A mysterious new entity held within a metal slab, an unexpected brotherhood, and a night under the stars…
With the campaign of Halo Infinite dropping out of slipspace imminently, I thought I would give one last preview of some moments from the first few missions that really resonated with me.
Here are three short tales from my time on Zeta Halo.
(This article does NOT contain any story spoilers.)
The layout is eerily familiar.
Many years ago, an underwater temple on Delta Halo housed a similar chamber — one where a giant hologram of the Prophet of Regret, one of the Covenant’s triumvirate of hierarchs, cast judgement on humanity, declaring that they shall be hunted to extinction.
Within that chamber, the walls were lined not with metal, but with ancient and weathered stone. Great windows cast the chamber’s interior in a deep blue hue, as the artificial lake beyond revealed a mysterious city lost to time.
Its counterpart on Zeta Halo, however, is cold metal accented by a threatening vermillion complexion.
There is no air of reverence here. Industrial crates and weapon racks are placed at the ground level, angular ceiling struts bear huge clamps that link Banished machinery with wires that spread like a twisted circulatory system to a central elevator.
Stripped of its religious significance, this place has become just another fortified position for the Banished. Another place they stake their claim to dominance.
But there are tunnels and corridors here that lead to other places. Pathways into darkness that span the ring’s entire substructure, reminding its new occupying force that their task to control this Halo will take millennia.
With the chamber clear of hostiles, one particular passageway on the far edge — tucked away in an unassuming corner — seems particularly inviting.
Around the bend, it leads to a long walkway where a cylix is contained in the middle of four columns. Cylixes are large rectangular slabs once used by the Forerunner Lifeworker rate during as part of the Conservation Measure, containing many species that are identified by a simplistic hardlight outline. Human, Sangheili, Unggoy, Kig-Yar — all are quite identifiable.
This one, however…
Closer inspection reveals that the columns are connected by what also appears to be hardlight. A prison, of sorts? A scanning field? What could warrant a whole separate chamber for a single cylix held in such a state?
All that is certain is that the outline on its surface is no species we have ever seen before. It is neither human, nor any of the Banished’s client races, nor even the Harbinger herself…
There are no answers to be found here, only a sense of having transgressed in a place none were meant to wander.
Returning to the objective path, the room is soon left silent and vacant once more.
AN UNLIKELY BROTHERHOOD
After rescuing a group of Marines held prisoner, the Master Chief and his squad of newly liberated troops are eager to pay the Banished in-kind for their brutality.
A nearby Forward Operating Base, known as ‘FOB Foxtrot,’ offers a tantalising opportunity to begin regaining a foothold in this region.
Things do not get off to a good start as the Razorback careens over a slight rocky incline, sending it tumbling over and spilling its driver and passengers into the middle of enemy territory.
The Unggoy are first on the scene and are easily dispatched, but they are soon followed by a Jiralhanae Captain who enters the fray on a fiery trail from his jump pack, accompanied by two Sangheili wielding Pulse Carbines who come down from the high ground of the FOB.
As the Jiralhanae Captain falls to our combined barrage of Assault Rifles and Bulldog Shotguns, the Sangheili beside him roars and does what nobody could have expected…
He picks up his fallen ally’s Ravager and vows to avenge him.
Where the Covenant once had Sangheili and Jiralhanae meet as foes, the Banished has made them brothers.
Under the Banished, honour is found not just in individual glory, but in those who fight alongside you — no matter the species. Even the Unggoy have found some manner of prestige among their ranks, as have the wily T’vaoan ‘Skirmishers.’
This moment of surprise catches even the Master Chief off-guard as a quick succession of incendiary volleys bring the Spartan’s journey to a premature end.
THE ABYSS THAT SWALLOWS THE SKY
It is a sight that never loses its novelty. Never ceases to inspire awe. All the images it conjures within the mind are summed up in a single word: ‘Halo.’
That glittering band of ashen grey bordering a world held within its walls, curving up into the sky until it circles back to the ground beneath your feet. But this ring has been shattered. Something happened here that caused a chunk of Zeta Halo to break apart.
During the day cycle, Banished vessels hang over the horizon under bright blue skies, occasionally deploying fiery drop pods from their underbellies — deploying troops that will attempt to retake the ground taken from them.
Phantoms swarm on distant islands. Long dormant Forerunner machinery returns to life as gravity-defying spires gather at a central structure for some yet-unknown purpose.
After traversing the rolling fields of Zeta Halo, its battle-scarred deadlands, its fortified bases and outposts, its crashed escape pods and deserted campsite that tell their own stories, the day cycle comes to an end.
At times, the sun will disappear behind the shattered fragments of the ring and pierce through to reflect on the surface of the large hexagonal columns that serve as the foundation material for these islands suspended in the gap between broken ends.
While the skies above are familiar, blazing orange as the golden hour hits, it is what lies below that truly makes this place visually unique among the rest of the array.
Where one might expect lowlands and wine dark seas as we have seen on other installations, it is the darkness of space that borders the lower edge of the horizon — an ‘underworld’ fitting for the glimpses we get outside while exploring Zeta’s substructures.
As night falls, the darkness swallows the day from below to enjoy its dominion for a time before it recedes to give way to day once more.
And it is now that far-off nebula clouds swirl in hues of brown and blue and green while the edge of the ring plays host to an aurora that at once appears like a kind of divine bridge across the broken sections, but is also faint and sickly yellow, for this place is itself ailing with its own morbid history — both ancient and modern.
These are just a few fleeting moments of my time on Zeta Halo, but they’re what will really stick with me when I look back on this game.
In time, these things will undoubtedly lose their novelty as they settle into becoming a normal part of the experience when I start my fiftieth replay of the campaign. But right now, they dazzle.
Some of the best storytelling happens during moment-to-moment gameplay, and the people who concept, program, animate, test, and ultimately enable these stories to happen have made the Banished express more character and nuance than has ever been possible before.
There are new mysteries that level the playing field for even the most hardcore lore fans, evoking similar feelings to seeing the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Terminals for the first time ten years ago.
And we’re just getting started…