Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Before The Storm

UPDATE: This is an old, outdated article series of mine that, years later, I am not entirely pleased with.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.

Osiris has recovered the Constructor and returned to Thel’s camp as everyone gears up for the battle of Sunaion which will bring an end to the Covenant (or so we’re led to believe).

Let me set the tone here, because there’s so little to actually be said here in terms of analysis: this mission is a complete waste of time… I would go as far as to wager it’s the most pointless mission in the franchise.swords38I feel like a broken record going on about the same issues which keep coming up over and over again, but we begin this mission once more with another one of those meaningless ‘get dropped off in an area’ Warzone-esque cutscenes for the second mission in a row.

Okay, that’s annoying, but I think to myself:

Ah, no, that’s okay in this case because this is a weapons down mission! I’ve ardently defended these missions because each one has hitherto provided a wealth of great content for characters, for the worldbuilding, and for exploring more detailed aspects of the setting.”

So I’m walking around the area, looking for NPCs to walk up and hear what conversations are going on… there’s literally just one.

That’s weird, but okay, I guess I’ll have a look at the intel – surely there’s loads of that to search for in order to make up for the lack of other content in this mission? I mean, Meridian Station and Alliance had eight pieces of intel, and Swords of Sanghelios had twelve so it seemed like they were upping the ante of intel content. These missions are where the bulk of that form of storytelling is found, so if this is the last weapons down mission before the endgame, surely this is where the crux of that stuff is going to be?

Nope. There’s five pieces of intel in this mission, joint with The Breaking for having the least amount of intel content in the campaign…

And it gets worse because there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been in Alliance, the previous weapons down mission – just two levels ago. It’s like they just cut some stuff out from that, changed the lighting of the map to look prettier, then made that into its own level. It’s thoughtless, it’s empty, there’s literally nothing to it – whether this was the result of laziness or time constraints, one way or another it’s bad. They could have saved whatever time and resources it took making this by cutting this mission completely, leaving only its closing cutscene where everyone prepares to go to Sunaion, and used those resources to beef up the other missions which are lacking in content.swords36Osiris has zero ambient dialogue among each other, and the only sources of ambient dialogue comes from the Sangheili medics and Thel’s brief conversations with Palmer.

Now, fortunately, the dialogue between the medics is really damn good:

Sangheili Medic 1: “When we have multiple patients, who do we treat first?”

Sangheili Medic 2: “Begin with whoever holds the highest rank.”

Sangheili Medic 1: “Brother, if we treat by rank, lives will be needlessly lost!”

Sangheili Medic 2: “Listen well, I once witnessed a surgeon treating a Grunt’s punctured lung when a commander arrived with a broken leg.”

Sangheili Medic 1: “And he demanded treatment before the Grunt?”

Sangheili Medic 2: “The commander waited for a moment, then limped to the operating table and snapped the surgeon’s neck.”

Sangheili Medic 1: “By killing the surgeon, the commander endangered his troops! With no medical staff–“

Sangheili Medic 2: “By returning commanders to the front lines, we avoid further casualties.”

Sangheili Medic 1: “Maybe our own?”

Sanngheili Medic 2: “Call it cowardice if you will, but if we are dead, brother, who would care for the wounded?”

Sangheili Medic 1: “We have traded our honour in battle for a chance to save lives. Cowardice is far from either of us, brother.”

Really great dialogue here, an interesting little anecdote and examination of the Sangheili perspective regarding this group in Sangheili society that continues to be looked down upon. This idea of there being Sangheili who are willing to sacrifice the thing their culture places such inherent value in because they believe in saving lives, I love that – I want some kind of short story further exploring that mindset because it’s really nicely conveyed here.

But this all could have just been in Alliance. These are the only non-plot relevant NPCs who have proper dialogue in this mission, it’s like they just took the last bit of dialogue between them and pasted it into this mission so it has some sort of content. This is great stuff, but this alone does not justify an entire mission to be heard.

Literally the only other thing to really talk about before we get to the intel and final cutscene is:

Palmer: “What did you think of our Sunaion attack heading alterations?”

Thel: “It is not the kind of plan I would expect from a human. You suggest flying low, close to structures.”

Palmer: “Are you saying your pilots aren’t up to the challenge?”

Thel: “I am moments from a decisive victory for my home planet, Commander Palmer. Do not try to goad me.”

Anyone familiar with some of the writing Palmer has been on the receiving end of over the last few years will be more than familiar with her increasingly ridiculous plans, from driving a Warthog over a Phantom to taking on a Lich by sticking a bunch of plasma grenades in her helmet and sending it up the gravity lift.

However, Thel does not have time for Palmer’s specific brand of balls-to-the-wall, so-crazy-it’s-awesome idea and does not bite when Palmer challenges him.

And that does it for the in-mission dialogue. That’s it, genuinely. Two things.swords37This brings us to the intel, which, as I noted earlier, is ridiculously sparse here. Only five pieces.

Firstly, we return to the perspective of Rhu ‘Vrath – who previously had an intel log in Alliance, he was the once-Covenant-loyal assassin who saw the Mark of Shame on Thel’s body and felt shame within himself, believing there was more to Thel than he had previously been led to believe.

Rhu was part of Attack Wing Jardam, and says:

“As I flew my Banshee toward the Kraken, I could see the four humans running along the ridge below me. They were fighting uphill, greatly outnumbered, and the Covenant forces barely slowed them down. Jul ‘Mdama used to say humans could never stand against the glory of the Covenant. It shames me to think I once took orders from such a fool.”

Like with the death of Jibjib mentioned in a log in the previous mission, this is another log which comments on the actions the player has performed. It adds a greater sense of connectivity within the narrative, that you’re learning about these otherwise anonymous characters who you see for the briefest of moments flying ahead. They were watching you while you charged the hill and groups of suicide Grunts came at you in the early encounters of Enemy Lines. I like that.

I also like that Thel apparently trusted this Sangheili to be part of one of his Banshee Wings, because the implication in the previous log was that Thel got what was going on as Rhu went to grab his weapon and silently chose to trust him and show mercy.swords51No mercy was shown here, however, in a log from the security officer Mahlo ‘Turagg who reports on how Covenant forces were able to get to Thel at the Elder Council Chamber back in the opening mission of the Sanghelios arc:

“Security officer’s log. I was able to convince a Covenant Grunt to tell me how they tracked the Arbiter’s movements. Murok ‘Vadam, of the Arbiter’s keep. The Covenant promised him power and prestige, a desperate ploy from a dying faction. Murok did not resist when he was questioned. Perhaps he thought the Arbiter would not execute a member of his own clan. *laughs* He was wrong.

This is great because it shows that Thel still has a line that, once crossed, will not bode at all well for the one who has tried to stab him in the back. Bear in mind that the Swords of Sanghelios were losing the fight at the Elder Council Chambers until Osiris arrived with Mahkee’s reinforcements, so there was every possibility from Thel’s point of view at the time that this was it – that he was going to die. That all of his efforts would have been for nothing.

As we have discussed previously, Thel is somebody who is well-accustomed to betrayal throughout his life. But this particular betrayal came from within his own family – something which, to our knowledge, hasn’t happened since Koida ‘Vadam sent three assassins after Thel when he was made kaidon, which we see in his opening point-of-view chapter in The Cole Protocol.

The ‘Vadam elders had voted him kaidon based on his abilities as a leader, fighter, and zealot. The keeps worked on a system of meritocracy – only the most capable would be voted as kaidon upon the death of the previous one.

But for those who felt that their vote had been ill advised, or who had second thoughts, it was both a cherished right and a tradition to send in assassins to test the true merit of that ruler’s martial abilities.

It was another layer of meritocracy. A kaidon who could not defend himself from assassins was not a true ruler.

This was classic Sangheili thinking. [Halo: The Cole Protocol, Chapter 9]

What Murok did was not this kind of “classic Sangheili thinking”, he didn’t attempt to take on Thel himself or send assassins after him, but sold him out to the Covenant. That, and he almost succeeded. I’d wager that’s just about the worst thing you could do to Thel at this point, so an example being made of Murok absolutely makes sense.

Y’know, considering the nature of how lacking this mission is in terms of content, if they could have cut the mission and used the resources to instead have a character scene with Thel here where he learns about Murok’s betrayal and kills him… that would have been fantastic. It’s another thing that’s in-keeping with the overall theme of family in the game (don’t rant about Jul… don’t rant about Jul…) and is absolutely deserving of its own scene. Might have even had a cool Energy Sword fight as well if they’d done this and had Murok attempt to defend himself.swords52Next up is cinnamon roll supreme Vari ‘Damat, who also had a log in Alliance where he mused over how best to get Arbiter sempai to notice him.

“The battle was glorious. When I took to the air, my concerns about pleasing the Arbiter vanished. After all, there is no time to think about pride while taking turret fire. I destroyed the assigned target while avoiding the Kraken’s flailing arms. The accursed thing crumbled beneath our onslaught. The victory honoured us, and that is all I require.”

Vari has come to have a new sense of understanding of Sangheili honour and pride, he did not go out of his way to impress Thel on a personal level which, in the previous log, he considered doing in ways that could have endangered the mission. No, he went into battle and contributed to Thel’s victory – a victory for the person he looks up to, for the Swords of Sanghelios, and therefore for himself. That’s all Vari needs.

Look at that, a semi-anonymous character got more character development in two logs than Blue Team did in the entire game!

The fact that Vari only really comes to this realisation at this point seems indicative to me that he is a relatively young Sangheili without much combat experience. So it seems likely to me that he is much younger than many of his peers, which is interesting when you consider that this younger generation of Sangheili is going to grow up hearing stories about the breaking of the Covenant and Thel’s role in leading his species to victory – so the way in which Vari regards him with such reverence makes a great deal of sense.

If this had been built on a little more, it could have been a very interesting parallel to John’s arc because the revered image of ‘the Master Chief’ has been declared dead to humanity. If Halo 5 had followed through on the human Great Schism that was set up in the last few years rather than this nonsense with the Created, and had the game actually even referenced the Master Chief being declared KIA, then there would have been a really effective parallel between where humanity and the Sangheili are at.swords35Humanity is falling apart at the seams, not even their greatest hero can fix what is going on – which we learned about on a more personal level in Hunt the Truth where John storms the peace talks on Biko to rescue the Sangheili delegates and Richard Sekibo (who dies). John’s out there in the wake of Cortana’s death trying to make a difference to the galaxy, going on mission after mission, but it’s just not working.

Sekibo is added to his mental list of ‘people I failed to save’, with the likes of Cortana, Sam, Miranda, Johnson, Jacob, and others. This would very understandably add another layer to how he is driven away from the UNSC, questioning himself (as Bonnie Ross told us he would in various interviews), and be searching for some greater means to sort out these problems.

Meanwhile, Thel has risen to become the paragon of his people and is on the verge of kicking the Covenant off his world once and for all. I weep for the alternate universe out there where 343 told this story…

What could’ve been, eh?

The next log is another little piece of Unggoy humour where Gribyam, a self-proclaimed biologist, considers his ‘scientific’ observations on Catherine Halsey:

“Human science report, log 42. Prolonged observation of the Doctor Halsey supports theories from New Alexandria that human females signal maturity by losing appendages. If my hypothesis be correct, soon the Doctor Halsey will release her spores, and spin a cocoon of rich meat-silk! Truly this is a very exciting time to be making science!”

There’s nothing really to say about this other than it contributes to the game bringing back what many of us very much missed in Reach and Halo 4 – the Unggoy being funny.

Which brings us to the last bit of intel…swords45Halsey’s follow-up status update from her last log in Alliance:

“You talk a great deal about how little you need me, Thel. That you could take Sunaion with or without the Guardian, that uniting this whole planet is within your grasp. Go ahead, be as stubborn as you like. But do not ignore the past, and do not forget who I represent. You talk constantly of respect. It’s time you showed some. Consider this my final mandatory status update.”

I have to say that I both like and dislike this.

I love that Halsey and Thel don’t get on with each other, that they’re both these very stubborn, ego-centric individuals who naturally clash the way we see in these logs.

She also pronounces his name as ‘Tel’, which initially struck me as odd to the point where I thought it was a retcon because it has been pronounced ‘Thel’ in every piece of media where his name is audibly spoken. Even Sangheili in this game who speak his name in ambient dialogue pronounce it as Thel, which leads me to interpret that Halsey is actually being super petty here and intentionally mispronouncing his name to get on his nerves.

What I dislike is that we don’t actually see any interaction between Halsey and Thel… at all. They don’t exchange a single line of dialogue in these cutscenes, and their character models in both Alliance and this mission are static, so they don’t move around to talk to each other like other NPCs.

I find this frustrating because all you’d have to do is script Thel and/or Halsey to walk over from their location to talk to each other at a certain point. That’s it. Something that would take so little effort (in terms of resources this would require only time for scripted pathing and voice files) would go a long way to build on these two characters and their relationship with one-another.

Consider that the first of Thel’s human friends was Miranda Keyes, Halsey’s daughter. And that the captain of the vessel which Thel followed that led him to Installation 04 was Jacob Keyes, Halsey’s lover. And that the one who was responsible for blowing up the ring was John, who Halsey, according to her psych report, thinks of as her son… Again, we have this multi-layered theme of family coming up which just kills me that something that would be so easy to implement was missed out like this.

This was another avenue of characterisation that was missed when Halsey was with Jul as well because the two of them are estranged parents, something that would provide a degree of common ground on an emotional level. In my ideal version where Jul is still alive and his arc concludes with him going off to find his son Dural to bring an end to the cycle of violence (which I’ve talked about pretty extensively), I might even consider having Halsey be the one to help him sneak out of Thel’s camp.half89This brings us to the final cutscene of the mission. Thel stands before his troops and declares that this is the day the Covenant will fall, that Sanghelios will be free.

I do like this scene, but I wish that it was a little longer, along the lines of the scene at the end of Floodgate in Halo 3 where you see the group of humans and Sangheili sat opposite each other in Shadow of Intent’s hangar while Thel and Johnson carry the weapons of opposing species around.

It wouldn’t have had to be anything lengthy at all – just a short snippet of Buck handing a weapon over to a random Sword of Sanghelios, Tanaka checking that another’s Storm Rifle is fully functional and nodding approval, and Vale sharing a brief word or two in Sangheili with one of the troops as they head towards the Lich to depart (maybe it’s a joke and the Sangheili chuckles at it). Just some minute display of character and inter-species communication would have been great here. We’re talking about like 5-10 seconds of footage here…

Halsey catches up with Locke and has her own request to make of him:

Halsey: “You know what I did to create the Spartans. All in the name of the greater good.”

Locke: “Doctor, we don’t have time–“

Halsey: “Cortana is built from a matrix of my own mind. The Domain gives her incredible power.”

Locke: “I understand.”

Halsey: “Spartan Locke! Stop her. But please. Bring John home to me.”

Props to the writers for finally referring to the Domain without having to erroneously put ‘Forerunner’ before it. It only took like… ten missions to get it right.half91Here though, we see the writers clumsily try to explain Cortana’s actions as being reflective of Halsey’s own “greater good” mentality she had in creating the Spartan-IIs.

Again, I’m driven to muse on what I talked about in the analysis on Reunion, how Frank O’Connor and Brian Reed have defended Cortana as being “not evil” and “just doing a thing that we disagree with”, yet at the same time Reed has repeatedly gone out of his way to illustrate Halsey as a monster. To bring this quote up again:

“Poor Catherine Halsey. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a monster. A war criminal. A woman who kidnapped and killed children because she thought the ends justified the means.”

He says that Halsey is a monster because she believed that the ends justified the means in creating the Spartan-IIs – that what she was doing was for what she believed was the “greater good”. And this is the exact same reason he and Mr O’Connor give to explain why Cortana is supposedly not evil…

A lot of people have likened Halo 5’s story to that of Age of Ultron, and this line is practically lifted from what Wanda Maximoff says to Steve Rogers about Tony Stark:

“Ultron can’t see the difference between saving the world and destroying it. Where do you think he gets that?”

In my opinion, this is cheap.

This is a very cheap card to play when you’ve got to explain a character’s actions without actually asking yourself “why would the character do this?” The go-to answer when going down this avenue is “oh, their creator was a terrible person, so logically their creation should be too!” It’s lazy.

Cortana was a flawed, complex character who had similarities to Halsey in various ways. But she is not Halsey. I’ll talk more about this when we get to the final three missions, but this just adds another layer of nonsense to the way in which she was written in this game.half92And there we have it, the first (mercifully) short analysis since Meridian Station…

Before The Storm is a model of what these weapons down missions should not be, however you want to slice this cake it’s still raw on the inside. 343 really needs to consider ways in which the player can have more interaction with these sorts of missions, I think that one possible avenue they could go down would be some optional ‘mini-missions’ which act like challenges.

You could have some sort of shooting competition with the Swords of Sanghelios. You could have a brief scouting activity where you have a specific area or two set up for an encounter with Covenant enemies. Possibly even some sort of time trial activity where you have a race around Thel’s camp with bits of platforming taking advantage of the Spartan Abilities.

I know that this sounds very ‘video-gamey’ (duh!), and Halo hasn’t done anything of the sort in its campaigns before, but that’s a good thing in my opinion – experimenting with things the series hasn’t done to open up new possibilities for campaign gameplay. As I said, they’d be optional activities so if you want to just skip straight to the action in the next mission then you still have your simply mission objectives to talk to character X and head off, but for those who are looking for more of an interactive experience with these missions then I think ideas along these lines would be a solid place to start.

Because, as it stands with this mission, with its downright offensive lack of content… this is not acceptable. There are one or two logs here which can obviously only really take place after Enemy Lines, but everything else could easily have just been put in Alliance – and I reckon it probably was, but maybe somebody came along and said “hey, if we copy and paste this stuff into a new mission then we’ll technically have the longest FPS Halo campaign by way of the number of missions!” (I jest, but on some cynical level I almost believe this could have happened.)

Bottom line is: Something, no matter how flawed and contentious it may end up being for campaign purists, is better than literally nothing. For me, I think Halo 5’s campaign would have been better off without this mission at all, with its content put elsewhere and a transitional cutscene with the characters preparing, as we are now, for the endgame.

For all the faults with this ‘mission’, however, its name is well-earned. Before The (Shit)Storm, indeed…

5 thoughts on “Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Before The Storm

  1. “Cortana was a flawed, complex character who had similarities to Halsey in various ways. But she is not Halsey.”


    I wish more people saw Cortana the way you do.

    Halo 5 drags Cortana’s good name through the mud for no other reason than to give to the next few Halo games a plot.

    I’ve heard that Dr. Halsey was supposed to be the original villain in Halo 5 — she was the one awakening the Guardians. But Microsoft wanted Cortana back so that casual fans of the lore wouldn’t be confused about who the villain was. After all: More people know who Cortana is than know who Halsey is.

    1. I’ll be talking a lot about Cortana in the last three posts on Genesis, The Breaking, and Guardians. I really do mean A LOT.

      1. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

        Cortana is one of my favorite fictional characters. I was pissed when I found out that she was the villain.

  2. Despite the obvious lack of content as you stated, the atmosphere was neat. Seeing the fleet on the horizon nearby and final preparations being made, gave this sense of “calm before the storm”(pun intended).

    Probably could’ve attached it to the last mission though, so it alone didn’t count as a full mission.

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