Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Blue Team

UPDATE: This is an old, outdated article series of mine that, years later, I am not entirely pleased with. While many of the points it makes stand well enough, and the scope of this project remains something I am quite proud of, the way in which these points were made is not satisfactory to me.

I would encourage you to read this rumination piece before diving into this article.

Blue Team – the second mission of the second act of the second game in the second trilogy – is something of a culmination in the Halo franchise.

As per the namesake of this mission, this is the official debut for Fred-104, Kelly-087, and Linda-058 in the games, and oh boy is there a lot to say on that particular matter! When in doubt, remember the three B’s of this mission: Blue Team, bioweapons, and bad writing.

But before we get to that, we’re on the UNSC Infinity following the aftermath of the first mission with Fireteam Osiris and Catherine Halsey.half14The scene has Osiris’ Pelican land in one of Infinity’s docking bays, Halsey reprimands Lasky for taking so long to recover her after sending him her location three weeks ago, asks “what has she done? How far has it already gone?”, then gets carted off by Palmer and Buck wonders what is going on. Locke either ignores him, just doesn’t respond, doesn’t care, or we don’t see his reply… the scene just cuts away after that.

Yeah, I’m going to have to start on a negative note here because this is the first scene of many in Halo 5 which feels both rushed and half-done. It’s barely a minute long and has nothing meaningful going on in it, despite being in the immediate aftermath of Jul’s death.

We get absolutely no indication through the cutscenes of the kind of impact this has on the Covenant, it would have been interesting to see something to give a bit of fanfare to how we just cut off the head of the snake of the Covenant – hitherto, one of the most integral aspects of the conflict in Halo’s setting. Instead, we get an off-handed line by a Kig-Yar in the mission that Jul is dead and the Covenant are preparing to throw themselves at Sanghelios. They’re in their death throes, but there’s no actual feeling of that being the case.

But even more importantly there is nothing exploring Halsey’s own feelings about her recent history being by Jul’s side.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to have a lengthy dialogue scene between Halsey and the members of Osiris to flesh out their perspectives while they’re on the Pelican bound to Infinity, as well as provide some additional (and essential) context to the players about what has been going on in the Escalation series. A simple dialogue scene to provide some much-needed exposition would hardly put a strain on the game’s resources, because even we (as in, people who keep up with the books/comics/additional media) were in the dark at this point regarding what exactly has been going on with the Absolute Record. The final Escalation issue hadn’t been released and there was no mention whatsoever of the Janus Key or the Absolute Record at any point in the game – again, think about this from the perspective of somebody coming out of Spartan Ops and then picking up Halo 5, which is probably the majority of players. They introduce what is literally the biggest game-changer in the modern setting with the Key and Record, only to have it never so much as even mentioned by the person who had the biggest stake in that story.

The dissonance between these stories is what contributes to that overall feeling of Halo 5 being a weird AU rather than an actual sequel. There is so much that just isn’t there, where it’s supposed to be.

The impact of everything that has just happened is effectively summed up in the writing by Lasky saying “good work, Osiris,” and then walking off. Osiris killing Jul should have been a big deal upon their return, but there’s no indication that anybody else on the ship knows or even cares that the leader of the Covenant was just made to kick the bucket. It’s this kind of irreverence in the writing that is one of the fatal flaws of this game.half15I did some counting a while ago that I’d like to share with you.

Halo 4 has 25 cutscenes across 10 missions (8 playable, 2 for Prologue and Epilogue) – by this, I mean cinematics that are not part of gameplay, because there are a few (those short vignettes like the one in the first mission where you fire the Hyperion missile and Requiem opens or when you first activate the Cartographer). In total, Halo 4′s cutscenes amount to about 65 minutes.

The number on the left is the number of scenes in which two or more characters are just talking with no action, the number on the right is how many cutscenes the level has:

  • Prologue – 1/1
  • Dawn – 1/1
  • Requiem – 3/3
  • Forerunner – 2/3
  • Infinity – 3/3
  • Reclaimer – 3/3
  • Shutdown – 1/2
  • Composer – 3/3
  • Midnight – 2/4
  • Epilogue – 1/2

That’s 20/25. Four-fifths of Halo 4’s cutscenes are literally dedicated to character-oriented material, which I have, of course, already analysed in the previous level-by-level analysis project.

Now for Halo 5, which has 15 missions and 32 cutscenes overall.

  • Osiris – 1/3
  • Blue Team – 2/4
  • Glassed – 2/3
  • Meridian Station – 0/0
  • Unconfirmed – 0/2
  • Evacuation – 0/1
  • Reunion – 3/3
  • Swords of Sanghelios – 1/2
  • Alliance – 1/1
  • Enemy Lines – 0/2
  • Before The Storm – 0/1
  • Battle of Sunaion – 2/3
  • Genesis – 1/2
  • The Breaking – 1/1
  • Guardians – 0/4

14/32, not even half the game. And Halo 5 has no more than 50 minutes-worth of cutscenes, which is less than Halo 4 in terms of time but more in terms of quantity of cutscenes.

Now, maybe there might be a few ‘technically’ issues you might pull with my numbering by your own estimation and criteria, that’s totally fine. But this is still indicative of a real lack of attention to character detail. I could have been generous here and given Guardians 1/4, but the two lines shared between John and Locke (“Where’s Cortana?” / “She’s gone, sir.”) should really not be counted as being indicative of any kind of character-oriented scene. But I am getting ahead of myself, I have a lot to say about that scene when we get there and how it so cheaply tries to parallel Halo 4’s ending.

Now, this is obviously not the best overall indicator because there is a lot of story and characterisation that happens in gameplay, but this still really says something.

Of Halo 4′s 8 missions with more than 1 cutscene (discounting prologue and epilogue because they are solely cutscenes), 4 of them (12 cutscenes) are comprised of cutscenes devoted entirely to character writing.

Applying that same criteria to Halo 5, of its 12 total missions (3 of which I’m discounting as they’re are weapons-down interludes), only 1 mission (3 cutscenes) is devoted entirely to characters talking to each other.

For the second act of a trilogy, the act which is supposed to evolve the characters and explore them in more depth, the numbers are pretty indicative of the extent to which that didn’t happen. Let me put it this way:

Halo 4 did more with notably less.

Halo 5 did less with almost twice as much.h5g27Which brings us to Blue Team…

Now, before anything, I should clarify that I am totally cool with the idea of a main Halo game where Master Chief is not the main protagonist – Halo 2 remains one of the finest stories ever told in this franchise and my second-favourite of the games. I loved playing as Osiris for the majority of Halo 5, I would happily have played the entire game as them… which is what 343 should have done. They should have split Halo 5 into two games in order to give its story and characters its due, the first game following Osiris’ movements with a focus on the broadening development of the setting and the second game being a more personal story with Blue Team.

It’s hardly uncommon for games to do this, and we’ve been seeing an increasing number of film franchises doing this as well. Sometimes splitting your story in half is the better option, I hold Halo 2 as the perfect example of that because I think the game would have been much weaker if the final act on Earth had been kept in.

Blue Team deserved their own game where they got the fanfare and in-game debut that would befit literally the first four characters ever introduced in the Halo franchise (from the prologue of The Fall of Reach). Instead, we got lofty promises from 343 which turned out to be lies, and I’m sure you know to what quote I am referring…

“Blue Team probably has more lines of dialogue in Halo 5 than they have in all the books, comics, and videos released to date.” [Halo 5, Game Informer preview]

I decided to look up the level transcripts and crunch some numbers on this because I want to get some statistics here.

This includes main mission dialogue that is spoken across the three missions you play as Blue Team. It does not take into account the ambient conversations you have to wait for up to ten minutes in an area to hear, but let’s be honest that isn’t going to make any kind of significant contribution to these figures.


  • John – 61 lines
  • Kelly – 26 lines
  • Fred – 44 lines
  • Linda – 23 lines


  • John – 40 lines
  • Kelly – 20 lines
  • Fred – 18 lines
  • Linda – 9 lines


  • John – 29 lines
  • Kelly – 9 lines
  • Fred – 9 lines
  • Linda – 9 lines

In total:

John has 130 lines in the game, Kelly has 55, Fred has 71, and Linda has 41.

Adding all those together, that makes 297 lines in total. With ambient dialogue added in, we’re probably looking at about 320.

As a note, this is taking into account the majority of their lines which are just one sentence or a couple of words long – like “contact”, and other dialogue that is specifically triggered in combat areas where they call out a particular enemy, like “Zealot with an energy sword”, or a weapon “Hydra here”. Therefore, the number of lines that is actually meaningful interactions between Blue Team is significantly lower.

Suffice to say that if Blue Team has fewer than 300 lines across all the media they appear in (The Fall of Reach, First Strike, Ghosts of Onyx, Glasslands, Last Light, etc – since 343 included comics, that therefore includes the comic adaptation of TFOR, but we don’t even need to include that) then I’ll eat my shoe.h5g28Blue Team’s involvement in Halo 5 should have been treated like a bigger deal, instead it feels like they were there simply to make up the numbers for co-op play. They were barely in the game’s marketing, which I naively took to be indicative of them not wanting to spoil their involvement and instead market the game on the new characters – I took this to be a bold move, but one which, post-release, is clearly down to there being very little to advertise about Blue Team’s role in Halo 5: Guardians. They are practically inconsequential to… well, everything.

Now, that’s not to say that Fred, Kelly, or Linda were written out-of-character at all. They weren’t, and this opening scene for the mission actually does a good job of establishing their characters. The problem largely stems from just how bloated Halo 5 is with major characters – Blue Team and Osiris alone comprise eight main characters, then you’ve got Halsey, Palmer, Roland, Lasky, Cortana, Warden Eternal, Thel, Exuberant Witness, and so on. Halo just… never does well telling these kinds of ensemble stories in my opinion, Halo is best suited to smaller-scale personal stories amidst large-scale events, which tends to be the standard formula for the second act of a trilogy. And, again, this is why splitting Halo 5 across two games would have done far more to service these characters.

This compounds on the effect of the very short cutscenes doing very little to have the characters properly talk to each other.

When this criticism of Blue Team’s shallow portrayal was brought up to Frank O’Connor, he had this to say:

“I don’t think any of [Chief’s] Blue Team have particularly strong personalities.” [Frank O’Connor, TIME interview]

I… don’t even know where to begin. It doesn’t help that we only have two major sources of post-release campaign discussion from 343 (this interview and the finale of The Sprint) because this is a pretty damning statement.

There’s something that really frustrates me in how Spartan-IIs are perceived by the community as these stoic killing machines devoid of character when anybody who has read literally any piece of media featuring Spartan-II characters knows that this is not the case. Especially in the case of Blue Team.

In Ghosts of Onyx, there is a scene where Kelly dodges the beams fired by a pair of Onyx Sentinels and sticks her middle finger up at them while Holly, Kurt, and Mark watch in awe. She is the source of the team’s banter who constantly makes wise-cracks to keep the mood of the team light, similar to how Black Team is established to communicate with each other largely through “half finished in-jokes” when they’re introduced in the comic Blood Line. Kelly is somebody whose wit is as quick as she is on the battlefield.

And then there’s Fred, who got some of the best-written characterisation in Troy Denning’s novel released last year – Last Light. Let me sum up Fred for you in one instance: at one point in Last Light, Fred’s armour gets locked up in the middle of a firefight. Veta Lopis, one of the main characters of the novel who Fred spends a good deal of time awkwardly flirting with, thinks that he is dead and her only means of escaping the firefight is to literally ride Fred down a hill like he’s a sled.

Veta wakes up in hospital later to find the Spartan-IIIs of Gamma Company attending her, who inform her that Fred is alive and sent them to give her a message – that, next time, he rides on top.

The only member of Blue Team who doesn’t have a strong personality is Linda, she is the stoic and reserved one. Frankie’s statement when applied to Kelly, Fred, and even John is utterly ridiculous. I will be coming back to this interview a good few times in future posts, Mr O’Connor says some very troubling things that I take particular issue with. The reality of the matter is that Blue Team, written properly, would be just as chatty and would have just as much banter as Osiris. It is the result of years of Bungie’s poor writing where the Master Chief is concerned that has built up this very false impression of the Spartan-IIs and 343 dared to break free of that with Halo 4, only to then regress with Halo 5 as they wrote Blue Team within the confines of those expectations that Spartan-IIs are just stoic, detached, largely emotionless, and not outgoing characters when around their own kind.

It is frustrating to see this to say at the least.ch1Anyway, back to the actual cutscene. I have to praise the opening bit where John strokes the CNI port on the back of his helmet and then puts it on – this was actually a really good bit of writing in establishing John’s current emotional state. Eight months has passed and he misses Cortana, obviously, and this forms a nice bit of parallel imagery to Halo 4’s ending where the game literally ended with John having the helmet removed.

At the start of Halo 5, he’s putting it back on – he’s playing the role, it’s time to be the Master Chief, it’s time to compartmentalise away John. There’s a mission to focus on, the luxury of emotional compromise can wait. It follows in a long line of instances where the act of putting on one’s helmet is symbolic of a character slipping into a particular kind of role, like Thel putting on the helm of the Arbiter in Halo 2. This is good, it’s very in-character for John and sows the seed of what we were told Halo 5 was going to be about.

“He’s questioning many things he once firmly believed were true. He’s lost his best friend, he’s questioning his past and his purpose, he’s questioning who he is fighting for. For us this is a really interesting point. For the first time he’s questioning everything he’s done for the UNSC in the past.” [The Guardian, Bonnie Ross interview]

“The story is really about ‘what effect did Cortana’s sacrifice have on the Chief, and what effect does her loss have on him?’ It’s more about the long-lasting impact she’s had on him, and the whole universe, and that’s kind of a metaphor for the effect she’s had on fans now that she’s gone as well. […] There’s more to the Chief’s story, I think, that people are going to find in Halo 5 that deals with how he copes with loss, and how he deals with is memories, and what those memories help him contextualise.” [Game Informer, Frank O’Connor interview]

So far so good, right?

There’s a lost ONI vessel in an asteroid field and Blue Team is sent to deal with it – that’s classic Halo story set-up. That’s the kind of base set-up you get in Nylund’s books and this scene evokes that style really well, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due there. When I first saw this scene, I was really pleased with the direction things looked to be going. This laid the groundwork for things to really go sideways in terms of how John would begin questioning himself over what he’s done, what things the UNSC has asked him to do, considering the setting that is Argent Moon and the ONI bioweapon being developed there.

This is even acknowledged in the mission’s dialogue:

Linda: “What do we know about the experiments they were doing here?”

John: “We don’t. And we don’t ask.”

Fred: “But I’d keep your helmet on tight just the same.”


Fred: “So this station was just drifting? For two years?”

Linda: “Apparently.”

Fred: “How’s an asset this big go missing for that long?”

Linda: “Its location was not consistent with expected drift patterns.”

Fred: “Meaning?”

Linda: “Someone didn’t want it to be found and sent it in a direction no one would expect.”

Again, we’ve got some really good stuff here. Linda’s tactical intuition, Fred raising the important questions, John establishing the air of secrecy around ONI, the questionable experiments that ONI has been conducting, and the implication that they deliberately sent the Argent Moon to a place where it wouldn’t be found because of said experiments being discovered. The ONI conflict that had been set up over the last few years is well and truly present here.argent3But let’s rewind a bit…

Does anybody else think it’s weird that the previous eight months, the events that we heard about as far back as Escalation back into 2013 where Scruggs brings up John going missing… just aren’t ever once brought up? By anyone?eschiefThis occurs in March 2558, in the immediate wake of the end of Spartan Ops. The first two arcs of Escalation were written by Chris Schlerf, who I have written no end of praise for regarding his work as lead writer on Halo 4, and the set-up seemed to quite clearly indicate that John had left the UNSC in the wake of Halo 4’s events.

We then had The Next 72 Hours written by Brian Reed, lead writer on Halo 5, and without going into how low an opinion I have of that particular work it ended on the very unambiguous note of John and Blue Team heading off to do their own thing – to go wherever they’re needed. Then we got the Terminals in Halo 2 Anniversary, the records on Thel ‘Vadamee as-compiled by Jameson Locke were being accessed by John. Hunt the Truth then builds on all this with the raid on the Biko peace talks, there’s this whole build-up around John being the Fallen Spartan, then the UEG changes its position, and then we get that live action trailer where John is declared KIA because he’s gone AWOL.

It’s just a very meandering series of events that just ends up having the same endgame. We pick up Halo 5 and John is running missions with the UNSC like nothing in the last eight months has actually happened (again, contributing to the game feeling like a weird AU). And then he goes AWOL and is declared dead, the effects of which you literally never see in the game.

Despite the wealth of fiction that came in 2015, it’s like the most important gaps were simply not filled in…argent1I’ve raised a lot of criticisms, so I want to talk about something that I actually like about this mission for a bit.

The story in the intel for this mission is great. It’s obviously very classically ONI, developing a bioweapon of some description (which honestly should have been more of a big deal in Halo 5’s story), but the ‘mini-story’ within this level is pretty damn horrifying.

The ONI scientists have Kig-Yar test subjects that they’ve presumably kidnapped and are testing out different compounds on them, inducing sickness that the test subjects initially recover from. Eventually, the bioweapon gets loose and the effects are described as liquidising people from the inside-out within the immediate range of the accident site. Then it got into Argent Moon’s air system, causing slower and more excruciating deaths with no survivors. Rooker, the station’s resident AI who documents these events, experiences all of this and ends up living six months past his ‘expiration date’, deciding to enact final dispensation to effectively commit suicide.

Here we have a situation which is very grey, very indicative of what Halo 5 could have been. Because these scientists were obviously doing very morally dubious experiments, as per ONI’s modus operandi, but nobody deserves to die like they did. But it’s Rooker you really feel for because this whole situation from his perspective is sort of like a parallel to the scene at the end of Composer in Halo 4 where Cortana is forced to watch the Ur-Didact Compose all of Ivanoff Station, disintegrating layer-after-layer of flesh until nothing but dust and echoes remain. Rooker watched his crewmates succumb to the effects of the bioweapon, but, and this is the worst part, he ends up blaming himself for it. Also note how he says in his second log that it’s “difficult to record this”, which is a line that’s very indicative of the degree of sentience AIs in the Halo universe have.

It’s a tragic, horrifying side-story which was really well done in my opinion. Our initial assumption about the ship being hidden as being indicative of the ONI crew not wanting anyone to know what they were up to ends up being turned on its head as Rooker moved the ship away to ensure nobody would stumble upon it and succumb to the bioweapon’s effects, as he elucidates in his final log. am flood2Additionally, in the room where you battle the first two Hunters, take a look around. There’s pods with Kig-Yar corpses, scans of their neural networks, and then… these stasis cell chambers on the ceiling, as pictured above.

Now, I’m not formulating any particular theories on this, but 343 clearly went out of their way to design several meshes with a distinctly organic appearance to them while also deliberately obscuring them from proper sight. You have to put the brightness on its highest setting and really get a good angle to see any details inside these chambers, presumably because they’re not actually textured.

Look rather… Flood-like to anyone else?

Food for thought. The Flood being an ‘ingredient’ of bioweapons has been a popular aspect of theorycrafting since details about Nightfall’s plot first came out in 2014, it ended up not being the case but the meshes in these chambers are certainly evocative of Flood biomass.half24Let’s talk about the Domain scene…

Actually, first of all, let’s give me a self-indulgent moment to brag that I predicted the Domain’s return to the setting back in mid-June 2014. Look, I had a hard enough time with this game, let me have my moment of victory!

I basically have one good thing to say about the Domain in this game, and it’s the way in which this scene is presented as a hallucination of John’s. This is actually something that was established to happen back in Halo: Cryptum when the Didact tells Bornstellar about the broken mirror effect the Domain can have.

It was now that the Domain opened to me, without benefit of ancilla, interface, or past experience. It was new, deep, appropriately shapeless—that made sense. I was dying, after all. Then, it assumed a form, rising around me like a beautiful building with gleaming, indefinite architecture, not quite seen but definitely sensed, felt—a lightness that carried its own sombre joy. [Halo: Cryptum]

This marks the one and only time that the Librarian unlocking John’s genesong and accelerating his evolution is acknowledged. Credit where credit is due: the presentation of this scene and its connection to Cryptum was done well, very well in fact.

But, in saying that, literally everything else that involves the Domain in this game was done awfully – which I’ll elucidate further in future posts.

Some of you may remember that this mission was actually shown off to us around this time last year as part of the month long preview of Halo 5, including this scene. Frank O’Connor had some interesting things to say about the appearance of a certain character telling John to go to the Dagobah system Meridian:

“I call that the ghost of Cortana,” says franchise development director Frank O’Connor. “Her fate is very obviously clear at the end of Halo 4. The story is really about ‘what effect did Cortana’s sacrifice have on the Chief?’ So it’s not about the dreamlike figure you see. It’s more about the memories and the long-lasting impact that she’s had on him. She has left an amazing legacy in the fiction, and we couldn’t make a game where we didn’t at least acknowledge that. There is more to the Chief’s story that people are going to find out in Halo 5 that deals with how he copes with loss and how he deals with his memories.” [Game Informer, Frank O’Connor interview]

Once again, this was a lie.

There’s no two ways about it. He lied about the fundamental premise of this story. And before you say “they didn’t want to spoil it”, then why on earth did they choose this mission to preview?

Because this is where Halo 5’s writing starts falling apart at the seams. As of this scene, literally everything in Halo 5’s story is contextualised. The game was hyped up for its mystery, for our hunt for the truth, but we already have all the answers before the second mission is even done.

That’s not “the ghost of Cortana”, that is Cortana.

The story is not about the effect her sacrifice had on him, the story is about her being retconned back from the dead just to have her betray him. Her legacy and her long-lasting impact on the universe was neither respected, nor relevant.

We never see John cope with loss, we see the beginnings of that story in this mission where he strokes the back of his helmet, but within the span of the exact same mission we find out that she’s still alive.half17I really feel like I’ve got to bring this up here and now because I just have to: this story would be so much more interesting if the Ur-Didact was the antagonist of this game and was using these Domain-induced visions of Cortana’s ghostly image to lure Blue Team away from the UNSC and have them sealed away in the Cryptum at the end of the game.

He now recognises them as opponents on-par with the likes of Forthencho, who he once considered his greatest adversary, so he would honour them with something as deeply woven into tradition as a Cryptum because he knows that conventional force – trying to kill them – has simply not worked. As an adaptive strategist, he would see the value in luring humanity’s greatest hero and saviour away from his species and have him made out to be a rogue element by manipulating him through the Domain with visions of Cortana.

I like to imagine the scene at the end of The Breaking where the Wardens are banished by Cortana as they’ve got Blue Team cornered and light shoots out of the console. As John is expecting to see Cortana again and we expect to see this emotional reunion, the Ur-Didact bursts out of a field of hardlight and immediately wraps Blue Team in that constraint field. The cliffhanger of the game is that Osiris fails to rescue Blue Team and the Ur-Didact escapes with them to hide them away from the rest of the galaxy’s reach.

Before Halo 5 came out, there was the launch trailer which implied that Osiris’ hunt for Blue Team would last more than one game – it referred to Halo 5 as “the beginning of the greatest hunt in gaming history”. Except it wasn’t, the hunt lasted for about two acts of the game and that was it. Halo 6 would follow that story up by having Osiris looking for Blue Team’s Cryptum to release them so they can help deal with the problems the galaxy is facing.

Anyway, back to the scene itself: I still do not understand why contacting John to tell him that she’s alive wasn’t the first thing she did. Instead, she let him think she was dead for 8 months and then randomly projected a vision into his head from the Domain about the Guardians awakening.

It’s… really unbelievably out-of-character for her to be like that. Now, you may say that she might not have been able to contact him due to some particular circumstance, but there is absolutely no canonical material telling us what she was up to in that time and if anything could have prevented her from contacting John. After we saw her fears and insecurities in Halo 4 and other stories like Human Weakness, of John being paired with another AI once she was gone, of how he’d cope with her loss, of how she feels she has a duty of care for him just as he does for her, and so on.

She just… lets him think she’s dead for all that time.half19I honestly don’t have much more to add here. The scene where John decides to go AWOL and Blue Team decides to join him doesn’t really merit very much discussion because it’s such a quick scene, the issues within that I discussed at the start of this post.

What was wasted here was the opportunity for Blue Team to understand more of the things ONI has been up to, the whole bioweapon thing seemed like it would have a very particular kind of relevance because we’ve seen ONI planning stuff like this since The Thursday War came out. They were originally planning to wipe out the Sangheili by way of crop-induced famine, starving them out with genetically modified irukan – a grain that Sangheili eat.

The plan was dropped because Parangosky feared that it might affect humans when they came to settle those Sangheili worlds, which is another reason the death of Jul ‘Mdama was such a wasted opportunity for additional complexity in this story because Jul was literally Magnusson’s guinea pig/lab rat for the bioweapon they were developing.

Having Jul survive and inform Thel about this would have some very interesting implications that will sadly never be explored because they’ve cut off all the threads associated with that particular character.

Bonnie Ross told us that John would be questioning everything he’s done for the UNSC, and they set up the potential to have that be a part of the story with this mission’s setting and its backstory, but they ultimately do nothing with it. You begin to see why at the half-way point of this mission: because they’ve brought Cortana back and the story is all about her, not delivering on the actual set-up of the last few years.

Finally, it’s mentioned off-handedly that “the Unggoy are resisting”, that there is some internal struggle going on within the Covenant as it’s starting to fall apart following the death of its leader. But that’s never reflected in gameplay, it’s a throwaway line that could have been reflected in the level itself by having some groups of Unggoy rebelling against their Sangheili and Kig-Yar commanders. Stuff like that adds great flavour and a little more life to the way these levels feel, which I praised the previous mission for by enabling you to get Covenant allies when you charge the hill. This is yet another in a long line of missed opportunities, in an even longer line of telling us what is happening rather than showing us.half20That about wraps it up for this piece.

If you can’t already tell, we are not off to a good start with this game’s story…

The quick cutscenes (indicative of the more actiony ‘comic book’ style approach to the storytelling, like we’re zipping across panels rather than watching actual scenes), the lack of depth to the character interactions (there is honestly so little to actually analyse out of Blue Team’s dialogue in this mission), Blue Team’s shallow inclusion, the lies fed to us by the developers, the derailing of the build-up from the marketing and peripheral fiction in dropping whole plot threads… you can see these things all swirling around, getting sucked into the singularity of bad writing that is personified by Cortana’s involvement in this game.

I wish I had more positive stuff to say. I really do. But I don’t.

13 thoughts on “Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Blue Team

  1. I am about to eat my own shoe upon realizing how *close* we came to actually having an ONI-as-antagonist-plot to follow-up on Escalation/HtT/K-5. I was so frustrated with so much of the game that it didn’t even register with me that this mission was the ONE thing that tied into that plot (aside from the “Brass wants nothing to do with the Arbiter’s war” because forget you ONI).

  2. I’m sure you’re bored as heck with this kind of response, but I agree with much of what you’ve said. However (and I hope this makes it less boring), I would personally prefer if Osiris and blue team were out of the picture and it was just Locke and Chief. I’m not sure what their original intentions were, but the squadmates felt pretty tacked on. I’m sure there are great things that came of it (like you’ve highlighted in your Osiris analysis), but I think it crowded things up way too much and sort of confused the focus on what/who the player is supposed to care about. Locke and Arbiter working together for example was something I was really looking forward to, and I felt like the squadmates, who felt inconsequential to the story hampered that interaction. Personallu I think the presence of blue team would hamper the execution of chief’s inner struggles (if they’d plan to display that).

    1. I’m in two minds on this myself. On the one hand, there are things within Halo 5 that are indicative that a story with the squad focus can be done well. But they didn’t go far enough with it to make it work, particularly on a gameplay level. I was hoping for full-on Republic Commando style squad tactics rather than just pushing up on the d-pad, but I am not against them continuing to evolve this as part of the formula.

      And on the other hand, yeah, take out the others and you’d have a lot more breathing room for the central conflict between Chief and Locke. An ensemble story CAN work in Halo, but I don’t hold Halo 5 as a good example of that.

  3. You know, I’m not sure agree with you that Linda doesn’t have a strong personality. Linda doesn’t have an obvious personality. She’s very quiet, and very reserved. But I don’t think her personality is underdeveloped.

    1. I take her lack of explicit personality as her personality. The mystery and the calmness sets her apart from the other spartans and makes her interesting. Personally I’d say she stole the show whenever she was there in TFoR and first strike.

      1. We get to know her mostly from how the Chief saw and described her (through his perspective) rather than through direct author descriptions like with every other character which I think contributed a lot to this. I think this is also why I didn’t like her as much in ghosts of onyx because the chief wasn’t there for this to happen, and no one was there to substitute.

  4. God… this is so depressing to read like… WTF! Halo 5 could had been so amazing! BUT noooo they had to cookie-cut trough a cliche story with zero character development so many missed opportunities… When you brought the point about having Jul Mdama alive and telling the Arbiter about what the humans where planning behind his back during Thursday War…. Damn that could had been so interesting I would had loved to see an internal conflict like that, Oh boy same with the Cortana being better off dead and instead having an interesting plot twist with the Ur-Didact THAT would had made so much more sense!

    I find it so so hard to believe that someone like Frank O Connor http://time.com/4090404/halo-5-frank-oconnor/ can lie to us fans directly, and then act all high and mighty by calling us and I quote “Younger players” for disagreeing that Cortana being the antagonist is not good….*sigh*

    And I cringed so hard when you brought up that quote about “Blue team not having any actual character” how is this! “FRANCHISE DIRECTOR” so dense?! *heavy sigh* In the article I mentioned he says something about Halo 5 being an “Ensemble story” and having an ACTUAL and I quote “Human story” so to put on lighter terms a bridge to the next game… well I can’t trust him anymore sorry Frank, as much as I loved you before I can’t trust your word until i see and play the next chapter of the Reclaimer Saga!

    On a side-note this is really really well written! And I’m sure the rest of the analysis will follow suite

  5. This is Haruspis and this has been…Hunt the Subtlety and Nuance.

    Do do…….do do.

    Yeah I wish I had something substantial to add, but don’t.

  6. I can’t agree more with you on this!

    As a fan fully expecting to see some sort of ‘Hunt’ and a epic build up to Master Chief going rouge this mission made me rage inside at the end! After this mission, It all went down hill.

    The lack of interest to what happened in Halo 4 and Halo escalation is astonishing to see and what Frank O’conor said about Blue Team even more. Defiantly very worrying times for Halos’ narrative.

    This missions started so well too…. 🙁

  7. Haruspis, have I ever told you you’re my hero?

    Man. I thought I people were reaching on O’connor and Reed too much, but you’ve changed my opinion with how things stand now.

    Jeez, I wish they’d bring back Schlerf since he actually understood how to construct a narrative. Credit where it’s due – I think Reed improved a lot since Spartan Ops (the Buck/Locke conversation when preparing to find Blue Team), but damn, is it a step down from Halo 4’s main story. Also, I agree with Halo 2’s storyline being the second most interesting of the “main game” series with the Arbiter’s disillusionment with the Covenant.

    Keep up the great work, and 343 has a smart person in their hiring staff, they’ll get you in the writers’ pool ASAP given your love of the Halo franchise, storytelling, and Lore.

  8. Ach, love your stuff as always! I love that you take the overhead view of the Halo universe–it never feels like you worry too much about who did what and for what reasons (i.e. the politics of the creation/whether some new piece of fiction adheres to “bungie’s vision” for the game or not, etc.); you just take what they make, incorporate it into what you already know based on what they’ve previously made, and tie it all together in a way that makes the universe so, so, engaging. Love it!!

    Of course… they really didn’t give you (or any of us) much to work with on this one, so it’s sad to see you making so many justifiably hefty critiques of the narrative. I used to say I’m glad that I’m not a Star Wars fan, because Disney basically invalidated 30 years of universe for those people with the 7th movie. Except after reading this, it feels like the same thing happened with Halo’s universe, just on a smaller time-scale. SO MUCH AWESOME BUILDING HAS GONE TO WASTE!!!!! Ugh. Thank you for really explicitly teasing it all out though, painful and frustrating as I’m sure it is; the criticism is engaging and insightful in its own right (I feel like I learn about the art of crafting stories when I read your analyses, which I love), and maybe (just maybe) 343 will actually heed the criticisms flying all over the place and make some serious friggin’ adjustments.

    To be fair: I think Halo 6’s story is going to be interesting. As silly as it was to just eradicate all the framework building up to Halo 5, there’s room to go interesting places in 6, especially with a return of Mendicant and Chakas, both AIs who I imagine will be (if they’re used) helping humanity. Like you said though, theory-building just feels… strange, at this point. If they can wipe out any parts of the story whenever they want, what’s the point, even? It’s an unfortunate time to be a Halo fiction fan, gotta say.

    Nonetheless, keep up the GREAT GREAT GREAT work!!! Really do appreciate it.

  9. It’s a small detail but I didn’t know Kelly was British. Since her accent was never mentioned in any of the novels there’s really nothing canon to contradict.

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