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It's been almost two years since Halo 5: Guardians was released to a mostly positive reception from fans and critics alike and to this day, it is still a game with an incredibly active and thriving online multiplayer community which is growing even more thanks to Xbox's new 'Game Pass' service. But despite that positive reaction, there were still a few problems that I and many other longtime fans had with the game - specifically the story mode.
American video game developer Bungie debuted Halo in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved, which introduced us to main protagonists Master Chief (John 117) and his artificial AI companion, Cortana. Combat Evolved established a rich and deep storyline which included long-standing war between man and alien, mysterious ancient structures, mysterious ancient beings, an annoying evil robot thing, species-destroying parasites and an underlying sexual tension between man and computer... I try to blank out the last one. Big John and Cortana returned in sequels Halo 2 (2004) and Halo 3 (2007) and they both delivered fantastic and gripping stories, which only built and improved on the previous games; with Halo 3 originally being seen as the captivating end of the stellar trilogy. The two sequels also embraced the emerging world of competitive online multiplayer, with Halo 2 being revered as one of the greatest online first person shooters of all time.
In 2012, Bungie gave complete control of the Halo franchise to 343 Industries as they began developing Destiny. And this is where Halo started to take a turn for the worse. 343 Industries announced that 2012 would see the release of Halo 4, which had been in production since September 2009. Halo 4 was also stated to be the start of a new trilogy of games, much to the chagrin of fans who thought that the previous trilogy had sufficiently tied up the series' story.
Halo 4 was lacklustre. The game featured a story that didn't stand up to the previous three and even introduced a new type of enemy to replace the aforementioned species-destroying parasites that were ironically eradicated in Halo 3 (except for a cameo in Halo 4's 'infection' game type), the Flood. Enter Prometheans: an annoying bunch of sentient robot-like creatures that were more of a general pain in the arse than an actual challenging enemy type. The plot of the game revolved around Master Chief's companion Cortana essentially dying of old age, which - whilst fairly emotional - was a strange twist for the developers to write into the game, after all she had been by the Chief's side for 11 years at that point. The plot of Halo 4 was never the main focus of the game and it instead felt like 343 had gone the way of Call of Duty and focused more on their online multiplayer - which was pretty much empty within around a year and a half of the game's release, with many players opting to return to Halo 3.
When 343 released Halo 5: Guardians in 2015 after years of building hype and deploying promotional campaigns, there was one question begging to be answered: "Can 343 create a compelling plot this time?"
Answer: Yes... kinda?
Halo 5 for the first time since Halo 2 used two playable characters in the single-player campaign - Master Chief and Jameson Locke - and for the first time in the series, gave the player a team of three Spartan soldiers to accompany them in the game's missions (online co-op partners have the opportunity to choose any member of either playable character's squad to play as). The plot played out similarly to Halo 2's as well, giving the player split missions between Master Chief and Locke. Locke's missions see Jameson and his squad trying to stop the Chief, who was presumed to have gone rogue and Master Chief's missions see the Chief hunting down Cortana, who had shockingly survived her apparent death in Halo 4. The split missions provide a genuinely great dynamic and gives the player their own chance to decide which character is in the wrong. The story mode still falls a little flat and definitely still takes a backseat to the incredibly massive competitive multiplayer side of the game, which unlike Halo 4, is absolutely thriving.
So, it's all well and good that 343 have successfully brought Halo's multiplayer back to its former glory, but what about the story? With fans growing more and more disillusioned with 343's vision for their games' plot, it's time for 343 to step up and deliver a home run with Halo 6's story. We've been told recently that there is no sign of any Halo 6 material being released "in the near future", and to an optimist that would imply that 343 are taking an incredible amount of care in sculpting an immersive and gripping plot that will please not only the newer fans of the franchise, but the older fans too. Halo 5's legendary ending suggests that Halo 6 is going to take place on an actual halo ring for the first time since they were seemingly all destroyed in Halo 3, which is surely pleasing to everyone who has invested in the franchises' incredibly rich lore.
Having a great multiplayer mode isn't going to keep fans interested forever and Halo 6 could very well be 343's last chance to rejuvenate Master Chief's legacy as the ice cold, supercool super soldier that gamers have loved since his big debut in 2001. So come on, 343... Amaze us.