Halo – SPV3 – CMT’s Re-Masterpiece

As Halo mods go, you can’t get much better than SPV3. Custom Mapping Team, headed by Masterz1337, have created nothing short of a masterpiece with their fantastic re-imagining of Halo: Combat Evolved‘s campaign. Downloadable for free on PC, SPV3 features many interesting surprises for even the most hardened Halo veteran, thanks to remastered graphics, new assets, new weapons and vehicles, and in some cases totally re-imagined levels with new playspaces to explore. As if all that were not enough, the mod also features new enemy types including Brutes, Skirmishers, Sniper Jackals, Honor Guards three different types of Hunters. With so much in this mod, it can be hard to summarise totally in one article, so this may not be the only time this mod features as a topic in the future. For this introduction, the focus will be the new features of this mod that stand out the most when compared with both Halo: Combat Evolved and it’s Anniversary version.

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The Music

One of the first aspects of this mod that jumps out at you is the music. Whilst Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary’s soundtrack mostly stuck to the tunes featured in the original game, SPV3’s soundtrack draws from various other Halo games and many of the remasters are radically different from their original counterparts. Whilst many of the classic musical cues in the levels we remember make a return, the mod adds enough new music to make each level feel like an entirely new experience. Highlights of the soundtrack include Under Cover of Night, Rock Anthem for Saving the World, Halo, Sleeping Grunts, Covenant Dance, Leonidas, Brothers in Arms and In Amber Clad, but each and every track in the game has been painstakingly and quite spectacularly enhanced for this updated Halo campaign.

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The New Levels

The most exciting of the new additions to the campaign in SPV3 is the new levels, as each and every one has had its weapons, objectives, encounters and atmospheres altered or expanded in various ways. The Anti-Gravity sections in The Pillar of Autumn, the Anti-Air Wraith battle in Halo and the Grizzly rampage in Assault on the Control Room are among the most notable stark enhancements to the campaign’s fun factor, and long-time fans of Halo: Combat Evolved who know the game inside out will be met with many wonderful surprises when playing through SPV3’s campaign as the familiar and the unfamiliar collide in a thrilling single player experience. With all ten of the original levels plus an alternate take on The Silent Cartographer featuring in SPV3, there are a vast variety of classic and brand-new enemy encounters to overcome and dozens of tweaks to each and every facet of the original Halo experience.

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The Covenant

In the original version of Halo: Combat Evolved, there were four Covenant races featured – Elites, Grunts, Jackals and Hunters, with some of these having variants such as the Jackal Major, the Stealth Elite and the infamous Zealots. SPV3, on the other hand, has the benefit of hindsight – since Halo: Combat Evolved‘s release, various other Covenant races and variants have been introduced into the franchise such as Jackal Snipers, Elite Honor Guards, Skirmishers and Brutes, and thanks to the power of mods all of these and more are featured in SPV3’s campaign, as well as a vast variety of new Covenant weapons like the Focus Rifle, the Brute Plasma Rifle, the Brute Shot and even Halo 5’s ‘Voi. Also, the CMT have created many of their own totally new Covenant weapons that blend seamlessly into the aesthetic of the game, such as the Shredder (a Brute version of the Needler), the Particle Carbine (like the standard Carbine but battery powered) and the Brute Plasma Pistol (which includes an overcharge that spews fire upon impact). These additions to the Covenant make them more dynamic enemies to fight and the vast variety makes for some challenging encounters with larger groups of enemies that the original Halo: Combat Evolved would have struggled to process.

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The Flood

Another big surprise in SPV3 is just how much the Flood have changed in this mod compared to the original game, as they are now a more dynamic threat than ever before. Each of the five Flood levels have been totally reworked from the ground up – the original identity of levels like The Library, Keyes and The Maw have been retained but the mood and atmosphere have been altered considerably, essentially transforming the latter half of the game into a unique and exhilarating horror experience. Levels that were formerly bogged down by repetitive level design and unimaginative encounters have now been re-imagined into some of the best Halo experiences, and this is made all the more exciting by the wide variety of forms the Flood can take in this mod. In the original game, the Flood came in four basic forms – the tiny Infection Forms, the bloated and explosive Carrier Forms and the two varieties of Combat Form, derived from either Elite or Human host bodies. In SPV3, new additions to the Flood ranks include Jackal Forms that howl and screech as they leap towards the player, Brute Forms that are essentially tankier versions of the standard Combat Forms and, for the first time in a Halo game, ODST Combat Forms that are stronger and more dangerous versions of the standard Human Combat Form. If all this were not enough, CMT went one step further and added Halo 3’s instantaneous infection feature, meaning that any Covenant or Human soldiers that are attacked by an Infection Form will be transformed into a Flood form before your very eyes.

In Conclusion

Those out there who are Halo fans and have not yet given SPV3 a go are strongly advised to download this mod, it has clearly had a lot of time, care and effort put into it to make it fun and fresh for fans of Halo: Combat Evolved and the Halo series in general.

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Halo – What makes the ‘Classic’ art style of Halo: Infinite so important?

My recent article on how Halo: Infinite could save the Halo franchise talked briefly about how the new Halo game seems to be adopted the ‘Classic’ art style from the original Halo trilogy, and how this represents a significant shift in the direction for the 343 Industries and how this could mean a brighter future for the franchise. But what is it about the ‘Classic’ art style that is so important to Halo, and why should 343 Industries pursue this art style rather than their own take on the games that they have been developing for the past few years? The answer comes in several parts, the first being:

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The Classic Halo Art Style Didn’t Need Changing

This is the primary reason why Halo fans were embittered by 343 industries’ sudden change of the look and feel of the universe between Halo: Reach and Halo 4. For many, the change came as a disappointing shock, similarly to if the new Star Wars movies had decided to totally change how Darth Vader, Lightsabers, Star Destroyers and Gungans looked between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It is important to note that Halo fans were never against the inclusion of new things into the universe – even the unbalanced and bullet-spongey Prometheans from Halo 4 were effectively inducted into the Halo universe, particularly thanks to their overhaul in Halo 5: Guardians, and all the new weapons that 343i have introduced have been fairly well-received, like the SAW and Forerunner weapons like the Light Rifle and the Scattershot – the problem is that 343i decided that the art style needed changing regardless of whether or not fans wanted it, and suddenly all the iconic things in the game we had all come to love the designs for – such as the shotgun, the Scorpion tank, the Banshee and even the Grunts looked totally different to how we all remembered them, breaking the immersion to a degree.

As such, the radical change to the art style – such changing Chief’s armour during the time he was in cryo, changing the look of the Elites, and remodeling all of the Covenant and UNSC weapons and vehicles – was met with resistance by many players, and for many the look and feel of the games was never the same. The ironic thing about this is that, when pushed to recreate Bungie’s art style in the Anniversary versions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, 343i actually did a really good job. Both Halo: CE Anniversary and Halo 2: Anniversary look and feel fantastic and, most importantly, authentic. 343i managed to recapture the nostalgia of the Bungie games despite them being totally remastered, so why not recapture that same magic in their newer, original games?

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Halo’s identity, and how it can keep it

Another crucial reason why Halo’s art style is so important is that Halo had, and perhaps still has, a definitive and unique identity as a game – it is more than just a simple sci-fi shooter, as any Halo fan knows, and how the game looks and feels is important to contributing to this. Halo: Combat Evolved‘s first few levels depict a human ship in the midst of combat against strange aliens, a desperate escape to a mysterious alien ringworld, and a sense of shock and awe as the environment of the Halo ring unfolds before the player. The mind-boggling potential of having the entire ring seemingly at your fingertips, traversing the vast environments of an even more vast alien landscape, that is still remarkably familiar. Part of the charm of the original Halo game is things that regular players might not even consider at first – things like finding the beam emitter towers in the canyon near the start of the second level, and experiencing the blend of wide, open and natural environments and angular, metallic Forerunner structures, that perfectly illustrates how Halo defines itself as a game that is both about the familiar and the alien being forced together.

As the more iconic Halo games begin to drift further and further back in time, it is imperative that the newer Halos attempt to recapture that magic of the original and the sense of ancient, mysterious wonder that comes with it. Halo: MCC tried its best to repackage the original games for newer players, but unfortunately its less-than-ideal launch meant that this didn’t reach as many players as it could have done. In light of this, it has never been more important that 343 industries look over their art style and focus to better cater to Halo fans, old and new, in the modern age.

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‘Classic’ Halo is just Halo

The overall issue of the ‘new vs old’ debate with the art style of Halo boils down to how the game feels for those who play it. Clearly in recent years Halo fans have been less-than-optimistic about 343 Industries’ handling of the franchise, and in many ways the loss of the old art style in the newer games is a major factor contributing to this. Thanks to the clear decision to recapture the old art style in Halo: Infinite, it looks like Halo is back on track to recapturing the old nostalgia, mystery and magic that the original offered to millions of players back in the 2000s, and offering just as much to new players in the 2010s and going into the 2020s.

So that’s my thoughts on why the original art style of Halo is so important, and how Halo: Infinite is taking steps to redeem the franchise. If you enjoyed then be sure to leave a like, and you can follow Sacred Icon here or on Facebook for more content like this.

In the meantime, look down below for more of my Halo-related content!

 

 

Halo – Ranking ALL the Halo Games

Eventually, it had to be done. A comprehensive ranking of every Halo game, so that’s Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. Not included are Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2, because comparing strategy games with first person shooters is ultimately pointless. So, to begin:

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7 – Halo 4

I can’t express how hard it is to actually rank Halo 4 as the lowest. I compare ranking Halo games to ranking Doctors from Doctor Who, in that they’re all good in their own way so picking a worst one essentially comes down to picking what everyone else considers the worst one. In ranking the Doctors, this means that Colin Baker usually comes last, and when ranking Halo games, it’s Halo 4. Why? Well, because Halo 4 seemed like the biggest missed opportunity in Halo history. It was a decent game in it’s own right, and the multiplayer was prematurely killed off by rapid release of various DLC until the release of The Master Chief Collection, but what really brought Halo 4 down was the campaign. The story was ultimately quite good if you bothered to read the multitude of deep-lore novels (which the average player does not) but without the added understanding of the in-game terminals and a very acute knowledge of the Halo expanded universe the story was baffling to most players, with the Didact appearing as ‘just some guy’ instead of the threatening villain he was supposed to be. Added to this is Cortana’s death, which in the narrative of the game is a beautiful and emotional ending to a fairly moving (if nonsensical) sci-fi story, but in the wider context of the Halo universe seemed like a cheap ploy to make 343i’s first game somewhat memorable. Added to that is the music, art and sound design radically changing from the previous game, again to make 343i’s games seem more distinct from Bungie’s games, when it really didn’t need to. Why does everything suddenly look totally different from how it did at the end of Halo 3? The Anniversary games showed us that it is possible to update graphics without changing the overall look of a game, so why was this sudden and unexpected change necessary? If anything it only served to distance Bungie fans even more from 343i’s games, which is ultimately what it came down to with Halo 4 – it split the userbase between new and old fans, with a growing number of Halo players backing the ‘it was better how it was’ camp rather than accepting 343i’s takeover of the franchise.

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6 – Halo 3: ODST

If you haven’t already, be sure to find some way of checking out Firefly, a fantastic Space-Western orientated series that aired on Fox between 2002-2003, it’s an absolutely fantastic show even accounting for the fact that because it was unfairly cancelled the last few episodes of the first season were never made. Some of the cast of Firefly later worked on a game called Halo 3: ODST, including star Nathan Fillion. Like all the Halo games, Halo 3: ODST had an engaging story, interesting characters and a swath of fun gameplay. The problem with Halo 3: ODST is that it is just too short. The campaign consists of Halo’s first (and until now, only) open-world experience, as you awaken in an enemy occupied city and try to figure out what happened to your squadmates by finding and activating certain ‘memories’ related to them, that take the form of flashbacks to your squadmates prior missions in the city. These flashbacks are essentially the levels of the game, but there are not many of them and they are often short compared to normal Halo levels. For some context, in Halo: The Master Chief Collection the par time is used to determine how quickly a Halo level should be finished in, even for someone who isn’t speed-running. Normally, a par time in The MCC is about 10-15 minutes, but many of the Halo 3: ODST levels would struggle to hit 5 minutes. Added to that is the lack of multiplayer, and although ODST does contain the debut of the Firefight mode, Halo: Reach did this much better without sacrificing a multiplayer mode.

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5 – Halo 5: Guardians

The most recent 343i-made Halo game was not without its fair share of controversy – from microtransactions to updates that really just added in the bits of the game that were missing on release, Halo 5 somewhat divided the Halo community. But, in many ways, it also somewhat united it too, since it added features into a Halo game that the community had never seen before, such as a Custom Games File Browser that allows players to search for player-made games online, and the most advanced Forge system to date that also got its own port on PC. The campaign is what really let this game down, with a story that didn’t live up to the hype that the trailers whipped up around the game, and characters that barely meet the standards for being described as ‘paper-thin’. Other than Buck, who had received development in Halo 3: ODST, practically every squad member – even Master Chief’s Blue Team from the novels – felt under-developed and underused. Overall, if it weren’t for a pretty decent multiplayer (once all the updates were released) and a fancy new engine (that apparently got split-screen removed) Halo 5: Guardians would hardly be worth considering. But with such a strong potential for community-driven direction and a platform for user-created content, Halo 5: Guardians has pushed 343 industries further in the right direction for what to do next with the franchise.

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4 – Halo: Reach

The controversial younger cousin of the Bungie games, Halo: Reach has the dubious honor of being the final Bungie game of the series and is therefore seen by many fans as a turning point in the franchise. Despite the inclusion of several questionable additions such as Armor Lock, Halo: Reach stands out as a shooter that has maintained its population for nearly ten years and experienced a renaissance following the release of its backwards-compatibility on the Xbox One. One of the best aspects of Halo: Reach is the campaign, which tells a relatively simple story but in a way that draws the player close to one particular team of Spartan soldiers among hundreds, and depicts their fate with startling stone-cold sincerity as characters that it is easy to feel close to are killed off one by one. Add to this a vast variety of interesting levels that often use in-game events to embellish the melancholy story with visceral detail, such as the destruction of the civilian transport in the level ‘Exodus’ or the annihilation of the frigate Savannah in the level ‘Long Night of Solace’ that add to the sense of helplessness as the player watches the tragic events play out. A lingering standout feature of Halo: Reach is its multiplayer, which served as the epitome of community involvement for the Bungie era, as the heavily modified Forge mode allowed for more intricate map creation. Also, the variety of gamemodes and the ability to customise the character’s armor allowed for a vast freedom that few Halo games before or since ever offered the player.

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3 – Halo: Combat Evolved

The game that started it all cannot be underestimated, even nearly 20 years after its initial release. The story is intricately woven throughout the campaign levels that are specifically designed to invoke a feeling of wonder and intrigue as the game takes the player on a journey through an ancient and mysterious fortress-world that combines stark, metallic structures and caverns with rolling hills, tall forests, snowy valleys and festering swamps. The campaign is structured so that as the locations advance, so to do the difficulty levels of the enemies, ensuring that a smooth learning curve guides the player through the variety of levels and enemy types. Add to this the incredible music, that served as the inspiration for many tracks on Halo soundtracks afterward, and perfectly sets the tone of every level with a provocative soundtrack that enhances the alien-ness of the setting. The only real drawback to Halo: Combat Evolved is the multiplayer, which was designed for system link and is woefully unbalanced, meaning that online play via The Master Chief Collection is largely pointless. Whilst the MCC does a great job of transitioning the game to the next generation, the best way to experience Halo: Combat Evolved is in its original form, on an original Xbox, and preferably with the original Duke controller that gave everyone RSI.

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2 – Halo 3

Halo 3 is considered by many to be the definitive Halo experience, and it has definitely earned that title. This game delivered the immense hype that built up prior to its release in 2007, and it rounded off the story of the original Halo trilogy with dignity. The multiplayer was and still is stellar, with a wide variety of maps and modes and even an inclusion of a rudimentary Forge mode, since this game was the initial debut of the mapmaking system that Halo: Reach would eventual expand greatly upon. The greatest thing about Halo 3 is how all the elements come together, both from a production and marketing perspective but also from an in-game story perspective, since this game sees the Master Chief and the Humans in the UNSC side with the Arbiter and the Elites of the former Covenant, which has now been taken over by the Prophet of Truth and his Brutes. The campaign picks up where Halo 2 left off and although it doesn’t quite meet the level and enemy variety that Halo 2 did, Halo 3 still delivers an action-packed campaign in which almost every level is definitive, apart from that one we all hate.

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1 – Halo 2

Halo is indeed a great series, and Halo 2 is what made it so. Aside from being the biggest video game of all time on its release, Halo 2 gave the first person shooter genre its big break on consoles, with the inclusion of a revolutionary online and matchmaking system that allowed players from all over the world to battle each other online on Xbox almost instantly, and also a ranking system that introduced a competitive side to online play that drove gameplay hours up. Halo 2 also had a much more cinematic campaign experience, with a story that built on what had already been established in Halo: Combat Evolved and pushed Halo further into the grounds of high-concept science fiction whilst keeping the gameplay fun and refreshing. An overhaul of the health system from Halo: Combat Evolved made the gameplay more fast-paced, and Halo 2 saw the inclusion of the most diverse and varied selection of enemies yet, from the Heretics with their Grunt-Needler army, the Sentinels with their massive Enforcers, the Flood with their newfound ability to drive vehicles and the debut of the Brutes who play a vital role in the story. Halo 2 also saw the surprise inclusion of the Arbiter as a playable single-player character, with his own story that runs in tandem to Master Chief’s throughout the game and offers a new insight into the Covenant and their society. Overall, although the game itself has been dwarfed by subsequent releases, the impact of the release of Halo 2 on the gaming market at the time was great, and to this day it remains the greatest Halo game.

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…’

iron

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.

doom gameplay

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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