success of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001 was the video game surprise of the new century. How could Bungie possibly top the near-perfect game they created? That answer came just three years later on November 9th, 2004 when Halo 2 became the greatest gaming sequel in history.
What was going to happen next to Master Chief and Cortana? They had just successfully stopped the Covenant from activating the Halo ring and destroyed it in the process. We had very little information about the history of the Covenant and why they were doing what they were doing.
Halo 2 begins with a special look at the Covenant hierarchy and their military forces who were tasked with the defense of the original Halo ring. The Elite in command of those forces is stripped of his titles and branded a heretic for his failure. We haven’t even played one moment yet in this game except for the opening cut-scenes and there is already a gigantic difference. The Covenant aren’t bumbling, idiotic, and nonsensical communicators. They actually have conversations, are quite eloquent, and have a governmental structure.
We’re also introduced to a new species in the Covenant forces: Brutes. The Covenant leaders, the Prophets, promote the Brutes to their new protectors and essentially disregard the Elites in their military.
Then the film transitions into Master Chief being awarded for his bravery and acts during the first game. We also get a first-hand look at something we did not see at all in the first game: Earth. This parallel storytelling is already much different than the first game and forebodes something I doubt anyone expected in 2004.
The Covenant forces arrive at Earth in small numbers and a battle ensues. Humanity manages to fight them off and they warp into space to escape but are followed by a ship carrying, you guessed it, Master Chief. The Chief, Cortana, Miranda Keyes, and Avery Johnson track the Covenant fleet to another unimaginable terror: another Halo ring. Master Chief is sent onto the ring to kill the Prophet of Regret and stop the activation of the ring.
Meanwhile, the heretic-branded Elite is dubbed The Arbiter, a warrior capable of doing the Prophets bidding. The Covenant Prophets are among the highest-ranking officials in the species and have a history of using The Arbiters as a means to their own evil agenda. This specific Arbiter was sent away to destroy a group of separatists who’ve learned the terrible truth of the Prophets plan: The Great Journey. This is where we get the first big surprise: playing the parallel storyline and actually fighting as The Arbiter!
According to the Prophets, The Great Journey is the activation of the Halo rings to create pure salvation and deliverance. The discovered truth: the activation of the rings will kill all sentient life in the galaxy. The original plan of the ring’s creators: the Forerunners. Why did the Forerunners create these massive weapons of mass destruction? To destroy their enemy: The Flood. The Prophets have massively misinterpreted the purpose of the Halo rings.
After the Arbiter wins the war against the heretic separatists, he is sent to the new Halo ring to find the index in order for them to activate the ring. While he is doing that, Master Chief is already on the ring causing havoc for the Covenant forces. The two end up crossing paths and simultaneously learn the truth of the Prophet’s plans.
The next biggest shock of the game comes in the discovery of Gravemind: the “brain” of The Flood. He informs Master Chief and The Arbiter of the lies told by the Prophets and sets them on a path to work together in order to stop the destruction.
The rest of the game is spent stopping the Brutes from activating the Halo installation and tracking down the Prophets to kill them. The Arbiter successfully stops Tartarus, the Brute captain, from activating the Halo while Master Chief is fighting hard to track down the remaining prophets and battling The Flood.
The other tough and brutal, pun intended, aspect of the latter half of this game was fighting the Brutes. Once damaged enough, the Brutes would shed their armor and go into berserk mode. They move quickly and are extremely strong. On the terrifying legendary difficulty, these missions are some of the hardest in the entire series.
The Biggest Shock and Emotional Twist Ending
In order for Master Chief to locate the Prophets and have access to the Covenant ship he’s aboard, he uploads Cortana into the mainframe. In case they failed, Cortana’s plan is to destroy the Covenant ship therefore destroying the ring. She stays behind inside the ship and Master Chief is forced to follow the Prophet’s ship back to Earth.
The game ends with the biggest and most emotional twist: Cortana is left isolated and a giant Covenant mothership is headed straight for Earth with Master Chief aboard. This ship is on a path to find the Ark on Earth which will give the Prophets access to fire all of the rings simultaneously and result in extinguishing life everywhere. As a 14-year-old kid, waiting to find out what comes next was the longest wait of my entire young life.
The superb lan-connectivity of the original Halo was tough to top. How did Bungie do it? They created online multiplayer. This was a huge step forward in online gaming and they did it extremely well. The many different maps were astounding and they each had individual personalities.
In certain maps such as Lockout in the picture shown above, it was much more prudent to use close-quarter combat. Most Halo fans can instantly recognize that photo as the map that truly tested friendships everywhere.
In other maps, you better watch out for long-range snipers and vehicles trying to run you over. The multiplayer in this game defined an entire generation of gamers and laid down a solid foundation for future multiplayer phenomena such as Call of Duty and Destiny.
Dual-Wielding and Weapons
A big surprise in both the campaign and multiplayer was the ability to hold and fire a gun in each hand simultaneously; otherwise known as dual-wielding. It’s discovered very early on in the campaign and it’s even more useful in a tough multiplayer match when facing quality opponents.
There are two different ways to fire these weapons: simultaneous fire for a quick kill or individual fire for continuous damage. In the campaign, it’s more likely you’ll use an overbearing amount of firing to get through the tough missions. In the multiplayer though, this is a very poor strategy unless you’re close to a victory.
One of the things that Halo 2‘s multiplayer created was a legitimate need to work as a team. If you run out of ammo or your weapon overheats while fighting multiple enemies, then it’s near impossible to survive. The individual firing technique was born to give players a continuous flow of fire that led to dominating lesser teams.
There were also several weapon additions to this game that were very surprising. Firstly, where was the Assault Rifle from Halo: CE? Bungie removed it and created the three-round-burst Battle Rifle. This rifle had a deadly three-round shot and a scope for longer-range shooting. The other big addition to this sequel was the Energy Sword!
In the first game, it was terrifying to fight a battle and then see an invisible enemy charging at you with a bright Energy Sword that you could not pick up. They changed that in this game and it made close-quarter fighting so much more exciting.
Were you one of the lucky ones to experience this game when it debuted? There are so many things about this phenomenal game that make it great. Is there a crucial detail I missed that made you love this game just as I do? Let us know on Twitter and let’s talk about it!