Welcome to the next instalment in the ‘Ranking the Levels’ series, in which we will be ranking all the levels of a Halo game. You may want to read Ranking the Levels – Halo: Combat Evolved, which covers the levels in Halo: Combat Evolved. For this instalment, we will be looking at all 15 levels of Halo 2, the longest game in the Halo series in terms of playable levels. Let’s start with everyone’s best guess as to the ‘automatic’ worst level in the game:
15 – The Heretic, Mission 1
It doesn’t seem fair that the first mission of Halo 2 is ranked as the worst, but don’t be dismayed – the only reason why this level ranks so low is that it isn’t really a level at all. In fact, The Heretic is just one long cutscene. It’s a very good cutscene, the prologue establishes where we are in terms of continuity from Halo: Combat Evolved and also where exactly Halo 2 is based in the timeline, but as there is no gameplay this level cannot rank any higher than 15. In terms of fulfilling its purpose however, this level is an optimal example of a prologue. We know who the Arbiter is and we understand why the Master Chief is where he is (sort of, with help from the manual).
14 – The Armory, Mission 2
Again, a boring choice – at least you actually get to have some facet of gameplay in this mission, but it isn’t much – there are no enemies, and all you really do is walk around the armory section of Cairo Station in a way reminiscent of the opening section of The Pillar of Autumn from Halo: Combat Evolved, but with better graphics. The highlight of this mission is taking a ride in a lift with Sergeant Johnson while he talks about his time in the corps. There is also a glitch when the Bandanna Skull activated that lets the player throw endless grenades at the Gunnery Sergeant, Johnson and all the Marines in the station with no consequences. Actually, this level should be higher on the list…
13 – The Oracle, Mission 7
The Oracle introduced players who were already shocked at the development that you would be playing as the Arbiter in the previous level, The Arbiter, to another stunning revelation about this new Halo game: the introduction of boss fights. The Oracle does its boss fight fairly well, involving an airborne Elite with the shield strength of an Ultra, which is already a fairly tough enemy, that also duel wields Plasma Rifles, has two holographic bodyguards and is given the ability to disappear into pipes when damaged in order to regenerate health. That sounds like the perfect Halo boss fight to me, but unfortunately this level falls behind on the list because of several design problems – the tedious laboratory section, the elevator descent into hell that involves the player standing still for minutes on end waiting for enemies to spawn, the premature introduction of the Flood, it all culminates in a fairly dull and tedious experience that is only saved by an interesting final sprint. At least the music is good, although it will become apparent that is a given in Halo 2 as Marty O’ Donnell does a fantastic job with the soundtrack.
12 – Sacred Icon, Mission 10
Despite the fact that this blog is named after it, the mission Sacred Icon is ranked low on this list. Why? Well, for one, I haven’t really named this blog after the level specifically, although I already explained that in a previous article – and second, the level itself isn’t really that bad – it’s just that all of the levels in Halo 2 are good, and ranking them is only possible based on a scale of relative quality. Overall, Sacred Icon is definitely interesting – it includes the only instance of having Jackals as allies in the entire Halo campaigns, and it introduces the unique varieties of Sentinel that Halo 2 has to offer, the Sentinel Major and the Enforcer. It just involves a lot of tight corridors and Flood encounters, and so like The Oracle it ranks fairly low on this list. There are some positives to this mission, including the atmospheric interior sections and some really great music, but this level is overshadowed by the others in the Halo 2 campaign.
11 – High Charity, Mission 14
The penultimate level of Halo 2 should have been spectacular, and although High Charity is a fairly entertaining romp through the rapidly Flood-infested Covenant Holy City it suffers from tight corridor syndrome which limits gameplay options. It is the only level in which Flood can be seen using Brute Plasma Rifles, but other than that there’s not much that’s unique about it. There is a strange glitch involving a Brute Chieftain sometimes being seen lying dead in a doorway, although more often than not it is simply an Honour Guard. This glitch was even carried over to the Anniversary version. Interestingly, this level was originally supposed to include a Warthog run through the final section of the Forerunner Dreadnought that would have been reminiscent of the final level of Halo: Combat Evolved. Sadly, this feature was cut, but the Warthog run would return in Halo 3.
10 – Outskirts, Mission 4
The first level in any Halo game to be set on Earth, Outskirts sets the scene for Halo 2’s desperate struggle against an oncoming Covenant invasion. Some of the best parts of this level are in tight enclosed spaces, because the level uses its tight sections to its advantage with atmospheric music and plenty of cover against the onslaught of Jackal Snipers. There are very few invisible barriers in this mission, so well-timed grenade jumps can allow players to explore a huge area outside the playable area and also fight through the level from the rooftops. If the player saves the Marines throughout the level then the final act of the level in the tunnels of New Mombasa can be completed with the help of a convoy of allied Warthogs. Overall, this level has a great vehicle section but too much emphasis on defence against waves of enemies in the early segments, though this can make for a fun challenge on higher difficulties or with various Skull combinations.
9 – Cairo Station, Mission 3
The first level of Halo 2 jumps players right in, fending off an invasion from a Covenant boarding party almost as soon as the level begins. The level allows players the choice of starting weapon, unlike Halo: Combat Evolved which forces players to pick up a Magnum and then an Assault Rifle when combat begins. This level also has a fantastic space segment, in which the player fights outside the station in low gravity against Elite Rangers who are attempting to board. The music creates a fantastic atmosphere here, and the final battle with the Elites has music that is timed to the repeated firing of Cairo Station’s Super-MAC that creates excellent ambience when fighting the final squad of Elites. Like Outskirts, wave defence style gameplay lets this level down, other than that, it is very enjoyable. This mission also contains a rare Easter Egg, the elusive Megg, which requires the player to complete the entire mission on Legendary without taking any damage.
8 – The Arbiter, Mission 6
The Arbiter’s introductory level was controversial back in the day, and few people accepted the level for what it was – a chance to attempt a more stealth-orientated style of gameplay into Halo. In that sense, The Arbiter does a very good job of encouraging players to adapt to this new style of gameplay – rewarding stealth kills by having enemies that notice you spawn more enemies to help them, and by killing them stealthily you prevent them from doing so. The music in this level is fantastic, tracks like ‘Flawed Legacy’ and ‘Follow’ for the Banshee section create the perfect atmosphere for their respective sections. The fact that the player is accompanied by a Covenant Spec Ops squad is also fantastic, as they were the most powerful Covenant units in Halo: Combat Evolved so fighting alongside them in this mission so early in Halo 2 is a great experience.
7 – Quarantine Zone – Mission 11
This level is interesting in that it is the first and only instance of the Flood using vehicles, making them even more deadly. The addition of the Enforcers and their ability to crush vehicles with their huge arms create some unique encounters between them, the player and the Flood-controlled vehicles. This level also marks one of the few examples of Rtas ‘Vadum aiding the Arbiter for an extended period of time, allowing the player to exploit his invincibility for multiple encounters. The fact that the Flood control vehicles makes for some epic battles between Flood-controlled Wraiths and Scorpions, and the anti-vehicle Enforcers. Blasting through this fray with a Spectre full of powerful Elites is a great feeling.
6 – Regret, Mission 9
This level is all about atmosphere. From the initial section on the Forerunner ruins to the Gondola segment the music seems to be all about action and dramatic chorus, when suddenly the player delves into an underwater complex and the tone shifts to be more sombre and delicate, until eventually returning to the surface onto an outdoor grassy section, only to board the final Gondola ride and take on the Prophet of Regret. This level is a whirlwind tour of some of the most idyllic locations on Delta Halo before the climactic final encounter in the temple on the lake. Halo 2’s second boss fight is a little less intuitive than its first, but it is entertaining nonetheless – the Chief boards the Prophet of Regret’s Gravity Throne and beats him to death, made even better by the Prophet Birthday Party Skull which accompanies every whack with Steve Vai power chords. Regret is immune to all other forms of damage and boasts a powerful golden version of the Hunter cannon.
5 – Uprising, Mission 13
This mission has no objective. Your only objective is to get revenge on the Brutes. After witnessing the betrayal of the Elites from the point of view of the Arbiter, Uprising gives the player a chance to blow off some steam and deal out sweet revenge. The level is made even better by the fact that you can build a small army of Elite supporters as the level progresses, and if you defend them (and help them out of situations in which they might get stuck) your allies will follow you for the entire level. If you’re lucky, some allied Grunts might even survive to the end, where you can give them a Rocket Launcher and watch as they blow themselves up. There are some great fights in indoor and outdoor areas, including a vehicle section that ends with a huge battle in the Bastion of the Brutes.
4 – Metropolis, Mission 5
The first chance you get to grab a tank is great in Halo 2 because for the first time in Halo history it was actually useful. As powerful as the Halo: Combat Evolved Scorpion was, its main cannon was so inaccurate and the machine gun so wide-spreading that it was sometimes frustrating to use. The Halo 2 Scorpion is much improved, although as we see in this mission it is no match for the Scarab. The Scarab section of this mission is hilariously fun, made even better by the fantastic music. Players can either wait for the Scarab to reach the end of its path before boarding it, or try to climb aboard when it is still in motion, which sometimes ends badly. The Elite Ultra serves as a simple mini-boss fight, and the level lives up to its name – combat among skyscrapers was a new concept to Halo when Halo 2 was released, but it would return to Halo soon enough…
3 – The Great Journey, Mission 15
Although many were disappointed to discover that The Great Journey was Halo 2’s last level, that was only really because they so desperately wanted to play more of the game. But as it stands, The Great Journey is a pretty good last level. As the Arbiter, the player team up with Hunters, Elite Councillors, Zealots and a Scarab to take down Tartarus, not to mention you ally with Humans as the Arbiter, marking the first time in the history of Halo that Humans and Elites work together. The final boss fight is fairly well executed, although it would have been nice if your Elite allies were actually useful for something. Ultimately the Arbiter requires Johnson to take down Tartarus’ shield which limits the pacing of the boss fight and also renders all of your Elite allies useless in the end, which is unfortunate. Aside from that, The Great Journey is a great final level with a Banshee segment that involves escorting a Scarab and a climactic ending that shows the Humans and Elites finally teaming up.
2 – Gravemind, Mission 12
This level is damn-near perfect. Aside from the dodgy initial start. But it’s got everything – a grand tour of the inner workings of High Charity, the initial stages of the Covenant Civil War, the first time Master Chief encounters Brutes in the Halo games, and the introduction of the Brute Plasma Rifle and Brute Shot. What makes this level fun is the concept of sneaking around inside this behemoth Covenant space station trying to rescue Marines and track down the Prophet of Truth. There are some incredible musical moments in this mission that synch perfectly with the gorgeous scenery and the tense combat, and over time the Covenant city devolves into a war zone as the two factions engage in open combat. You also get to witness Breaking Benjamin’s Blow Me Away in action during a huge battle between Elite Ultras and Brutes that takes place in the Mausoleum of the Arbiter. Awesome.
1 – Delta Halo, Mission 8
This level has it all. For a start, the music is perfect. This is almost like a level of Halo 2 Soundtrack’s greatest hits – tense combat music like Peril, the fantastic Heretic, Hero, the remastered return of an old classic in In Amber Clad, and of course the fantastic Delta Halo Suite. But this level’s environments are simply stunning. This level set to top the introduction to the original Halo found in Halo: Combat Evolved and it succeeds. This level also features the debut of the ODSTs, who went on to become a vital staple of the Halo mythos. Moving through the jungle and infiltrating ancient ruins inhabited by Covenant is the quintessential Halo feel, and this level also features the Warthog, the Scorpion tank and a Sniper section, making it the embodiment of the ideal Halo experience. As if that were not enough, Delta Halo is also the only mission in the game where ODSTs fight alongside the Master Chief.
So that’s all for this week, be sure to check out last week’s ‘Ranking the Levels’ to read my thoughts on Halo: Combat Evolved’s levels, and next week I will of course be uploading my thoughts on Halo 3’s campaign.
- Ranking the Levels – Halo: Combat Evolved
- Ranking the Levels – Halo 3
- Halo – Microsoft E3 Announcement – How Halo: Infinite could save the franchise
- Halo – Ranking ALL the Halo Games
- Top 10 Best Halo Easter Eggs
- Top Ten Creepiest Halo Easter Eggs
- Top 10 Most Challenging Halo Skulls
- Top 10 Most Fun Halo Skulls