The missions change. They always do. While that’s true, what’s at the heart of the Halo franchise does not change – it’s Master Chief, Cortana, some punchy guns that don’t get old, and a soundtrack that never lets up. Throughout the decades, Chief and Cortana (and buddies like Buck) have found themselves on Earth, Sanghelios, hurtling through space, aboard exploding rings, and more. But no matter the locale, we were finishing the fight – even when some of those battles were more grueling than others.
Sadly, Chief was absent from the fight the Game Informer editors partook in to rank all the Halo games from worst to best. It’s important to note that we opted to rank only the Xbox console FPS Halo games, which means you won’t find mobile, arcade, or RTS spinoffs like Halo Wars or Fireteam Raven in this list. Now, onto the ranking – continue to find out which Halo game finished the fight on top.
Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians is not an outright bad game – I think most would agree that like pizza, a not-so-great Halo game is still Halo. However, Halo 5 strayed a bit too far from the traditional recipe to garner any praise over its predecessors or sequel. Featuring just a handful of missions with Chief and Cortana – the two beloved characters we want to spend our time with – we go on nearly three times the amount of missions with Spartan Locke and his squad instead. It was tough to finish Halo 5 without feeling empty. Where was the simple but heartfelt storytelling Halo was known for? Why are there loot boxes in multiplayer? Halo 5 was pretty and played like Halo, which means it played well, but it lacked too much of what we want in the franchise to rank any higher.
Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST is not a bad game – it’s great. It was the first game in the series to prove that Halo could be fun without Chief (so long as it’s not Halo 5: Guardians), and it established a new tone in the wider Halo universe. Dropping the large-scale sci-fi chaos seen throughout Halo for at least half of its playtime, ODST saw us control decidedly not-Spartan soldiers that couldn’t take hundreds of bullets like Chief. Soldiers that probably had families at home. As a result, the events of ODST felt more human and all the more dangerous. Plus, it introduced jazz to the franchise. Serving as a great juxtaposition to the traditional multiplayer experience, ODST also brought Firefight to the series, an excellent wave-based co-op mode that fans still love to this day.
Halo 4, the years have been kind to you. Perhaps stunted a bit out of the gates by longtime fans that felt guarded against a non-Bungie studio taking the reins, 343 Industries’ first go at a mainline Halo entry was largely viewed as successful over time. It features one of the best storylines in all of Halo, further solidifying the heart and conflict between Chief and Cortana that would become the foundation of Halo 5: Guardians and Halo Infinite, and it takes the series’ lore in new directions that felt refreshing and unique. Where 4 faltered, though, was its multiplayer suite. Its Battle Rifle wasn’t great, the Assault Rifle was weakened to push people more toward the DMR, and it continued Reach’s trend of armor abilities/loadouts, which most agreed were not needed. Still, Halo 4’s campaign is worth a replay to this day.
Halo: Combat Evolved
What more can be said about Halo: Combat Evolved? It’s the one that started it all, and while it hasn’t aged as nicely as others on this list, is it even fair to assume it would? Now at 20 years old, the level design and gunplay don’t hold up as well as we’d like, but it’s still a game filled with sci-fi wonder, be it someone’s first playthrough or tenth. It established the entire Halo universe from which its sequels are built, and it solidified Master Chief, Cortana, the UNSC, and the Covenant as video game mainstays. It doesn’t compare to later offerings in the series on the multiplayer front, but it established what it needed to: a foundation for Bungie to nearly perfect in later entries. Also, Blood Gulch – like, come on. Iconic.
Halo: Reach, for many, is the pinnacle of Bungie’s efforts in the Halo franchise. It’s also Bungie’s last. While the campaign is remembered as one of the best – we’ll never forget the first time we saw the “Survive” objective – its multiplayer changes led to series lows that would eventually be course-corrected by Halo Infinite. Still, Noble Team features a memorable cast of characters, several exciting locales, space dogfighting, and a heartbreakingly unforgettable campaign finale. We only wish Reach’s multiplayer hadn’t introduced armor abilities and loadouts. These features got in the way of what made Halo’s multiplayer gameplay such a standout experience.
Halo Infinite is by all accounts the best Halo’s been in years. It’s not just a return to form for the series’ multiplayer, which drops things like loot boxes in favor of battle passes and brings back classic Halo gameplay devoid of armor abilities and loadouts. It also features a Halo campaign that charts a new path for Master Chief while respecting the franchise’s 20-year legacy. Dropping the more linear campaign progression of Halo’s past, Infinite takes place on the semi-open world of Zeta Halo that features outposts, Spartan Cores, Forerunner artifacts, and more to explore. While these open-world activities are same-y, they never grow stale because Infinite’s standout combat is at the heart of each. The story doesn’t reach the heights of other Halo games, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the lows of Halo 5: Guardians. On the multiplayer front, 343 Industries has some progression issues to fix. Still, when you’re not looking at challenges and experience points, you’re playing one of the best Halo multiplayer suites in the franchise’s history.
Halo 2 is arguably the most important game in the entire franchise. Not only did it further solidify Master Chief as an icon we’d be seeing more of, it also shipped with online multiplayer that would define online gaming with friends for years. Bungie developed a party system for Halo 2’s multiplayer, added playlists, prototyped skill-based matchmaking, and made voice chatting easier than ever. The need for servers or LAN parties was gone – Xbox Live had us covered. Beyond multiplayer, Halo 2 furthered the story of Chief, Cortana, the UNSC, and their fight against the religious zealots known as the Covenant, even if it felt more like a Part One than a fully-complete campaign by the end. It also introduced Brutes to the series, enemies we’re still fighting to this day in Halo Infinite, and it gifted the world with the electric guitar version of the main Halo theme song. It ripped then, and it still rips now. Thank you, Halo 2.
Halo 3 is the best the series has to offer, and if someone wants to play just one Halo game to see what all the fuss is about, it’s the one most would point to. It features a fantastic story, the best multiplayer suite in the entire franchise, and a Forge mode that allowed us all to create our wildest dreams (did anybody else’s “wildest dream” in Forge just turn into Valhalla with snipers and vehicles everywhere?). Halo 3 is also special because it was Bungie’s last mainline numbered Halo title as the team had opted to move forward with 3’s DLC, ODST, and Reach, a Halo prequel. At the time, the story ended on such a high note that if it were the last mainline game, we’d be satisfied. Fortunately, 343 Industries picked up the mantle, but for a brief moment in time, Halo 3 provided us with a solid and heartfelt conclusion, perfect for John-117. We finished the fight, and it was time for Chief to rest, until yet again, the mission changed. I mean, they always do, right?
What’s your ranking of the Halo series? Let us know in the comments below!