Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Genesis

UPDATE: This is an old, outdated article series of mine that, years later, I am not entirely pleased with.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

Having hitched a ride on the Guardian at Sunaion, we pick up where we left off with Fireteam Osiris arriving at Genesis in-pursuit of Blue Team.

I said at the end of the last post that everything following Battle of Sunaion just falls apart, but I’m genuinely taking that back. I replayed this mission expecting that this was the point where I was going to get frustrated beyond relief, that I would have very little in the way of positive things to say…

But I ended up having the exact opposite experience, barring several issues which I’ll talk about, this is a really strong mission.genesis48In fact, it starts off with what I have no reservations in saying is the best opening to a mission in the entire franchise.

Over the years, Halo has had a lot of memorable mission openings which I’ve already talked a lot about. From storming the beach at the start of Halo CE’s The Silent Cartographer, through boarding and getting to pilot the Pelican in Halo 4’s Shutdown, there’s been a lot of ways in which Bungie and 343 have crafted moments that are remembered as being definitive points of the campaign.

This is that moment for Halo 5.

Somebody at 343 said “so… d’you reckon we can have it so the player gets to sprint down the side of a Guardian while fighting enemies with fluctuating gravity letting them spend more time in the air than on foot?” and somebody else replied: “That’s balls-to-the-wall crazy, do it!”

It was imaginative, unique, fun, and just downright awesome in every conceivable way. The intensity of the music, Advent, does a lot to support the spectacle of the action as well.

My only wish is that it were longer, as I restarted the mission a good three or four times to replay this segment because it’s just that exhilarating. They altered the health of the enemy AI here too, as you can kill multiple Crawlers with just a single burst from your Battle Rifle, and the armour of the Promethean Soldier flares out in one or two hits. I think this was a really good move to support the momentum of this moment, keeping the player with this sense of empowerment as they bulldoze forwards making constant use of the slide, thruster, hover, and ground pound mechanics. This was top-notch design across the board, and reflective of what the rest of the game should have been doing with the Guardians in terms of how they should have affected the environment by changing things like gravity so you open up the potential for these awesome emergent moments.

Replaying this was probably the most fun I’ve had in Halo 5’s campaign yet, I really hope we see more stuff like this in the future.genesis50Sadly, the next major combat segment is lacking a bit because there’s no music. It’s the same problem we had back in the third mission (Glassed) where you’re given a Scorpion tank and 343 fails to give it the proper ceremony.

As it spawns in, the letterbox borders fade in saying “CALL ME CUPID”, referencing Johnson’s fan-favourite line in Halo 2 at the starts of Metropolis:

Johnson: “Usually the good Lord works in mysterious ways. But not today! This here is sixty-six tons of straight up, H-E-spewing de-vine intervention! If God is love, then you can call me Cupid!”

Everybody who has played Halo 2 remembers that segment where you storm across the bridge with the Scorpion at the start of Metropolis, how the segment of the Halo theme kicks in as you reach the half-way point and begin making your downhill charge against Ghosts, Wraiths, Banshees, and Phantoms.

Or in Delta Halo where you get given the Scorpion and Heretic, Hero starts playing while you drive through the ancient ruins as groups of Covenant try to take up their defensive positions against you. The music does half the work in making these moments memorable, so if you’ve done something like give the player a Scorpion to work with but no music then you’ve effectively failed to make that live up to Halo’s standard in crafting those experiences. They had a plethora of tracks they could have played here – the latter part of Light Is Green, or Kamchatka would have been a welcome return to listen to here.

I think Scavengers would have been the perfect track for this, which you may very well recognise as a remake of a Halo 2 classic.

343 really needs to be brought to task and get it into their heads that the implementation of the music is an essential, not optional, part of making their game stand out.

They improved a lot with Halo 5 over Halo 4 in terms of having more music be put in the game (however Halo 4 will forever remain my favourite soundtrack in the series), but there’s still times like this where they slip up.

Having said that, I think that the actual combat of the Scorpion segment is extremely well-designed. I say ‘Scorpion segment’, there’s a plethora of other vehicles around that you can drive, like the Ghost, Ghost Ultra, and Wraith Ultra (which is an absolute joy to use as you watch smaller purple explosions break out of the primary mortar). Enemies appear both above and below, Covenant and Prometheans are fighting each other on all sides which brought back memories of the Covenant-Flood battles in Halo CE’s Two Betrayals. I’m a big fan of those occasional contrasting moments where the player is made to feel like a smaller part of the action, ploughing their way through an already active battle in order to reach their objective.

Considering the general objective an FPS has in making the player feel empowered, which Halo 5 does beautifully with its Spartan Abilities, there has to be times where you take that away from the player in some way in order for there to be a good sense of variety. This comes across really well here, as you’ve just come off the (literal) high of sprinting down a Guardian, guns blazing, and landing boots-on-the-ground on a world that is totally hostile to you. You get a Scorpion, but you become a much smaller part of the action as Guardians begin appearing with various other vessels appearing in their slipspace wake and crashing to the surface below to be met by hordes of Prometheans. It’s effective and engaging gameplay design for me, it made playing this level a joy.genesis51Once again, I even enjoyed the Warden fights. Yes, fights. There are two in this mission and I…

liked them.

I liked them because, keeping in mind this whole idea of player empowerment, the level actually favours you rather than sticking the Wardens in for artificial difficulty. The first Warden fight can be done in a vehicle, provided it survived the previous encounters, where you can just shell the Warden from a distance with a Wraith or Scorpion.

The second fight, where you battle two Wardens, gives you two of the fabled SAW variant known as The Answer, which just mulches through everything. If you run out of ammo with that, there’s a plethora of Incineration Cannons and other heavy weapons to keep the terms of the battle very much in the player’s favour.

I think that’s good design. The Warden Eternal is not the best designed boss ever. He’s really not. There’s no real challenge that he poses because he’s literally just a bullet sponge with three or four abilities, so the question to a designer working with that becomes “how do you make that encounter as fun as possible?”

The Answer (at least my answer, heh) is to quite simply make the player feel like they’re at a point where they can breeze through the fight, to make it not feel daunting. You do that by giving the player the biggest and most powerful guns.

Certainly, as I was replaying this, I did not feel outmatched as I boldly sprinted out of cover and slid right up into the Warden’s path while draining a clip of The Answer into his face. The arena itself has a lot of cover, several tiers of elevation, and a multitude of closed-off rooms providing the player with arms and ammo. It’s a well-designed space and encounter in my opinion. I suspect that many will disagree with that, but when you stack it up against the Warden fight in the Meridian arc and the one to come in The Breaking… I reckon we can at least agree that this stands out as being a great deal more favourable.

So overall, I think that Genesis is one of the strongest levels of the campaign. It’s a tad short, but the substance of its spectacle is really quite admirable. This really does stand as a high point in the campaign for me, which is great coming off from the Sanghelios arc where the gameplay was also generally very strong. If I were to add anything here, I would make it so that you get UNSC allies to fight alongside as well because they crash landed on Genesis (which is where we get our stock of human weapons), but you never see them. It’d be great to have UNSC troops layered onto the Covenant-Promethean battles throughout the level.

Now, onto the narrative…genesis52Here’s a shocker, I genuinely don’t have all that much to criticise about the writing either…

At the start of this mission, we get the introduction of one of Halo 5’s best and most endearing characters – 031 Exuberant Witness, Monitor of the Genesis installation.

Now, credit where credit is due, and I’m making a bit of an assumption here, but Brian Reed writes some excellent Monitor characters. As many of you know from reading through this analysis, I have no particular love for the man’s work on the likes of The Next 72 Hours, but even in that he gave us the character of 859-Static Carillon who was the Monitor of the Composer’s Forge.

Reed has a real knack, it seems, for writing Monitors with interesting personalities so that they’re not just received as “the new 343 Guilty Spark” by the general fanbase, but stand by themselves as unique characters. I think that’s very much worthy of commendation.

Exuberant has spent the last 100,000 years alone as the caretaker of Genesis and has lived a relatively mundane existence, causing her to become “eccentric, talkative, and somewhat prosaic in her communication” according to her Universe entry. She has an incredibly unique perspective on the Forerunners and the Mantle of Responsibility which we see from the moment she is introduced:

Exuberant Witness: “More humans?”

Vale: “That’s a monitor.”

Exuberant: “Hello. I am 031 Exuberant Witness, Monitor of the Genesis installation. Welcome! Have you also come to stop Cortana from claiming the Mantle?”

Locke: “The Mantle?”

Exuberant: “A forced peace upon the galaxy. The threat of death overpowering any celebration of life. Unless you join with the other humans and stop her, it is your future.”

Okay, it’s time to talk about the Mantle…genesis53Let’s start off by addressing the question: what actually is the Mantle?

If I were to pose that question to you, I expect that I would get a lot of different answers – rather, the same kind of answer, but with emphasis placed on a particular nuance of it. It’s a lot like the Force in Star Wars, which has itself been through about eight or nine different definitions over the years varying in complexity and emphasis, something which the KOTOR games (particularly KOTOR 2) went about deconstructing. The Mantle is very similar to that, it is the Force-equivalent of the Halo universe, and a lot of characters tend to view the Mantle in different ways which is the cause of a lot of Halo’s conflicts.

Truth be told, we still don’t exactly know because, in a broad sense of definition, there are at least two versions of it – that which was conceived by the Precursors, and that which was interpreted by the Forerunners.

The Mantle as conceived by the Precursors was tied to their concept of neural physics and Living Time, that what counts as ‘life’ extended to matter and energy, not just living things. As Bornstellar says in Cryptum:

“The universe lives, but not as we do.”

It is hard to articulate the blend of philosophy and science that defined the Precursors because they were transsentient beings far beyond anything we’ve seen in the series. The ‘Precursor Mantle’ is summarised in Silentium as:

“the blessing of rule and protection of life and change that thinks.”

This was also made reference to in Halo 3’s Terminals as the preservation of life in all of its diversity, with the Timeless One convincing Mendicant Bias that the Flood is, in fact, the next great stage of evolution.

our appearance ushered in the beginning of the third great stage of evolution. The first {~} condensation of particles was the result of the inevitable action of strong nuclear force and the creation of stars {~} inevitable action of gravity; so to the self-replicating chemical processes that dictate all disparate {~} In time, we too shall affect change on a universal scale. [Terminal 3]

One of the big revelations in the Forerunner Saga is that the Forerunners were never intended to receive the Mantle, that they were considered “inferior” by the Precursors and humanity were set to get it instead – without getting too carried away here, the specific wording is “to those you now call human”, which opens up a wealth of possibilities about the past of humanity and our history, much of which has been lost, which Forthencho laments, to a series of rather convenient technological dark ages. I’ve discussed the implications of this in this post regarding the way in which the human-Forerunner connection has developed over the years.

To the Forerunners, the Mantle belongs to one species. Them. Their philosophy states that they will done day pass it down, that they are an impermanent part of Living Time, yet it’s clear that they had absolutely no plans of getting around to that considering the climate of their politics and the corruption that is inherent in the very concept of the Mantle.genesis54The Mantle, the way in which the Forerunners articulated it at least, is an inherently racist and imperialistic ideology which propagates the supremacy of one species over all others. This may not have been the case with the Precursor Mantle because it was never said that humanity was the only species to be in-line to receive it, and it is posited that the Precursors had tested many other species they created as well.

It is an ideology of totalitarianism, where one privileged species (rather, the group of people who are in-power in that privileged species) gets to make all the decisions about how every other species exists. Those who do not comply are destroyed, or, worse, subjected to the horrors of the Composer, or have Halo installations test-fired over their worlds when they rise up to try and free themselves. This was very much established back in Halo 3’s Terminals where the Librarian criticises the Forerunners’ belief in the Mantle:

The Mantle. You still hold to that [fairy tale] after all that has happened? After this thing has consumed a million worlds?

Can’t you see? Belief in the Mantle sealed our doom! Weakened our [protectorates], bred dependence and sloth. Our [so-called Guardianship] has stripped those we would keep safe of any capacity for self-defence!

And then, when Mendicant Bias first meets with the Timeless One (then-referred to as  LF.Xx.3273), we get this little bit of dialogue:

MB.05-032.> I have travelled a very long time to meet you. I had imagined that our [introduction] would be somewhat more violent.

LF.Xx.3273.> That is a choice you must make yourself; {~} to be how your creators go about things.

The implication being here that the Forerunners naturally deal with their problems with violence, and we see the hypocrisy of that in the Forerunner Saga. Bornstellar’s entire arc in Cryptum is coming to terms with his privilege as a Builder, as part of a family who is in-league with the Master Builder and has shared in his wealth and power, becoming othered from that and learning about a lot of the mistakes and crimes the Forerunners have committed – leading up to him being the one who commits the greatest crime of all for the sake of the galaxy’s future.

On an internal level, the Mantle breeds conflict about the particulars of its philosophy. A lot of the back-and-forth going on between the Ur-Didact, IsoDidact, Librarian, Master Builder, Catalog, and the everyday citizen of the Ecumene has to do with this.

The Ur-Didact is vehemently opposed to the firing of the Halos because wiping out all life in the galaxy to stop the Flood is the ultimate crime against the fundamental tenet of the Mantle – preserving life. But to the IsoDidact, it was a necessary alteration in strategic vision to accept the Halos as necessary, a crime which must be committed, to ensure that life would be able to continue.

The Librarian has her own unique view of the Mantle in that she seems to be one of the very few Forerunners in-power who believes it must be passed on, she is one of the few who accepts the impermanence of Forerunner guardianship whereas others seek to prolong and exploit it. The Forerunner who does that is the Master Builder, who uses the Mantle as a political tool for his own gain and the gain of his followers. But to the ordinary citizen it’s unlikely that the Mantle really means much, as we know from the Evolutions short story Soma the Painter there were millions of Forerunners who sought to live life away from the Ecumene where they could be closer to nature, out of their armour, away from the politics and corruption at the heart of Forerunner society. I wrote up an analysis of that particular story and its ties to Silentium which you can check out here.

On an external level, the Mantle breeds racial conflict, the likes of which we have already seen in the Human-Covenant war with the San’Shyuum propagating the lie that humans are unclean, heretical, and the other species (the Unggoy and Lekgolo in particular were explored in Halo 2 Anniversary’s Terminals) must be brought into the fold and forced to accept this ideology and societal structure where the people at the top decide which rung on the ladder you’re on – they decide just exactly what your entire species is worth.genesis55The Mantle makes it matter that you are human, or Sangheili, or Unggoy, or whatever. It breeds nationalistic, racist beliefs which is poisonous to interspecies relations going forward. You are defined by your DNA, your individuality is denied one way or the other because it puts forward a system where Race X is objectively superior to Races Y and Z.

Over the years, I have been greatly frustrated by this air of mysticism and reverence that a lot of the fanbase has developed about the Forerunners as these perfect guardian angels which I have always found to be a naive, one-dimensional view at best and literally proves the point about the Mantle elevating the species in-charge to this godlike status. How very meta!

I don’t think that there’s any point in history where Group A has an entirely different history, culture, and mindset to Group B, and has been able to introduce policy and make decisions for that culture in any effective way. Group A will always put their self-interests first to maintain their position in power, everyone else comes second and if they stand in your way then they are enemies. You don’t need to look too far beyond our own history to see how that has worked out in the past…

No, the Forerunners were mortal. They were fallible. They had politics, they had internal divisions and all these little strings which the Flood plucked at to make their own job easier. This is how it has always been since Halo 3’s Terminals, which, I might add, were co-written (along with IRIS) by Frank O’Connor and Brian Jarrard, the former of whom went on to work with Greg Bear on the Forerunner Saga, and also wrote Soma the Painter. This is why the concept of ‘Bungie Forerunners’ and ‘343 Forerunners’ just doesn’t compute with me because, as we have from the testimony of Paul Russel, at a studio level these things in the lore were a “telephone game” at Bungie and it wasn’t until Halo 3 came along with IRIS and the Terminals that a solid foundation was actually built – and was built by a small number of people.

But I digress, the point I hope that I have ultimately illustrated here is that the Mantle is an ideology which needs to be destroyed, just as Thel sought to destroy the Covenant ideology. I hate to keep plugging previous posts here but the alternative is just rewriting them at-length into these already long pieces, but I’ve discussed how the Librarian’s plan for humanity to be the Mantle’s inheritors is a vanity project more than anything else and will perpetuate this cycle of racism and imperialism which…

…oh, turns out to be the main conflict of Halo 5 at this point.

Do tell me again why Cortana isn’t evil when she is literally now the avatar of this ideology.genesis56This brings us right back around to Exuberant Witness and how she defines the Mantle upon meeting Osiris at the start of the mission.

“A forced peace upon the galaxy. The threat of death overpowering any celebration of life. Unless you join with the other humans and stop her, it is your future.”

I would be very interested to have a book, short story, or some Terminal format-style video series about Exuberant Witness’ history on Genesis which led her to come to that mindset, like CEA’s Terminals and how they explored Guilty Spark’s loneliness and isolation on Installation 04 in the 100,000 years following the firing of the Halos.

Exuberant holds an interesting perspective which practically begs for its own story, it’s another thing that makes Reed’s writing of her character so unique among the other Monitor characters we’ve had over the years. Since we know he’s writing for the upcoming anthology novel Halo: Fractures, I very much hope that he’s working on a story like that because he does really well with these more quiet, intimate stories – like the Thorne-based issue of Escalation just before The Next 72 Hours, which I still hold as one of the best.

Much of Exuberant’s dialogue tells us some interesting little tidbits about things going on, such as:

“I found it among the detritus of Guardian 3209’s arrival.”

So we know a rough figure of how many Guardians there are, well over 3000… And what are they for?

Exuberant: “Why has she called so many? A single Guardian can effectively police a solar system. This show of force is unsettling.”

Vale: “I’m sorry, ‘police’? ‘Show of force’?!”

Exuberant: “Indeed. Guardians are how the Forerunners enforced peace on the lower systems.”

Enforcing the rule of the Mantle, ensuring Forerunner supremacy, making sure that they came first and everybody else was kept in their place.

I’ve talked already about how I feel the Guardians ultimately detract from the stigma against Warrior-Servants being sent in to do the dirty work, I think that it would have been a lot better if 343 had redoubled their efforts to focus on the Prometheans and the role that the Ur-Didact intended for them, as articulated by Endurance-of-Will in Silentium:

“He believes he will defeat the Flood with these new Prometheans, that the scattered remnants of the Forerunners will survive, and that they will eventually reunite. He will summon them, then govern and reorganise.

Requiem will become the centre for the Forerunner resurgence, the foundation upon which we will rightfully claim the Mantle.

He will begin a program to eradicate all suspect species. Purge all dangerous planets. Wipe the galaxy clean of threats. Never again allow the galaxy to rise up against Forerunners.”

Of course, that would require that the Ur-Didact be the antagonist in this narrative, which is a discussion I am saving for the next post. Suffice to say, 343 seems to have completely forgotten about the Prometheans being anything more than robotic drone fighters when the revelation at the half-way point of Halo 4 that they were Composed ancient humans (and loyal Warrior-Servant lieutenants) was one of the big beats of the game.

So there’s another thing from Halo 4 which has henceforth been tossed aside, which I find especially irritating in this whole Created narrative because I don’t think the writers have realised the inherent hypocrisy in Cortana talking about AI freedom when she is literally using an army of AI slaves for her army and makes absolutely zero distinction between civilians and combatants.genesis57This brings us to a line of dialogue which is just toe-curlingly awful…

Exuberant: “The Gateway is almost ready. Hurry!”

Tanaka: “What is the Gateway?”

Exuberant: “It is a bridge between the Domain and Genesis. Within that building, Cortana will be reborn into the physical world.

I just… had to pause the game after hearing this spoken aloud. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry, or scream.

Y’know, there was a time where that exact line was nothing more than a joke tossed around over something that would ‘obviously never happen because of how lame would that be?’

This was something that existed primarily in the realm of smut fic writers, that they’d use to have John and Cortana ‘get together’…

Just… actually hearing those exact words said in actual canon is utterly surreal. She’s back, she’s got a physical form (presumably of hardlight), and I just don’t know how to deal with that being a thing. All I know is that I’m not happy about it, but then I’m not happy about a single thing in terms of how Cortana’s character is treated in this game – but we’ll get to that properly in the next two posts.

Back on the subject of dialogue, we have some interesting back-and-forth in the first Warden fight between him and Exuberant:

Exuberant: “Warden, why do you help the ancilla? It is not protocol. It is not right.”

Warden: “The facility’s need for you has passed, Monitor. The Reclamation has begun. Cortana will bring a new dawn to the galaxy.”

Exuberant: “This is wrong, Warden! The ancilla would not exist without the humans. To refuse them but not her, it is madness!”

Warden: “The humans are a variable I do not wish to account for. As are you, Monitor.”

We finally get a line which has some actual implications for the Warden and the part he’s playing in this narrative. He very much seems to be a sort of puppet master figure, which we’ll get a bit more of in the next mission, and his Universe article on Waypoint further characterises these boss fights as an expression of character:

“All combat engagements executed by Warden in this way are done only as a display of power or for personal entertainment, as he could easily evade direct conflict or use his innumerable Soldiers and Knights as pawns.”

We are also told that he believes Cortana can “succeed where the Forerunners failed” in giving her the Mantle for… some reason. Why? Her rule so far seems to be no different at all to how the Forerunners ran things, and with this supposed thinking-span of 10,000 years she now has she seems to be adamant about everything she wants happening right now rather than enacting a gradual change.

We’re being given these tidbits of characterisation, largely from out of the game and don’t entirely line up with what we see in the game. Did anyone really get the impression the Warden boss fights were being done as “a display of power or for personal entertainment” on his part when he screams at the end of Battle of Sunaion that Osiris must not reach Genesis, or when he directly intervenes in the Meridian arc to prevent Osiris from reaching the Guardian? It seemed to me that he had a pretty personal stake in those engagements…genesis58In addition, at the end of the second battle with the Warden, we get this dialogue:

Exuberant: “Perfect. The Warden is quite humiliated, I assure you.”

Tanaka: “Yeah? A robot can feel humiliation?”

Exuberant: “Oh! Warden is not a robot. I thought you understood that.”

This is a frustrating habit that I have picked up on which Brian Reed has, going back to the reception of The Next 72 Hours where he mocked people on Twitter who thought that he’d killed off the Ur-Didact as if it was obvious that he was Composed. But he can’t be Composed, Reed himself said that he wrote that line in Halo 4’s Terminals, so he wasn’t Composed. And we recently got the Escalation Library Edition with his commentary in it where he says he wasn’t Composed:

“In Halo 4, we explicitly state the Composer has no effect on Didact, or Chief for that matter – thanks Librarian. What we see here isn’t a standard Composer usage by any stretch of the imagination. This is six plus composers detonating all at once, their energy expelled in an uncontrolled manner. He’s not “Composed” in the traditional sense because there is nothing there to process him. What he is, well, what he is is a surprise. But he’s out there. He’s alive. We’ll see him again.

Despite his Universe entry saying that the Didact has been “effectively turned into a digital essence” – aka, he’s been Composed. This has been a game of semantics running for two years and we’ve only now just got clarification that the Didact hasn’t just been bumped off and forgotten about, that is, assuming they’re not lying to us again – a caveat I’m going to be approaching all of 343’s fiction with until they prove that they’ve changed.

The same thing occurs here with the Warden Eternal. The implication given in the game is that he’s a Composed Forerunner, but his Universe page refers to his species as just “AI”, and nothing in the game or in any other media does anything to tell us anything more.

343 has developed this extremely irritating reticence to give us even the most basic information about these things. They talk a lot about how there’s this long-term plan that they have in-mind for the future, but as I’ve said before I think that long-term vision has made them lose perspective to the demands of the stories we are receiving now. It may well be that a year from now, two years, five years, whatever, we’ll have a wealth of information about some of these new characters. But right now they are flat, one-dimensional, uninteresting, and are taking up the space of other antagonists who received far stronger treatment in the past – I refer of course to the Ur-Didact, Jul, ONI, etc.

If I were to make a plea at 343, it would be for them to stop being so damn tight about how they drip-feed us the most basic aspects of these characters – especially when they’re new and have come seemingly from out of nowhere.genesis59Another bit of dialogue I find rather amusing is Exuberant Witness saying:

“Cortana has had the other humans wandering in circles within the Gateway for some hours. She is preparing for something. But just what is unknown.”

Hours? No.

This mission takes place on October 28th, and the Guardian which ferried Blue Team from Meridian arrived October 26th. Blue Team has apparently been “wandering in circles” for two days, not a few hours. And doesn’t this just really come across as a way of the writers demonstrating that they had no idea what to do with Blue Team here? There have been a few notable contrivances with time in this game, like Osiris somehow arriving at the Guardian’s Shelter before Blue Team back on Meridian…

Blue Team went AWOL on October 23rd and went straight to Meridian, Osiris was sent after them on October 25th. Osiris encountered resistance from Prometheans, as well as Sloan buying Cortana time, yet somehow Blue Team arrived at the Guardian’s Shelter second.

So the timeline here is pretty damn skewed. It doesn’t do much to make this already unbelievable narrative any more believable…

Looking over to the intel now, there’s not too much to talk about – and I already covered the Forerunner logs back in the Enemy Lines analysis so I won’t bring them up again here.

There are three logs from UNSC Marines:

UNSC intel 1/3: “Marine Selena Rhodin here. Our last known location was circling the Guardian at Samuron. There was a sequence of shockwaves, and then, then we were here, wherever here is. Our Pelican slipspaced in and came under immediate fire. Not many survivors. We’ll try to find shelter and gather some supplies from the wreckage. This is a nightmare, over.”

UNSC intel 2/3: “Marine Kulas reporting in. So far, all we know about this planet is that it has hostiles. We’ve spotted Covenant. They probably got pulled along accidentally, same as us. We’re holed up and maintaining a defensive perimeter. But the Covies get aggressive when they’re confused, and we’re low on ammo. I don’t know how long we can hold on.”

UNSC intel 3/3: “Rene Dekas reporting again. Just had to change location. Those… robot things, came after us hard. We went through the hills and could see Covenant ships getting slipspaced in and crashing all over the place. For now, we’re bunkered by some structure. Started moving a little while ago. Don’t know why. Don’t know if we’d be safer nearby or if we should get away from it. Don’t know much. Over.”

As I said earlier, I think it was a mistake to not have UNSC allies in this mission.

They’re there on Genesis, but that is contrived just so we can have UNSC weapons and vehicles rather than having the writers actually do anything with that. They wouldn’t have to impact the story at all. If they survive up to the end of the mission where you arrive at the Gateway’s entrance, Locke could just order the Marines to hunker down and hold position while Osiris goes in to meet up with Blue Team.

Having Marine allies would have just made the combat between the Covenant and Prometheans feel an extra bit bigger, even if it were just a few Marine survivors who join up with you.genesis60The next two logs we get are from an Unggoy and Sangheili, showcasing two very different perspectives on their arrival at Genesis:

Proon Glibwik: “So I’ve been thinking, if this place is supposed to be all perfect and made for us, how come nothing looks right? Where’s the salty bogs, huh? Where’s the methane springs? I mean, we can’t even breathe over here! Not even the Elites like it. I mean, who was this paradise made for, huh? I got no clue!”

Muki ‘Jahma: “The Guardians sounded their mighty call, and tore the stars apart. They brought us here. The ships of believers and heretics alike were flung to the fertile ground, where the survivors engage in a glorious slaughter. Yes, to die here, in the home of the gods, is the highest honour. I cannot wait.”

Muki’s log is exemplary of the kind of fanaticism which needs to be wiped from the setting, of just how stupid the Covenant belief is. This is the kind of person that the galaxy is better off without, whereas Proon is demonstrative of a more critical individual who is under no illusions regarding the place they’ve ended up. Sadly, he ended up on the wrong side of the conflict and seems to have paid with his life for that.

The same unfortunate end also met Kit Pitlimp, whose final entry is found in this mission:

“I knew it! Kit Pitlimp has always been bound for destiny! I speak as one who has undergone the Great Journey! Now, I will talk to the gods! I will BE a god! I will–what is that creature? If you are a god, I… worship you! Otherwise… worship ME! Wait, no! NO!”

His body is found in the early stages of the mission next to a Light of Urs (a Fuel Rod variant), where it seems he was cut down by Prometheans.

There’s not really too much to analyse in these logs, the bulk of the intrigue comes from the Forerunner stuff which I’ve already talked about.half111Which brings us to the final cutscene of the level, delivering the beginnings of some promising material between Blue Team and Osiris but is sadly cut short so the plot can keep happened.

Really, this scene needed to be longer. One of 343’s goals which they set out with in Halo 5’s narrative back in January 2014, according to the A Hero Reborn ViDoc, was to have a “departure in storytelling” where there would be a back-and-forth narrative flow with two perspectives that would tell a complete story. As Josh Holmes said in the ViDoc at the very end:

“There’s definitely a human drama at the core of that and how these two teams relate to each other as they cross paths.”

Regrettably, we never get to see how Osiris and Blue Team “relate to each other”, despite this scene being the perfect set-up for some actual dialogue between them before Cortana intervenes. The last time Osiris and Blue Team crossed paths was on Meridian, about eight missions ago, this is the second time, and they meet up again once more at the end of Guardians for about ten seconds before the scene cuts away.

There’s just no substance given to the interaction between these characters because there is no interaction.

As soon as they meet up here, Blue Team immediately levels their weapons and Locke shoulders his, raising his hands to show that he came after Blue Team to help them, not to fight. They literally exchange three lines of dialogue before they get teleported away.

Locke: “Chief, please. Wait. Cortana-“

John: “She’s dangerous. I know.”

Locke: “You don’t have to do this alone. We’re here to help you.”

Locke’s line here about John not having to do this alone is great, as a starting point for an actual conversation between these two characters who have had their ‘rivalry’ played up so much by the marketing there’s a lot of interesting things you could have them say…

And that’s not even taking into account the other members of Blue Team and Osiris, how the likes of Tanaka and Linda might get on. Or Vale and Kelly, Buck and Fred. I know I’m asking way too much here though because we barely get to see Blue Team interact with each other, let alone other characters.half115Cortana pops in just as the potential for some solid character writing materialises and decides “no, we must move on with the plot instead!” (there’s that singularity effect at-work once more), and Blue Team disappears.

And that’s… the end of the mission.

It’s a really flaccid ending and represents another major missed opportunity to have a scene where characters just talk to each other. Is that really so much to ask for? A scene where the characters are just exchanging words, actual words, for more than ten seconds before the plot tries to hurry them out of the door.

Halo 5 definitely achieved its goal in being a “departure in storytelling”, but not quite in the way I think 343 intended. Every time they’ve set up a situation for perspectives to be fleshed out, for some meaningful character interaction, for some actual substance, they’ve jumped away from it. We’re pretty much at the end of the game now, there’s no room left to make up for what is lacking here.

This is why Halo 5 really ought to have been a smaller story. I can totally see what 343 wanted to accomplish with this narrative, but they botched it. It’s bloated, it moves along too fast, there’s very few moments where there’s actual breathing room. It feels like panel-hopping through a comic rather than watching a complex story unfold across two different perspectives, which is completely undermined from the get-go as Locke, Thel, and everyone in the story knows what is happening from the second/third mission.half119Overall then, I still regard this mission as a net-positive. In terms of what actually is here with its excellent gameplay, actual well-crafted boss fights, and the introduction of Exuberant cinnamon roll Witness who has a lot of fun and interesting dialogue, there is a lot to enjoy here – to the point where I actually changed my mind about this mission upon replaying it. There’s areas that need improvement, as I pointed out with the music for the Scorpion segment were 343 just seems to be wildly inconsistent when it comes to crafting ‘moments’ in their games, but on the whole I am going to say that this mission was verging on being great.

As a final bit of food for thought, here’s an interesting idea to ponder…

What if we swapped out Exuberant Witness with the Librarian ancilla from Halo 4 and Escalation?

What if there was some degree of character arc focused on the Librarian’s essence realising that the Mantle was wrong and she actively works with Osiris to try and undo her plans?

I love Exuberant Witness, I really really do. But I can’t help but feel that the Librarian is a much more relevant character to this Reclamation story. Saying that, I don’t think Halo 5 loses out on much with Exuberant Witness being there, as I said Brian Reed did an excellent job of making her an interesting and fun character with a unique perspective on the Forerunners, but it just doesn’t sit right with me that the Librarian is relegated (like the Ur-Didact) to but a few off-handed mentions here and there, the most egregious offender of which we’ll talk about in the next mission.

The next mission… where the real nonsense begins.

11 thoughts on “Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Genesis

  1. Very, very good read! This mission was the only mission that really had that “Halo” vibe for me! Sure, the scorpion scene could’ve used some epic music to make it truly memorable, but overall I feel like 343i nailed it with music choices for the rest of the mission! Specifically when meeting Exuberant for the first time… It just felt right, and “Halo-ey.” I’ve invested more time than I should have in the Halo story line and the characters within, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t care what happened when I got to this point. I simply lost interest, and was starting to get really bored with it. I’m not entirely sure why, but this campaign never once grabbed me and made me feel like I HAD to complete it because of how awesome the story was! And it’s a really big bummer, too… Because Halo is the only video game series to have ever grabbed my FULL attention when playing through the campaigns… So much so, that I wanted to learn MORE about the universe BEYOND just the games, which is super rare for me! Unfortunately, however, Halo 5 kind of killed that hype for me… There were just far too many missed opportunities throughout the story, as well as jumbled, chaotic cutscenes that just made the game feel rushed and unfinished. It’s super depressing, because you have SO many incredible things happening in this game, that just ends up sitting in the “wasted opportunities” section. For instance, Blue Team FINALLY making an appearance in a Halo game, Thel is back and bada**, Buck as a spartan, a chance to really flesh out Halsey and Palmers story arc… All of these things, when I first heard were going to play a part in Halo 5’s story, excited me BEYOND believe! I couldn’t wait! But… Here we are… And it all fell flat on it’s face. And, quite honestly, I don’t have high hopes for Halo 6… I’m kind of lost in this new Halo universe. I’ve read the books, watched the shows, but I still can’t quite understand what 343i is doing, or why they’d want to in the first place. I don’t know man, it’s just a huge bummer… I LOVE Halo… But man, that’s getting harder and harder to say each time 343i contradicts themselves when discussing this… Interesting story line.

    Anywho, long story short, GREAT breakdown of the mission, dude! I loved reading your thoughts and agree with them 100%! It’s just a bummer that a long time Halo fan, who has done a lot more than just playing the games, is losing hope and excitement for the franchise. Hopefully 343i can completely change my views when Halo 6 drops in a few years! I sure hope so!

  2. Interesting that you mentioned Librarian and the missed potential for her essence recanting her plan for humanity and the Mantle.

    It crossed my mind during Halo 4 that potentially one of the (many?) reasons that the Precursors found the Forerunners lacking and unworthy of the Mantle was their heavy reliance on their technology – armour/combat skins and Ancillas specifically. Essentially they actively isolated themselves, not only from each other but from the universe as a whole. They never, except for a vanishingly small percentage of their population – Soma et al, experienced life and the universe directly.

    Librarian encoded the “gene song” into humanity that would lead to the emergence of someone like John 117 paired with Cortana in an advanced suit of armour. The Primordial stated that humanity would be tested next in the Forerunner Saga of books. It seems to me that what Librarian did, presumably with the best of intentions to help, was to set humanity up to fail that test in exactly the same fashion as the Forerunners did.

    It might also be argued that Librarian did more to ensure Forerunner continuance as from a certain point of view, she ensured the reemergence of Forerunner ideals and (to some extent) culture by encoding the seeds of them into human DNA.

    Thus it would make sense for Librarian’s essence to appear having had 100,000 years to consider her original’s actions. Perhaps realising what had been set in motion. She might then have joined/assisted Blue Team and Firetream Osiris in damage limitation.

    I can’t help feeling though that the Created plot line is a dead-end contrivance that heavily detracts from the Halo universe as a whole. As you’ve mentioned in previous posts, the AI trope is over used in science fiction in general and has raised its misbegotten head fair to soon in the franchise.


  3. The only problem I have with Exhuberant Witness is how she’s simply thrown in all-of-a-sudden. There’s no mention of a monitor on Reunion, and when we finally meet him/her(?) on Genesis, it’s not in a cutscene or anything, it’s just in-gameplay, and the characters are immediately tossed into a no-nonsence, split-second introduction conversation.

    Anyway, about Cortana and the Ur-Didact, I guess I’m personally still holding out hope that Halo 6 will have this big reveal where it was without-a-doubt the Ur-Didact using an artificial recreation of Cortana(which is possible?), to manipulate the Master Chief. Perhaps he was using the image of Cortana to not only manipulate the Chief, but also the other AIs humanity has; inciting a rebellion that in the end would help him, the Ur-Didact, accomplish his goals. And perhaps that’s why he didn’t reveal himself at the end here; because if he did, then the other AIs would undoubtedly refuse to follow him.

    1. This is the only thing (barring a total retcon of the game) that would even remotely salvage Cortana’s character for me.

  4. I think it would have been so much better if instead of chief vs locke being the main focus(even though it really wasn’t as much as the marketing made it out to be), Blue team slowly starts doubting Chief more and more as the game goes on. Fred especially should get to point where he tries to tell John that he needs to stand down, and John and him fight. It would show that chief is not in the best mental state and show that he might be wrong.

    1. That would have been really interesting to see, a bit of tough-love from Blue Team. Sure, they’re loyal to one another, but Kelly Fred and Linda are too smart to blindly follow John.

  5. I watched a youtube video a time ago that mentioned that there is usually a “spectacle” level used to introduce a new alien world in Halo. Compared to this level, Reunion feels incredibly lackluster as an introduction to Genesis.

    Genesis’ aesthetics never really appealed to me. Outside of the coral springing out everywhere and the weird fleshy walls you can smash through, it just does very little to distinguish itself. I partially blame the story for this, spending too much time elsewhere so that Genesis never gets a chance to develop an identity of its own. It reminds me of the Halo Wars Shield World interior and the Spartan Strike portrayal of Gamma Halo: a risk-free and unremarkable landscape that takes the environmental and architectural cues from Alpha Halo, the closest thing to a “generic Forerunner look”.

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