Halo 5 Guardians was a success story when it came to game-play build and mechanics, but a failure when it comes to deploying a game that also held a high value as fan-service and was faithful to the heart of the brand. Halo 6 won’t be presented at E3, but something will be. At almost sixteen years old, Halo is a tested brand and IP that has seen incredible glory days (Halo 2 and Halo 3) and very tragic lows (Halo 4 multiplayer community, Halo 5 story line). The fact that 343 Industries remains an independent studio at Microsoft solely devoted to Halo means that the brand still sells and is important in the eyes of Phil Spencer and others at Microsoft. However, if we want Halo to remain a living and successful franchise ten years from now, the following recommendations need to be adopted by the leadership and teams at 343.
With the adoption of the “Play Anywhere” policy regarding first-party games, there is no longer a true reason for Halo to remain a console-only IP. Maybe the fear remains that all Halo players will leave the Xbox One and head to PC, but this is a silly fear (if a real one at all) that is based on a terrible understanding of the community. If Halo 5 and subsequent titles are deployed on both PC and console, yes, you may lose some console players to PC, but you will gain thousands of new players that have no desire to play on the console. Additionally, console-shooter players, like myself, will never go over to PC, but will remain faithful to battling it out using a game pad which is how I like to play. Regarding campaign and cooperative content, much like Gears of War 4, Halo on PC would allow players on Xbox One and PC to play together on campaign or cooperative content (non-competitive), which allows friends and strangers across both platforms to play anywhere and play together. Halo on PC would revitalize the way the industry has approached one of the last IPs to be missing from the PC world, it would open the door to many more copies of Halo being bought by PC-only gamers, and open the gates to the tens of thousands of players who have been denied Halo for longer than a decade.
Two of Halo’s strengths has always been in-depth lore and rich world-building. Therefore, 343 Industries cannot ignore the value of strong writing and a well-crafted storyline. Halo 4 had great writing and a great story. Halo 5 didn’t. A great multiplayer will keep people logging in day after day, for possibly years, but a great campaign will earn you the love and admiration of the community. Halo isn’t Call of Duty. The same way the industry expects more from Mass Effect when it comes to story, there are similar expectations with Halo. Halo shouldn’t adopt an MMO or RPG approach, but shooter games can develop beautiful stories in dynamic environments with the due creativity. The next Halo campaign—whether Halo 6 or a spin-off game—may give the IP life or break it. Halo Wars 2 proved that there is plenty of storytelling potential in this series. This needs to be a priority at 343.
Connected to the point above, the Master Chief, John-117, is an asset and not a weakness of the IP. Halo 5 Guardians showed the potential for a future Halo without the Master Chief. That is not a good future for Halo. Chief isn’t Commander Sheppard. Chief isn’t some generic CoD character. Chief is as much an icon of Halo as it is an icon of the entire Xbox brand. Does every Halo game need to star Chief? No and ODST, Reach, and the Halo Wars are all evidence of that. However, no character can replace the Chief. It’s ok to expand Halo beyond the story line of the SPARTANS and all that jazz, but 343 needs to understand that a future with no Master Chief is a future with a Halo brand that looks extremely hollow to the loyal fans that have been here since day one. Chief is here, forever.
The gaming industry, possibly more than other communities, rewards merit-based boldness. What does that mean? Halo: Nightfall, the online TV series with Michael Colton, was pure garbage. It was cheap, poorly written, poorly casted, poorly linked to universe of Halo, and inconsequential. Nothing that happens in that series matters. However, Halo: Forward Unto Dawn, and even the anime shorts of Halo: Legends, are evidence that when the proper effort is made in spin-off projects, the industry and the community reward such efforts. Nightfall was attacked for what it was: garbage. Forward Unto Dawn was praised for what it was: great content, delivered through the right mediums, and linked to the guy that we care about: Chief. 343 Industries needs to be bold about the future of the IP, whether it involves a movie, TV shows, novels, graphic novels, toys, games, etc., but it can’t be boldness for its own sake. Proper stewardship of Halo can setup a great foundation for future success, but it demands wise decision-making at the highest level and the respect of the fans that have tolerated terrible products in the past.
I want my kids to play Halo with me one day. I want to sit with my son and/or daughter and blast through The Master Chief Collection. I want to enjoy awesome Firefight matches with them. I want to explain to them why Master Chief is the Reclaimer and how the Arbiter became an ally of Humanity. I want to play Split-Screen for hours and hours and face the wrath of the Flood together. However, that future demands proper stewardship of the Halo franchise today. E3 2017 promises to be a critical opportunity for Xbox to shine, and Halo is an intrinsic part of Xbox. I don’t know what 343 has prepared for this year’s E3, or even next year’s, but in a world where gamers are blessed with a great number of options and alternatives to spend their time and money on, Halo can no longer assume the fans will tolerate stupidity. Halo has been great and can be great, so let’s get it done.