An ad airs on TV for a gourmet cheeseburger with Gouda for $15 at a restaurant. If I walk into said restaurant I’m going to expect to get a cheeseburger with Gouda for $15. Not a cheeseburger with Swiss for $12, not a chicken burger with Gouda for $15, but a cheeseburger with Gouda for $15. That’s how advertising works. You say I can get something and I expect to get it.
Halo 5 launched in late October of 2015 after months of heavy advertising. The hype train was going full steam - partly because it’s Halo, but partly because of the story that had been advertised to us. Rogue Master Chief hunted by mysterious ONI Agent Locke. For the better part of a year leading up to the launch of the game this is what we were told. This is what we expected. This is not what we got.
My first Halo game was Halo 4. Living exclusively in the PlayStation world for many years kept me from getting into the Halo Universe. But when I got my 360, I knew Halo 4 had to be played. The thing I’ve come to appreciate most of the Halo Universe is its depth. There is a rich lore surrounding Halo that cannot be ignored. From the origins of humanity to the destruction of the Ark, there is a lot going on in Halo and to me that is key for any successful story. You can take a character and throw them pretty much into any situation and can come away with a good story.
Halo 5 looked to continue this great tradition of storytelling and right off the bat we were introduced to the Hunt the Truth campaign where protagonist Master Chief was being billed as a traitor. Well color me intrigued. What could possibly make Humanity’s greatest hero go off the reservation? As theories began to surface we were introduced to the man who would hunt the Chief - Spartan Locke - who we’re told always gets his man. What was laid out was to be an epic show-down as trailer after trailer (above) of this great hunt led us to believe the focus of Halo 5 would be the story of the Chief on his renegade mission and the man sent to bring him in which would culminate in this epic apocalyptic battle where quite literally an immovable object meets an unstoppable force. Excuse me while I go change my pants. The thing is though, that didn’t happen.
While Halo 5 does feature the Chief heading off on his own, and Locke being sent to find him, this is never the focus of the game. All this transpires while the Forerunner Guardians are being activated and leaving wakes of destruction in their path which is the much larger issue to deal with. Even when we are chasing the Chief as Locke it never feels like the priority it was made out to be. In one trailer (above) we find out that the UNSC declares the Chief killed in action, and this is confirmed in Season Two of Hunt the Truth, but also that the true story (below) is that Locke is sent to bring him in. If you look at the events leading up to Chief going AWOL, declaring the Chief as KIA is absolutely insane considering the timeline of Season Two which transpires at the same time as the beginning of the campaign.
There’s an old story that the teams at Microsoft who were responsible for making Word and Excel never met each other even though their programs are remarkably intertwined. When you think about it, it really is quite baffling to have teams working to the same end goal and not communicating with each other. That was Microsoft of old. Now the Office teams confer regularly as the upper brass of Microsoft realized the importance of having a unified team. Or did they? It wouldn’t take a genius to say that the advertising of Halo 5 painted one picture, and the game itself quite another.
Not to say there are no similarities between the two. Yes, the Chief goes rogue. Yes, Locke is sent to bring him in. Yes, the Guardians are being activated and causing mass destruction. But overall what is presented to us in game, just never seems to capture the spirit hinted at in the trailers. I wanted have this epic showdown. I wanted to see what would cause the Chief to go AWOL. I wanted what was presented to us. Not play a game of cat and mouse for 5 hours where the real stakes of the game won’t be realized until Halo 6. So let’s touch on that too.
I have no problem with the way that Cortana was portrayed in the game. Given the ending in Halo 4 it made sense to me that she could live on in the Forerunner Domain and be corrupted by it. The problem I do have with it is that it's set up to be the primary focus of the game and even then the stakes of it all aren’t shown until the final half hour or so. The game just sort of prods us along for the length of the campaign. It forces us to play as Locke primarily with the intention of hunting the Chief down and then at the end, as Cortana makes her plans known everything is fine again and the hunt for the Chief no longer matters. It’s like a TV show or movie where it turns out everything was just a dream. I just spent days trying to bring you in but now we’re best friends? This is not what was shown to us. Where is the tension? Where is the giant battle? Why would the UNSC declare the Chief KIA? I felt let down after finishing the campaign. Halo 4 really set the bar high for me in terms of story and this just felt like a step backwards.
So by now you’re probably tired of me complaining and wondering how I think it should have been. And in the end, not much would have to be changed. Cortana can still be the overarching villain with still having at least some of what was shown in the trailers. The game can start off like it did, except for how bloody easy it was to kill Jul 'Mdama in the end. I mean seriously this guy was the bad guy throughout the entirety of the Halo 4 Spartan Ops missions and but yet Osiris can just walk up to him and kill him in a cut scene? But I digress. Chief can still get a cryptic message from Cortana and go rogue to find her. Cortana can then lead Chief and the rest of Blue Team across the galaxy activating the Guardians as they go. What the Guardians do though would not be communicated to them as Cortana knows it would give away her plan. Chief would be operating under the premise that activating the Guardians would help save Cortana.
The UNSC, seeing the destruction being caused by the Guardians would force them to react and send Locke after the Chief to get him to stop because this a reason worth saying the Chief is a traitor over. This is a reason worth having a man of Locke’s talents being used to bring in the Chief. This is a reason to say the Chief is KIA to not arouse suspicion of the general public. By just having this small change of Cortana leading the Chief along a little more provides so much more justification for everything that should transpire. Locke and company would finally engage the Chief and Blue Team as the final Guardian is activated and during the ensuing chaos Chief can see what Cortana has been really up to. Betrayed by the only person he ever really cared about, Chief then has to come to terms with this new world he’s helped shape. The protector becomes a pawn. And in those final moments you can get a version of the events we saw in the trailers. Would a betrayed Chief kill Locke before going after Cortana? Would Locke be sympathetic to the Chief’s plight? Now, wouldn’t that have been a much better game? And best of all, it doesn’t stray too far from the trailers. You know, what we were actually expecting.
Halo is a worldwide phenomena. It has brand recognition everywhere. It is one of the biggest franchises on earth, not just in gaming. Microsoft had to create an entire new studio to handle it after they parted ways with Bungie. Halo is a big deal but ahead lies a critical juncture. The name of Halo can only carry a game so far. The content must equal or even exceed the name. If it doesn’t it runs the risk of becoming just another run of the mill FPS which it most definitely is not. The lore of Halo is vast, too vast for it to be regulated to become just another game. And as Titanfall 2 recently proved, there can be a world where good story telling and being a first person shooter can coexist together in a game.
It’ll be at least another year before the marketing machine for Halo 6 starts turning, and I for one am looking forward to it. Between the trailers and the very well done Hunt the Truth audio episodes, there was a lot to get excited about for Halo 5. Let’s hope 343 Industries can repeat that with Halo 6 and bring a game that matches our expectations. Or at the very least not mislead us with the advertising.