With today’s release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, over a decade of Halo history has been assembled in one package to celebrate the franchise’s past–and do a smart bit of promotion for its future.
The collection combines Halo 1 through 4, highlighting every adventure in the franchise with Master Chief as the protagonist. While it doesn’t include the well-received spin offs Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST, the four main entries in the package highlight a number of the greatest moments in the fight between humanity and the Covenant.
But which of Master Chief’s adventures is the best, and which has withered with time? Having had a chance to revisit the classic titles as part of the collection, EW has ranked the four main Halo story campaigns from worst to best.
4. Halo 2 (originally released in 2004)
Jonathon Dornbush: Halo 2 made some important changes to the series—dual-wielding weapons, hijacking enemy ships—and yet it’s unfortunately the franchise’s weakest Master Chief excursion. I have to commend Bungie on keeping it a secret just how often you’d be playing as the Arbiter, but… you spend way too much time playing as the Arbiter. And late in the game there’s some giant plant talking to you or something. I tried to block that out for a few years. It is all undeniably gorgeous in remastered form and still controls well, but the follow-ups campaign stood firmly in the shadow of the game’s multiplayer options.
Favorite level: “Delta Halo,” a gorgeous outdoor level that created an impressive atmosphere in its original incarnation but now looks positively stunning in the Master Chief Collection remaster.
3. Halo 3 (originally released in 2007)
Aaron Morales: The jump to the Xbox 360’s more powerful hardware brought an even larger scale to the franchise’s already immense playgrounds, this time for up to four-players cooperatively. There’s a particularly memorable battle against two Scarab tanks—repeat, two Scarabs!—that shows Halo’s big battles at their best. With nearly every vehicle in the game available, players have a seemingly limitless number of ways to attack. It’s a brilliant, dynamic sandbox that few games even come close to rivaling. It’s a shame that the game essentially repeats the same nonsensical narrative arc as the first two, devolving into the same tired Flood battles yet again. No one likes fighting the mindless Flood, which explains our No. 2 pick.
Favorite level: “The Covenant,” a sprawling level that starts with a Spartan Laser, transitions to an epic outdoor encounter with two Scarbs, and culminates with a Gravity Hammer.
2. Halo 4 (originally released in 2012)
AM: After creating five Halo games in nine years, Bungie left the series behind to basically make a game that looks and plays a lot like Halo. It took a new developer to freshen up the series, and 343 Industries’ Halo 4 is a confident start of an all-new trilogy. It doesn’t stray from what made the series so great in the first place, playing up the good (big battles, vehicles) while jettisoning the bad (endless backtracking, repetitive level design). But best of all, it introduces a whole new race of enemies, the Prometheans, who actually play differently than the Covenant and Brutes you’d grown so accustomed to, which changes the combat dynamics considerably. Also, did we mention there’s no Flood?
Favorite level: “Reclaimer,” which starts aboard a mammoth transport vehicle dubbed… the Mammoth. The huge open areas are heavy on vehicles and big weapons to blow them up with.
1. Halo: Combat Evolved (originally released in 2001)
JD: There’s a sense of discovery and awe inherent in the first entry of any franchise, but Bungie nailed those aspects when it came to the first Halo. The initial chaos of the Pillar of Autumn being attacked, discovering the actual Halo, and duking it out with the Covenant are all unforgettable experiences. I still recall driving a warthog around the Halo for the first time—I think I sat slack jawed with friends for a good 20 minutes. Yes, the game includes the level “The Library,” but Halo delivers one of the most well-constructed shooter experiences around. And, more importantly, had Halo not been so successful, Microsoft and the Xbox brand might never have survived. And then players around the world would have been robbed of the pleasure of 12-year-olds shouting at expletives at them over Xbox Live.
Favorite level: A popular choice, but “The Silent Cartographer” is an impressively long but rarely tedious mission that employs all of Halo‘s best elements, while also introducing the brutality of Hunters.