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 – Microsoft E3 Announcement – How Halo: Infinite could save the franchise

So Microsoft recently announced Halo: Infinite, allegedly the ‘Halo 6’ that everyone has been anticipating. Since no tangible news or updates about Halo 6 have surfaced in the 3 or so years since Halo 5: Guardians was released, this new trailer for the newly confirmed Halo: Infinite is the first glimpse at what lies in store for Halo in the future. And boy, did it look tantalizing.

For a start, and let’s get the obvious out of the way first, Halo is back. And I don’t just mean the franchise – I mean the ringworld. The essential setting for Halo as a series in the glory days, the cradle of the classic, lore-rich, atmospheric and iconic series is back and it looks better than ever. The graphics in this trailer are, hopefully, a sign of how the game itself will look when it launches, as everything look beautiful – the ground, the wildlife, the trees and especially Chief’s armor. Oh, and on that topic…

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Yep. Chief is back. And the classic art-style is too. I was a heavy critic of 343 industries’ design overhauls back in the day, but eventually learned to live with them – but Halo 2: Anniversary showed us what classic Halo could look like updated for modern graphics, and 343 industries has clearly realised that the fanbase prefers Bungie’s look and feel of the games. As good as 343i’s effort to put its own stamp on Halo was, they clearly understood the wisdom of giving fans what they want in this regard, and the results speak for themselves.

From the look of the trailer, the game will feature more ambient wildlife, which is an interesting thing to focus on – Halo has certainly had ambient wildlife before, such as the Moa in Halo: Reach back in 2010, but on the whole wildlife has never been much of a focus. Interestingly, however, ambient wildlife was a focus of a Halo E3 trailer – that being the original demo for Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2000. A subtle link, but a link nonetheless, and perhaps a deliberate one.

This trailer also shows some of the state of the wider universe – we see a downed modern-era Pelican, representing the scattered and vulnerable UNSC forces in the wake of Cortana’s AI invasion at the end of Halo 5: Guardians, as well as a cave with Covenant writing scratched into the walls – a message? A warning? The shot in the Pelican also focuses on a radio, implying that various factions across the galaxy are responding to a message of some kind, although that’s only a guess.

Hopefully, characters who were present at the end of Halo 5: Guardians will make a return, such as the Arbiter, Catherine Halsey, Lasky, Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, and presumably the rampant Cortana will return also. However, could more classic Halo characters be returning given the general feel of this game appears to be invoking that classic feel? Could characters like 343 Guilty Spark or the Gravemind, both characters who were disposed of in Halo 3 but have the potential to return, have a part to play in t this new game? Or perhaps characters with more rooting in the lore, such as 032 Mendicant Bias or perhaps the original Didact, Bornstellar? Time will tell.

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Ultimately, its looking more and more like 343 industries have learnt their lesson and may finally be coming out of their ‘rebellious’ phase and back on target for delivering Halo games that we love. Given the chance, Halo: Infinite could well go on to save the franchise.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on the reveal of Halo: Infinite, remember to like and share, and you can follow Sacred Icon either 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…’

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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!