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The best missions from the first three Halo games.

By Adrian St.Onge on February 16, 2023

Bungie released the original Halo game on Microsoft’s original Xbox in 2001. Since then, over twelve games have been released across every iteration of Microsoft’s console. Halo revolutionized the first-person shooter genre. The series meshed together a powerful multiplayer mode with the ability for fans to create maps and game modes with Forge Mode. The games have been the backbone for graphic novels, full-length novels, feature films and, most recently, a television series produced by Paramount Plus. The community is as healthy as ever, with fans cosplaying at various conventions and major companies such as Rooster Teeth having built a legacy on the game.

First-person shooter-style games are notorious for having issues. Call of Duty has solid game modes, such as Zombies, but has yet to have a universally acclaimed campaign since 2020’s Cold War. While Cold War is an improvement, the franchise has yet to return to its former mid-2000s-early 2010s glory. Clearly, Call of Duty campaigns have taken a backseat to multiplayer modes.

Battlefield is known for having larger-than-life multiplayer modes but once again suffers in the campaign department. Newer Battlefield titles are once again far removed from its Battlefield 3 heights. Fallout has an excellent campaign but no multiplayer. Destiny is littered with microtransactions, and the campaign left a lot to be desired. Left 4 Dead is one of the best zombie franchises of all time but is well removed from its 2011 release. Titanfall 2 might be the closest we’ve had in a complete package game, but it fell short of expectations.

So what is it that makes Halo so unique? Is it the groundbreaking game modes? Is it the campaigns that can be tailored to anyone’s playstyle? Is it a thriving community? The answer to all of these questions is ‘yes.’ I am a huge Halo fanatic, as I’ve been playing since my early teens, but all of my gaming friends have at least one Halo game in their top 10 favourite games. Some, such as myself, probably have as many as three. But what is it about the campaigns that are so compelling and replayable? This blog will highlight the best campaign missions from the first three Halo games.

A quick mention here: I will be talking about various difficulties of the levels for those who are less intimately familiar with Halo than I am. Legendary is the hardest difficulty in any Halo game. If you’re a glutton for punishment, such as myself, I might talk about “LASO” which stands for “Legendary, All Skulls On”. In Halo, skulls are modifiers that change how the game is played, usually to the players’ detriment. Some are fun, like “Grunt Birthday Party” where a headshot on a grunt is celebrated with confetti. Some are sadistic, such as “Iron”, where a player’s death restarts the level on solo or to your last checkpoint in co-op. There’s not a lot in gaming that feels worse than finally getting over a small hurdle and dying at the last second, losing all that progress.

So yeah, fun stuff. Buckle up, Spartan; you’re in for a ride.

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

Originally released on Xbox, this is my favourite video game of all time. The good levels are excellent and even the “bad” levels do something innovative or further the plot. Here are my highlights.

High Point: The Pillar of Autumn
Low Point: 343 Guilty Spark

The Pillar of Autumn: This is where it all began. Starting on the spaceship The Pillar of Autumn, you play as Master Chief and have but one task: escape. There’s something about this level that screams replayability. It’s a speedrunner’s dream. I am fond of this level because it’s the first time you get to step into the helmet of a super soldier. Yes, you’re killing aliens for reasons that are not yet apparent. Yes, Captain Keyes has some campy dialogue. But you are immediately introduced to the Installation and thrown into battle. This is how a video game should start.

The Silent Cartographer: Ask me two years ago, and I probably would’ve put on The Truth and Reconciliation next, but unfortunately, the literal hundreds of hours of hell that was T and R’s LASO run left a pretty sour taste in my mouth. So I will go to happier times, on the beach. The Silent Cartographer starts on a beachhead where you’re trying to discover why this mysterious ring exists. Many evenings were spent exploring underground structures and roaming the beach with my brother and, later, my best friend. My first real video game memory came on this level: I had died in battle, and the job of killing two Hunters, arguably the strongest enemy in the games, fell on my brother’s shoulders. Out of ammo, he resorted to melee attacks. He took down the giant alien with one jump and a lucky punch. We screamed in victory… and were promptly grounded by our parents for playing video games past our bedtime. That rush is impossible to replicate. This choice is admittedly driven by nostalgia but offers a lot in furthering the game’s plot and is another speedrunner’s dream.

The Library: This is my first unconventional pick. Most fans of the series hate this level, and it feels like a chore for them to play. I am on the contrarian side. I love the length and challenge that the level presents. Many fans love the sprint in Halo games, where this is very much a marathon. In LASO runs, every grenade jump, every missed turn, every “not hiding in the corner” could be your last and is just another reminder that this level means business. The checkpoints are few and far between. This level is about precision and knowing when to strike. While not nearly as difficult as Truth and Reconciliation, this is the first challenging level you can celebrate completing instead of saying, “gosh, finally”.

The Maw: The last level of our first Halo game. This level had everything: the parasitic Flood, lots of explosions and a timed driving sequence. The action is non-stop and is an adrenaline rush throughout. Even some somewhat glitchy reactors can’t hinder the sheer panic at the end of the level when you have literal seconds to spare as you run up the ship’s bay doors. Where The Pillar of Autumn started us strong, blowing her up on The Maw showed us how to end.

Halo 2 (2004)

Originally released on Xbox, this is a mixed bag for me. Growing up, I was not too fond of this game. The civil war plot went above my head. Playing as the alien Arbiter while my brother played as Master Chief wasn’t fun. The weapons had less power, grenades did less, and the added races to the Covenant armada did not resonate well with me. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I sat down and played the remastered game, that I realized how good it is. It very quickly became my second favourite iteration, behind only the original. I have never beaten Halo 2 on LASO, mainly because I am chicken, and frankly, my Halo pal and I barely made it out of our Legendary run.

High Point: Gravemind
Low Point: Gravemind

OutskirtsCairo Station, the first level in Halo 2, introduces the new enemies and is responsible for one of the series’ best quotes. But it’s Outskirts that resonates with me. The cutscenes at the end of Cairo and the beginning of Outskirts show the devastation the fight with the Covenant is taking on Earth. The battle is in your backyard; how do you respond? Cairo Station to Outskirts to Metropolis might be the best 1-2-3 punch in the franchise, but Outskirts is the first to introduce us to the home we’re defending.

The Oracle: This is not when we are introduced to our secondary protagonist, as that happens in the previous level, but this level is so impactful for several reasons. First, it’s the first of its kind that introduces us to flying vehicles. Second, we get a behind-the-scenes look that the Prophets, the Covenant’s religious leaders, are only some of what they shaped up to be. Third, while we kill a “heretic”, we see the true nature of the Halo installations. This level brings to light the in-fighting occurring within Covenant ranks, which becomes a central focus for the remainder of the games.

Regret: Who doesn’t like punching a fanatical, alien, religious figure leading his people to inevitable extinction because of ignorance to death? The breathtaking visuals aside, this is the first time you go one-on-one against someone who willingly enables descent and shows that Chief is vulnerable. Who knew a 280-pound super-soldier in mainly metal armouring couldn’t swim? The more you know.

Gravemind: This level still keeps me up at night. Honestly, it is haunting. I want to exclude it from this list, but it is necessary to the game’s lore. It’s the first time you meet face-to-face with a sentient Flood parasite. Master Chief, a hated member of Covenant nightmares, and the Arbiter, a Covenant faithful going through a moral and spiritual crisis, meet for the first time. The meeting is tense, and the Gravemind makes a point of relating their needs together. They need to find the Sacred Icon. We learned in Halo: CE’s Two Betrayals that the Oracle plans to detonate the ring, killing all sentient life and effectively starving the Gravemind. That brings us back to the modern day. The Gravemind is fighting for its survival, ironically the same survival as our protagonists. Gravemind is the most difficult level in any Halo game, bar none. The lack of ammunition is insane, and it’s waves and waves of never-ending, overpowered enemies. But the storytelling is so good. The Gravemind’s quote sums this series up perfectly: “Fate had us meet as foes, but this ring will make us brothers.” Shivers.

Halo 3 (2007)

Originally released on Xbox 360. A lot of fans have this as their favourite Halo game. I have a somewhat controversial opinion on Halo 3: The campaign is okay but highly overrated. That said, it’s a good game, just not my cup of tea. The Cortana memory flashes take me out of the plot every time. Luckily, we didn’t see that before or since.

High Point: Halo
Low Point: Every time Cortana show’s up, disrupting your game.

Floodgate: It takes a while for me, but this is the first mission in Halo 3 that is challenging. After blowing up an outpost at the end of the previous mission, you are greeted by the all too familiar Flood. They are harder to kill than previous iterations, but this makes for compelling storytelling as you try to escape the wasteland. There isn’t much else to say.

The Ark: This level is long. Way too long. It would be better served as two separate levels. But here we are. There are two major acts: first, you have to fight your way to the dropship where they so kindly drop off heavy armament in the form of Scorpion tanks, then you have to try and fight your way through to find another cartographer, but this time there’s both Covenant and Flood. Hurray! This level drags on at specific points, but the highlights of blowing up Ghosts with tanks is just too good to pass up.

Cortana: Now we move on to the ship High Charity which Flood has overrun. We need to rescue Cortana, who stayed behind at the end of Halo 2, but we are fighting a corrupted AI in Cortana, a very angry Gravemind, and a ton of Flood. This would be a more substantial level were it not such a maze and easy to get lost in, but this level is powerful on the storytelling standpoint. Gravemind knows they are going to lose. Cortana is starting to go rampant. We need to get going.

Halo: This is Halo 3‘s version of The Maw. First, you need to fight your way through some, you guessed it, Flood. Then, you need to blow up the ring before it’s fully charged, killing the Gravemind but not all sentient life. Afterward, you deal with a protective 343 Guilty Spark who has been plaguing you throughout your journey after he kills a beloved character. Then comes the time for the escape. As you drive your Warthog over a platform, the floor begins to fall from underneath you. No time to think; drive and pray that you make the right turns. This is as good as it gets on Halo 3.



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