Halo 3 was the game I played more than any other other growing up. It was my go to experience for both single player and multiplayer for years and I have so many memories staying up late with friends trying to complete it on Legendary with whatever random challenges we could come up with. I feel like it’s one of those games I know every nook and cranny of and honestly that was part of the issue.
I wasn’t going to revisit Halo 3 for quite some time since I have played it so much already. I wanted a fresh perspective to talk about but my brother convinced me that maybe a LASO run would be possible. So, I thought “why not kill two birds with one stone?” I decided to run through Halo 3 in the LASO playlist on the Master Chief Collection and going into the run I was afraid I would be wasting my time. I have tried LASO on Halo 1 and Halo 2 and have quit on all those attempts but Halo 3 was different. It was easier than I expected but there were definitely times where I didn’t think I would be able to complete the playthrough.
What even is LASO?
LASO stands for legendary (difficulty) with all skulls on. Skulls are game modifiers that almost always make the Halo you are playing much more difficult. Legendary is pretty doable even though it’s supposed to be the highest difficulty in Halo but when you add the skulls into the mix, the experience becomes more about knowing how to use every single bullet available.
List of Halo 3 skulls
- Iron- No checkpoints upon death
- Black Eye – Melee to regenerate shields
- Tough Luck- Enemies have better dodging
- Catch- Enemies throw a lot of grenades
- Fog- No radar
- Famine- Enemy dropped weapons will have reduced ammo
- Thunderstorm- Enemies receive rank boost (makes them tougher)
- Tilt- Enemy’s have double the resistances
- Mythic- Enemies have twice the health
- Blind- No hud or crosshairs
- Grunt Birthday Party- Grunts that are shot in the head have a little bit of splash damage and explode into confetti
- Cowbell- Explosions and melees attacks send player further at no increased risk
- I would have been your daddy- New potential AI dialogue
Some of the modifiers above can be problematic by themselves but turn them all on and you have a recipe for frustration. If you don’t know anything about LASO, there are a few that don’t make much of a difference if you take the right precautions. If you die, you can save and quit and start the game again. That should make you start from your last checkpoint without having to start the whole level over. You can also put a piece of tape over where the crosshairs should be to have a better shot. If it wasn’t for these two techniques, I definitely would have given up on the first mission but thankfully I managed to get through everything as LASO forced me to see these levels differently than I had before.
One of the best bookends to a trilogy
Halo 3 was one of the most anticipated games of all time and it delivered a satisfying ending to a trilogy that was mostly known for its innovation in player control and gameplay. It’s a simple story of a giant biologically enhanced human taking on an entire alien army almost single handedly. Master Chief has to not only rescue his old AI companion but shut down the Ark a device that builds Halos, finish off the leaders of the Covenant, and stop the spread of the Flood. That’s a lot to do in a single 6-8 hour game.
However, despite how ridiculous some of the plot points might seem, there are some really great set pieces and even better cinematography in the cutscenes. I think the world looks fantastic for being over 13 years old at this point and I can see why 343 might not see it as productive to remaster it like they did Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. The game suffers only when you try to look at individual textures or human models but these can be largely overlooked when the fighting starts.
The music matches this sense of finality with remastered versions of older Halo classics and some new pieces that immediately sends me into a trance of nostalgia. The music is so well done that it defined my studying sessions during my undergrad. The brass gets your heart pumping, the strings get you melancholy but the drums keep you marching forward. There are admittedly some tracks that don’t work well outside the context of the game but that’s okay. The soundtrack was made for Halo’s universe and not necessarily to listen to on my drive to work.
A diverse sandbox
There are 10 levels in Halo 3 and each offer a different experience or landscape to explore. There are the vehicle focused levels like “Tsavo Highway” and “The Ark” as well as boots on the ground missions that force particular playstyles depending on the difficulty that you are playing on. All of the levels are a blast to play through on (maybe a little too easy on normal and easy) and offer a wide array of weapons and vehicles to tackle the sections in whatever way you see fit.
One of the best examples of how Halo 3 offers multiple play styles can be seen in the level “The Storm,” where you must take down you first scarab in the game. The section offers the player with a lot of tools to help them take down the giant enemy tank like a mongoose with a marine who fires rockets, grav-lifts, missile-pod turrets, and a crane that overlooks the entire section. You have so many different options to disable the scarab so you can just as easily shoot its legs to temporarily disable it or you could straight up cannon ball off the crane and take the fight directly to the crew on the scarab.
Even in the more linear sections of the game like “Crow’s Nest,” Bungie was able to incorporate enough weapon variety and flanking points to make straight shooting galleries more interesting. In “Crow’s Nest,” the brutes have taken over the barracks so you have to run through it to take it back. There are a lot of enemies present but there are also lots of fallen UNSC weapons available. The actual section has 3 vertical levels: two are open where the bunks are placed but the third is the ventilation system which allows the player to sneak up behind the Brutes. It’s these little details that make maneuvering around the levels in Halo much more doable even on much higher difficulties. The game offers the freedom for creativity to beat the horde of bullet sponge enemies.
Noticing the little details
It wasn’t until I was attempting these more difficult challenges that I even noticed some of the available weapons, level sections, and AI decisions. “The Ark” requires a little bit of on-foot combat and a few different vehicles sections. Right when the vehicle sections start, it can be a little difficult to get to the rendezvous point where you get your tank but as it turns out the marines are actually really helpful here. I gave a rocket launcher to one of my marine buddies and both of us got on a mongoose where I kept us out of enemy fire and my marine friend went to town on the Covenant. This worked well for a time and then I thought I would go solo the rest of the way so I ditched my marine and went to fight some ghosts.
I didn’t stand a chance. Stuck behind a rock and praying that I didn’t have to restart the level as ghosts circled my little boulder, I thought I was out of options. BUT my marine buddy came rolling up over the horizon in the mongoose! I jumped in the driver’s seat and he got on the back with his rocket launcher again and we were back in business. Before this day, I had never put much worth into the AI marines in this franchise but Private Reeves, as he will henceforth be named, has convinced me otherwise.
Moments like this haven’t happened to me in Halo 3 since its initially release in 2007. I’ve become too trained to follow the same tried and true path to finish the missions and this caused some of the little details to become forgotten over the years. Like on “Sierra 117,” I was forced to rely on the Arbiter to distract the brutes on the dam so that I could sneak around and either provide cover support or take the brutes out myself with a smack to their backs. Every level had something, where I had to change my playstyle and think about the mission in a different way than I have for the past 13 years.
However, the added difficulty also helped to show how limited some of the weapons can be at higher difficulties. In total, I think I used most weapons one time except the mauler, shotgun, and spiker which were not used at all. Most of my playthrough, I stuck to the plasma pistol, plasma rifle, and battle rifle. If I didn’t have one of those weapons, I was looking for secret caches where those weapons might be located and I found a few that I never knew existed but other times I had to restart the level because the weapons available at the time were not enough to push through. There only appeared to be a few soft locks in the playthrough like the dam on “Sierra 117” or the 3rd tower on “The Covenant” where, if you didn’t ration your ammo properly, you could get stuck fighting enemies with nothing more than your fists.
I know LASO difficulty is not the standard for Halo’s sandbox scaling but it does help to shine a lens on how portions of the weapon sandbox perform much better than others. If guns are made irrelevant by their damage output in relation to their ammo supply, it can really hurt the overall look of a game’s design. The spiker is the best example of this as it isn’t very good in the campaign on higher difficulties compared to other weapons. It can get you by in a pinch on Heroic or Legendary but add some of the modifiers and it offers next to nothing in terms of safety.
Finishing the fight
The marketing of Halo 3 was always about finishing the fight but as we know now, the fighting was only postponed until 2012, when Halo 4 started a whole new conflict that involved the Master Chief. For me, the fight will finally be “finished” after completing the game on LASO as there are no more challenges, no more mountains for me to climb. I feel like I have finally done everything that I possibly can in Halo 3 without creating more arbitrary challenges to complete.
The game holds up very well and when you aren’t being a masochist and playing on LASO, the sandbox offers a huge variety in player choice to take down the Covenant forces. It’s when you are forced into a corner time and time again that the issues with balancing can become clear. The game wasn’t designed to be fun in LASO. It was designed to be challenging and that’s okay as it helped to show me some aspects of Halo that I never realized were there.