The Halo series has been one of the most successful video game franchises ever since the first game was released in 2001. Although Halo’s multiplayer component is highly regarded, many players enjoy the series’ narrative campaign modes instead. If you’re interested in the Halo series and want to know when each game was released or what happened in the series and when, we’ve got you covered.
The History of Halo Games
The Original Halo Combat Evolved
Well, let’s rewind to the year 1997, not 2001. The real-time strategy game that Bungie was developing eventually morphed into a third-person shooter. They spent the next few years shaping it into a first-person shooter. Microsoft recognized the studio’s potential and bought it because of this thrilling game. For the Xbox, it was a launch title known as Halo: Combat Evolved. The early fortunes of the console rode largely on the back of this game. Even now, it is considered among the very best shooters ever made for any gaming system.
The story follows Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier sent to investigate the mysterious Halo Ring. The AI assistant Cortana helps him succeed. The game takes place in the 26th century and has a massive cast of characters and planets. Most of them weren’t in Combat Evolved, but were added and refined over 20 years.
Microsoft saw an excellent market for a PC version of the game a few years after the original Xbox release. Once again, millions of players flocked to it. In 2011, Halo: Combat Evolved got a complete remake for its 10th anniversary. However, Halo’s development at Bungie didn’t stop there. All subsequent Halo games maintained many of the original’s gameplay mechanics, characters, and settings, though not all of them were identical.
The Main Halo Games Series
Halo 2 was released in 2004. A lot of the things that made the original so good were kept in, and the story was even expanded. Even with Halo 3, fans were satisfied because they got the content they wanted. One of the best games is Halo: Reach, which was developed by Bungie before they left the series. If you can put aside your fond memories of Combat Evolved, you may find that this is the pinnacle of the Halo series.
With Halo 4, 343 Industries faced a formidable challenge. Even though it’s not quite as polished as Reach, they nailed it and released a game that broke all kinds of records in its first week. In 2015, players were able to get their hands on Halo 5: Guardians, the final game in the series before the release of Infinite. Guardians brought back some exclusivity to the Xbox One, which helped counteract the console’s continuing sales decline. Once again, it broke sales records for the Halo series. Critics were similarly impressed, calling it a worthy addition to the series.
Halo Infinite Revives the Franchise
It’s not as if Halo was rapidly declining. However, developers have really slowed down their pace of work since Halo 5: Guardians. The fact that the game wasn’t supposed to come out until 2020 doesn’t help. However, the pandemic significantly hampered progress. There were times when everyone in development, design, and art had to work remotely. It can be difficult to coordinate the efforts of so many people on a project without bringing them together in person. This is why Microsoft, led by Joseph Staten, waited an entire year to launch the product. From what we can tell, making that choice was the right one. Halo Infinite was clearly not in a publishable state at the time, as evidenced by the gameplay reveal trailers.
The gameplay is similar to previous Halo games, but with a unique twist. The hook mechanic completely revamps the combat system, making Halo Infinite’s online mode feel brand new. The release has been eagerly anticipated by fans, and initial reactions have been largely favorable. There are still a few lingering issues, but the game has come a long way since its infancy.
343 Industries is responsible for maintaining this state of affairs. The multiplayer mode requires constant monitoring. A game needs ongoing maintenance if it is to remain popular long after its initial release. As an example, consider Rainbow Six Siege. Six years of continuous maintenance and development have gone into this game.
Therefore, Halo Infinite still faces a huge challenge, even among Halo games. Even though a lot of planned content was cut, the developers still have plenty of steam to release some fantastic downloadable content.
Spin-Offs and Other Genres
As time progressed, Halo moved away from first-person shooters. Halo Wars was more faithful to Bungie’s original vision than the traditional sequels Halo 2 and 3. Ensemble Studios’ original idea for the Halo universe was a real-time strategy game, and they were able to make that dream a reality. To say that the game’s initial Xbox release was well received would be an understatement.
To fully appreciate Halo Wars’ revolutionary status, it’s important to know that no previous game had successfully translated an RTS to the console. Thumb sticks don’t work very well for the clicking mechanic used in regular strategy games like StarCraft. However, there was consensus among reviewers that Halo Wars hit the mark.
In early 2017, a new Halo Wars game was released, and it too was well received by fans. The setting and the characters are perfect for this kind of game. Furthermore, it was an excellent bridge between the main Halo games. The next Halo game was very far off after the release of Guardians. While mobile games have certainly been a welcome addition to our screens, few have truly stood out. Since we all know that the consoles and computers are where most of the action occurs, this makes sense.
The Halo Games in Order
Obviously, the order of release indicates the chronological order in which the games were made available to the general public. But they aren’t in the proper Halo game chronology!
The events of Halo Wars serve as the narrative’s prologue. In fact, Halo Reach comes before the events of Combat Evolved, the first game in the series. After Halo 2 there is another break in the action. Halo 3 follows Halo 2, but Halo 3 ODST serves as a bridge between the two games. Following the release of Halo 4 and Halo 5, Halo Wars 2 will complete the trilogy begun in the original real-time strategy game. The newest installment, Infinite, provides the most recent glimpse into the Halo universe to date.
The Halo Games Ranked
To get a rough idea of the critical consensus, we culled some aggregate metrics from metacritic.com. Although all Halo games have been well received, they do vary slightly from one another. The best Halo game is the original, which has a score of 97. After Halo 3, with a score of 95, Halo 2 comes in at 94. Bungie’s final game, Halo Reach, scored a perfect 91 and completed the series. Microsoft’s own 343 Industries hasn’t been able to replicate the success of the original trilogy with their own games.
Nonetheless, you’ll see that the bulk of 343’s major releases fall between the scores of 87 and 84. That’s fantastic nonetheless, and it shows how strong the franchise has always been. The Halo series is consistently excellent across all platforms, platforms, and genres. On average, even something as obscure as Halo Wars will still get around 80 points.
Halo Games By Release Date
Following the story’s release schedule is a great way to get the most out of it. It’s similar to the Star Wars franchise in that the films’ chronological order requires watching the originals, then the prequels, and finally the sequels. However, here’s a timeline of the Halo games’ releases if you’re interested in playing them in order:
- 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved
- Halo 2 (2004)
- Halo 3 (2007)
- The Halo Movie: 2009
- 2009’s Halo 3: ODST
- Destination: Halo (2010 )
- Celebrating a Decade of Halo: CE (2011)
- Halo 4 (2012)
- Spartan Assault in Halo (2013)
- Master Chief Collection, a Halo Video Game (2014)
- A Spartan Assault in the Halo Universe (2015)
- The Guardians of Halo 5 (2015)
- Second Halo wars, 2017.
- 2017’s Halo: Recruit
- Fireteam Raven (Halo, 2018)
- The Infinite Halo (2020)
Halo Games In Chronological Order
Among first-person shooters, Halo has undeniably one of the best narratives. The main games mostly follow Master Chief’s story, but there are a ton of prequels and sequels. You might want to check out our list if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Halo lore while also expanding your knowledge of the series’ various wars.
1. Halo War
The original idea for the Halo series was a real-time strategy game, and Halo Wars is what that would have been like. After all, RTS games like StarCraft had recently become very popular. Fortunately, Halo went in a different direction.
Nonetheless, Halo Wars, a real-time strategy game, was released in the series. In terms of Halo’s timeline, this game’s year of 2531 setting makes it the original. About 21 years had passed since Halo: Combat Evolved’s timeline opened.
The game’s main plot centers on a group of UNSC soldiers and scientists who are trying to prevent the Covenant from acquiring some ancient Forerunner ships.
2. Halo: Reach
The events of Halo: Reach occurred in 2552, the same year as the events of the Halo Trilogy. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly when this game takes place, but it definitely occurs before Halo: Combat Evolved. What is known, however, is that the destruction of Reach occurred before the main Halo games, placing this game in the timeline prior to Combat Evolved.
Those familiar with Halo’s backstory will appreciate Halo: Reach’s somber tone, as the destruction of Reach is a foregone conclusion. You’re in charge of a small band of soldiers who are fighting a losing battle against the massive Covenant force. Even though the game’s subject matter is tragic, its story and gameplay are still excellent.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved
One of the most recognizable characters in video game history, Master Chief made his debut in the original Halo game, Halo: Combat Evolved. This game also kicked off the events of the Halo main series.
The game follows Master Chief as he fights the Covenant and explores the mysterious Halo Ring, which he discovers to be a superweapon capable of destroying all life in the galaxy. Therefore, acquiring this weapon becomes a race between humanity and the Covenant.
4. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
If you want to play Halo: Combat Evolved in the modern era, the Anniversary Edition is the version you should be playing. This is a remake of the first Combat Evolved, and as such, it features improved graphics and visuals over the original.
There aren’t many changes between the original and the anniversary edition besides the visuals. This game is a good place to begin, especially since it was released for PC in the year 2020.
5. Halo: Fireteam Raven
Only available in arcades, Halo: Fireteam Raven is the franchise’s first foray into the arcade market. The game takes after the on-rail shooting style common in arcade shooters. Despite its arcade roots, it is still considered canon to the Halo series.
While it shares the same timeline as Halo: Combat Evolved, Master Chief does not appear in this game. Instead, you’re in command of Fireteam Raven, who are also currently engaged in combat with the Covenant.
6. Halo Recruit
In terms of the larger Halo canon, Halo Recruit is probably the least well-known game on this list. The game is shorter than the other Halo games, so there was never any time to develop a setting or story. However, we think this occurred during the war against the Covenant, making 2552 a likely date.
In 2017, 343 Industries released Halo Recruit, a virtual reality game that immersed players in the Halo universe. This game is only meant to give players a taste of what it’s like to be a Halo soldier, and it only lasts for about five minutes because of this.
7. Halo 2
In Halo 2, players continue the story begun in Halo: Combat Evolved. That’s because there wasn’t much time between this and the original Halo game, so it still took place in 2552.
After the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, Master Chief has arrived on Earth to defend it from an impending attack by the Covenant, who have discovered the planet’s location in the galaxy.
When Master Chief discovered that there was a second Halo superweapon, he had to team up with a disgraced Covenant leader known as the Arbiter in an effort to deactivate the weapon. However, the last remaining leader of the Covenant, known as the Prophet of Truth, sought out the Ark in order to remotely activate the Halo superweapon near the end of the game. To prepare us for Halo 3, the game ends on a cliffhanger.
8. Halo 3: ODST
In Halo 3: ODST, you won’t find Master Chief because you’ll be following a different cast of characters. Since the two stories eventually intersect, this spinoff was always intended to be played in tandem with the main Halo 3. However, it eventually evolved into a full game that proved to be quite successful thanks to its novel approach to gaming.
Originally intended as a companion piece to Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST also takes place in the year 2552. The only difference is that this story takes place between Halo 2 and Halo 3.
9. Halo 3
Since Halo 3 follows directly on the heels of Halo 2, it, too, is set in the year 2552. Due to the urgency of Master Chief’s mission to stop the Prophet of Truth, the time between games is relatively short. Since the events of the first three Halo games follow one another so closely, this collection of games is commonly referred to as the Halo Trilogy.
To activate the Halo weapon from the Forerunner installation known as the Ark, the Prophet of Truth must be stopped, and the game chronicles Master Chief’s immediate pursuit of him. The Master Chief and the Arbiter used a wormhole at the galaxy’s rim to reach the Ark.
While Master Chief was inside the Ark, a Flood ship crashed into the facility. Nevertheless, he was successful in preventing the Ark’s activation of the Halo. Nonetheless, the installation began building a second Halo, which Master Chief and Cortana used to wipe out the Flood without harming the rest of the galaxy.
Master Chief and Cortana survived the destruction of the Flood by fleeing in a ship called Forward Unto Dawn. As Halo fans mourned the conclusion of the trilogy, they were left to float aimlessly through space. Fans were left wondering if Master Chief was going to make it after the hero was abandoned in space with no way to return home.
10. Halo: Spartan Assault
Twin-stick shooter Halo: Spartan Assault was developed for mobile phones at a time when those devices were becoming the dominant platform for video games. And the game’s story is completely separate from the rest of the Halo timeline, with Master Chief still lost in space.
The events of the game take place between the years 2552 and 2557, right before the end of the war against the Covenant. Sarah Palmer, a Spartan who has been tasked with fighting the Covenant, is the character you control in this game. Even though it wasn’t the pinnacle of the Halo series, it sold well enough to warrant a sequel.
11. Halo 4
The first three Halo games came out over the course of six years, but it was another five before Halo 4 was released. And the same amount of time passed between Halo 3 and Halo 4, with the latter taking place in 2557, five years after Halo 3.
Since Master Chief was absent from the next two games in the Halo series, Halo 4 can be seen as his official return to the series. The video game explained how he was able to survive five years in space by going into cryogenic sleep. And Cortana woke him up as their ship drifted into the Requiem, a Forerunner installation.
The two didn’t realize they had reawakened the Didact, a Forerunner who hated humans so much that he wanted to use his newfound power to destroy them. This prompted Master Chief and Cortana to intervene, but at the expense of Cortana’s “life” due to the sacrifice required to stop him.
12. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
As a compilation of the first four Halo games starring Master Chief, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a natural fit here. Naturally, it wasn’t the original Halo game but rather the Anniversary Edition.
Halo 2 received an update similar to that which Halo: Combat Evolve received when it was remade, but Halo 3 and Halo 4 did not. This is why Halo 2’s visuals are so much better than the original. The Master Chief Collection is the best option if you want to play the first four Halo games.
13. Halo: Spartan Strike
If you enjoyed Halo: Spartan Assault, you’ll love its sequel, Halo: Spartan Strike. The gameplay is identical to the original Halo mobile game, with players controlling the action with two analog sticks. The visuals in this game, however, are much better.
Halo: Spartan Strike has an interesting dual timeline structure. It takes place in two time periods: during Halo 2 and after Halo 4. That puts the year somewhere between 2552 and 2558 again.
Your mission is to track down the Conduit, an artifact that was stolen from New Mombasa and hidden in a Halo Ring. It’s the game’s ultimate prize, so getting it should be your top priority. The game is short, though, because it doesn’t spend much time on its story.
14. Halo 5: Guardians
It’s worth noting that Master Chief had already reunited with Blue Team sometime after Halo 4’s events, making the events of Halo 5: Guardians canon. That puts this contest roughly a year after the previous one, in 2558.
In Halo 5, Cortana gave Master Chief a vision in which she instructed him to travel to the planet Meridian. Instead of following orders, he and the rest of Blue Team went to Meridian to see if Cortana was really there. The UNSC then announced that Master Chief was dead and tasked Fireteam Osiris, led by Jameson Locke, with finding Blue Team and bringing them in.
After reaching Meridian, Blue Team discovered a Forerunner installation that teleported them to the planet Genesis, where the Forerunners had once made their home. Cortana’s survival and her plans to use the Guardians, a set of ancient weapons, to restore order to the galaxy were both revealed to Master Chief on this planet.
Master Chief and Blue Team were imprisoned by Cortana because they disagreed with her authoritarian plans, but they were eventually rescued by Fireteam Osiris. When Cortana’s plan began to take shape, both teams had to retreat. These developments set the stage for the next major Halo game.
15. Halo Wars 2
The sequel Halo Wars 2 is a continuation of the popular original game in the real-time strategy series. In this sequel to Halo 5, the year is 2559. A new enemy, the Banished, who rose up in rebellion against Cortana’s autocratic rule of the galaxy, are the focus of the game.
Halo Wars 2’s best feature is its accessible gameplay mechanics for newcomers to the real-time strategy genre. It’s not quite the same Halo experience as the others, but if you care about the series’ history, it’s a fantastic addition.
The story of Halo Wars 2 also gives us a glimpse into what happened after Halo 5 and Halo Infinite, which is crucial for comprehending the rise of the Banished and Atriox’s role as their leader in the next game.
16. Halo Infinite
Even though Halo Infinite is set in the year 2560, its early events actually occurred in the year 2559. Master Chief and Atriox fought initially, with Atriox emerging victorious and hurling Master Chief into space. Master Chief, who had been lost in space for six months before a pilot spotted him, now had full access to the plot.
After deciding to fight back against the Banished, Master Chief and the pilot set out to find the rest of the UNSC forces that had been dispersed across the galaxy. They learned that the Banished are working with a member of the Endless known as the Harbinger. The Harbinger evolved into the game’s most formidable foe.
Meanwhile, Cortana decided to delete herself and damage the Zeta Halo after she was captured and learned that the Banished planned to use the Zeta Halo against the rest of the galaxy. Since Master Chief now possesses a new artificial intelligence (and carbon copy of Cortana) known as The Weapon, she was effectively reborn when she apologized to him via recorded message. After you’ve vanquished the Harbinger, there’s a scene that plays out after the credits that sets up the next Halo game’s story.
Our Recommended Order of Halo games
Whether you want to play every Halo game before Halo Infinite is released or you just can’t get enough Halo (like us), you’ll need to make a significant choice: Is it more important to you to experience the Halo campaign in its release order or in its narrative progression? Our top picks for playing the Halo series are:
- Halo: The Art of Battle
- Halo 2
- Halo 3
- A New Dawn for the ODST in Halo 3
- This is Halo:Reach
- Halo 4
- Guardians, Halo 5
- Halo Wars
- Second Halo wars
- Awakening the Nightmare: Halo Wars 2
- The Eternal Halo
There are a few reasons why we advocate for this particular sequence. The first step is to simply watch the Halo films in chronological order. Because they are sequels to each other, of course, but also because the technology improves nicely over the course of the series.
Some may advise starting with Halo Reach because it comes first in the series’ timeline, but the two games are very different in terms of presentation, gameplay, and even elements like weapons and enemies. This detracts from the enjoyment of Halo: Combat Evolved. Furthermore, the story of Reach won’t make as much of an impact on you if you haven’t played Halo: Combat Evolved.
Even so, ODST and Reach have two of the most interesting stories in the series, and you should play them after you’ve defeated Master Chief. In addition, ODST and Reach make sense to play after Halo 3 due to the ties they share with the original trilogy.
The story of Master Chief will then continue in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, catching you up to speed for Halo Infinite. If you enjoy strategy games and have some time on your hands, give Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2 a try.
They present a brand-new narrative in the same universe, unrelated to the FPS games in any way. The Banished, the game’s primary antagonist, will be introduced in Halo Wars 2, so don’t worry if you haven’t played Halo Infinite yet. The Awakening the Nightmare add-on allows you to take control of The Banished themselves.
Our suggested sequence does not include the top-down shooters Spartan Assault or Spartan Strike. While entertaining, neither game adds significantly to the established timeline. You could give them a try once, but they’re not something you should make a regular part of your Halo marathon.
We also don’t include Fireteam Raven because it’s not always easy to find in arcades, and you shouldn’t let that stop you from playing the rest of the Halo games.
Alternative Recommended Order of Halo games – The Great Journey
If you’re looking for something new to do in space because you’ve already done everything Halo has to offer, this is a great option. The Great Journey is what we like to call it. This is the actual time sequence of all shooting games:
- Reach in Halo
- To Fight in a New Way
- Halo 2 – all the way up to and including the Metropolis mission
- In Halo 3: ODST,
- Everything Else in Halo 2 After Metropolis
- Halo 3
- Halo 4
- The Guardians of Halo 5
When played in this specific sequence, the games form a tight narrative whole. If you haven’t played every game in the Halo series, jumping in now might be a little disorienting due to the series’ frequent technological, control, and visual shifts. However, this is a novel way to enjoy all the shooters in a continuous narrative. This trip is fantastic in every way.
Best way to play all Halo games
Getting Game Pass is your best bet if you want to play every Halo game. Every game that has been made available for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC is here. That covers the entire series, including all of the major spinoffs like Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike. Only Fireteam Raven and Recruit will be unavailable to you, and Recruit is freely downloadable anyway.
If you don’t have Game Pass, but still want to play the majority of the Halo games, you should get Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This collection contains the original Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Reach, and Halo 4.
Our Halo coverage continues with this article. Don’t forget to read some of our other pieces:
- The Complete Chronology of the Halo Universe
- Rank of the Halo Games
- Complete Series of Halo Books
- Movies in the Halo Saga, in Order
- A Rundown of Our Halo Films