“We stand together, brothers to the end. We are his will. We are his legacy. We are The Banished.“
It’s finally been revealed. We’re fighting the Banished in Halo Infinite!
The Brutes are back! Here’s why they’re the perfect antagonist for the next movement of the Master Chief’s odyssey…To quickly catch you up, if you’re not familiar with this faction: The Banished are a mercenary faction that were introduced to the universe in Halo Wars 2 (2017).
Formed by the strategically-minded Atriox, the Banished were something of a wild card towards the end of the Human-Covenant war.
During the war, Atriox’s clan was used as “expendable muscle” on the front lines (not unlike the suicide missions the Spartan-IIIs were sent on). Atriox survived battle after battle, his hatred of the Covenant growing until they tried to execute him – and failed.
From there, Atriox formed a group of pirates and raiders on the hunt for loyal allies, as well as whatever weapons, vehicles, and resources they could scavenge from the Covenant war machine. Now, however, it is clear that they have surpassed the limited extent to which we saw them and are now the dominant force that has taken centre-stage.
All you need to know about the Banished is summed up by the UNSC AI Isabel in these three incredible minutes from Halo Wars 2.
When last we saw them, the Banished were the occupying force on Installation 00 – the Ark, which we visited in Halo 3.
They’d slaughtered the resident population of UNSC researchers, seeking to obtain the vast weapons and resources of the Forerunners, as well as the Halo ring (Installation 09) that was being built in its foundry.
Their efforts were impeded by the UNSC Spirit of Fire, which has been pulled to the Ark through slipspace by an unknown force
(Mendicant Bias). After almost three decades of being adrift in space, stuck in cryo sleep, Captain James Cutter and his crew fought the Banished and managed to hold them in a months-long stalemate.
Atriox had superior numbers, but through Spirit of Fire’s crew’s tenacity (assisted by a vengeful Isabel), the Banished’s flagship was destroyed, and they would later sacrifice numerous tactical gains in the months that followed to deal with the reawakening of the nightmarish Flood from the ruins of High Charity.
What has happened from that point is a mystery.
But not for much longer…
WHY I LOVE THE BANISHED
The Banished are one of the single best ideas to emerge from Halo in the last twenty years as far as I’m concerned.
Halo Wars 2 is really special to me for a number of reasons. Perhaps there is some bias on my part here because it was something of a landmark moment for me. 343 gave me a free copy of the game to preview and review, with my content being officially featured alongside mainstream gaming outlets.
How far I’d come from when I decided to start this blog back in 2013 to serve as a monument to my love for Halo 4.
But I do genuinely think that Halo Wars 2 is an excellent game. I’m still playing it quite regularly. It’s an underappreciated gem of this generation, one that didn’t feel like ‘a spin-off,’ but a totally unique corner of the Halo universe full of vast ideas and so many new stories to tell.
And Atriox himself was introduced to us with perhaps one of the most fascinating engagements with the iconography of the Halo franchise ever.
A Spartan helmet, an energy sword, the Flood – some of the most powerful symbols in Halo…
He literally crushes them in his fist.This faction was born out of Atriox, who was conceived as what might emerge from an intelligent Brute. Cunning, charismatic, strategically-minded, as well as deadly – he holds no particular hatred for humanity, but he is purely pragmatic who is ultimately in pursuit of one thing. Victory.
The Banished are interesting because, on a character level, they’re oddballs.
In the absence of the religious zeal that defined and has primarily characterised the Covenant since 2001, the Banished are a faction that has pushed 343 to explore other motivations for characters that more closely (and more interestingly) reflect the state of the setting, rather than broad, megalomaniacal aspirations to godhood.
While Halo Wars 2 didn’t dive too deeply into this, its cast of characters were at least conceptually fascinating.
Atriox was joined by Let ‘Volir, a Sangheili shipmaster who has sacrificed his honour to work for profit in order to protect his crew from the uncertainty of the turbulent post-war era, following the collapse of the Covenant.
There’s Colony, a Hunter pair with their own mysterious agenda, which gave the Lekgolo a voice and provided a first-hand look at their species in the games beyond just dancing around their melee swings to shoot them in the back.
Pavium and Voridus – the ‘Brute Brothers’ – are a great double-act who contrast and complement each others’ brain/brawn mentality.
And then, of course, there’s Yapyap THE DESTROYER!Where the Covenant has been thoroughly played out (and practically seen their final end in Halo 5), and where 343 unfortunately never really committed to the Prometheans, the Banished are very easy to gravitate towards.
They’re a fresh new take on the familiar, offering alternative characterisation for Halo’s established species, which can be a lot of fun to play with.
Artistically, they’re tremendously appealing because their aesthetic is sort of ‘kitbashed’ from all corners and eras of the modern Halo setting. This makes sense, naturally, because they’re pirates and scavengers who have been getting their hands on whatever supplies and resources they can for a decade in-universe.
As Kevin Grace put it in the SDCC 2016 panel for Halo Wars 2:
“We wanted to take something familiar and put a different spin on it, and we’ve got that throughout the Banished army. We’ve got Wraiths and Banshees and Ghosts, and they all operate in some similar ways, but they fight differently as well. And they definitely look different – they look scarier. They look like a Brute took it and said ‘How can I kill people even better with this thing?'” [Kevin Grace, Halo Wars 2 SDCC 2016 panel (27:45)]
The Covenant’s aesthetic was based around smooth lines and surfaces, very shiny materials, lots of purple, with minimal detail.
With the Banished, this is merely a canvas for them to work on.
The Banished take a lot of those iconic silhouettes, but build on top of it with additional armour plating, tabbed corners, ramming spikes, raw metals, red war paint, and lots of rugged wear-and-tear from past battles.
It’s been stated by Jeremy Cook, former art director on Halo Wars 2, to be a design that’s inspired by mixing King Arthur with Roman emperors. It’s all about conveying a sense of domination – of ownership.
There is no pretence with the Banished that they’re fighting for some ‘greater good,’ no noble ideal.
They’re here to ruin your day.
WHY THE BANISHED ARE PERFECT FOR HALO INFINITE
The Banished are the perfect antagonist for Halo Infinite because they represent what we’ve been fighting against in the post-war setting all along.
After the Human-Covenant war, which lasted just short of three whole decades, everybody is tired. Post-war conflicts have been between various smaller factions, fractured armies from the once-terrifying whole, which was thrown off-balance by the emergence of the Prometheans.
Meanwhile, the Banished have been lurking in the shadows all this time as an organised force with purpose, direction, and vigour.
The Human-Covenant war was the big conflict of the setting, and 343 quite wisely understood that they shouldn’t try to one-up that in Halo 4. They would have to be more creative in depicting a story where humanity’s backs are against the wall.
They accomplished this by making Halo 4 a much smaller story about Cortana’s rampancy, the Chief’s emerging sense of independence, and focusing the threat primarily against one human ship (until later in the game where it scales up). The setting was contained largely to a Shield World, a science outpost by a Halo ring, and the doorstep of Earth.
Thus, the table was set to continue with those more intimate character-driven stories, rather than building up increasingly bombastic stakes.
Until Halo 5.
“Halo 5 was all about turning the Universe in a new direction explicitly so we could do stories like this. We wanted the galaxy to be big and scary and dangerous in a way that it really has not been for our heroes in a while. There’s a threat level now potentially on-par with the Covenant in its glory days, but unlike them, this threat knows everything there is to know about us. Even something as basic as traveling from one planet to another is once more a deadly proposition in the Halo Universe.” [Brian Reed, Canon Fodder – Issue 89, The Fall of Leaves (23/9/2016)]
In pursuing this, Halo 5 quite literally broke the setting with the Guardians and the Created.
This has been one of my primary criticisms over the last five years. The degree to which this threat was scaled up was ridiculous, resulting in the Created becoming this black hole which effectively caught every peripheral story in that period of the universe in its pull – reducing or rendering meaningless those conflicts.
Since then, the various attempts that have been made to ‘de-fang’ the Guardians in texts such as Halo: Warfleet and Legacy of Onyx have been rather transparent, and have only served to highlight just how unworkable they are.
Legacy of Onyx, a book which I otherwise really like, concluded with a group of teenagers flying a Pelican up to a Guardian’s face and dropping a Huragok off to dismantle it.
Following that, Onyx jumped back into slipspace, undoing one of the biggest pushes forward to one of the most fascinating settings in the Halo universe, after it had only just begun to receive some substantial narrative exploration outside of tidbits of lore for technology discovered.
Exactly what has become of the Created in the time that has passed leading up to Halo Infinite is unclear, as we’ll be jumping forwards several years to around 2561, but it seems clear to me that 343 has recognised just how vapid these antagonists are.
They close (and have closed) more doors than they open.The Banished, on the other hand, represent a threat which credibly fits the established lore and the ongoing conflicts.
They work on a scale that can take centre-stage, but do not diminish everything else going on in the universe to the point where they have to be shelved.
In Halo Wars 2, we saw the Banished primarily through the lens of Atriox, as they were contained to the Ark. But expanding beyond that to see what their presence in the galaxy looks like opens up many new doors for things to do with them – new stories to tell.
Where the Created have had to be unconvincingly scaled back, the Banished can be quite reasonably scaled up. The possibilities are, dare I say… infinite.
Even from just the audio we’ve heard thus far, I am more invested in this conflict than I ever was in Halo 5.
“The hour approaches. Our forces occupy the ring. Within hours, it will be under our control. Humanity will burn – their brazen defiance will be all but a memory. No more Prophets. No more lies. We stand together, brothers to the end. We are his will. We are his legacy. We are The Banished.”
This brief dialogue, from what sounds a lot like a new Brute character (definitely not John DiMaggio’s Atriox), wonderfully encompasses those core themes of the Halo universe.
People have really been running away with this dialogue as being indicative of the Banished ‘hating humanity,’ when, y’know, this is one individual talking after the last remnants of the UNSC were heavily involved in the cataclysmic battle at Installation 07 which left the ring shattered. It’s just not worth jumping the gun on this.And, far from being removed from the overarching narrative around the Mantle, the Banished are the apotheosis of that story.
In my previous Halo article – ‘Why the Librarian is Halo’s greatest antagonist’ – I extensively covered the purpose of what this story around the Mantle of Responsibility is all about (so if you find yourself quibbling with what follows, your answers can be found in that piece).
As this article is over 8500 words long, the tl;dr version is that the Mantle is not some heroic ideal to which to aspire, but the Original Sin of the Halo universe.
From the Forerunners’ genocide of the Precursors, through to the Covenant’s own articulation of that philosophy, to the UNSC’s declaration that “We are the giants now,” the Mantle has been the unmaking of ourselves as the villain.
The Mantle is not about enlightenment. It is not some noble ideal, nor some ‘greater good,’ but technology and accelerationism for the purpose of empire. For domination.
“Guardianship for all living things lies with those whose evolution is most complete. The Mantle of Responsibility shelters all.” [Halo 4 – Requiem]
Atriox’s goal in Halo Wars 2 was to gain control not just of the Ark, the trigger for the guns pointed at the head of the universe, but the Halo ring too – the ultimate weapon.
Forerunner technology is knowledge and power and pain that has been given, not earned, yet it is the greatest currency for its resident factions.
That is a much stronger conflict to have with the Banished because Atriox has not yet achieved this goal, meaning that we have active stakes to fight against and a tangible sense of tension.
The Created, on the other hand, were given practically infinite power at the snap of the writers’ fingers with the Domain and regressed the setting overnight.
On the gameplay front, the Banished offer the familiarity and depth that has previously been offered by the Covenant (along with some of the absolute best takes on established weapons and vehicles).
Since we’re pivoting to more of a focus on the Jiralhanae (for the first time – in an FPS title – in a decade), the next-generation Slipspace Engine will undoubtedly offer a plethora of possibilities to enhance the behaviours and interactions between the player and AI.
One of my biggest issues with Halo 5 was that enemies didn’t feel like they were part of a cohesive unit, but – in service of the shift to cooperative play – were divided more into ‘ads’ and ‘bosses.’
Halo has never been about having as many enemies on-screen as possible, it’s about the beautifully rehearsed choreography of the dance with established groups of enemies who all serve their own roles in combat and the sandbox. I’m very open to Halo doing new takes on things and evolving outside of what’s comfortably established as part of the long-term identity of the series, but this is one area that I felt diverged too far.
As a result, outside of the excellent dialogue, it felt like enemies lost a lot of their unique behaviours and identity in combat which had previously made the Covenant some of the best enemy AI in any shooter.
This is just my personal inference, but given what appears to be a significant reduction in overall narrative scale (like Halo 4, focusing on two primary characters), and given the new engine and the return of the Brutes (who have generally been more emphatically characterised), it seems that we’re returning to what made Halo enemy AI so engaging.I have seen some concerns about the Banished taking centre-stage in Halo Infinite, but (and I mean no offence in saying this) I find that a lot of those come from a place of really lacking imagination.
As fans, we so easily pigeonhole ourselves into thinking about only what baggage there is to deal with, only about how we can deal with things from Halo 5 in a direct way.
That is not how storytelling really works, and it certainly isn’t how a mainline Halo game for a new generation (of consoles and – more importantly – players) works.
This is arguably the most important Halo game of the series. It’s following on from perhaps the lowest emotional point of the franchise in terms of the fanbase’s reception to Halo 5, and it’s got to bring a whole new generation of players on-board to launch a new Xbox for the first time since 2001.
Spotlighting controversial (it would be more accurate to say ‘hated’) elements for the sake of wrapping up a rubbish story wouldn’t even make it past pitching. The questions must become:
How do we tell a new story and use beats from the past as a support structure, not the main event?
How do we get everybody to be at the same starting point asking the same questions?
How do we excite people with new ideas? How do we make Halo feel new?Ultimately, yeah, if you want to sound cynical about it, it’s much easier to get players on-board with the ‘Red Covenant.’ But, as I’ve illustrated above, and in countless articles over the last few years, that simplicity is not a bad thing because it’s simple.
The Banished works in all the ways the Created never did. If this time jump to 2561 skips past the bulk of the Created conflict to its conceptually inevitable conclusion so that we can build upwards from there, then that’s not necessarily ‘cheap.’ That just reframes the story to cover it in other ways – Terminals, audio logs, other peripheral media?
It’s not a lack of commitment, it’s finding a path forward after hitting a dead end. Halo should not be beholden to its worst mistakes when a path around it presents itself, especially with everything that’s on the line for the series here.
Thus far, we’ve had only a few brief glimpses at the broad ideas of what the foundations of Halo Infinite are. As such, we really need to think beyond the baggage. There are undoubtedly an endless amount of other new ideas that will transform our understanding of the Halo universe.
Me, personally? I’m excited and energised. The Banished is one of the biggest items ticked off my wishlist, and I can’t wait to see their great unveiling in July’s showcase.
Until then, when things become clearer, I’m going to enjoy my victory lap and bask in the indication that the Created are where I’ve always felt they should be…