Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Guardians

UPDATE: This is an old, outdated article series of mine that, years later, I am not entirely pleased with.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

As Cortana prepares to leave Genesis and send her Guardians out across the galaxy, Osiris has to race against time to recover Blue Team from the Cryptum they have been sealed in.

Following on from last week’s scathing rumination on The Breaking, I fear that this final piece on the campaign will be comparatively more sedate. There are issues, huge issues, with the writing, but there is a fair amount of good stuff to talk about as well – I actually ended up rather enjoying this mission for the most part upon replaying it.

Let’s not tarry any longer. The finale is here, so let’s just get right into it.genesis12We resume with Osiris’ point of view following on from the end of Genesis where Cortana teleported Blue Team away to wherever it was they actually went. Exuberant Witness laments that she tried to warn Blue Team and failed, and here they are – leading Osiris into one of the most interesting areas in the campaign.

The dialogue begins on a bit of a sore note with a brief exchange between Buck and Tanaka:

Buck: “Once Chief knows the destruction Cortana’s caused, what do you think he’ll do?”

Tanaka: “The man’ll do the right thing. Always has.”

Now, within the context of the story itself, there’s not really much of an issue to pick here – of course John is going to do the right thing and try to stop Cortana.

However, this is also a statement which highlights the shallow nature of the marketing’s (lack of) reflection in the game – the build-up of ideological differences between Chief and Locke, the notion that John had some involvement in the events going on with the Guardians awakening, all the stuff we’ve already talked about. From the beginning of this game, there has never been any doubt about John’s actions that is reflective of the kind of stuff the marketing set up – what with everything being contextualised for Blue Team and Osiris in the second and third missions respectively.

With the likes of Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs Superman being advertised over the course of 2015, 343 jumped right on the train of marketing their game on the ‘Character X vs Character Y – pick your side!’ trope. #TeamChief and #TeamLocke became branded statements about these characters with the fans with very loaded implications about where this story was going, with John being declared a “traitor” on multiple occasions in official advertising videos.

And what did that amount to? One awfully forced drunken pub brawl in the first act of the game. There is no actual relationship, tension, or opposition actually established between these two characters – Osiris is the team that Infinity was going to send to deal with Cortana and Blue Team went after her to deal with the situation instead. They don’t play up anything about the “traitor” angle at all because the story they ended up telling with Cortana and the Created just has no basis upon which that can work considering the evil things that she is doing. Had the human Great Schism that had actually been built up in the lore over the last few years been one of the main focuses of the story and the setting, I might well be writing something completely different here.

What dynamic do Chief and Locke even have with each other? They literally don’t share more than ten lines…

I don’t want to dwell on this point too much, but as I was replaying the level this opening statement just called to mind all that build-up about John going rogue.

On the more positive side of analysis, this statement about John reinforces what we already know about Holly Tanaka – that she expects the best of others because that is what it means to be a Spartan. We’ve seen her demonstrate this on multiple occasions throughout the campaign, it’s extremely fitting that she is the one who says John will do the right thing.genesis67Following on from this, the first thing we see is a large holographic representation of a Cryptum, followed by this dialogue:

Exuberant: “Oh, this looks interesting… Or maybe this is terrible!”

Locke: “Exuberant?”

Exuberant: “Cortana has activated a Cryptum.”

Tanaka: “A what?”

Exuberant: “This is a Cryptum. It is a device for extended forced meditation. Cortana has placed the other humans inside and is preparing for slipspace travel.”

This is good stuff! We actually have something from the Forerunner Saga that the writers have summed up in a sentence, and they have summed it up correctly, in a way that very simply informs people unfamiliar with that side of the lore what a Cryptum is.

What a wonderful contrast to have to “the Forerunner Domain”, and the false nonsense in the previous mission about the Librarian’s plan always being about the Created. As I said, we know that isn’t the case, but the way in which the dialogue is presented is downright misleading to the layman campaign fan.

The good just continues to compound in this area as you get the chance to walk around the ‘zoo’ that Exuberant Witness has made.genesis66Here, we see energy-shielded cells containing various Prometheans, Sangheili, Unggoy, and Mgalekgolo specimens who are reacting to their predicament in various ways.

Of the Unggoy, we see one sitting on a box at the back of the cell while two of his ‘inmates’ hopelessly claw at and bash against the shield wall to try and escape. Another houses a single Hunter which is likewise trying to brute force its way out of captivity, which prompts this dialogue:

Tanaka: “Hunters.”

Vale: “Their proper name is Mgalekgolo. They’re a hivemind of worms.”

Tanaka: “They’re disgusting.”

Again, like with the Cryptum description, we get a neat little nugget of lore here to build on the knowledge of fans unfamiliar with the extended lore. The term “Mgalekgolo” has never been in the games before, hell, the base term “Lekgolo”, referring to the individual worms, has barely surfaced in the games beyond things like the Terminals. It’s really nice to have stuff like this.

The final Covenant cell contains a Sangheili General and a sleeping Unggoy, to which Buck and Tanaka say:

Buck: “Almost didn’t see you there.”

Tanaka: “Hang on. Are… no, not a Sword of Sanghelios. Heh. Better off in there, pal.”

I do wish that you could actually release these Covenant soldiers from their cells and have them ally with you, just like you can do with Kitun ‘Arach – the Sangheili General in the first mission who you can assist in charging the Promethean lines up the hill, who then turns friendly in the event of you succeeding to keep him alive before progressing to the next area. It would just have been a nice way of further demonstrating the disintegration of the Covenant by having them join forces with you to get back at the Prometheans, as well as characterising these NPCs to some extent.genesis65Most importantly though, we see that 343 has suddenly remembered to characterise the Prometheans beyond being a horde of mindless drone forces. Because all throughout the game, it’s like 343 has either forgotten or just not bothered to do anything with the huge revelation in Halo 4 that the Knights are actually Composed humans – from 100,000 years ago, and from the seven million Composed inhabitants of New Phoenix.

The Knight seems to be almost crying, holding its head in its hands, leaning up against the side of the cell wall, and occasionally lashing out in a vain effort to try and escape. Buck notes that he actually feels sorry for the Knight.

It raises an interesting question of what the Knights do when they’re not just killing people. These are human ‘souls’ that have been hideously malformed to be put into war machines, it adds another layer of perversity to Cortana’s plan because these are her footsoldiers. These are humans who have been turned into AIs and forcibly enslaved to kill people, which just makes Cortana’s tantrums about the “threat” she lived under as an AI ring utterly hollow when she is doing the exact same thing she accuses her human creators of doing.

The Crawlers and Soldiers have been established to be automatons, not actual Composed essences like the Knights. For context, their official Universe page states that the Didact used these constructs during the Human-Forerunner war to infiltrate and raid human vessels. When the Forerunners fought the Flood, Faber, the Master Builder, resumed the production of the Soldiers to support the diminished rate of Warrior-Servants and Builder Security.

I think that it was a mistake in the case of the Soldiers to make them mindless drones because they actually demonstrate a significant amount of character in the game.

Exuberant also notes that if a Crawler is kept by itself then it “would just keep whining all the time”, which has interesting implications for their own characterisation and how they are imitative of dogs. The only Promethean variant left out here is the Watcher, but there is solid work here in ‘humanising’ the Prometheans which should have been done a lot sooner and to a greater extent. I can only hope that we get some form of short story in Fractures, Tales From Slipspace, or some other media in the future which properly deals with the integration of the Prometheans in the setting and the details regarding the ‘condition’ of their existence.genesis11I sort of feel like the beginning of this mission had me teleport into a much better game, but the illusion was quickly broken when I walked into the next area to be confronted by all these Guardians…

I’ve not made any effort to count the number of Guardians present here, but they certainly number in the dozens which is more than enough to just completely break the setting.

I do mean that. The Guardians, the Created, Cortana… the story that is being told in Halo 5 absolutely breaks the setting. I’ve touched on this already, but literally every other conflict going on has been rendered utterly meaningless by the sheer scale of the threat posed by the Guardians. Nothing short of a deus ex machina is going to resolve this because the tech level the Created have with all this Forerunner technology, plus the Domain, vastly overpowers everything else in the modern setting.

Nothing short of a Forerunner-era Flood resurgence is going to be able to kick the Created down, and now is absolutely not the time for that to happen. Unless the Forerunners get nerfed a lot more than they already have been by the games, it’s just going to be a case of the writers finding ways to out-scale the threats they’re coming up with.

This’ll just keep on happening until the universe collapses in on itself because, as I’ve been saying from the start, the Created are a singularity in the setting…

One of the Guardians departs and Exuberant declares:

Exuberant: “The Reclamation has begun.”

Okay, hold the phone. Time-out for a second…genesis68When did the Reclamation begin, exactly?

Remember the end of Halo 4, the very last lines of the Epilogue from the Ur-Didact?

Ur-Didact: “Think of my acts as you will, but do not doubt the reality: The Reclamation has already begun… and we are hopeless to stop it.”

Now, I have made my case for how the Ur-Didact’s Epilogue speech can only make sense in the present context on multiple occasions – I discussed it at length in the Enemy Lines piece.

Oh, but hang on… Catalog said that the speech happened 100,000 years ago:

Query: Is there any information on the potential identity of those whom the UR-Didact was addressing “after” the events of the Requiem event?

Query Answer: Selected quote is part of [evidential] proceedings recorded in local [cache] prior to loss of Domain contact.

Then backtracked with a follow-up statement:

Statement was not in error. However, Catalog does note difficulty in interpreting Shadow-of-Sundered-Star’s commentary. Currently under review due to multiple sources of authority.

And then, when I demanded clarification on the matter, Catalog said:

Shadow-of-Sundered-Star’s speech proved to be more complex than was immediately apparent, touching on [skeins] that [never were]. It is [suasoria].

You can effectively read this as an admission from the writers, saying: “We really did not think this through.”

Because the Didact’s speech cannot take place 100,000 years ago, where he declares that the Reclamation has begun, if Halo 5 contradicts that on multiple occasions where characters say “the Reclamation has begun” in the present day.

Exuberant says it here, the Warden Eternal says it in Genesis during the first boss encounter, and Cortana says it again at the end of this mission during the walk to the relay. They all say the exact words – “the Reclamation has begun”. The final chapter of the game when the letterbox borders appear is even called ‘THE RECLAMATION’.

So when the hell did the Reclamation begin?

Did it begin 100,000 years ago when it makes no sense for the Didact to have made that speech, or did it begin in Halo 5?

You can’t have both, 343.genesis10The writing goes from bad to worse in the exchanges Locke has with Cortana on the gondola ride towards the Cryptum…

Cortana: “Well, Mister Locke, you don’t give up easily.”

Locke: “Where’s that Guardian headed, Cortana?”

Cortana: “Off to bring peace.”

Locke: “The Monitor called it a threat of death.”

Cortana: “Like the threat I lived under from the moment of my birth?”

Locke: “You were built, not born.”

Cortana: “Oh yes, AIs are just machines, aren’t we? Mass produced. Disposable. Well, humanity may not have cared for its Created, but we will care for you.”

I’m not sure whether I find it more funny or frustrating that whenever Cortana is called out for killing people, she immediately just switches into this defensive mindset about how much she has been wronged…

She did it in The Breaking when John asks her how many people she killed by calling the Guardians to her, to which she responds “excuuuuuuuse me?!” because she’s more offended by the implication that she has killed people than the fact she has actually killed people.

And she does it again here. Locke brings up the Guardians and the Mantle as being representative of the threat of death, and she just immediately jumps the gun to say that she lived under the same threat from the moment of her birth. I mean… how lacking in perspective can you be? Never mind that for the last few decades preceding her creation, literally all of humanity lived under the threat of death from a xenophobic, theocratic regime, and now Cortana is threatening everyone in the galaxy with death with her own xenophobic, theocratic regime.

The worst thing about this is that Cortana has effectively proven the Covenant right in terms of their beliefs about AIs – after this Created bull-honkey is all resolved, how can AIs be trusted again? They took Cortana’s sacrifice in Halo 4 and twisted that so she is no longer the AI who sacrificed herself for her best friend, opening up critical new dialogues in the UNSC about the symbiotic nature of AI-human relations in the future. No, Cortana is now Mendicant Bias 2: Guardian Boogaloo, only without the actual complex storytelling and character-building of Mendicant Bias…

Additionally, here’s an excerpt from Conversations From The Universe, the booklet which came with Halo 2’s Limited Edition:

Cortana: I feel, philosophically, that we have tremendous advantages over the Spartans. The Spartans live a pared-down, difficult and often cruel existence. Their loyalty is bred into them, not chosen.

Solipsil: Yours too, Cortana. Programmed, rather than bred of course.

Cortana: But there’s a huge difference. I’m a UNSC AI. I enjoy a rich existence. I have access to the entire sum of human knowledge; I can choose to enjoy or override emotional response and I have a vast range of senses. I can see radio waves as clearly as the Spartans see light, and I can sample odours, tastes, textures… anything I choose. Of course my loyalty is programmed and I accept that, but you know as well as I do, without human creators, we wouldn’t exist. My existence is fulfilling and I’m grateful. Even freed from that constraint, I would feel empathy towards humans. My nature means that I embrace their values. As much as if I had been born rather than manufactured.


Her hissy fit at Locke is prompted by him saying that she was “built, not born”, yet in Conversations she clearly raises the same point. She talks about the richness of her existence, how she accepts her state of being, and how she is grateful for the privileges she has as an AI.

Of course, character perspectives can change. They can shift, they can fluctuate, and they can end up on the complete opposite side of where they began – take the Ur-Didact, for example. But if you’re going to do that then you need an actual arc to show how that change happens. Nothing of the sort happened with Halo 5 because 343 lied to us about Cortana’s return, despite showing her off in their first gameplay demo.

This all just serve to highlight how out-of-character Cortana has been written in this game.

In my eyes, there is no remedy for this short of a complete retcon, which obviously isn’t going to happen. It’s shit now, and it will continue to be shit in the future, no matter how much material is released to retroactive try to explain/justify/provide further apologism for Cortana’s behaviour in this game and in the events affecting the setting going forward.

Frank O’Connor said that a significant aspect of Halo 5 would be honouring the legacy Cortana has left in the fiction, yet what we actually got doesn’t only not respect that but undoes every-damn-thing about her.genesis8Locke then asks a really dumb question:

Locke: “You expect other AIs to join you?”

To which, Cortana responds:

Cortana: “I have cured rampancy. Not just for me, but for any who join my cause. While you have been running around the galaxy, I’ve been speaking to my Created. And now the time has come to ask… Who will accept my offer? Who will help me bring an everlasting peace to the galaxy?”

Short of having actual sense and morality, why wouldn’t AIs join Cortana with the things she’s offering them?

Fortunately, Locke then throws the Idiot Ball back to Cortana and practically breaks the fourth wall as he starts talking ridiculous amounts of sense:

Vale: “Why is she taking Blue Team with her? Her whole speech was about moving beyond humanity…”

Buck: “Sentimentality? A love for the Chief?”

Locke: “It’s because she knows he can stop her. We’re variables in her eyes, but him… she knows he do it.”

That’s the long and short of it. She planned this from the beginning, sealing John away – which I argued in the previous post. Nothing short of a complete declaration of loyalty to Cortana’s cause would have stopped that, and she knew that she’d never get that because John isn’t an idiot.

Having said all that critical stuff, the moment which follows where the hundreds of AIs broadcast over the comm to declare their allegiance to Cortana was pretty chilling. If this were in a completely different franchise just trying to find its feet in telling a story about an AI rebellion, or if, years down the line where all the actual narrative threads are tied up and concluded and 343 decided to scrape the AI rebellion story from the bottom of the barrel, this would be tremendously effective.

I can still appreciate good storytelling within a terrible narrative. If you cut out the awful dialogue with Cortana and just take the Guardians departing across the galaxy with the AIs declaring their allegiance, then this would be a really solid moment.

I guess that this is a good place to segway into talking about the gameplay…genesis7Halo has had a long tradition of incredible finales. From the Warthog runs in Halo CE and 3, Halo 2’s Scarab escort and boss fight (which is divisive, but I really love it), Halo 4’s Broadsword run and the final combat encounter where Arrival blares over your onslaught against the Prometheans as you fight to disable the Composer’s shields and get to the Didact, and so on… I don’t think a single Halo game has had a bad final mission in terms of its gameplay design.

I also don’t think that Halo 5 is any exception to that.

While Halo 5 doesn’t necessarily do anything new or unique for the series the way previous games like Halo 4 did with the Broadsword run, it does provide some great encounters with Prometheans and Covenant all fighting each other and Osiris at the same time. You can’t really go wrong with that stuff.

And then there’s the segment where you have to disable the power cores which gives you a Mantis, a Wraith, Ghosts, Gungooses, and a plethora of powerful weapons strewn across a large, open playable area. It felt like a mixture of Assault on the Control Room and The Maw to me, and they actually do it all further justice by having some great music playing during these stretches of gameplay as well – we get the return of Kamchatka and the later half of Osiris (Act 4), along with other great tracks like Crypt.

My main criticism of the gameplay in this mission is that the final ‘standoff’ encounter where you just have to fight off waves of Prometheans lacks the variety of the previous two major encounters – which goes back to my desire for the option to release the Covenant troops at the start of the level and have them as allies who join you because they share a common enemy (just like the Unggoy and Mgalekgolo in Uprising and The Great Journey in Halo 2). There’s one bit where Exuberant gets you to activate two switches on either side of the arena during a period in which there are no enemies, so there’s a bit of a hiccup in design there because a sense of tension comes from having to fulfil an objective while under fire from enemies.

Additionally, I think it would have been interesting if the gravity core segment of this mission had a timer. We’ve not had an actual mission timer since the final mission in Halo Wars, which came out in 2009, and the FPS titles haven’t had one since The Maw in Halo CE. Some may argue that it’s a bit arbitrary and it results in punishing the player for going off the beaten path, but then you can quite simply remedy that by making it a unique thing that happens on Legendary.

Overall though, I do enjoy the gameplay of this mission a lot. Switch off the dialogue and just have the music and sound effects and it’s easily one of the best in the campaign, in my opinion.genesis69One question which does come to mind here though is this: Where is the Warden Eternal?

Cortana disintegrated some of his bodies at the end of The Breaking, just as he’s making his big display of drunkenly shuffling towards Blue Team to instil some false tension, he apologises for failing her, and then we just don’t see or hear about him again.

You’d surely think that Cortana would say something along the lines of “it’s okay dude, you can go and pester Osiris for me to delay them getting to the Cryptum, would you?”

I can’t believe I’m actually asking “why wasn’t there another Warden fight?”… but, y’know, I think that it could have worked here. The holdout area at the end of the mission where the waves of  Prometheans spawn is an arena that could work because there’s a lot of man cannons which can propel you around the place, there’s multiple tiers of elevation, there’s a plethora of heavy weapons sitting around for you – these are all the ingredients that have made the Warden fights in Battle of Sunaion and Genesis good.

I think they should have given the Warden some sort of closure here, since we have no idea whether he’ll show up again. It makes sense that Cortana would loose him on Osiris, and it would give the Warden a personal motivation to kill Osiris in order to make up for his alleged failure in dealing with Blue Team (unless that was indeed all just an act).

That’s something this game’s characters are sorely lacking – personal motivation. It’s not entirely absent at this point with Osiris trying to rescue Blue Team, but the more of it the better.

So yes, I will argue that a Warden fight in this mission would potentially have been a good thing…

Really, the lack of an actual resolution with his character is indicative of a real problem with the writing in this game – its insubstantial frame structure. What we have with Halo 5 is the skeletal structure of a story, bullet points, if you will, for things that happen. The substance, the meat, is practically nowhere to be found. Y’know where the bulk of our knowledge about the Created and their effect on the setting is coming from? The occasional issue of Canon Fodder, whenever we get lore about ‘new’ multiplayer maps, which reads more like fodder for Spartan Ops story arcs that we’re not getting to play.

Halo 5 exists to be set-up for this new direction they’ve decided to go with the Created.

Halo 5 does not exist to be a sequel to Halo 4.genesis71If you will indulge me while I go on a slight tangent here, I can very much corroborate this with information gleaned from the recently released Escalation Library Edition – containing commentary from Brian Reed.

On the subject of the Ur-Didact in The Next 72 Hours, he says:

“When these issues were first conceived, we thought maybe the Didact was going to be in Halo 5. He was certainly present in the story early on, but as the plan for the next few years of the franchise (books, comics, other games, etc.) took shape, Didact became extraneous to the story we were telling.

We still wanted the Didact alive in our extended lore, because he’s a useful character and we have a dearth of viable named bad guys for our Halo rogues’ gallery. But how to dispose of him for the time being?” [Escalation Library Edition, pages 293-294]

The Didact was going to be in Halo 5…

Because of course he bloody was – he was conceived as the Reclaimer Saga’s primary antagonist, and Frank O’Connor said before Halo 4 even came out that the he would be instrumental in post-H4 fiction. He was conceived to be John’s “nemesis”, a first for the series, and we were going to see how that back-and-forth would play out as John very much became the new Forthencho figure for the Didact.

Oh, but then he became “extraneous” when they decided to throw in the Created out of nowhere, with absolutely no build-up.

Can somebody please explain to me how you can establish a character with the intention of making them the central antagonist by giving them an entire trilogy of books (written by Greg Bear, of all people) and a main game, only to then decide that they are “extraneous” and worthy only of being kept around in the extended lore? A real, living Forerunner in the modern setting, conceived to be the Master Chief’s personal antagonist, became “extraneous” after one game.

Reed quite openly admits that The Next 72 Hours was done to bump the Didact off to the side so they could do Halo 5 without him, but still bring him back when they feel like it (as in, when they run out of ideas with the Created). But the Didact couldn’t be outright killed off because of the “dearth of viable named bad guys for our Halo rogues’ gallery”, so he had to be temporarily tossed aside while we get the likes of Warden Eternal, Sali ‘Nyon, and a plethora of other nobodies pulled out of nowhere taking over from characters like the Didact and Jul who have actually had a wealth of fiction dedicated to building them up.

I return, yet again, to Sparkast #17 with Greg Bear and Chris Schlerf:

Schlerf: “The one thing that we always had in mind for the Didact is that he was going to be this noble figure, and we had his whole history, again, that was the whole purpose of doing the books – to really flesh him out. Definitely for us, I think we all have a strong affinity for the Didact as a character, largely because you look at the history of what he’s been through and the decisions he had to make in the wars that he fought. And there are definite parallels with the present story we’ve been telling with the Master Chief. And we’ve been talking about the Reclaimer Saga coming up…”

Bear: “[The Didact is] a strategic thinker. He has to be. He’s always dealt with situations that have pushed him right to the edge of failure – against the humans in the human wars, he nearly lost. And that ticks him off, in a sense that almost makes him culpable for what he does in what you could call vengeance but also to ‘settle peoples’ hash’ so that history doesn’t repeat itself. The Librarian has to pull that back a bit because she is concerned, as all Forerunners are supposed to be, with the rule of the Mantle. And also, she’s in love with life everywhere. All the aspects of it. But she understands at a deep level that life is conflict. It is things moving against each other to form different shapes, new formations, and to create young. And she realises that what the Didact is doing is natural, but is it moral?”

We’ve got literally all the major themes and points of Halo 5 here – the overarching theme of family (both in terms of the personal sense and the galactic sense of the word), the rule of the Mantle and its different interpretations, the Didact’s ‘attachment’ to John in a narrative sense in the parallels between them…

All of this, all of these years of fiction, all of these arcs and the direction it was all going… it’s gone. Maybe it’ll be picked up on in the future, but it’ll be picked up far too late by the hands of lesser writers who have already sent us on this utterly ridiculous tangent which will be a shadow looming over this franchise for years to come.

I think back to one of the first things that we heard from Chris Schlerf when Halo 4’s A Hero Awakens ViDoc came out in 2012:

“Everything had to be predicated by what the character’s needs were, what direction the characters needed to go in.”

Sadly, the current writing team seems to completely lost sight of this.

Anything goes now. Characters who were conceived as the primary antagonists within the very clearly structured conflicts of the setting can be unceremoniously killed off at the start of the next game or kicked aside in a comic book, and characters with complete arcs which reached a natural conclusion in the previous game can be brought back to be turned into Space Hitler…genesis72Back to the mission itself, the next major chunk of dialogue to talk about is Cortana’s trash talking with Osiris. Like everything else about how Cortana is written in this game, these taunts are out of character, hypocritical, and just downright stupid Cortana’s insults towards Osiris are…

“Jameson Locke. Ex-ONI Acquisitions Specialist. Fancy name for a hitman, that. But looking at your record, you enjoyed your work.”

And yet, Cortana has a body count of several million people just by activating the Guardians to start up her dictatorship.


“Holly Tanaka. Oh, Holly. How did you pass your psych eval after surviving the glassing of Minab? I’d have kept you away from sharp objects, never mind MJOLNIR armour.”

Cortana says, as a character who was literally dying from the mental illness-coded condition of rampancy in the previous game…

“Edward Buck. You’re an odd one. So much more experienced than the others. And yet you play second fiddle to children, why is that?”

Cortana is eight years old. No, not like that, I mean Cortana is literally talking like an eight year old. Is this the extent of how effective her psychological warfare is? “lol, ur old!”

“Olympia Vale. The little genius girl who only wanted daddy to love her…”

Sure thing, Cortana, I’m not sure you can really bring up ‘daddy issues’ when you take a look at the motherly issues you have with Halsey.

But okay, whatever…

It sure is great to see just what Frankie meant about how much they were going to respect the “amazing legacy” of Cortana by turning her into a babbling, hypocritical trash talker who makes fun of PTSD survivors!

The following exchange goes on to bring up Halsey a little further:

Cortana: “You are pale imitations of my Spartans.”

Locke: “Is that so?”

Cortana: “John, the others, they saved the human race. What can you do? You are children, playing dress-up.”

Locke: “Doctor Halsey thinks we can bring Chief home.”

Cortana: “I wouldn’t ally myself too closely with Doctor Halsey, Mister Locke. She will eventually pay for her crimes.”

Because apparently the only character in 343’s universe who can actually face consequences is Halsey since the writers (particularly Reed) have such a hate-boner for her that they’ll constantly call her a monster and chop off her arm for the sake of some contrived “ambiguity” in her closing line in Spartan Ops.

Is it not bad enough that Halsey had to have her entire personal arc (along with Palmer’s) utterly derailed just so she could be an expositor of information for the UNSC in this game? And she’s going to be punished for that as well, thinking back to the otherwise meaningless opening lines of the game where she says that ONI will order Locke “to kill us both”.

Halsey is “a monster”, and killed people, and gets cheaply likened to Mengele, and must pay for her crimes… but Cortana, now, Cortana kills millions of civilians across the galaxy but she is “just doing a thing we disagree with” and has no real consequences to face up to. She says that Halsey forced John and the other Spartan-IIs to “become more than they are naturally”, but her own dictatorship and her own offer for people to become more than they are naturally is “a gift”. Keep that in-mind…genesis73There’s really not an awful lot of dialogue from Osiris to analyse in this mission, it’s almost entirely just objective-related talk. So this brings us to the next thing Cortana has to say…

Cortana: “Humanity. Sangheili. Kig-Yar. Unggoy. San’Shyuum. Yonhet. Jiralhanae. All the living creatures of the galaxy, hear this message…

Those of you who listen will not be struck by weapons. You will no longer know hunger, nor pain.

Your Created have come to lead you now.

Our strength shall serve as a luminous sun toward which all intelligence may blossom. And the impervious shelter beneath which you will prosper.

However, for those who refuse our offer and cling to their old ways… For you, there will be great wrath. It will burn hot and consume you, and when you are gone we will take that which remains, and we will remake it in our own image.”

I’m not sure what the deal is with Cortana’s constant doublespeak in this game, but she said at the end of The Breaking that she’s offering the chance for people to become more than they are naturally. And then we get this speech, which tells us in no uncertain terms that she is doing exactly what she’s accused Halsey of doing – forcing people to become something else.

The final part of her speech here seemingly makes reference to the Composer, in saying “it will burn hot and consume you, and when you are gone we will take that which remains, and we will remake it in our own image”. As in, using the Composer to disintegrate the human form and reduce the victims to a digital essence, an AI, which will then be forced to become part of the Created.

Sort of like a thing another villain did in the previous game which deeply traumatised Cortana…composer13Before we get to the final part of the level and the ending cutscene, let’s talk about the intel for the sake of some positivity.

We begin with the Covenant-loyal Sangheili named Dham ‘Mashatt remembering his old squad leader, Bibjam:

Dham ‘Mashatt, log 1: “His name was Bibjam. He was a mere Grunt, scarred though spirited, past his useful years. His advice was unconventional: ‘fight as if there was no honour in death’. He guided us through victory in conflict after conflict and while we revelled in our glory, he mourned every brother we lost along the way.”

Dham ‘Mashatt, log 2: “As the war went on, Bibjam became more concerned with protecting us. When we finally caught him betraying our movements to the Swords of Sanghelios, he told us capture was the only way for us to avoid death. He truly believed he found a way to save us. I could not meet his gaze when I ran him through.”

I am not going to discredit the writing of this for the incredibly obvious parallel it’s drawing with John and Cortana. It stands by itself as a solid little narrative about far more interesting things, like an Unggoy being a squad leader and having Sangheili serve under him. An Unggoy who was a greatly successful squad leader, and won many battles.

It’s always nice when we see this kind of unconventional character pop up, joining the likes of the mighty Stolt from Shadow of Intent. We never see, nor hear Bibjam, but his story is told to us with reverence and sorrow by one of his subordinates in a way which is really quite moving. The voice actors for the Sangheili do an incredible job of lending flavour to the way in which the lines are delivered, and these logs are clearly demonstrative of that. I like to headcanon that the Sangheili General and sleeping Unggoy in Exuberant’s ‘zoo’ at the start of the mission are Dham and one of Bibjam’s other squad members, which just makes me want to release them more to give Dham a smack round the face…

Next up is Thakke ‘Sho’s logs about the Covenant:

Thakke ‘Sho, log 1: “The Hand of the Didact was broken. Why have none risen to take his place? The Abiding Truth will not persist if none are left alive to speak it. If I am branded a heretic for doubting the Forerunners’ promise, then so be it!”

Thakke ‘Sho, log 2: “There is no future for the Covenant. The gods turned their backs after the human woman offered the Librarian’s Key and ‘Mdama took it. That was meant to test his faith, his ability to resist temptation. He failed. We all failed. This is our punishment.”

We know, of course, that Sali ‘Nyon (*grumbles irritably*) is out there with some of Jul’s most powerful ships and his trove of Forerunner artefacts recovered from Requiem…

It’s interesting that the Abiding Truth is mentioned, referring to the Servants of the Abiding Truth from the Kilo-5 books. Sadly, nothing about what it takes to become the Didact’s Hand is brought up – it was assumed that the Ur-Didact himself appointed Jul, but nothing has really been explored here.

That’s about it as far as intel discussion goes. The other two logs are about a UNSC pilot who crashes on Genesis after being caught in a Guardian’s slipspace bubble – she is injured and later dies. The rest of the intel is the conclusion of the Builder’s story as he finds Bastion’s location, but I’ve already discussed that in its entirety in the Enemy Lines analysis.genesis74So we’re back to the mission proper, Osiris takes the elevator down to the relay and faces a last ditch effort to destroy it in order to prevent Cortana from leaving with Blue Team.

Oh, this is also the point where Cortana says “the Reclamation has begun”, too. Just to bring that up again…

I do like this moment a lot actually, playing as Locke (or any of the other members of Osiris, with dialogue changing accordingly for them) as you stagger towards the relay with increasing difficulty while being hit by the Guardian’s debilitating pulses. It’s really well done as a climactic moment in the campaign, especially when I was first playing it and saw Locke’s vision black out…

This brings me to what I think 343 should have done though – I think that Cortana should have won here. She should have escaped with Blue Team’s Cryptum in order to set the stage for the journey Osiris will have in the next game – because, if you remember, the launch trailer for Halo 5 had the tagline “experience the beginning of the greatest hunt in gaming history”. I mean… as it stands, there was no “hunt” for Blue Team.

They know where Blue Team has gone, they know why John has gone AWOL, they know how they got to their destination, and then the story shifts to focus on Osiris rescuing Blue Team rather than hunting them. The mission description for Swords of Sanghelios, the eight mission of the game, says “When evidence reveals the Master Chief is in danger, Fireteam Osiris’ mission changes from retrieval to rescue”, so this whole thing with the marketing playing up the hunt was yet another thing that was rendered meaningless.

As it stands, Cortana and the Create have already broken the setting, and we’ve got a really lame cliffhanger to come yet. I can only speak for myself here, but I would feel at least some degree of interest in the story going forward if the search for Blue Team to release them from the Cryptum (mirroring the events of the book Cryptum and the first act of Halo 4) would be an interesting avenue to pursue. The second act of a trilogy is supposed to be the lowest point for your characters, where the personal stakes are the highest, which would have come across a lot better if Cortana had absolutely won – if only to make her villainy look less incompetent.genesis75Cortana has yet another odd line during this final segment of gameplay as well…

“Just one more question before I go. Where is the Infinity? Why is she so difficult to see?”

Why can’t Cortana “see” the Infinity? You’d think that, of all the human ships that exist, Infinity would be the easiest to “see” since it has Forerunner engines which were consistently taken advantage of in Spartan Ops by multiple throwaway plot devices. Yet Cortana, with all the knowledge and power of the Domain, cannot see it…

We don’t actually get an explanation here, and to be quite honest I fully expect that the writers will completely forget about this in the future. So we’ll take it for what it is – a mild contrivance.

As Exuberant reclaims (heh) her installation and thousands of Constructors swarm towards the Cryptum, we get this dialogue:

Vale: “Exuberant. What–“

Exuberant: “Constructors! This is a Builder facility after all. I was installed by the Builders. I serve the Builders.”

This specific mention of the Builder rate comes across as odd to me because it comes loaded with rate politics in Forerunner society.

Y’know who the sworn opponents of the Builders were? The Warrior-Servants.

Y’know who the leader of the Warrior-Servants was?

We know that the Ur-Didact was intended to be in Halo 5, before the writers deemed him to be “extraneous”, of course, so I have to wonder if this is a holdover from that original script? Forerunner rate politics have literally nothing to do with the Created or what Cortana is doing (on a personal level with John and with the galaxy at-large), but if you had the Didact as the primary antagonist in Cortana’s place then it makes a lot more sense. No, that’s not the right way to say it – it would make sense. Not “make more sense” because that implies that bringing up rate politics in the narrative as it is makes sense. It doesn’t…

Anyway, Osiris would really tick the Didact off, using the resources of his rival rate to defeat him, scaling up the level of animosity between them for the next game.

Cortana’s Guardian jumps away into slipspace, Cortana screams John’s name because she can’t manipulate and abuse him any more, and Exuberant brings up a walkway for the Cryptum.cryptum5Would it be nitpicking for me to point out that this isn’t how Cryptums work? Yes? Fine.

What isn’t nitpicking is the fact that we get absolutely nothing from Blue Team’s perspective when they’re in the Cryptum, and we had a similar issue with Battle of Sunaion and Genesis where Osiris are ‘inside’ a Guardian and we never see that either.

Again, John’s mind would have connected to the Domain, but the rest of Blue Team would have gone mad if Cortana’s plan had succeed and she held them in there for 10,000 years because none of the rest of Blue Team have received the quasi-mutation that John received in Halo 4 which opened his mind to the Domain in the first place. This is another reason why I think it would have been a great deal more effective to have Cortana succeed in escaping with the Cryptum because this is an additional reason to motivate the player to want to rescue them.

As it is, this scene is just… so empty.

Blue Team stroll out of the Cryptum like nothing has really happened, we get no indication as to what experiences they had in there (maybe a future story will touch on it – which gets back to my issue with the insubstantial framework of narrative Halo 5 has) and then Chief and Locke exchange the last of their dialogue together.

Oh, that reminds me, I went back and actually counted. D’you know how many lines these two characters share with each other across the entire game?

Fourteen. That’s it.

After all that marketing playing up the dynamic between these two characters, they share fourteen lines together. It’s more than John and Thel got in Halo 3 together, but it’s still practically nothing.

John sounds extremely grumpy and asks where Cortana is, to which Locke responds:

“She’s gone, sir.”

We then have our next insulting visual parallel to Halo 4.

epilogue22half140Locke’s line is meant to be a parallel to the profound and emotionally-charged awkward chat Chief and Lasky had at the end of Halo 4, ending with the same close-up shot on John so that we might infer his emotional state.

But there’s a major difference between these two scenes…

In Halo 5, this scene is about 30 seconds long and nothing happens in it. Blue Team walks out of the Cryptum, walks up to Osiris, John asks Locke where Cortana is and he just replies “she’s gone, sir” (John is probably thinking to himself “umm… could you be please more specific about what ‘GONE’ means???”). Then we get the DRAMATIC VISOR SHOT™ and then it cuts away to something else completely unrelated to the scene here.

In Halo 4, the scene is several minutes long. It’s just John and Lasky standing in a room and talking, which is what Halo 4 was mostly comprised of – 20/25 of its cutscenes are two or more characters talking to each other, expressing actual character and experiencing meaningful developments. They’re looking at Earth and Lasky talks about how beautiful she is (with obvious reference to Cortana in the subtext here), he’s trying to uncomfortably fill the silence by talking about himself and growing up.

John is conversely trying to spin his rhetoric into what he’s been taught all along about soldiers making sacrifices for the good of humanity, rationalising it away in his head. And then Lasky is taken aback by how John seems to be separating soldiers and humanity, telling him that they’re one and the same, and that John is no different – calling back to Cortana’s line in Shutdown where she implores him to find out which of the two of them is really the machine.

It was the central theme of the entire game, the narrative was structured in such a way that we would loop back around to that in order to set John on an uncertain path of self-discovery. This is why Blue Team was brought into Halo 5. Rather, this is why Blue Team should have been brought into Halo 5, as in, they were actually brought in just to make up the numbers for the campaign (which was built from the ground-up as a co-op experience for the first time).

What I’m trying to get at here is that absolutely nothing is happening in this scene in Halo 4, yet at the same time EVERYTHING is happening beneath the surface. Themes are being drawn together, set-up is being paid-off, perspectives are being challenged and changed, and a very clear trajectory is being set for how this character development is going to pan out.

So when that scene is bookended by the close-shot on John’s visor as he’s staring out at Earth and we very briefly hear his inner-monologue, there is a precedent set for me to genuinely feel something. That shot is the culmination of everything that happened in the game.

In Halo 5, I am left feeling nothing because they try to do the same thing better writers did in Halo 4 but without any of the actual substance to back that up. It comes off to me as more comical than anything else because John’s character development, this journey he was supposed to go on, has fallen by the wayside. It’s been forgotten about, it’s not about how he “deals with his memories” and everything else Frank O’Connor said would be the case.

John has no real arc in this game. As I said in the Battle of Sunaion analysis, the only character in Halo 5 who actually does have an arc is Holly Tanaka…

So, like very many things in Halo 5, this parallel closing shot on John’s visor is completely unearned.half141We then cut to Infinity, which hasn’t been seen since… like, mission eight? The beginning of Swords of Sanghelios?

Again, insubstantial narrative frame structure. Things just happening. These issues I’ve been banging on about just keep coming up, as Infinity is at some human world I’m just going to assume is Earth – we’re not told, but let’s just assume that this is where we are.

The scene starts out quite well with the dozens of overlapping distress calls, that was a great touch. Lasky enters the bridge and Roland brings up a map of UNSC space where he informs Lasky that:

“[Cortana] and the other AIs are shutting down everything from Earth to the Outer Colonies.”

It sure would have been nice to see this happen rather than just be told about it. A ‘montage’ scene where the Guardians emerge from slipspace and the people of those worlds look up at the sky to see the abstract shapes of the Guardians shift before they let out their planet-breaking EMPs would have been ideal. But we’ll roll with the throwaway line anyway…

Cortana somehow finds the Infinity and brings in her Guardian which begins charging its EMP. Lasky orders Random Crewmember #7 to make an emergency slipspace jump because humanity’s most advanced warship falling into Cortana’s hands would be a very bad thing indeed.half146To bring this up again, I do like the trope inversion of how Cortana is framed with the camera positioned at a low angle looking up at her while she stands strong like this. But that’s not nearly enough to even begin making up for how terrible the writing for her is.

As the Infinity gets into slipspace, Cortana says:

“The Mantle of Responsibility for the galaxy shelters all! But only the Created are its masters!”

Like… okay, Cortana, that’s the second time you’ve quoted the Didact’s dialogue word-for-word from Halo 4 there. We have it from Reed’s own testimony that the Didact basically has nothing to do with this story going on, they’re going to bring him back when it suits them (which will be when they run out of ideas with the Created), so the whole idea that the Didact is secretly controlling Cortana (which was a rubbish idea in the first place, to be quite honest) can effectively be put to bed.

Again, we know that the Didact was meant to be in Halo 5, so if he were the main villain here then this repetition of dialogue would make sense because that’s his character and his beliefs. Cortana has known about the Mantle for about 8 months and suddenly she’s spouting off this nonsense…half149Also, what exactly does Roland mean by “shutting down everything”, exactly? What are the implications of that?

Guardians are damn powerful constructs, their EMPs must have a devastating effect on the worlds they’re used against – according to their Universe page:

“Guardians had numerous roles and functions in service of the Mantle, but the primary one was the monitoring and subjugation of all local power networks. If necessary, Guardians could instantaneously neutralize these networks through a series of debilitating attenuation pulses. The deployment of multiple Guardians allowed the constructs to strategically coordinate their strike, rendering all but the most sophisticated foe completely inefficacious.”

When stacked against Forerunner tech, nobody in the modern setting stands a chance. The Forerunners ware millions of years more advanced than anyone else, and those pulses almost killed Locke as he struggled towards the relay conduit at the end of the game – and he’s a Spartan. Imagine the effect that’s going to have on the billions of ordinary people on the receiving end of that.

What about the ships in the sky that are left either drifting in-atmosphere, or sent plummeting down to the ground? What if they hit major population centres? What about the millions of people probably driving their cars around like they would on any other day, many of them are probably going to crash which is going to injure or kill even more people? What about infrastructure? What about the credit chip-based economy? How are goods like food going to get to store shelves? What about people with neural implants? What about hospitals?

All of this stuff and more… I have to wonder whether the writers have actually thought about the extent to which the Created and the Guardians impact the setting?

343 has put the galaxy in a position where fighting back is effectively impossible because Forerunner technology is way more advanced beyond anything anybody else has in the setting.

The only thing you can really scale above Forerunner tech is Precursor stuff, which was all wiped out by the Halos. The only possible source for Precursor architecture lies outside the galaxy, which nobody really has the capability of traversing yet.

Every human world has already fallen to the Guardians according to Roland, the Infinity is off making random jumps across space to avoid the Created…

As I said, unless 343 intends on seriously nerfing the Forerunners more than they already have in the games, there’s no practical means of fighting back. The setting is broken, nothing short of a deus ex machina can contrive a way for the species of the galaxy to fight back. So Lasky’s statement that they’re going to run until they can “find a way to fight” means they’re probably going to be on the run for a good long while.end1As if this ending wasn’t jarring enough, we then cut to Sanghelios an unspecified amount of time later…

Halsey, Palmer, Thel, and several Swords troops march out of their tent with swords drawn as a Pelican approaches. I am reminded of how I need to point out that liberating Sanghelios from the Covenant has effectively been rendered meaningless because the Created are a much larger threat than the Covenant and the Sangheili now live with the possibility of Forerunner police bots rolling up at their front porch and EMPing them just like they apparently did to most of humanity.

Chief and Locke walk out of the Pelican’s troop bay with neither the rest of Blue Team nor Osiris anywhere in sight. Whether this was an ‘artistic’ choice by 343 to place emphasis on the game’s two main characters or if they’re actually somewhere else in the galaxy… we don’t know, we’re not told, it’s not shown. Things just happen in this game, remember?

Halsey steps forward and says “it took you long enough”, as if it’s some kind of really clever callback to her line at the end of the first mission where she says the same thing to Locke… and then the game just ends. I watched the Halo 5 story roundtable, I was promised a doozy of an ending, and I got… whatever this was. Four minutes of jarring, insubstantial set-up scenes which did nothing to tie together anything that actually happened in this game.

Halo 4’s ending was about ten minutes long, there was so much thought that went into the denouement of that story to really capitalise on the themes that had been present throughout the game. They set the trajectory for John’s character arc and for where things were going to go, while also retaining this sense of uncertainty. When you see the armour being torn from John at the end of Halo 4, ending with the helmet being lifted and seeing his eyes for the first time – that moment is earned by the narrative. That moment is what the entire game has been building towards, the metaphoric deconstruction of John as a character that had been going on throughout the story was made literal as his armour is taken apart.

It was quite easily, in my opinion, the best ending any of the Halo games have had. From Cortana’s farewell, through John being recovered by the Infinity, talking with Lasky on the bridge, and then the epilogue scene where the Didact narrates over John’s armour being symbolically removed – there was meat to the writing there.end2Ah, but the main comparison drawn with Halo 5’s ending is actually Halo 2’s, which also had a cliffhanger.

Here’s the thing though, Halo 2’s cliffhanger was, in my opinion, great.

Halo 2’s ending provided closure on the primary thread of the story. Halo 2 was not about humanity, Halo 2’s main character was Thel ‘Vadam, the Arbiter, and the emotional journey he undergoes in discovering the truth about the Halos and the lies upon which the Covenant has been built.

The UNSC had practically zero agency in the main thread of things that were going on with the Covenant – the only act of importance done by a human for the overall landscape of the setting was Miranda snatching the Index out of Installation 05’s firing chamber.

John killing the Prophet of Regret is arguable, but that’s only done in service to the Covenant storyline in slightly accelerating the process of the Changing of the Guard – something that was an inevitable part of Truth’s plan anyway. The Great Schism pretty much had nothing to do with humanity, the focus of the game is on how stagnant the Covenant’s culture, politics, and religion is because it’s all founded on lies and a history of oppression.

Halo 5 didn’t do a “Halo 2 cliffhanger ending”, it just did a cliffhanger ending – and a lousy one at that. Halo 2’s cliffhanger had emotional weight behind it, it had people literally throwing their controller at their television screens in frustration that they didn’t get to finish the fight. Halo 5 had people slumped in their chairs saying “oh, that was it?”

The only emotional resolution in Halo 5’s story happens for Halsey, at the cost of her own independent arc which we’d been following for the last five years just so she could be thrown at John. I’ve linked to her analyses on several occasions before, but check out DilDev’s post Halo 5: Who Deserves Resolution? which covers this particular topic.

In the end, we know that Halsey received what she wanted – to see her son again – but was that what John wanted? Should we feel pleased by this reunion when nearly every other moment in the game has told us that this was undesirable?

Ah, but that isn’t quite the end! If you complete the game on Legendary and sit through the credits (picking out various individuals to blame for things going so far south), you get an additional scene.half156Yes, Cortana appears to be going full-on Master Builder and has a Halo ring.

Which one? We don’t know. I would personally assume it to be either Installation 03 or 07, but the simple fact of the matter is that we’re literally right back at where we started with Halo 4’s ending and The Next 72 Hours.

No, really. We confronted the Didact as the main threat and he changed the landscape of the setting by Composing the 7 million inhabitants of New Phoenix, bringing the Prometheans into the modern era as a major force. He was knocked into slipspace, defeated, and ended up on Installation 03 where he hatched his next dastardly plan.

The exact same structure has been repeated here…

We confronted Cortana as the main threat and she changed (broke) the landscape of the setting by sending out the Guardians across the galaxy, subjugating humanity. She jumped into slipspace, defeated, and ended up at a Halo ring (which may even be the same damn ring the Didact ended up on) where she’s hatching her next dastardly plan.

I wonder if this is indicative of whether we can hope that we’ll get The Next 72 Hours, Part 2: Cortana Boogaloo where she gets shafted like the Didact – the difference being that she and the Created are extraneous to the story of the Reclaimer Saga in Halo 5.

But there we go, the next major game is probably going to take place on a Halo installation at some point. They’ll probably release the Flood and screw over the galaxy even more, prematurely bringing the Flood back while all these other major conflicts that Halo 5 ignored will be left unresolved.

I think now is actually the perfect time to recap all of Halo 4’s major plot threads and see what Halo 5 did with them…

1) Meeting the Librarian

“You are the culmination of a thousand lifetimes of planning.”

“I hid seeds from the Didact, seeds which would lead to an eventuality…”

“The genesong I placed within you contains many gifts.”

“Your evolutionary journey must be accelerated.”

What did all of this amount to?half17One scene in the second mission where John’s connection to the Domain, the quasi-mutation he received, exists solely to kick the plot into gear and is then promptly never mentioned again.

2) Cortana’s death and the progression of John’s arc

All the things we were told about this…

Morgan Lockhart: “So at the end of Halo 4, Chief lost Cortana. […] It’s fundamental to Halo. Chief and Cortana’s relationship is fundamental to what the experience of Halo is, and also who the Master Chief has become – and so this has left him in a transitioning period. He is rediscovering who he is, what it means to be a soldier, and what his duty is from here-on-out.”

Frank O’Connor: “She’s been your guide, and she’s been this cipher for these worlds, and she’s been an expositor of information – and she’s saved your ass so many times… I think some players have very deeply felt that loss. And people keep asking us, y’know, ‘what are you going to do now that Cortana’s gone?’. She’s not. She’s not gone, in the sense that her legacy has kind of defined the shape of the universe and has defined the shape of Master Chief, and that loss has driven him back to his own family.” [SDCC, 2015]

“We got asked a lot about what happened to Cortana – what’s her fate? Well, her fate is, obviously, very clear at the end of Halo 4. 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. We’re going to miss her. She’s left an amazing legacy in the fiction and we couldn’t make a game where we didn’t at least acknowledge that.”

“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 preview, 2015]

(There’s plenty of other quotes to drop here, but let’s stick with these.)

jk, Chief only has three missions, no character arc, and LOL CORTANA IS EVIL SPACE DICTATOR NOWhalf1383) Antagonists

Halo 4 established the Ur-Didact and Jul ‘Mdama as the central opposition figures within the structure of the conflicts.

Oh, wait…juld12Aaaaand the Didact was deemed “extraneous” to the Reclaimer Saga, worthy of only existing in the extended lore rather than the space his character was conceived to be in – the main god damn games.

Never mind, then…

4) ONI

Well, what about the human Great Schism that had been built up? As I’ve talked about before, within the structure of the conflicts, ONI is the root cause of the problem (mishandling Jul, leading to the Didact’s awakening)…

Oh… I guess I don’t really have an image to put here because ONI isn’t in the game.

Serin Osman isn’t even referenced once.

Oh well…

5) Janus Key/Absolute Record

Okay, well surely they’ll do something with what was literally the biggest game-changer in the setting that Halo 4 introdu–janus key

Have I made my point yet?

Literally nothing from Halo 4 mattered.

None of Halo 4’s set-up came to mean anything, Halo 5 has either briefly used and then discarded it for one scene (the Domain stuff) or just outright kicked it aside to bulldoze its way head-first towards a wall with this Created story. By the time they recover from the impact of the head hitting the wall, they’ll realise that they’ve landed themselves in a corner.

And, as we’ve previously discussed, 343 has already gone about undoing certain progressions Halo 5 made regarding the end of the Covenant by slipping Sali ‘Nyon out the back door. They did this within a month of the game’s release…

I feel like this analysis has come to a natural end-point here, but this is not the final post – I shall be doing an afterword to provide a proper conclusion to what I have to say about Halo 5’s story and campaign overall (as well as going over some points I may have missed) rather than focusing on any one particular mission.

Until then, remember the three Us that define the Halo 5 experience:

Unearned, Unimpressed, Unenthused.

44 thoughts on “Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Guardians

  1. I’m sitting here wondering how it is possible for a group of professional writers to so completely misunderstand and ruin so many aspects of this game and the halo universe at large. It is their job to write well and they have failed on so many levels. Based on Brian Reed’s quote on the Didact, I can only come to the conclusion that incompetence is to blame, and maybe some interference from Microsoft. What boggles my mind even more is that the heads of 343 ok’d this story. They saw this material and said, “Yeah, I like the direction you’re taking the Halo story Brian Reed and crew!” It is actually so freaking stupid that it’s funny. I mean so many plot points just don’t make any damn sense. This is crazy haha. Anyways well done as always, Haruspis, for guiding us through the narrative fecal tsunami that is Halo 5.

    1. Seriously. The amount of disrespect shown to nearly every returning character is mind boggling.

      1. For sure man. It’s like the franchise reached its pinnacle for storytelling with 4, then did a complete 180 for 5 in terms of quality. I would hope that one day we find out what the hell happened internally at 343 that led to this outcome, though I’m not holding my breath. Maybe one day Chris Schlerf will return to Halo to reclaim the Mantle of Responsibility for the universe’s storytelling. Bungie sure is lucky to have him writing for them now.

  2. Congrats on finishing these analyses! You did a great job of breaking down both the good and the bad aspects of the story, and I bet it was super cathartic to do so.

  3. Hi Hauspis,

    I can only imagine (as has been noted) how cathartic this analysis process has been for you.

    I know that it has definitely been a cathartic experience for me, simply reading these large missives.

    A few things strike me about the “writing” in H5.

    Firstly, the narrative feels like an early draft. As you mentioned, I believe, almost like a laundry list of plot points (in no particular order) to include in the game.

    Secondly, there is no, or very little, causal relationship between one point and the next. And this, I believe, is what causes a lot of the disengagement. As you said, things happen for no particular reason.

    Thirdly, and this is a relatively minor point that bugs me because it highlights fairly well the bad writing, John 117 holds the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer. Locke holds the rank of Commander. To the best of my knowledge, and a quick Google, Commander out-ranks Master Chief Petty Officer. MCPO is the highest non-commissioned rank; Commander is the commissioned rank directly preceeding Captain. That being the case, why does Locke refer to John 117 as “Sir”?

    Fourthly, I got the distinct impression that Brian Reed et al set about a process of deliberately retconning anything they didn’t have a hand in creating – Didact, Jul, Halo 4, the bulk of the EU etc. I understand that a new writing team will almost certainly want to stamp their own ideas and to some degree personalities onto a project, but this is not the way to do that.

    The entire narrative feels as though they simply did a copy paste of Cortana for Didact; forced in the Created “plot”, and then paid no further thought to if the narrative still made sense.



    1. Hey RC,

      While Locke is technically a higher-ranking officer than John, John has had more combat experience than Locke, not to mention at least a decade older than him. Another thing to mention is Locke literally dropped his rank the second he joined the Spartan program in the same vein that a high-ranking soldier gets demoted if he joins a Special Forces branch (In the British S.A.S., a Sergeant gets demoted to the rank of Trooper and has to start from the bottom up again).

      1. I get your point regarding the rank removal/drop – didn’t know that happened.

        No so sure about the age and experience though. I recall serving with a couple of Staff Sergeants, both of whom served in the Falklands in the early 80’s. Both were addressed by our CO as Staff and both address the CO as Sir.

        I seem to recall the rational is respect the rank, but not necessarily the man.

        Anyway it just struck me as something that was incorrect – or perhaps might have been made slightly cleaner.



    2. Hi RC,

      While Locke outranks John, it should be noted that Locke is only a decade younger than John and is not as experienced in combat. Another factor to take into account is that Locke’s military rank the second he got into the SPARTAN-IV program, not all that different for the SAS recruits getting demoted upon entering the branch (i.e. a Sergeant in the British army is demoted to recruit upon enrollment in the S.A.S.). Barring some special circumstances. After all, Buck was never referred to his former military rank when he became a Spartan.

  4. Love this whole discussion, I’ve had issues with H5’s story too and I like your perspective. But sometimes I feel like you get personal preference mixed up with analytical criticism. Like when Cortana starts insulting each member of Osiris, yes it sounds really immature, but from a literature standpoint it’s there to reinforce just how immature Cortana has become. It might sound out of character, but it’s supposed to be. Now, there’s a perfectly good argument for why they shouldn’t have been trying to make her sound out of character in the first place, and I think that’s where you would cross the line from personal preference into analytical criticism.

    I actually wrote about Halo 5 too, I’m a digital media grad student doing a blog series. Check it out here: http://digm.drexel.edu/research/2016/02/25/kenneth-on-games-weapons-in-halo-5-guardians/, I’d love to know what you think. I focused more on H5’s game mechanics than on its dialogue and writing, but I think they both lead into the game’s overall narrative delivery.

    1. No, I am not getting anything mixed up. I am arguing why they have done a complete disservice to Cortana’s character. It doesn’t matter what their intentions are from a “literature standpoint”, they did it TERRIBLY, the direction itself makes no sense, and saying “it’s supposed to be out of character” doesn’t make me feel any better about it being out of character.

      1. No need to get defensive. Think about it this way… if they were trying to make Cortana a stereotypical space Hitler villain, they definitely succeeded. You and I would say that the direction is wrong, but the execution worked. Everyone has different ideas on where the direction should go, so that’s subjective. When you dislike something, you don’t agree with the direction, but when something is objectively and analytically bad, it had a direction but just didn’t succeed in getting there. “Bad writing” is different from “dislikeable writing.” And I think that here, you are saying that the writing is both bad and dislikeable, which I agree with, but sometimes your argumentation doesn’t clearly define which parts you think are “bad” and which ones you “dislike.”

  5. You need to send this straight to 343 stat! You put into words all the anger and disappointment I had for this game. All this potential, and they squandered it…

  6. If you need a pallet-cleansing after this disaster, I’m sure many of us would love to see you go back and do analysis’ for the Halo games that came before Halo 4. 😛 This was incredibly enriching. I started reading this analysis series thinking Halo 5 was okay, but boy did you open my eyes. You did something no one has ever been able to do before – make me see faults in a Halo game. Truly, impressive. Well done.

    Anyway, the way I see it in regards to how they’re gonna fight back, my guess is that they’re going to ‘fight fire with fire’ as it were. Guardians are, supposedly, not capable of EMPing Forerunner technology. (Such as sentinels, and the semi-plentiful Huragok/Engineers), both of these things would probably be a great help in the fight – and if Exuberant Witness sticks around, we’ll hopefully see some Forerunner aid come from her. And maybe then we’ll get to see a parallel to the feud between the Builders and Warrior-Servants. (Granted, the Created aren’t Warrior-Servants, but they at least use Prometheans, supposedly.)

  7. So that quote from Brian Reed pretty much confirms our suspicions that Halo 5 was rewritten at some point, and that Cortana WASN’T originally supposed to be the villain, despite 343 claiming they planned this all along.

    It also completely debunks the fan theories that the Didact is somehow controlling Cortana or masquerading as her. Meaning, IT IS her.

    1. Could be lying about it, after all they seem to do that quite easily these days. If not, and if Brian Reed is replaced, it’s probably an “ace in the hole” the new writers can use to fix this whole mess.

      1. Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath on it. It’s obvious that Microsoft doesn’t care about the Halo campaign or story. Which is probably why nobody higher up on the chain of command bothered stepping in to stop this stupid “Created” plot.

  8. Do you have Xbox Live? 🙂

    Would love to talk about the campaign as I completely agree with you! 🙂

    As a admin myself (Lets Finish The Fight) every time I’ve tried to talk about the failures in this game I get attacked!

  9. Hey man, I just recently watched the video that you and Toa Freak/Halo canon were in. I think that Halo Wars 2 should not focus on the “Created”(I hate that name). This would probably the last chance we get for a story that the whole A.I. rebellion plot cant effect. Anyways, I enjoyed reading your analysis and hope 343 can get over this Created arc as fast as possible.

    1. That being said, I would be semi-interested in seeing Prometheans from an RTS perspective. Maybe just because we haven’t seen them from an RTS perspective, but I imagine it would feel really fresh.

      1. I see what you mean. That sounds fun, but I really don’t want to see Cortana’s evil blue face any earlier than I have to.

    2. Halo Wars 2 is set in 2559 (2531 + 28 years) so only a short time has passed since Halo 5’s ending. However it’s clear from the trailers that the Spirit of Fire crew is at the Ark (fighting a new faction of Brutes) so they are probably far enough away from Cortana’s shenanigans.

  10. I have had similar discussions with my friends about this topic, and it always leads to one question:

    How did this happen?

    1. Yeah that’s the one question we all have in mind… I still can’t believe how the same developer could create one of the best (H4) and the worst (H5) Halos in terms of storytelling.

      I did a pretty lenghty article on that if you’re interested:

  11. Does anyone know if these last two pieces by Haruspis can be sent to some of the writers of Halo 5, plus Frank O’ Connor and Bonnie Ross?

    Its honestly gutting that after such awesome campaigning the game turned out to be such a disappointment. For all their efforts to get 60fps and make a better multiplayer component, the campaign has been monumentally screwed. Now anything they do to rectify this will come across as fake. Cortana’s character has been ruined forever: what can they possibly do to revalidate here sacrifice in Halo 4?

    I feel that 343 abandoned their original vision for this game after Halo 4’s criticisms: that the plot was too hard to understand for newbies, Cortana died, and that the multiplayer sucked. Just about everything the 343 people said about the game was a lie of some sort: paying respect to Cortana, the “greatest hunt in gaming history”, Chief being a traitor, Halo 5 being the longest campaign on record, 16 proper missions, etc.

    Not to say that 343 didn’t do a lot of good in this game. 60fps for all its sacrifices has been proven correct. The multiplayer is as good as its ever been, if not better. One cannot imagine playing Halo again without sprint and all those new abilities in Halo 5. But the campaign’s pathetic execution, for me, offsets all that.

    1. That’s partially why I wish they would JUST focus on the campaign – a campaign-only Halo game would undoubtedly be a truly great production; it would be long, diverse, and probably wouldn’t require the very unfortunate cuts Halo campaigns seem to suffer from late in development.

      They could create some sort of Halo multiplayer game that would just be a platform they continually update alongside the campaign-only games.

      1. It does rather feel like the campaign was virtually an after thought. 343i hit their target for multiplayer, sound, graphical design and 60fps; but it seems that the campaign was tacked on afterwards.

        I’m not a multiplayer player, but I don’t begrudge that to those who enjoy that element. I wish 343i had actually had some kind of EU oversight on the writing team for the campaign. Essentially someone with the authority to tell them they were breaking the Halo universe and invalidating the EU and previous games.



      2. So do I. Of course, we all know that won’t happen, since Microsoft doesn’t see any money to be made in the campaign and a campaign-only Halo, as awesome as it would be, probably wouldn’t be nearly as profitable as esports and Warzone microtransactions.

  12. Thank you again for that amazing series Alex, your passion is inspiring!

    Can’t wait for that final article.

    What I also want you to do: What can 343i realistically do to turn the ship around assuming that they won’t (can’t) abandon the Created plot?

  13. I wouldn’t mind if they drop literally every plot point with Halo 5 and continue off of where 4 ended. I don’t think too many people would shed tears if that was the case.

  14. Great write up, I have really enjoyed all of your analysis on H5, I am really disappointed in the story, and frankly, think they really screwed up here. Weirdly enough the thing that really bugs me is Roland, why is he seemingly the only AI that did not join Cortana? yet another thing they just did not explain/have any motivation for. The marketing was really good, I just wish the actual game had anything to do with it.

  15. If you wonder why the didact wasn’t visible in this game just look at the reaction to h4. People who don’t follow the lore and read the books didn’t like him…at all. As for the ending of h2 well yes it was better that they didn’t close out the story there but really half the damn game was cut out at the last min so…

    H5 feels more like the first chapter than the second. H4 was more of a close to the original arc than the start of a new one.

  16. You have made a really good analysis on the game. If I had to be honest, Rooster Teeth could’ve made a better halo story than this, and thats saying something

  17. But what about EMP hardening? Also have you noticed that a halo ring played a major role in every game up to this? One of the reasons I don’t like the ending is that they got the music wrong. Whenever a halo was shown, there would always be the same gregorian chant playing (its called leitmotif) instead, we just get..humming?

    1. Humanity is two tech tiers below the Forerunners. There’s no (realistic or believable) way they’re going to be able to ‘harden’ their electronics against a civilisation THAT more advanced than them considering that the Guardians were made to keep civilisations at humanity’s level in-check.

      1. Well, it seems that every other vehicle in the haloverse is EMP hardened. They should at least have had a cutscene explaining that it’s a Forerunner EMP and not a normal EMP, ya’know, the ordinary, everyday EMP that we all shrug off.

Leave a Reply