The Halo series holds a special place in my heart, and with the release of Halo Infinite finally here, I think it’s time that I open up and say definitively what my favorite games in the series are. I will be ranking these entries exclusively on their single-player content. Though I enjoy many of these entries online modes, I don’t play nearly enough of any of them to give a concise idea of their nuances online.
For instance, I really enjoyed Halo 5 online, but that was in 2016, and I have no idea what’s changed since then. I will judge them based on how fun their campaigns are, their story beats, and the musical accompaniment.
I will also take the remakes into consideration, but they will only be bonus points and will not have their own ranking. Here is my Halo ranking ranked from worst to best so let’s get started. So with that, let’s finish this fight.
8. Halo 5: Guardians
Yeah, it’s not much of a surprise. I played through this game exactly once on legendary when it was first released in 2015. Since then, I have not had a single moment where I wanted to return. The story from start to finish felt like someone threw the Halo books in a blender and glued the remnants together.
It felt so incoherent on a narrative level, and the gameplay didn’t make up for those deficiencies. The Prometheans received some upgrades, and the Knights felt a lot bulkier than before, but it just led to longer firefights and not necessarily fun ones.
However, the biggest issue is with the Warden Eternal, who is the harbinger of boss battles returning to Halo. But somehow, the boss battles are done even worse than how they were done in Halo 2. The Warden is fought on multiple occasions, and it’s the same exact fight over and over but with more Wardens at once.
It’s one of the laziest things I have seen in a Halo game and only helps to emphasize the other repetitive level design choices 343 made with this entry. I am hoping that 343 never makes a misstep like Halo 5’s campaign again.
7. Halo: Reach
Some controversy early on. I am not a big fan of Halo: Reach. It felt like a drawn-out goodbye that was a more organized mess than Halo 2’s ambition. I think it gets a lot of forgiveness for coming out during the Bungie era, but Bungie only threw a bunch of ideas out without really expanding on any of them.
The game’s premise about seeing the fall of Reach from the perspective of a Spartan squad is fantastic. The music, too, plays into the melancholy moments and the typical epic Halo experience.
The varied level design is also a welcome change from other Halo’s that typically have only three of four unique level aesthetics that are played off of for the entire game. However, the melodramatic story and the forced emotional stakes with each Spartan falling after the other feels cheap.
Noble team is mostly just a collection of cardboard cutouts. Reach suffers from the same fate as Star Wars: Rogue One; there isn’t enough time to truly appreciate its characters and stakes before it’s over and the developers give a “wink wink nudge nudge” by showing us Chief, Keyes, and the Pillar of Autumn flying into the sunset.
6. Halo 4
Replaying through Halo 4 recently left me reliving my familiar disappointment with several of the choices made in it, but I also realized there was more to the game that I appreciated than I let myself believe.
The architecture may not be Halo, but it does look very sci-fi, which I can enjoy. We also get to see the most personality from Chief than we ever have. While he may say less epic one-liners in this entry, he proves he is a flawed human like the rest of us.
I think Halo 4 could have crept a little higher if these narrative threads that 343 introduced were expanded on in Halo 5 but instead, they kind of sizzle off with nowhere to go. The weapons are generally fun, but often they are just a new version of a gun we are familiar with.
The Prometheans can feel the same way, but the mystery of the Diadect and Chief’s reunion with Humanity helps make up for it.
5. Halo: Combat Evolved
The place where it all started. I played through this campaign countless times as a kid, and it holds a lot of memories for me.
I couldn’t even read when I started playing, so there were parts where I got stuck for months and became intimately acquainted with certain sections of the game like the light bridge in the level “Halo” and the beaches of “The Silent Cartographer.” The story is simple enough that anyone can get into it but open enough to allow an entire franchise to be born from it.
A space marine is part of the lone survivors of a crew that touches down on an alien world, and he must uncover its secrets before an alien race does first? That’s great. Then there is the reveal of the Flood in “343 Guilty Spark.”
There are just a lot of great moments in this game, but Halo: Combat Evolved has definitely begun to show its age. There can be some frustrating mechanics, poor level design, and harsh deaths that can sour the experience just a tad after all these years. However, when I am ready to face those issues, I usually have a good time with Halo: Combat Evolved.
4. Halo Infinite
I have been going back and forth between whether I wanted to put this in fourth or third place, but I think it’s currently down to the repetition that keeps Infinite from attaining higher status. Infinite is a return to form in every sense of the word for the franchise while improving on the story so far and setting the foundation for the next decade of Halo.
Rolling across the dirt roads of Zeta Halo in a Razorback with all your marine pals in the back laughing and hollering as you take a jump is great fun. Zeta Halo feels like its own place with alien birds flying across the sky or little mammals that scatter as a Scorpian tank begins to rattle into view.
This game has the most heart of almost any Halo as the writing is taken to a new level. The dynamic between the pilot, the Weapon, and Chief all help to add personality to the cast as they bounce off of one another’s words.
Taking back Zeta Halo feels like an important battle as Chief struggles with his own defeat. I fought with everything I had to show the Banished that they had one chance to take me down and they won’t get another.
3. Halo 3: ODST
I love Halo 3: ODST so much. The entire game is a joy from start to finish for me, from the phenomenal jazzy soundtrack to the noir vibes, open-ish world, and fun cast of characters. Unlike Halo Reach, ODST doesn’t take itself so seriously, so it retains some of the Halo charm while also giving the player a sense of being alone and in danger.
The two new weapons with the Silenced SMG and pistol are incredibly fun to use. I often found the M6C pistol to be more satisfying to take out grunts with than any other precision gun in Halo’s sandbox.
The levels are fairly basic and seem to be checking boxes off as they go with things like tank level, banshee level, street level, warthog run level. It often can feel like a “best of Halo” playlist rather than a coherent level structure. But I think that works well since the game took a different approach to its storytelling.
I just wish that it was longer and that the Mombasa Streets were as realized as they could have been. Maybe one day we will get an ODST 2, and all my wishes will come true. Until that day, I’ll just be happy to boot up ODST and walk the rainy streets of New Mombasa with a whiskey on my desk to keep me warm through the night.
2. Halo 2
I probably played Halo 2 the least growing up. Often my friends only wanted to play online, and I didn’t get Xbox Live until the Xbox 360 and Halo 3. However, I associate Halo 2 so strongly with long weekend nights playing through its campaign with friends.
The narrative introduced in Halo 2 elevated the series and opened so many doors. It capitalized on the world that Combat Evolved introduced and the series is better for it. From iconic levels like “Metropolis,” “Gravemind,” and “The Great Journey,” there is a lot of fun to have here.
Plus, Halo 2 has some of the best speed-running strategies in any Halo game thanks to it being a partial mess. I love every imperfection about this entry except for the bland levels that sprinkle the middle of the game and the terrible ending. If it weren’t for Halo 3, Halo 2 wouldn’t be a satisfying experience.
It leans heavily on the success of Halo 3 to pick up where it left off, and even then, we don’t get much of an explanation as to Master Chief’s journey through space on Truth’s ship. Despite this, Halo 2 is just plain weekend fun.
1. Halo 3
It’s impossible for me to place Halo 3 anywhere but number one on this list. In many cases, I see Halo 3 as the peak of Halo games. The soundtrack is perfect, and the sandbox is one of the most fun to screw around in.
I have played every level in Halo 3 hundreds of times for achievements, coop, or just to have fun, and I’m still not tired of them. I don’t think there is a game that I have replayed as much as Halo 3, and I think that is a testament to the design of its levels and the balance it holds with its narrative.
The narrative is important as Halo 3 is finishing the arc of a trilogy, but besides the Cortana and Gravemind interruptions, it’s never too in your face about it.
I am still finding new ways to navigate these levels after all of these years, and that kind of magic just isn’t typical in most video games. I know it’s partially my bias, but I do believe that there is a certain wonder to Halo 3 that few games ever reach.
I love the Halo series. It was an easy stepping on point into gaming for me, and it has shown me a variety of ways that games can be played and enjoyed. As long as there are Halo games being released, I’m going to be trying them out and hoping they scratch that itch in the back of my head that remembers getting the scarab gun in “Metropolis” or hopping the broken bridge with a warthog in “Tsavo Highway.”
While I’m not into shooters as much as I used to be, Halo will always be special to me and I can’t wait to see where this series goes.