Top Ten Sci-Fi Spaceships

The Science-Fiction genre is replete with examples of iconic spaceships, often used as transports and even mobile homes for the characters in science fiction. As such, the ship almost becomes a character in itself, developing its own quirks and technicalities that give it its personality. But the question remains – which ship is the best? For this list we will be judging based on how useful the ship would be, and the extent of its powers. To begin:

10 – Red Dwarf – Red Dwarf

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Despite being a slow, unwieldy, ancient mining ship that is peppered with meteorite impacts, Red Dwarf always pulls though and provides a home for its disparate band of occupants. Also, it comes packaged with Holly, the transgender eighth generation ‘hologrammic’ computer with an IQ that supposedly exceeds 6,000. Depending on the day, Holly might be sane or totally senile, and the ship seems to attract trouble on a near-daily basis. Don’t look forward to speedy travel with the Dwarf, however, since it trundles along at a snail’s pace. You do, however, get Starbug, but its up to you whether or not that’s a good thing.

9 – High Charity – Halo

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The Covenant Holy City-ship of High Charity serves as the cultural, political and military headquarters of the alliance, and mobilises the Covenant assault force against Humanity.  The best thing about High Charity is its environments, which you explore during the Halo 2 levels Gravemind and High Charity. The curved purple interiors and modular architectural design demonstrate the alien nature of the Covenant, and in terms of power it boasts a slipspace drive for instant transportation and a vast array of destructive weapons, with docking structures that can contain and transport hundreds of capital ships. So whether you like strolling through botanical gardens or invading planets with huge fleets of warships, High Charity is for you.

8 – Thunderbird 3 – Thunderbirds

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The ultimate classic rocket design, Thunderbird 3 might not have weapons but it is extraordinarily fast – able to make it halfway around the world in a matter of minutes, in some cases. Overall, the red rocket tops any other rocket-type ship in sci-fi, and the best part about it is that you might even get Tracy Island thrown in, as well as the ability to travel to and dock with Thunderbird 5, an orbital space station. Designed to launch as an SSTO (single-stage-to-orbit) rocket, the ship can be re-used unlike contemporary rockets used by NASA, and it even runs on the same fuel,

7 – Ebon Hawk – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

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The spiritual predecessor to the Millenium Falcon, the Ebon Hawk serves as the home for the traveling circus cast of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This ship was constructed over 1,000 years before the Falcon, so it isn’t as fast but it does seem to be more heavily armoured. However, featuring dual engines, the Ebon Hawk was certainly fast for its era, and could certainly hold its own against more powerful ships like the Leviathan. After all, this was Darth Revan’s ship for a reason.

6 – Serenity Firefly

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Similar to the Ebon Hawk, Serenity is a freighter primarily, designed to haul cargo from planet to planet. Thanks to heavy modifications, however, she serves as the vessel of Mal Reynolds and his crew, a band of vagrants and smugglers who partake in various illegal activities. The ship was described by Firefly creator Joss Whedon as the ‘tenth character’ of the series, and she has character indeed – fans have likened Serenity to freighters like the Millenium Falcon. The biggest strength of Firefly-class ships is their durability and ease of repair, and Serenity is no exception.

5 – USS Enterprise-D – Star Trek: The Next Generation

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The USS Enterprise is a fantastic ship in its own right, but the USS Enterprise-D surpasses it in almost every conceivable way. For one, it is essentially just a more powerful version of the original Enterprise, and it also has much more advanced technology aboard like the Holodeck and the Saucer Separation. Not only that, but the ship is also more luxurious, with more space and better living conditions – the original Enterprise was built with practicality in mind, with dull grey bulkheads and no inch of space wasted, whereas the Enterprise-D has a warm beige interior design with the occasional appearance of wood paneling. With the addition of the crew, particularly Data, the Enterprise-D is equipped to deal with any obstacle, whilst also providing a comfortable environment.

4 – Millenium Falcon – Star Wars

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Allegedly the fastest piece of junk in the Galaxy, the Millenium Falcon is certainly a go-to starship if speed is a priority. Han Solo boasts in A New Hope that the Falcon ‘made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs’, which sounds like he made it up on the spot but will undoubtedly be extrapolated to the Nth degree in the upcoming Solo Movie, but the general jist of what he is saying stands – the Falcon is a fast ship. Able to outrun any Imperial starship, this unassuming-looking freighter has gone on to become one of the most famous ships in the Galaxy, and aided in the destruction of not one but two Death Stars. The only real downside of the Millenium Falcon is its amenities – it is essentially a grotty smuggling vessel, with very few forms of entertainment to pass the time during the long hyperspace jumps (unless you count a dodgy holographic chess set and a flying ball.) The ship would be handy in a pinch, but for long-distance travel the Falcon falls short of the best ‘conventional’ starship in Sci-Fi, which is:

3 – USS Voyager – Star Trek: Voyager

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The Intrepid-class starship won the top spot for Top 10 Federation Starship Classes, and the most famous ship of its class is at least half of the reason why. The exploits of the USS Voyager top any starship of this dimensional plane, and its already advanced and reliable design is augmented by many modifications that the crew picked up during the ship’s time in the Delta Quadrant, including some Borg technology and a massively improved warp drive. With the Voyager also comes the Delta Flyer, a greatly upgraded and improved redesign of the standard Federation Shuttlecraft for ship-to-surface transport or even ship-to-ship dogfights, an innovation that other Federation starships lack. Despite the greater focus on tactical systems and speed, the Voyager still features the entertainment systems available on the Enterprise like the Holodeck, and is sleeker, faster and comes with a holographic medic.

2 – Heart of Gold – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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The Heart of Gold is powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive, a wonderful new method of crossing interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. This incredible propulsion system temporarily launches the ship through every part of conceivable space simultaneously, and the only payoff is a temporary bout of extremely high improbability, which can cause hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, or a complete rewrite of the ships entire internal environment at a molecular level. Known effects have included the creation, and spontaneous upending, of a million-gallon vat of custard, marrying Michael Saunders, the transformation of a pair of guided nuclear missiles into a whale and a bowl of petunias, and transforming one of its crew into a penguin.

1 – The TARDIS – Doctor Who

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The TARDIS may not look like much of a spaceship, but its abilities exceed all of the other ships on this list combined. Capable of traveling anywhere in time and space, the TARDIS can quite literally take its crew anywhere in any time period, and even other dimensions under the right conditions. If that were not enough, the ship is dimensionally transcendental, meaning the interior exists in a separate dimension to the exterior, creating the illusion that it is bigger on the inside, and the interior of the TARDIS is so vast that after over 2,000 years of owning the ship the Doctor has still not managed to fully map the floor plan. The TARDIS is alive, in a sense, and can alter and reshape its interior to suit the needs of its occupants, as well as allowing for a huge amount of internal systems such as a karaoke bar, a cinema, a library and a swimming pool, all of which occasionally move, change, or in rare cases fuse (causing the swimming pool to sometimes appear in the library). The ship is shielded to the extent that Dalek missiles – of which less than 10 are needed to eradicate a planet – don’t even scratch the blue box. Undoubtedly, no other spaceship in Sci-Fi even comes close to beating the TARDIS.

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And that’s our list of the Top 10 Sci-Fi spaceships. If you enjoyed, be sure to leave a like, and you can follow us and like us on Facebook for more content like this. If you have your own list of Top 10 Sci-Fi spaceships, be sure to leave it down in the comments below!

 

Top 10 Best Halo Easter Eggs

So I’ve already covered the topic of Creepiest Halo Easter Eggs, Funny Halo Skulls and Hardest Halo Skulls, so it seems only fair that I also rank the funniest and/or coolest Easter Eggs in the Halo Series to round this theme to a close. For this list I will not be including Skulls, since I have covered those already, and none of the Easter Eggs that appeared in my Top 10 Creepiest Easter Eggs list will be appearing here either. So, coming in at number 10:

10 – Windows Phone – Halo 3

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The wall-mounted phones in Halo 3 have tiny Windows logos on them, a nostalgic callback to the era in which this game was released. This is one of several computing-related references in Halo 3, another being the fact that the UNSC computers offline with a modern-day blue screen of death. Just a small but relatively interesting detail that shows the dedication to making the world seem real.

9 – Excalibur – Halo 2

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This Easter Egg is tucked away in the top floor of a destroyed building in the Halo 2 level Outskirts. What makes this interesting is that it is located outside of the level boundaries, meaning that the developers must have known that players would manipulate the game mechanics in ways that would allow them to leave the level boundaries, and yet rather than filling every corner of every level with invisible walls or death timers, Bungie instead filled the outside areas of their levels with secrets to find. This Energy Sword serves as a reward for players who manipulate the game mechanics, as well as seeing one of the infamous ‘Rex’ symbols written in rocks and blood (shotgun shells in the anniversary version). This sword can also be used to implement a glitch that gives you an invisible Energy Sword with infinite ammo in the next level, so it is a useful Egg to find.

8 – Notice Board – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

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The Pillar of Autumn’s notice board in the original version of Halo: Combat Evolved was already full of in-jokes, references or gags such as a note claiming to have lost Alien‘s cat ‘Jonesey’, but the Anniversary version steps this up a notch. The ‘Cat Found!!!’ notice is clearly a reference to the Jonesey post on the original notice board, and the Spartans on the ‘Defy the Covenant’ poster are wearing Halo: Reach-era armour, further solidifying the link between Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved. There is even a trollface next to a blatant advert for Halo 4 which, at that time, had not been released, so in a way this notice board looks both to the past and to the future.

7 – Red vs Blue Marines – Halo 3

 

 

This one crops up a lot because it doesn’t take much to find – simply go further along to a corner near the start of the Halo 3 level Crow’s Nest when the game prompts you to turn left, and you will encounter a door with a Marine standing outside. What proceeds is a humourous argument between the Marine outside and another Marine, presumably just inside the door, over the password needed to get in. What makes this even better is the fact that the voices are done by various members of the Red vs Blue cast, and the conversation changes depending on the difficulty.

6 – Football – Halo 2

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This one takes some effort but is really fun if you can pull it off with two people. The football itself can be located at the very top of a damaged skyscraper in the Halo 2 level Metropolis, which continues Halo 2’s theme of placing fun and interesting secrets and hard-to-reach areas. Using various Skull combinations, the players can then push the ball with explosives out of its corner and down into the play-space of the road itself, and with two Ghosts this can make a game of giant football in the streets, if you can overcome the strange physics of the ball.

5 -Siege of Madrigal – Bungie Games

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This Easter Egg is brilliant because it recurs throughout the franchise, and when activated it plays a piece of music called Siege of Madrigal from one of Bungie’s older games, Marathon. To activate it in Halo: Combat Evolved, one must fly a Banshee up to the peak of the control room tower in the level Assault on the Control Room and park in a very specific spot (to the right of the second-highest rung, to be precise.) The tune can be found in almost every Halo game, usually located in a very specific but hard-to-reach location, and can be heard here.

4 – Flyable Pelican/Phantom – Halo: Reach

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It had long been a dream of Halo fans to actually get a chance to fly the iconic dropships of either the UNSC or the Covenant, but Halo: Reach finally made it possible, albeit in the form of a very glitchy Easter Egg. Bungie knew that fans had always wanted to fly a Pelican because the vast majority of the few mods that exist for Halo generally are mods that allow the player to fly the Pelican, and although they implemented a form of air-vehicle in Halo 3 with the Hornet and again with Halo: Reach’s Falcon, they knew that before they left the franchise for good they would have to provide some form of closure to fans, and so enters New Alexandria, an air level in Halo: Reach that primarily uses the Falcon, but with the flip of a secret switch and a quick flight through a giant ring-shaped building and your Falcon is magically transformed into a very unstable Pelican. Phantoms can also be driven if you manage to complete the same method with a Banshee, although that is even more unstable with no collision detection at all.

3 – Club Errera – Halo: Reach

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Oddly enough, this next Easter Egg is actually from the same level as the previous one, but that is no real surprise since Halo: Reach’s New Alexandria is jam-packed with fan-service Easter Eggs, since it was Bungie’s last massive open level in the series. The basic story behind Club Errera is simple – in the game as normal, you pass through a nightclub during your mission to destroy Covenant Radar Jammers, but if you manage to find and activate a secret switch before coming into the Club, all of the Covenant will be either dancing, Dj-ing or waiting at the bar, and the Hunters act as bouncers guarding the door. Overall, it is a surreal experience, and you can even change the music with different switches, one of which is a remix of a track from the Halo 2 Soundtrack.

2 – Scarab Gun – Halo 2

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This unassuming-looking Plasma Rifle floating above a conveniently placed danger sign atop a skyscraper (that requires sacrificing an arm and a leg to get to) is actually the key to ultimate power. There are few examples of Easter Eggs as sandbox-altering as secret weapons, but this is the obvious exception. This weapon, although looking visually identical to a Plasma Rifle, is actually a placeholder for the Scarab’s main weapon used semi-regularly throughout the level Metropolis in Halo 2. Using a Banshee, (which requires a tedious and complicated method to even obtain in the first place) the player must fly up to the very top of a specific building in New Mombasa, the player can find and acquire this weapon, which allows them to shoot Scarab beams to their heart’s content. Unfortunately, this weapon is extremely hard to use since it can often kill the player due to the insanely high splash damage, and a single tap of the trigger can instantly kill the player. In the Anniversary version of Halo 2, a whole Skull was created to turn every weapon in the game into a Scarab weapon, (that thankfully turns off scoring) so now even casual players can experience the power.

Honorable Mention – Secret Talking Grunts, Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3

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This single Honorable Mention is in fact three separate Easter Eggs, all involving secret Grunts with specific lines of funny dialogue. The first is the ‘Thirsty Grunt’, who can be found during the final run of the last level of Halo: Combat Evolved. When approached, he expresses his hope that the ‘food nipple’ is waiting for him at the starship, clearly ignorant of his impending doom. The next, ‘Cowardly Grunt’, can be found in the Halo 2 mission Uprising, during which the player is actually allied with this Grunt since you play as the Arbiter. However, this Grunt will refuse to fight, and instead pitifully cowers in the corner whilst assuring the Arbiter that he will stay behind to make sure nobody sneaks up on him. The final Grunt is aptly named the ‘Final Grunt’, since he is the final grunt you encounter in Halo 3, although he is occasionally called the ‘Jerk-Store Grunt’ since he rants and raves to the Chief, claiming that ‘the Jerk Store called, and they’re all out of you’ as well as berating the Chief for having a troubled past and claiming that he is high on gas. Wow.

1 – Terminals, Data Files and Audio Logs – All Halo Games

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This could be considered cheating since I’m incorporating a vast array of separate Easter Eggs into this one entry, but they are essentially the same thing – hidden lore elements that are buried in the game and left for the player to find. This process began in Halo 3 with the ‘Terminals’, Forerunner (or sometimes Covenant) devices that could be accessed to read/hear small snippets of information about the wider story of the game and its context. This continued with Halo 3 ODST’s atmospheric audio logs, Halo: Reach’s data files and continued well into the 343 era with fully rendered mini-movies being hidden throughout Halo 4, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2 Anniversary, and a huge swath of fully voiced audio logs for Halo 5: Guardians, which is one of the few things worth praising about the game. What makes this such a great Easter Egg is that it is the perfect way of making players want to learn more about the wider lore of the games, as by hiding it away and including an element of challenge to find them with achievements encourages players with a sense of accomplishment or desire for 100% completion to scour the levels searching for clues and piecing together the wider lore that explains the origin of the Forerunners, the Halos, the Covenant, the Flood and countless other aspects of Halo lore.

So that’s my list of Top 10 Best Halo Easter Eggs, I hope you enjoyed and if you did then please be sure to leave a like, and remember to like us on Facebook or follow us on WordPress for more content like this, and look down below for more Halo related content!

 

Top 10 Most Challenging Halo Skulls

Skulls in Halo are gameplay modifiers that were first introduced as Easter Eggs in Halo 2 to provide an extra layer of depth to the game, and to provide more of a challenge for players by altering the way the game plays. To activate a Skull, the player must first find it, which is usually a challenge in itself, as the Skulls are scattered throughout the campaign levels, usually well off the beaten track, with some requiring complex exploits, codes, platforming, glitches or even surviving a gauntlet to actually reach them.

In this list, I will be counting down the Top 10 Skulls from the perspective of modifying the game to make it more of a challenge. I have already done a list of Top 10 Most Fun Halo Skulls, and to clarify there may be some overlap between that list and this one, since not all the Skulls that make the game more difficult are necessarily frustrating or unfair (although some of them are). I will also be factoring in the difficulty required to actually retrieve the Skull, to a certain extent, but I will not be including Skulls on this list purely for that reason (so no Halo 2 IWHBYD). With that out of the way, we start with:

10 – Fog – Motion Tracker Disabled

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Fog, referred to as ‘Cloud’ in Halo: Reach, disabled the handy motion tracker that has been a staple for mainline Halo games since the beginning. This effectively removes the ‘eyes in the back of your head’, as the Skull’s description states, meaning you cannot sense enemies before you can see them. This Skull is most often used by players on Flood levels to heighten the sense of fear as you are unaware of enemies sneaking up behind you, although experienced players can easily overcome this. Overall, this Skull removes a helpful feature in the game but nothing more, so it provides some challenge but doesn’t really affect gameplay all that much, unlike…

9 – Tilt – Enemy Strengths and Weaknesses to Particular Weapons Increased

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Though that may sound like an overly complex description, this Skull’s very specific effects are actually surprisingly complicated, since Halo’s weapon sandbox philosophy relies on certain ‘types’ of weapons that are stronger or weaker depending on how you use them. Plasma weapons, for example, are good against shields but not against armour, and with this skull on plasma weapons become twice as effective against shields but twice as useless against un-shielded targets. What makes this Skull challenging is that it makes all enemies with plasma weapons (which is a lot since plasma weapons are the staple of the Covenant armory) twice as good at taking down your shields. This Skull does make fighting Flood somewhat easier, however, and can come in handy if you can acquire plasma weapons of your own, making it somewhat of a double-edged sword.

8 – Tough Luck – Enemy ‘Luck’ Increased

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To say that this Skull increases the ‘luck’ of AI does require some explanation – technically, this Skull modifies AI behaviour so that they are much more effective at dodging grenades, vehicles, and basically any form of slow-moving threat, whilst also making it far more likely that enemies will enter an enraged state. This does create the impression that the AI is just ridiculously lucky, however, and this makes the player seem unlucky by comparison, hence the Skull’s name. Needless to say, this does create a challenge, and although this Skull’s effects also extend to your allies the sheer frustration of having enemies be able to dodge grenades that they cannot even see drains any potential fun-factor from this Skull.

7 – They Come Back – Flood are Terrifying

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This Skull’s official description reads: “Flood Combat Forms spawned by Infection Forms reanimating a corpse are much more dangerous“, although they neglect to mention exactly how the Flood Combat Forms are made more dangerous – one would expect a damage boost, improved intelligence, or perhaps an expansion to the amount of weapons they can use – but no. This Skull speeds up Combat Forms so they now charge towards the player at breakneck speed, all while flailing their limbs around in an impossibly fast and suitably terrifying way. This Skull does only affect Combat Forms that had previously died and later reanimated, but in real terms, that’s still a significant proportion.

6 – Catch – Enemies Throw More Grenades

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This Skull has a very simple effect, in that it makes enemies throw more grenades. Whilst this inevitably leads to a hailstorm of lethal fire pelting the player from all angles, all is not lost – this Skull also makes enemies always drop two grenades of their preferred type when killed, which even the odds slightly. An unusual quirk with this Skull is that it almost forces enemies to throw grenades with reckless abandon – they will toss explosives regardless of situation, even if it will almost certainly get them killed. This Skull would have ranked higher on the list were it not for the apparent reduction in AI intelligence and for the fact that anyone who is familiar with Halo multiplayer will knows how to deal with countless poorly-judged grenade tosses rounding every corner.

5 – Famine – All dropped Weapons have Half Ammo

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This Skull is just plain cruel. Already sparse ammo for heavy weapons, sniper rifles, or basically any power weapon is now ridiculously rare, and the fact that all weapons have their ammo halved means that plasma weapons now expend their ammo within mere minutes, finding dropped ammo refills is even more essential, and every last shot has to count. For an even greater (and ludicrous) challenge, this Skull can be combined with the ‘Recession’ Skull, which makes every shot worth twice the ammo – so you are essentially left with a mere quarter of the ammo you would have in regular gameplay. To add a further level of difficulty to this Skull, it remains one of the most frustrating Skulls to retrieve in Halo 3, requiring the use of several players at once unless a rare Gravity Lift powerup can be obtained, and even then it requires precision platforming. Halo 2’s incarnation of this Skull should have made my Top 10 Creepiest Halo Easter Eggs list, since the Skull is found surrounded by twitching Flood corpses…

4 – Assassins – All Enemies are Cloaked

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If cloaked enemies weren’t bad enough, this Skull amps that up to 11 by making every single enemy cloaked permanently. This includes everything from Flood to Hunters, and even includes your own Marines if you betray them. Oddly, this Skull was originally set to appear in Halo 3, but was removed, probably to make LASO (Legendary with All Skulls On) mode less infuriating. This is one of the few Skulls that could possibly be considered a whole separate difficulty in itself, as when activated even the lower difficulty settings require a whole new level of skill to master.

3 – Thunderstorm – All Enemies are at Max Possible Rank

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I already covered this Skull in my Top 10 Most Fun Halo Skulls, since its ability to promote allied Elites to their highest rank does come in handy in missions where they are available. However, in any other given situation, this Skull definitely amps up the difficulty by making all enemies at their maximum possible strength, intelligence and tactical capability. Not only that, but in Halo 2 it means all Elites can withstand a direct stick with a plasma grenade on Legendary, and will draw their swords to cut through Marines with ease if they are angered. This Skull also gives all Sentinels and Elite Flood Combat Forms shields, meaning it is harder to take them out with quick successive precision shots.

2 – Mythic – All Enemies have Increased Health

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The semi-unofficial ‘Mythic Difficulty’ involves playing Halo on Legendary with this Skull on, and it definitely increases the challenge by making all enemies ridiculously strong. With this Skull on, certain high-ranking Elites won’t even be vulnerable to an overcharged plasma pistol, making the age-old ‘Noob Combo’ strategy of taking out shields with an overcharge and following up with a headshot obsolete. There are a few positives to this Skull, namely that your allies are given a slight health boost too, but this seems utterly inconsequential compared to the massive boost in health and shields that even a lowly Elite Minor receives on Legendary. Combine this with the Thunderstorm Skull, and you have your own personal purgatory.

Honorable Mentions

Blind – No Heads Up Display

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I include this Skull here as an ‘honorable mention’ since it doesn’t really seem fair to the other Skulls to actually include this on the list proper, because it certainly makes the game ridiculously hard. Without a Heads-Up Display you cannot see your motion tracker, health, ammo, grenades, or even the reticule – however, this Skull is rarely used in actual gameplay since it was not added with the intention of being a challenge. It is not included in the required Skulls needed to activate LASO, it does not need to be found on Legendary and it is often found near the start of the games in which it appears. This Skull was included as a means to create machinima, take screenshots or record game clips before those features became more readily available through theatre mode or Xbox capture, but if you want to attempt to actually play the game with HUD elements disabled, a better alternative is the Malfunction Skull which disables one random HUD element with each try, a much more lenient alternative.

Ghost – AI no longer flinch from attacks

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One of the many Skulls to debut in Halo 2 but never return again, the effect of this Skull sounds like no more than a minor inconvenience to the player, but when activated the effect becomes immediately noticeable. This Skull essentially makes frontal assault melee attacks against Elites useless, since without the flinch mechanic the enemy can immediately melee you back, which is an instant kill on Legendary. The removal of flinching also means that enemies are no longer stunned by sniper shots, glancing explosive attacks or vehicles, which can be frustrating when pacing shots.

Jacked – Ground vehicles can only be used by hijacking

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When vehicle hijacking was first introduced in Halo 2, it was hailed as a fantastic innovation to help balance vehicular combat – essentially, it meant that the player could easily acquire a new vehicle without having to waste time killing the occupant, and made dispatching heavy vehicles like Wraiths much more easy. However, with this Skull activated, vehicles can only be used if they are hijacked, which basically makes UNSC vehicles unusable. Thankfully, air vehicles are not affected, so at least it isn’t totally game-breaking.

Anger – AI fire weapons much faster

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Found in the Halo 2 mission Gravemind guarded by a secret invisible Grunt armed with heavy weapons, Anger makes all enemies fire their weapons at ridiculous rates – much faster than the player can physically fire them. Plasma rifles become a stream of lethal energy, Jackal Snipers can pick off the player and three Marines in rapid succession, and Grunts fire their weapons so fast that they overheat. This Skull makes standing still a death warrant, and on Legendary allies are ripped apart by a merciless wave of weapons fire. Whilst this sounds like a nightmare, that’s nothing compared to number one on this list:

1 – Iron – ‘Death carries a Heavy Price…’

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This Skull is insane. Whilst activated in Single Player, checkpoints no longer exist, meaning that if you die, you have to restart the entire level from scratch. This Skull has almost certainly been responsible for the destruction of more Xbox controllers than any other Easter Egg in the history of the console, because it makes every single level an unforgiving rage-fest on Legendary. Don’t think co-op will save you either – whilst checkpoints do still exist with Iron on in co-op mode, the death of any player reverts everyone to the last checkpoint, making teamwork and strategy essential since the cheap ‘hopscotch’ method (which involves leaving one player out of combat for the others to respawn nearby) totally redundant.

To make matters worse (or better, depending on if you like insane challenges) most of the Halo: Reach Weekly Challenges, Xbox Achievements or Maximum Scoring Records require the use of the Iron Skull, such as the Vidmaster: Annual achievement which requires four players to complete the final level of Halo 3 on Legendary in separate Ghosts, so if any player falls off the crumbling walkways, everyone is hurled back to the checkpoint. The only reason why you will ever want to activate this Skull for fun is if you want to rack up insane score multipliers, since it offers the highest point multiplier in the game for its insane level of difficulty.

And that’s my list of Top 10 Most Challenging Halo Skulls, I hope you enjoyed, and if you did then be sure to leave a like, you can also comment down below if you thought any other Skulls should have made the list. Also, you can Follow Sacred Icon or like us on Facebook for more content like this, uploaded every other day.

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Top 10 Most Fun Halo Skulls

Skulls in Halo are gameplay modifiers that were first introduced as Easter Eggs in Halo 2 to provide an extra layer of depth to the game, and to provide more of a challenge for players by altering the way the game plays. To activate a Skull, the player must first find it, which is usually a challenge in itself, as the Skulls are scattered throughout the campaign levels, usually well off the beaten track, with some requiring complex exploits, codes, platforming, glitches or even surviving a gauntlet to actually reach them.

In this list, I will be counting down the Top 10 Skulls from the perspective of modifying the game to make it more fun. I will also be doing a list of Top 10 Most Challenging Halo Skulls for balance, and there may be some overlap. Nevertheless, we start with:

10 – Bandana – Infinite Ammo

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Bandana comes quite low on the list due to the fact that it basically amounts to cheating, but having infinite ammo comes in handy for other reasons than just making the game ridiculously easy. This skull is essential if you want to do any boundary-breaking, out-of-map exploring or ridiculous grenade jumps because it means you aren’t limited to the 4-frag cap from the original Halo 2. Hidden deep within the Silent Cartographer Island in Halo: Combat Evolved, retrieving this skull requires clever manipulation of the original Halo’s unusual physics engine, and a clever way of making this skull redundant for any actual ‘cheating’ that was included in Halo: The Master Chief Collection makes gaining points impossible whilst this skull is activated, so really its just for fun.

9 – Black Eye – Melee Recharges Shields

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Whilst it might seem like it wouldn’t be very fun at all to have to melee enemies in order to recharge your shields, the Black Eye skull appears on this list due to how it works in Halo 2. Unlike all other Halo games (so far) Halo 2’s version of the Black Eye Skull lets you increase your shield strength to far in excess of what is usually possible by whacking enemies, allowing you to survive explosions and other forms of damage that would kill you in normal gameplay. This opens up huge possibilities for exploration since you can stack grenade explosions to propel the player up high buildings and across chasms, and since Halo 2 lacks any form of invisible barriers or kill timers, basically anything you can see, you can reach.

8 – Grunt Funeral – Dead Grunts Explode

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It requires no explanation as to why a Skull that makes dead Grunts explode like Plasma Grenades makes the game hilarious to play, particularly since it actually also adds a layer of challenge to the game since all Grunts become time-bombs, and avoiding them at all costs is a priority. An interesting quirk with this Skull is that any and all dead Grunts explode, including ones that are already pre-loaded into the level – this can create some interesting results, particularly in Flood levels, as it redistributes any object that isn’t glued to the ground in a blaze of plasma.

7 – Masterblaster – Co-op Special Powers

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One of a few wacky ‘co-op only’ Skulls that 343 industries added to Halo 2 in Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Masterblaster gives one player huge overshields but removes their ability to shoot and gives the other player infinite ammo but removes their shields entirely, with the roles swapping after a certain amount of kills. This skull essentially makes co-op a bit more challenging, but also has potential for hilarious results, particularly when the roles switch halfway through a rampage.

6 – Prophet Birthday Party – Regret Guitar

 

Another bizarre Skull that 343 industries added to Halo: The Master Chief Collection, the ‘Prophet Birthday Party’ skull is unique in that it has only one use – if you could call it a ‘use’. What this skull lacks in usefulness it makes up for in sheer ludicrousness, as it punctuates every whack that you deliver to the Prophet of Regret during the boss fight halfway through Halo 2 with electric guitar licks (performed by none other than Steve Vai himself) and lightning bolts. Increasing the difficulty magnifies this skulls effect, as it takes at least 10 punches to kill Regret on Legendary and the licks intensify each time.

5 – Sputnik – Physics Modifiers

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This Skull is essential for level exploration, particularly in the original Halo 2, as it significantly reduces the mass of all objects in the game, making melees and grenade explosions blast objects much further than they did before. This means that the player can use grenade jumps to reach places that are further away, and makes whacking objects around much more easy, allowing the player to uncover passageways and secrets that would be impossible in normal gameplay. For example, to find the Giant Football in the Halo 2 level Metropolis, the player needs to use the Sputnik Skull combined with a grenade jump to blast themselves onto a high tower, and the Sputnik Skull is also needed to be able to melee the football down, after which Ghosts can be used to knock the ball around. There is an even more extreme version of this Skull in the Anniversary version of Halo 2, but more on that later.

4 – Grunt Birthday Party – Headshots Become Explosions (or Confetti)

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This Skull is one of the many that had its effects altered over the course of the Halo games – in the original Halo 2, this Skull required a descent to the very bottom of the Heretic Gas Mine upon which the player is confronted with a circle of dancing Heretic Grunts, all worshiping the aforementioned Skull and with good reason, since all headshots become plasma explosions with this Skull activated, even on dead bodies. However, in later Halos (and even in the Halo 2: Anniversary port in Halo: The Master Chief Collection) this Skull turns headshots into small explosions of confetti, coupled with the jarring but now famous sound clip of children cheering from Viva Pinata.

3 – Envy – Master Chief can go Invisible

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This may sound like another ‘cheat’ Skull, and in some ways it probably is, depending on your point of view. Technically, all this Skull does is grant the Chief access to an ability usually only accessible when playing as the Arbiter, as in Halo 2 Arbiter’s ‘active camouflage’ replaces the flashlight and allows for more stealth-orientated levels. However, the stealth ability is notoriously unreliable, since it only lasts for a short time and requires lots of time to recharge. When Chief has this ability, you can’t even see the timer for the recharge either, so you have to rely on the audio cues to know when camo is ready to use again. However, it does allow for a stealth alternative in the Chief levels, which adds an extra layer of depth to the gameplay that is usually only present in the handful of tailor-built Arbiter levels.

2 – Feather – Like Sputnik on Steroids

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Ah, the elusive Feather Skull. Unavailable to many players in the early days of Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s release due to a bug in the pre-order system (which was later fixed when all the pre-order bonus Skulls became available to everyone), the Feather Skull initially seemed to be not worth the bother – according to the description, with this Skull activated all melees ‘impart more movement physics’, essentially making this Skull’s effect very similar to the Sputnik Skull. However, when you combine the effects of both Skulls together at the same time, it doubles the effect and allows the player to reach inconceivable heights with grenade jumps, (usually resulting in death unless a much higher-up destination is nearby) but, more importantly, allows for ridiculous arcing jumps if an explosion occurs just next to or behind the player, making this Skull and its older brother popular with speedrunners as it allows for huge leaps that allow Chief to clear entire buildings in a single leap, cutting time by requiring fewer grenade jumps.

Honorable Mentions

Thunderstorm Skull – All Enemies are at Max Rank

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Whilst this Skull will certainly feature on my ‘Top 10 Most Challenging Skulls‘ due to the fact that it makes every enemy the strongest and most intelligent that it can possibly be, in certain situations (in Halo 2 in particular) this Skull also makes the game much more fun, since the Skull’s influence also affects Covenant allies. This means that with Thunderstorm activated, any level in which you encounter Minor Elites or Grunts as allies will now gift you with a squad of highly-trained, uber-powerful Elite Ultras and surprisingly confident and capable Grunt Ultras, and the best part is that Ultra Elites always carry an Energy Sword as their secondary weapon meaning Brute enemies rarely stand a chance.

That’s Just… Wrong Skull – Better AI Sight and Hearing

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This Skull, like Thunderstorm, seems like it would make the game more difficult than fun, since it removes the restrictions that the developers put on many of the AI to balance the gameplay – they now hear your footsteps, can see the shimmer of your invisibility, and fire with amazingly precise accuracy at all times, so why is it on this list? Well, for the same reason as Thunderstorm – these effects are also bestowed upon your allies. With this Skull on, allies will rarely ever accidentally kill themselves with heavy weapons, can now locate and dispatch cloaked enemies with ease, and fire with (literal) inhuman accuracy. Essentially, with this Skull on, the allied AI is probably as good as the game as you are.

Streaking – Shields Decay, and Recharge with Kills

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The final Skull in the ‘Honorable Mentions’ category is yet another example of a Skull with a challenging effect that can be manipulated for fun. This Skull fixes a critical weakness of the Black Eye Skull, namely the fact that after doing a particularly elaborate grenade jump that blasts you out of the map you have no way of actually recharging your shields. With this Skull on, however, grenade throws can actually recharge your shields, meaning with Bandana on you can slowly recharge your shields by throwing grenades. Whether or not this is a glitch, it opens up more possibilities for exploration by allowing the player to pull off multiple Black Eye-enchanced feats in succession.

1 – IWHBYD – Rare Dialogue is more Common, and Secret Dialogue is unlocked

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This Skull is fantastic because it makes the game much funnier to play in such a simple way. By reversing the probabilities of common and rare combat dialogue, this Skull makes lines of dialogue that are usually heard only once in a blue moon much more common, and unlocks hidden lines of dialogue that are locked in the game’s standard code. This makes Marines, Elites, Brutes, Grunts and basically anything else in the game that speaks English yell more hilarious (and sometimes vulgar, perplexing or even downright ridiculous) insults to the each other, the player, or even the developers via fourth-wall breaking complaints about the game. The Skull also increases the chances of AI talking to and interacting with each other, and allows the player to hear tales such as the story of Flipyap the Grunt, Sergeant Bank’s message home (delivered in the form of a telegram) and Sergeant Johnson’s many hidden lines of cutscene dialogue.

Named after the subtitle ‘I Would Have Been Your Daddy…’ from the start of Halo: Combat Evolved’s fifth level, Assault on the Control Room, The Skull actually unlocks this line of dialogue for Sergeant Johnson in-game, and he completes the quote with ‘…but a dog beat me over the fence.’ What makes this Skull even more interesting, however, is the ridiculous lengths you have to go to in order to actually unlock it in Halo 2 and Halo 3. Halo 2 involves navigating the normally-inaccessible rooftops of Mombasa to find the Skull (which may or may not actually be there) before having to face off against wave after wave of Ultra Elites who guard the Skull (for whatever reason) before finally unlocking the effects. Halo 3 requires the player to jump through giant holograms of the Halo rings in a specific order – each ring hums at a different tone when you jump through it, so jumping through the rings in a sequence that plays the seven notes of the Gregorian Chant in the Halo theme causes the Skull to magically appear before the player, opening the door for many hilarious encounters to come.

So that’s my list of the Top 10 Most Fun Halo Skulls, I hope you enjoyed and if you did, why not leave a like? You can also follow Sacred Icon or like us on Facebook for more content like this, and look down below for more of my Halo posts!

 

 

Get In The Ring – What Makes Halo’s AI So Fun To Fight?

Few gamers would argue that a key element that can make or break a video game experience is immersion, or the extent to which a video game draws you into the world in which it is set. Many primary criticisms of popular titles are spawned from aspects of the game that break immersion, from Assassins Creed Unity’s dreadful face glitches to Skyrim’s multitude of quest-related bugs. But if a game can create a truly immersive experience, it has already won half of the battle, particularly if the game’s focus is on story elements, world-building or delivering a cinematic feel. And like all games that get immersion right, Halo has one crucial ace up its sleeve that many modern shooters lack today – AI that is actually good.

In-universe, Halo ‘Smart’ AIs like Cortana expire after seven years of service, which is ironic in retrospect since the AI of early Halo games has stood the test of time for far longer than that. Halo 2 in particular is now nearly 15 years old, and yet the AI is still just as fun and interesting to fight now as it was in 2004. There is no shortage of praise for the AI in the Halo games, ever since the beginning one of the main selling points of Halo: Combat Evolved was that the AI ‘feels real’, which seems laughable now considering the fact that Halo 2’s AI makes Halo: CE’s appear primitive by comparison. But to fully understand why Halo’s AI is so good, it is important to first understand the status quo for enemy AI at the time (and, indeed, for many games released today). The difference between earlier shooters like Doom and Quake when compared with Halo is how the AI react to combat situations and alter their strategy to counter the player’s movements, and the truth is, in most shooters, they don’t. AI in corridor shooters is generally there to lurch at the player and get shot, with most games relying on a huge group of enemies programmed with swarm tactics to overwhelm the player with no real reliance on tactics of any kind.

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Halo’s AI is quite the opposite. Aside from the Flood, which for all intents and purposes fills the role of mindless zombies, Halo AI was unique in that the individual aliens respond to what is happening in the world around them. Subtle details in the programming of the AI convey more to the player than any AI in any game had ever done before, and many players take these features for granted since so many other games have incorporated the more advanced features of in-game AI that Halo pioneered into their own games. Bungie programmed the Covenant AI to fulfil the roles they were assigned in a way that not only creates a fun and challenging pantheon of enemies to fight, but also reminds the player of which roles each member of the Covenant plays in their hegemony. When left idle, Grunts will take menial orders from Elites, Curious soldiers may attempt to interact with control panels, or wander up to each other and start a conversation. AI scripts like these were barely present in contemporary RPGs at the time, let alone a sci-fi shooter. But that is one of the many reasons why Halo greatly surpassed the competition at the time – In Halo, gone are the days when a player would wander into a room full of enemies that are positioned in symmetrical semi-circles – the AI in Halo fill the space they occupy, they make the world feel alive because there are so many dynamic elements at play between the individual AIs, and that is something no game had truly tackled before.

Furthermore, each individual AI has its own sense of self-awareness. Ridiculous as it may sound now, having it so that shooting an Elite in the leg will cause it to fall down on one knee was a wondrous innovation at the time, but that’s barely scratching the surface. Grunts flee when their leader is killed, Elites are programmed with a sense of honour, Hunter pairs move in sync to protect each other, and wounded Brutes work themselves up into a frenzy if too many of their brothers are killed. Again, these details seem trivial today, because many games since have incorporated similar features into their games, but the key factor to remember is that Halo pioneered it. And, in truth, there are still many games released this decade that actually lack these features, as more and more shooters return to the linear format of pre-2000s shooters as a means of cutting development time. What really hits this point home is how proud Bungie programmers were (and still are) of what they achieved with Halo given the lasting impact the game had on the first-person shooter genre as a whole. Damain Isla, who worked on the AI for Halo 2 and Halo 3, talks about how they actually weighed the balance of encounters to show off the AI that they had created:

“How smart can an AI even appear to be if you can just gun them down in two seconds flat? So lots of people assumed that we added all kinds of “smarts” to the AI when on legendary difficulty, but nope, it’s just the fact that they have more hitpoints, and so they live long enough to show you all the smart stuff we programmed them to do.”

But he wasn’t just referring to the AI interactions whilst idle – realistically, those kind of details will only really appeal to players like me who take their time to explore every hidden detail of the game rather than playing it how it was meant to be played – the most immersive aspect of Halo’s AI is that it is actually combat-viable. Unlike a game like Skyrim, which has a level of AI idle immersion that almost certainly surpasses that of Halo but then has enemies that seem completely oblivious to cover, traps and player attacks, Halo’s AI utilises the environment around them to make tactical decisions. This is most apparent in Halo 2, a game that is made all the more replayable by the degree of variety one finds within the levels themselves due to the random element of an enemy’s decision making process and the fact that the ranks of the AI you fight are not set, which further impacts the variation in AI behavior.

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By far one of the best aspects of Halo’s AI system, however, is that the same level of depth to the enemy AI is also applied to AI that help the player, also known as allied NPCs. Because Halo has such a diverse range of characters, factions and settings, the form that allied NPCs may take vary – usually, they are Marines, but at various points you also get Sentinels, Elites, Factory Workers, other Spartans, Hunters and even Flood at one point, meaning that defending and working with allied AI becomes a priority, particularly when vehicles are present. Halo’s sandbox is highly varied, and throughout the various campaign missions various different combinations of enemy and ally AI can be encountered, including sections in which warring factions of enemy AI can be observed fighting each other with the same level of tactical intelligence as the AI uses against the player, so there is always more to explore with the AI interactions. In certain cases, you genuinely do not know what the AI is going to do next, and that stands for your allies as well – particularly in hectic situations. This is why AI Battles using what is now considered to be relatively outdated AI are still popular today.

Tragically, like too many modern shooters, Halo’s combat AI has become more and more predictable and generic with each new iteration since Halo: Reach – allied AI in the newer Halo games is less fun to fight with, weaker and less useful, and the enemy AI has become less versatile, with more restrictions being placed on their programming to prevent the AI from reaching its full potential. Typically, this has been done to make the levels more linear – if the AI is more predictable, it is easier to design levels around them. Even with the limitations of the technology available to them at the time, Bungie managed to create a system of AI that helped build a truly immersive experience, and perfected a behavioural program that is still used today, particularly in the Unreal engine, all while making sure the levels that the AI populated were varied, fun and enjoyable on many replays, and that is one of the many reasons why Halo pioneered a revolution of its genre.

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Top Ten Creepiest Halo Easter Eggs

As any Halo fan will tell you, every Halo game has a lot more to it than just gunfights with aliens. One of the deepest aspects to Halo is its Easter Eggs, and the series has played host to several widely known Easter Eggs, both legendary and infamous. However, there is a specific category of Easter Egg that particularly peaks my interest, and that is creepy Easter Eggs that are there to freak players out. Bungie didn’t hold back when it comes to secrets to hunt down in the Halo campaigns, and thanks to their love of all things mysterious and (at times) bizarre, Halo boasts a wide variety of really weird things to find if you take the time to look hard enough.

See Also

10 – Hidden Marine on 343 Guilty Spark

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If you thought the insane screaming Marine that you find inside the Forerunner structure was bad enough, you are not prepared for this guy. He can be found using a glitch whereby spamming the grenade button at the start of the mission 343 Guilty Spark will prompt Chief to forget to get out of the Pelican, allowing you to ride it outside the level boundaries until it lands in an indent. You can then dismount and after about a minute of walking you will come across this poor soul, with his head planted firmly against a tree. If you aren’t paying attention and then you turn around and see him it can be quite startling. In the classic graphics its even spookier, as the trees are not there and he instead slowly appears out of the shadows as you approach, standing and staring but saying absolutely nothing.

9 – Standoff Dish Operator

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This Easter Egg is so tiny that its almost impossible to notice unless you’re looking for it. But on the map Standoff in Halo 3, if you zoom in really close to the Radio Telescope that is closest to you with a Sniper Rifle or Beam Rifle scope, you can find this man – he cannot be killed, or interacted with in any way, and he is apparently a joke inserted by the programmer who rendered the model for the dish, the Halo wiki rather simply and rather spookily states: “This man is Travis Brady”, whoever he is. The reason why he is particularly creepy is that he just stands there – no matter how long you stand there looking at him, he will stand and stare right back at you. And he doesn’t even have a scope to see you properly, but he knows you’re there.
Interestingly enough, this map has another real person’s face utilised for the skybox texture as the man in the moon, so clearly the designers had quite a bit of fun designing Standoff.

8 – Megg Easter Egg

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Megg is an Easter Egg that involves performing a very specific set of steps on the first mission of Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary, including jumping on and off a yellow barrel and murdering Captain Keyes. Once you find the Easter Egg however, you will be filled with pride at knowing that you sacrificed humanity’s best hope for survival to get a look at a letter ‘M’ made out of blood splatters and bullet holes. Seriously though, why is this here? It seems very incongruous, and quite creepy if you think about it – perhaps there is a violent murder loose about the Pillar of Autumn, and the letter ‘M’ is his calling card? Who knows…

This Easter Egg is referenced in a similarly complicated trial in Cairo Station, the first mission of Halo 2, as if the player manages to complete the mission without taking a single hit on Legendary, they will unlock a hidden announcement from Lord Hood which mentions the elusive Megg.

7 – Skulls

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Although the concept of Skulls as objectives or gameplay modifiers is now firmly ingrained into the consciousness of the Halo lexicon thanks to Oddball and the inclusion of the Skulls as Easter Eggs, with many players simply seeing the skulls as game modifiers that are implemented in a fun and intriguing way, but if you think about it, the Skulls are creepy in their own way. They are just lying there, scattered around UNSC bases and Forerunner installations and even the African Savannah and the depths of High Charity, but why? Whose skulls are these? Am I thinking to deeply into this?

6 – Why Am I Here? Easter Egg

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It is always fun to find those hidden messages that programmers leave in seemingly random terrain shapes, but this message suggests a deeper meaning that could simply be a Red vs Blue reference but could also be a sign that one of the people working on Halo 2 really didn’t want to be at his desk that day. Considering the nightmare development that Halo 2 had, I don’t blame him, but in-universe this message represents the possible last words of a former occupant of Beaver Creek, who was trapped there and scrawled his last message before his body was consumed by nature.

5 – Cortana on High Ground

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This Easter Egg is prevalent throughout several missions of Halo 3, but is most prominent on the multiplayer map High Ground. If one stares long enough at the live security camera footage of a hangar in Crows Nest that can be found on all portable UNSC computers in Halo 3, eventually an image of Cortana staring blankly at the player will appear for a few seconds. Creepily, if one uses theatre mode to observe a control panel in a game that is in progress, you can see that Cortana does this every so often whether players are looking or not. That means that every time you play Halo 3 near a UNSC computer, Cortana can periodically drop in to take a look at what you’re up to…

4 – Microsoft SAM Easter Egg

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This is a funny but still rather creepy Easter Egg that can be found in The Covenant in Halo 3. To find this Easter Egg, one must start the level on Normal or higher from the beginning and take a Hornet to the end of the outer rail of the Citadel on the left hand side. Going to the right hand side will trigger the song ‘Siege of Madrigal’ to play, a whole different Egg entirely. When you reach the end of the prong, wait about 2 or 3 minutes and eventually, out of nowhere, the voice of Microsoft SAM will breathe down your neck, saying:

Sam: "OMG (Oh My God) this game needs more guitar wank. Am I right?"

Sam: "Happy Easter Marty."

Sam: "I am a monument to all Marty's sins lololol."

Sam: "J and C Paul, you are so totally fired."

3 – Halo: Reach Radio Conversations

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Throughout Halo: Reach, in both campaign and multiplayer, the player constantly encounters these tiny radios that often loop nothing but static – although some of them contain hidden messages or conversations. Most of them are fairly routine, some are calls for help, some are military personnel giving orders, and some are even just casual conversations about zombie plans. What makes this Easter Egg really creepy, though, is the thought that in several hours from when the game is set, every voice you hear on the radio represents the voice of someone who dies on Reach…

2 – The Halo 3 Cavemen

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As strange as it may seem, Halo 3 has a resident population of cavemen. Each of the diminutive monkey people has the face of Marcus R. Lehto, the former Creative Arts Director of Bungie Studios who left in 2012.  This Egg is as confusing as it is disturbing – where did the monkey men come from? Why do they have a bear? Why is the largest member of the family holding the bear, and why is it bigger than the smallest child? Most importantly, in the final cutscene of Halo 3: ODST, why does Edward Buck pick an insect off one of these creatures and eat it before your very eyes?

1 – Reversed Messages in the Soundtrack

We have already published an entire list on how good Halo’s soundtrack is, but one aspect of it that wasn’t mentioned in that list was the Hidden Messages that can be found within certain songs of the soundtrack. Halo 2 has ‘Destroyer’s Invocation’, the first movement of the ‘Mausoleum Suite’ ,which has a very deep and underlying guttural vocal melody that is totally indecipherable unless played backwards. If you are able to listen to the song backwards, the voice is revealed to be possibly that of Mendicant Bias, an A.I. trapped within High Charity. Regardless, the voice says as follows:

“…I have walked among men and angels for three thousand years.

Time has no end… no beginning… no purpose. 

I wander the earth, seeking forgiveness for my horrible crimes against God and man. 

I live to see death and destruction, evil… over the light, but the light cannot be extinguished.

 I live in a prison of my own demise.

I am lost…in time.”

 

Halo 3 has ‘Black Tower’, there is another reversed message that appears to frequently reference T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men, which is interesting since several aspects of Halo 3’s marketing campaign also referenced that poem. The backwards messages appear to say:“Eyes from Death’s dream kingdom, Appear as sunlight on a broken column. There in Death’s other kingdom walking alone, Trembling lips form prayers to broken stone.In death’s dream kingdom. These do not appear: There, the eyes are sunlight on a broken column, Waking alone at the hour when we are, Trembling with tenderness, Lips that would kiss, Form prayers to broken stone.”

Finally, ‘Dread Intrusion’ from Halo 3 has perhaps the most interesting reversed message of them all, since this message seems to attempt to give us an insight into what goes on inside the minds of the Flood as they further their onslaught:“Side by side, we march as one, Humans and Elites will die, The Earth will fall if we strike together, So forth shall all of life.”

So what are your thoughts?

What did you think of this list? Do you agree? If you can think of any other spooky Halo Easter Eggs, feel free to leave them in the comments, and look down below for more Halo related content!

Ranking the Levels – Halo 2

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Halo 2 Menu

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.

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Halo and the ‘Sacred Icons’

Newcomers to my blog may be wondering, ‘what’s with the name?’ as it is true that I have given little explanation as to why this blog is called what it is. It may sound like a rather odd name, especially with no context as to what it means, so I will explain it here. At first glance it seems as though the name comes from a level in Halo, and that is indeed true, to an extent. ‘Sacred Icon’ is the tenth level of Halo 2, which is not only my favourite Halo game but possibly even my favourite game of all time, but the name ‘Sacred Icon’ has an even deeper meaning and importance within the Halo franchise, and further explanation is needed to articulate why this name in particular is the one I chose for my blog.

Halo Ring Approach

The Halo Rings or, more specifically, the Halo Installations that appear in the Halo series are, essentially, gigantic superstructures built by an ancient, long-dead race (the ‘Forerunners’) that engineered the rings to be habitable via a terrestrial surface that lines the inner surface of the ring. The rings themselves are huge, approximately 10,000km in diameter, and have a variety of different biomes across the vast inner surface, ranging from snowy canyons to temperate plains to thick, humid jungles – all populated with various angular and incongruous Forerunner structures that dot the landscape of the ring, a constant reminder to anyone walking around on the inner surface that they are indeed standing on an artificial world (that, and the fact that in anywhere outdoors you can see the ring arcing up into the sky). But these seemingly idyllic paradises hold a dark secret that is unlocked as across the games of the first Halo trilogy you explore deeper into the underground chasms of various Installations in the Halo Array.

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The Halos were built for a reason, as the Forerunners needed a way to essentially commit genocide on an entire Galaxy, wiping out all life on every single planet in the Milky Way. This was done by the Forerunners 100,000 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved take place, as they were under attack by an extragalactic parasite known as ‘The Flood’, which was consuming all life in the Galaxy to form one gigantic hive-minded Galaxy-spanning Flood dominion. After the Halos were activated, the Forerunners re-seeded the Galaxy using specimens that they had collected in the lead up to the Halo activation, before disappearing entirely from the Galaxy.

The Library of Installation 05

To facilitate another activation should the Flood ever return, the Forerunners left the keys (‘Indexes’) that are required to activate the rings in various locations on the rings themselves. The structures, called ‘Libraries’ vary – on one ring, the Index was located in the center of a huge multi-leveled cathedral with gigantic elevators leading to a complex labyrinth, whilst another example (from Halo 2) required the player to conquer a complex gauntlet but whilst playing as The Covenant.

Prophet of Truth with the Sacred Icon

The Covenant, an interstellar empire comprising a conglomerate of various species of aliens who all believe that the Forerunners are Gods and the Halos will bring them transcendence, venture into the Library to recover the Index and activate the ring. However, the Covenant religious name for the artifact they are seeking is not ‘Index’, despite the fact that the Forerunners themselves referred to it as such, as they instead use their own term for the key: “Sacred Icon.”

So, in short, that is what the Sacred Icon is. It is the key, hidden away on a gigantic ringworld that, when correctly used, destroys all life in the Galaxy by activating the ring.

It’s also a pretty cool name for a blog I reckon.

Xenophobia – Halo, the Covenant, and the Fear of the Unknown

The Aliens are the bad guys. Everyone knows that. There’s a film called Alien, in which the villain is an alien, and it kills people because its an alien and that’s what aliens do, right? Think of any sci-fi franchise and undoubtedly you’ll think about a whole host of evil alien bad-guys who want to destroy Earth and kill all the Humans. Predator. Independence Day. Cloverfield. Even Star Trek. And Halo is no exception. The Covenant are an evil gang of aliens who want to destroy the Earth, kill all the humans and basically be bad guys. Or are they?

You don’t expect anything particularly deep in terms of story from a first-person shooter game, but Halo is definitely an exception. There is no doubt that Halo has a story that is both complex and interesting, and the reason for this is that the characters in Halo are themselves complex and interesting. Halo isn’t just a game about blasting aliens – it can be, if you want it to be, but if you pay attention to even 10 minutes of the cutscenes from any game past Halo: Combat Evolved and you’ll see that there is far more to the Covenant than simply a gang of evil roaring laser aliens. They have an entire religion, a way of life and a code of conduct that is just as complex and rigid as any human code of self-discipline, and it is because of their faith that they do the things that they do, even if individuals within the Covenant don’t want to.

At face value, however, the Covenant do appear to be simply a barbaric cult of zealots who want to destroy humanity – they fulfill their role in the game for this very reason. But the Covenant are designed to represent any real-world extremist religious organisation. In a sense, a player of Halo being indifferent to the inner workings of the Covenant is comparable to any real-world person being indifferent to the inner workings of any society or country that they are currently fighting. If people in the real world payed as much attention to the inner workings of genuine fanatical organisations as Halo fans did to the inner workings of the Covenant, then there might just be a greater general knowledge of why modern-era wars are being fought and what the motivations for the real-life ‘bad guys’ really are.

In a sense, the indifference to the psychology of ones enemy stems from a fear of the unknown. We don’t want to know why the people we are fighting are doing the things that they are doing, because every so often there comes a time when we might just realise that we’re not as much in the right as we thought we were, and vice versa. Who are the real ‘bad guys’ in the world? If we stick to the Halo analogy, we know that the UNSC – humanity’s commanding force – are secretly at the beck and call of ONI, a sinister HYDRA-esque organisation that are undeniably evil. And it is from the Covenant that we derive the character of the Arbiter, a fan-favourite who is driven by his desire to bring justice and do good in repentance for the evil things he did during his time in service of the Covenant. So who are the real villains?

In any good story, just as in real life, there are no true ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ – there are simply factions, each fighting for a distinct reason, and it is up to the individual to assess each one and decide for themselves which is the best. It is comparable to sports, in a sense – in the grand scheme of things, is there really any tangible difference between different countries fighting each other and different sports teams competing in a championship? They are all self-interested, independent actors in a great global game – a game in which we are the players.

Choose your team wisely.

 

 

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