Ranking the Halo games is not a task to take lightly. There are few video game series as iconic as Halo. Not only did the deep-space first person shooter help legitimize the Xbox, it created a deep and vast mythos, launched its maker Bungie into a strata of superstardom, and helped make console online play what it is today.
From behind the mask of Master Chief, millions upon millions of players across the world battled against the looming Flood, explored corroded worlds, manned tanks and spaceships alike and, of course, shot aliens by the thousands.
The most interesting about the Halo saga, which debuted all the way back in 2001, is how it (and its combat) evolved. Each game has its own intricacies and interpretations of what it means to be a Halo game. With Halo Infinite somewhere on the horizon, we thought it would be the perfect time to look back at the series. Here are all the major release Halo games ranked from worst to best.
9. Halo Wars 2
Okay, who was this even for? The 2017 follow-up to the largely meh RTS Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2 was a confused and confusing release. It’s not that it’s inherently bad, just unnecessary. It certainly understands the purpose of an RTS and has good mechanics, not to mention a great display of all the creatures and tech from the Halo universe. But, if one is looking for an RTS game, there are better places to turn to.
8. Halo Wars
Much that could be said of Halo Wars 2 could be said of the original 2009 Halo Wars. It’s a real head-scratcher: not only are these games far removed from Master Chief and from Halo’s iconic first person shooter, they’re just not that stellar. Again, Halo Wars isn’t bad by any means. It just feels like a watered down version of classic RTS games like Age of Empires. Like the many novels the Halo universe spawned, these two games are for the lore diehards only.
7. Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians is, to put it simply, a big old mess. Meant to encourage cooperative play on Live, this 2015 Xbox One debut instead felt muddled, distracted, and at its worst, downright annoying. The game worked okay when you had three people to play with at the same time. But, solo runs were hellacious and tedious. Additionally, Halo 5 continued to take more and more of its control structures from other famous franchises like Call of Duty, with limited success.
6. Halo 4
2012’s Halo 4 saw the Halo franchise leave the hands of Bungie — and you could tell. A reboot of sorts that followed the end of the original Master Chief trilogy, Halo 4 isn’t bad — it just isn’t good. Or at least, it isn’t good enough to reinvigorate a franchise. Halo 4 did indeed look fantastic, but some of the changes to controls and combat felt superfluous and a little cheap.
5. Halo: ODST
For what is basically a spinoff, 2009’s Halo: ODST is actually pretty great. (ODST stands for Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.) It changes perspectives well, as you move away from Master Chief. It bolsters the lore by filling in the story further. And it opened up the series’ potential for sandbox madcap playing, as you and your pals withstood charge after charge of enemies. Its main problem? It was too short and too small to feel like a truly epic Halo game.
4. Halo: Reach
Halo: Reach ranking this low may feel heretic to some, but Reach is when Halo stopped being Halo. Sure, it exists in the same universe and has similar weapons and multiplayer. But, the changes to play-style, the emphasis on character classes and customization, and the basic fighting approach just don’t feel like Halo. When it was released in 2010, it felt like the other games out on the market. It’s a great game, but it’s not a great Halo game.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved
At this point, this list of Halo games ranked could change on the daily. But as of today, I’ve got the original Halo at No. 3. Hugely inventive, endlessly playable, and filled with brilliant physics and a need for skill, this is one of the greatest debuts to a series of all time. Not to mention the fact that it’s one of the greatest first person shooters in history. It’s funny looking all the way back to 2001 to remember just how iconic this game was when it came out. But, take an old head’s word for it: the world had never seen anything quite like Halo: Combat Evolved.
2. Halo 2
Sure, Halo 2’s campaign isn’t close to the best of the series. There are some annoying levels, there is some weaker storytelling — I get it. But, its multiplayer changed everything. Halo 2 had perfect levels, an ornate online matchmaking system that actually worked, silly bugs that made the game even more fun, and the sense that you were actually getting better at something. It’s common now, but Halo 2 was competitive when it was released in 2004. Whether at LAN parties or on the burgeoning Xbox Live, you had to earn your keep as a jack-of-all-trades if you wanted to win.
1. Halo 3
It doesn’t get much better than Halo 3. Not just as part of the Halo franchise, but as a video game. With an endlessly replayable campaign that mixes action with horror, even more polished online play, gorgeous graphics, increased level customization, a beautiful score and improved vehicles, what doesn’t Halo 3 have? Not to mention how much hype Halo 3 had on it after the rousing success of the revolutionary Halo and Halo 2. Halo 3 took those expectations and crushed them when it was released in 2007. Well done, Bungie.
Disagree with how the Halo games ranked on this list? Sound off in the comments!