Halo 5 – A Compendium of Lies

Halo 5 has been out for well over a month now, time in which people have vented their initial reactions out onto the internet. Now we can be a bit more organised about it. Sort of… not really, actually.

I don’t know about you, but I find it so difficult to string together any kind of discourse about Halo 5 with any coherency because I have so many mixed feelings, so many disappointments, and an overbearing feeling of being lied to. It has taken a substantial effort to write this – three years of waiting, hanging onto every piece of fiction, every piece of marketing, every developer quote, will do that to you.

This post is therefore going to be somewhere between a review, a call-out, and a ‘what I would have done instead’ kind of deal. We’ll be looking over a substantial number of developer comments over the last few years and deconstructing a lot of the issues in the story – though by no means will this be all of them.h5 titleFirst of all, a disclaimer: I do not think Halo 5’s story was totally bad, it had some redeeming qualities within it – by which, I mean things like the excellent writing for Fireteam Osiris and the five missions (a whole third of the game) we spent on Sanghelios. The campaign’s level design was top-notch, easily among the best in the series, and the multiplayer has consistently kept me coming back.

Halo 5 did a lot of things really damn well in my opinion, but it well and truly failed in the area which I personally consider most important. The story.

There was absolutely no cohesion between the story in the marketing – like the Master Chief being declared dead on Meridian as a specific example. But it goes beyond that, as major story threads (like humanity’s own Great Schism with the New Colonial Alliance mobilising for war) have been utterly shafted for a story that is infinitely less creative, makes less sense, and overall just feels way too ‘safe’. More on that later, for now, let’s look at some quotes (as a note, these won’t be in any particular order).

June 20th, 2014: “We are not Game of Thrones.”

I can respond to this with just one image…juld12Pardon me while I segway here for a bit because I’m eager to tell you how I would have handled Jul’s story in Halo 5 – rather than killing him off as casually as you would headshot a Grunt while moving between areas.

At the point in which Halo 5 takes place, Jul is well aware that his Covenant is breaking. As soon as he seemed to have consolidated his power in the wake of the events of Spartan Ops, it all starts to fall apart. There are mutinies and uprisings within the ranks, the likes of Sali ‘Nyon claiming to be the true Didact’s Hand. The Prometheans end up turning against Jul. The trip to the Absolute Record cost Jul many of his best ships. You get the picture.

Jul knows that his luck has run dry, and as soon as he and Halsey discover the Guardians mysteriously awakening across the galaxy he knows his time is done. Ever the pragmatist, he looks to a means for his own survival rather than continue the pursuit of this folly.

So I would have Halsey and Jul contact the UNSC, warning them about the Guardians.

Jul understands the need for unity, tying back to Thel’s line in the E3 2014 trailer – “I tell you this, not because I trust you, Agent Locke, but because all our lives are at stake. So he tries to call the Covenant off their plans for the assault on Sanghelios, but this ends up creating sympathy for Sali ‘Nyon and the Covenant turns against Jul. Sali becomes the leader of the Covenant and continues their work as we see in Halo 5, while Jul and Halsey struggle to survive – ending up on Kamchatka, where Sali has gone in search of weapons to use against Sanghelios. The plot thusfar in terms of its structure is totally intact as it appears in the game proper.

Osiris is hot on their tail, having received Halsey and Jul’s warning, and they rescue the two of them just as Sali is going in for the kill. Sali, the very definition of a ‘gateway character’ is killed off in the unceremonious style Jul was canonically killed off to show how badass Osiris is, and Jul now finds himself working with humans. Oho, we now have some very interesting avenues for character growth.

Not only that, he’s sent on the mission to Sanghelios with Osiris, Palmer, and Halsey, and has to help the Arbiter. Oho, how far we have come since Glasslands. We now have the potential for a very interesting dynamic between Thel and Jul, as Thel looked at him as nothing more than a young upstart when first they met in Glasslands.tv26We would see Jul’s prejudices against Thel and humanity gradually dissipate as he sees that humans and Sangheili can co-exist, they can fight for the same goals, and both species can stand together as brothers. Imagine the surprise Jul would feel hearing Vale speak the Sangheili burial prayer to the fallen Swords of Sanghelios soldiers, to Buck saying that these are their brothers as far as he’s concerned, to Tanaka saying they’re going to avenge their deaths.

But imagine how he’d relate to Locke, who also signed up to assassinate Thel in the past and now finds himself fighting alongside him – saving his life, even. Vale asks Locke why he didn’t go through with this, to which he responds “things changed” – just as circumstance would change for Jul.

There’s so much you can do with that. Having this relation between the game’s protagonist and one of the Reclaimer Saga’s main antagonists (up to this point) would potentially have some very interesting opportunities to showcase just how complex characters in Halo can be – they are not fixed in their beliefs, they are not dunderheads who strive to kill each other.

I’d conclude Jul’s story with him deciding to go off and find his son, Dural ‘Mdama. Dural was set on a very similar path to Jul in the wake of his mother’s death – Raia ‘Mdama -, vowing to get revenge on the humans and kill the Arbiter. In this, Jul effectively becomes Raia, where she went out to find Jul to bring him home he is going out to find his son and try to save him from making the same mistakes he did – breaking the cycle of violence for the next generation. This also fits perfectly with the overarching theme of family in Halo 5. The ‘Mdama family is a pretty big focus of Glasslands and The Thursday War, it would be a fitting follow-up to actually make something of that in Halo 5.

With this, you can effectively write Jul out of the main events of the story in order to focus on other things without just killing him off and squandering his potential. You can then either cover this search story in some other media (give Jul a full book or something), or you can leave it as a loose end so we’re left wondering whether Jul was successful – but at the same time, knowing that he departed the narrative in a way that comes full circle and brings a sense of thematic resonance. And this wouldn’t even require any gameplay commitments in terms of resources, this could be told purely through the cutscenes – which is a major fault in Halo 5, they exist almost entirely as scene-setting and very little character development actually happens in them.

That is how I’d write Jul ‘Mdama. I would most certainly not waste the potential of who I personally regard as one of Halo’s most engaging antagonists, especially after 2 novels and a comic series building him up.guardians131

June 16th, 2014: “And what of Master Chief? Ross said Master Chief is still the star of the show, and the star of Halo 5, despite Locke’s prominence.”

Need it even be pointed out that Blue Team has 3 missions, while Osiris has 12?

Now, I don’t actually mind this at all because Osiris was one of the best parts of the game. But this is quite clearly indicative of the inherent fear 343 seems to have in saying “the Master Chief is not the centre of the Halo universe, get used to it fanboys”.

This inability to actually be honest about the game’s content looks bad however you choose to look at it – they’re either lying, or they’re not confident enough in pitching this narrative where the Master Chief isn’t the focal point of a main game.

“He is human, he’s always been human, but at the end of Halo 4 he really is reflecting on who he is and why he exists.”

“It’s more about what he’s searching for versus what the UNSC is asking him to do.”

May 16th, 2014: “He’s questioning many things he once firmly believed were true. He’s lost his best friend, he’s questioning his past and his purpose, he’s question who he is fighting for. For us this is a really interesting point. For the first time he’s questioning everything he’s done for the UNSC in the past.”

Okay, so very little of this is actually true.

Yes, at the end of Halo 4 we most certainly do end with John contemplating his own existence. The whole man/machine theme of that game played out beautifully, and I’ve analysed it at length. Halo 4 was an excellent character piece.

And then Halo 5 does… nothing with that.

The UNSC is in pursuit of the exact same thing John is after – Cortana. The only thing the UNSC asks John to do is return to Infinity because Osiris has been tasked with finding her instead of him. Okay, it’s a well-enough understandable motivation for John to go off the reserve in pursuit of her, but when exactly does this lead to him “questioning” anything?

When does he ever even question who he’s fighting for, or what the UNSC has asked of him in the past? John is pretty much set against Cortana from the start, there’s never a moment where that is called into doubt – in his own mind, and in the minds of every other character. The Warden Eternal asks if John will join Cortana in conquering the galaxy or help his own kind’s resistance effort against her, to which he responds: “Cortana already knows the answer.”

There’s no ambiguity here, it’s a very simplistic story where you’re never actually asking any meaningful questions.h5g10You know how this could be improved? If you didn’t play as Blue Team in that second mission, because it just gives away all the context. How much more interesting would that confrontation between Chief and Locke on Meridian be if that was the first time we see him? The first thing he would say is “I have a job to do”, and we’d have no context behind that statement which would throw his ultimate goal into doubt. It would be a very small, yet very meaningful way of highlighting the nature of perspective.

Also, I want to set up a counter for every time we’ve been told that Chief has “lost his best friend” and “has to deal with Cortana’s loss”. Because this was spouted pretty frequently in the years following Halo 4, and it’s a complete lie about the base premise of the game. He never has to deal with that loss and the impact Cortana’s sacrifice had in Halo 4 because he’s in-pursuit of her literally from the second mission of the game.diddy17

“We decided to do a little bit more detail on the Forerunners. We wanted to bring a new enemy class into Halo, so we spent a lot more time mapping out exactly what that culture. It does play a big role in Halo 5 and beyond.”

And now we come to one of my biggest problems with the story. They completely shafted the Ur-Didact.

Yes, that character who was built up by 343 across the Forerunner Saga, who was introduced in Halo 4 as John’s personal antagonist, and who Frankie said would be instrumental in post-Halo 4 fiction (here’s the cache’d version of the GTTV page, they seem to have taken the video down but at least I can verify that the page exists!)

So who did we get in place of him? We got Cortana and the Warden Eternal – the latter of who we learn absolutely nothing about outside of him having a single (Composed) mind and some million bodies, and he thinks Cortana deserves the Mantle for some reason. That’s… it.

I was recently listening to an old 343 Sparkast which you should definitely look up and listen to – it’s Sparkast #17, available to listen to for free on iTunes. In it, Chris Schlerf, Greg Bear, Jeremy Patenaude, and David Ellis talk quite extensively about the build-up they’ve been giving the Ur-Didact’s character for the games. Seriously, go and listen to this podcast, it will enrich your perspective on Halo 4 and the Forerunner Saga immensely. And it’s beautifully indicative of why the Ur-Didact works so well as an antagonist and why Cortana being in his place makes no sense at all.diddy8As I said: They gave us three whole books exploring the Didact’s character. His background, his choices, his impact on the setting, and the incredibly tragic and traumatic arc which leads to, as Greg says in the podcast, the “turn of the screw” which brings us to Halo 4.

Cortana had… absolutely none of that.

There’s a bit of dialogue in Halo: Legends – Origins where she laments the prevalence of war. That’s it, that’s apparently enough justification for 343 to be like “right, let’s shoehorn her into the Didact’s role!”

Frankie and Brian Reed insist that this has been planned since very early on, yet it comes across like the decision to do this was based on people responding negatively to the Ur-Didact in Halo 4 and not understanding his motivations (despite the game quite plainly telling us, but that’s another story). It’s like they just sort of went “oh, well maybe they’ll get it if we tell this story with a fan-favourite character who has a more accessible perspective”.

The Didact’s character and his outlook with regards to Forerunner supremacy and the Mantle makes sense because he was born into that society where they had been the galaxy’s top dogs for 10 million years. He was the commander who enforced that imperial peace to protect his own kind. He’s very old. He was responsible for a number of ‘tenets’ of the Mantle’s philosophy.

His perspective makes sense.diddy5Whereas Cortana somehow ends up in the Domain (which is frustratingly referred to as “the Forerunner Domain” on more than one occasion), becomes ‘immortal’, then decides to start her own galactic dictatorship. Because shock value.

Oh, and if you don’t like this story, prepare to be told by Frank O’Connor that you just don’t get the nuance of this narrative!

The Ur-Didact’s transformation into what he is in Halo 4 is a complete, purpose-built character arc. Cortana gets a beautiful farewell scene when she dies, and then 343 just brings her back after lying for 3 years about her fate.

In one cinematic Eurogamer saw at E3, The Arbiter says: “How well do you know your friend, human? And what would you call me when you learn the truth of what I have done?”

This line ended up meaning absolutely nothing. There was no “truth” that Locke learned about Thel, he’s the one who compiled the target dossier on him in the first place for being responsible for the deaths of approximately 1/23rd of the human race. But we already knew that, this seemed to hint at something else which was either dropped, forgotten about, or was never leading anywhere in the first place (so what was the point of this line in that case?)tv1

“Halo 5 is a lot about his future, but as you’ll see through all of the linear pieces we’ve woven through, his past is key to his future.”

Not really. Can anybody tell me what exactly is so “key” about his past that comes up in Halo 5 as being indicative of his future? “The seeds of our future are sown in his past”, we are told by Thel, yet that never plays into Halo 5 at all.

“The prologue and epilogue [of the MCC] will bound that and tie you up and leave you on the doorstep of Halo 5.”

Consider the inherent contradictions in these scenes with Halo 5…

In the MCC, Locke does not know why John has gone AWOL and is seeking him to find out why.

In Halo 5, Locke knows exactly why John goes AWOL from the start and has just been sent after him because he’s in-pursuit of the same mission Locke was given. Even Thel knows why John is AWOL, so everyone is privileged with information in the final product when the marketing was all about hunting the truth of these uncertain events.

This was obviously done because 343 didn’t want to reveal that Cortana is back, yet – as I said earlier – Halo 5 presents us with no ambiguity about that from the second mission.

Which brings us to…

June 11th, 2015: “343 Industries has stated that Blue Team probably has more lines of dialogue in Halo 5 than they have in all the books, comics, and videos released to date, so it will give fans a better look into the personas of some of Halo’s oldest warriors.”

This is an outright lie. Blue Team has a grand total of three missions in the game, very little of their dialogue is character-based, it’s largely setting-based in how they briefly talk about where you are. There’s a couple of references made to the books, but you have to stick around certain areas for up to 10 minutes to hear these pieces of dialogue – half of my Halo 5 playtime has probably been just that. Waiting for the character stuff to happen, only to be disappointed.

One particular example I recall is Kelly asking John about how it was to work with an AI so closely because she never has. John says “it’s unique”, Kelly asks if he’d care to elaborate, and John just shuts the conversation down with “no”. Well, bye-bye development of character perspective!

And I just have to bring this up:

October 29th, 2015: “I don’t think any of [Chief’s] Blue Team have particularly strong personalities,” says O’Connor when I ask about the challenge of maintaining emotional connection while jumping players between perspectives.


September 25th, 2015: “You can look at the ending of Halo 4 – and where Master Chief is,” she continues, “and obviously we had to know where we were going to take Halo 5 and Halo 6 with that.”

Yes, you certainly did have to know, but I really don’t know whether you truly followed it through. I look at the ending of Halo 4 – and where the Master Chief is – and I think about all those fascinating things that were set up.

Chief’s evolution being accelerated, unlocking the “many gifts” that Librarian seeded in humanity and hearing the Ur-Didact in his head? Nothing happens with that. Chief has one vision from the Domain at the start of the game and that’s it, it’s solely there to make the plot happen and nothing ever builds on that. Nobody questions John having visions, the Librarian isn’t mentioned outside of the Warden saying that her plan was for the Created to assume the Mantle – which we know is wrong, so that’s only going to confuse more casual players…

Cortana’s death? All consequences of that is wiped away, essentially retconned in a forum post from Catalog in 2014 saying that the ‘heart’ of Mantle’s Approach conducted a slipspace jump.

The Janus Key/Absolute Record arc? Came to absolutely nothing after 2 years of build-up. Go read it for yourself if you haven’t.

Ur-Didact as the Reclaimer Saga’s central antagonist figure who would be central to post-Halo 4 fiction? Utterly shafted.

At this point, Halo 4 – in my opinion the best story of all the Halo games – has been invalidated at this point. I find that quite infuriating.cortana3

June 22nd, 2015: “We got asked a lot about what happened to Cortana – what’s her fate? Well, her fate is, obviously, very clear at the end of Halo 4. The story is really about ‘what effect did Cortana’s sacrifice have on the Chief, and what effect does her loss have on him?’ It’s more about the long-lasting impact she’s had on him, and the whole universe, and that’s kind of a metaphor for the effect she’s had on fans now that she’s gone as well.”

“There’s more to the Chief’s story, I think, that people are going to find in Halo 5 that deals with how he copes with loss, and how he deals with is memories, and what those memories help him contextualise.”

Again, this is literally a lie about the fundamental premise of the story.

And Frankie and Reed are both insistent that Cortana is not evil, Frankie saying that we’re missing the “nuance” of her perspective because we’re “expecting Darth Vader” – which is… literally what she’s become, except that’s a totally unfair comparison because Darth Vader is actually a compelling villain.

She’s climbing atop millions of corpses to make herself a god and impose her totalitarian dictatorship over the galaxy. Cortana is no longer ‘the AI who sacrificed herself for her best friend, opening up critical new dialogues in the UNSC about the symbiotic nature of AI-human relations in the future’.

November 17th, 2015: “Repeatedly throughout, we were talking to each other about how Cortana is not evil. Cortana is doing a thing we don’t agree with, and she has the power to make it happen.”

It doesn’t matter how many times you say “she’s not evil” when what is depicted in the game tells us otherwise. She is literally threatening anybody who doesn’t mindlessly agree with her with the threat of planet-killers, she makes reference to future use of the Composer, and we see her at a Halo at the end of the game. At this point, she’s gone full Master Builder.ending2I mean… think of the implications of Cortana using a Halo. It wouldn’t just wipe out all life [with anything as rudimentary as a notochord], but the aftermath of that would be an ecological miasma that would be even worse than glassing.

Halos don’t actually disintegrate the things they kill, that only happened when the Forerunners did it because the Lifeworkers created a solute that they spread across the atmosphere of the worlds they visited – which made it so anything killed by the Halos would decay into their component molecules. We don’t have that this time round, 100,000 years on. When a Halo is fired, there will be entire planets comprised of billions of rotting corpses.

And I just… I can’t believe that Brian Reed of all people is saying that Cortana is not evil? He’s gone on-record to lampoon Halsey at every possible opportunity by calling her a monster.

February 27th, 2013: “Poor Catherine Halsey. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a monster. A war criminal. A woman who kidnapped and killed children because she thought the ends justified the means. But then we come along and chop off her arm simply because we wanted a spot of ambiguity in her final line.”

What Halsey did was awful, but she’s not going around killing millions (if not billions) of people across the galaxy to enforce her own dictatorship.

How is that not monstrous?

Worse still, the AI revolt trope is the kind of story I’d expect like 15-20 years from now when story ideas are running dry after resolving all the conflicts with the galaxy’s internal issues, the Forerunners, the Flood and Precursors… This is going straight to scraping the bottom of the barrel for story ideas, flushing away the rich and vibrant narrative potential that has been set up over the last few years… Because what do those conflicts mean now that they have been totally ‘out-scaled’ by the threat posed by Cortana?

This is “playing it safe” storytelling, in my opinion. After Halo 4, which was about as unsafe as you could have played it at the time, I am quite adamant that this is a regression.

That’s all I have to say today (but by no means is it all I have to criticise), if you’ve made it through this very cathartic 4000 word venting session, well done!

About haruspis

Writer and aspiring teacher who cares and talks far too much about fictional universes.
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51 Responses to Halo 5 – A Compendium of Lies

  1. timothyach says:

    You hit the nail right on the head. Thank you for this post.

    Upon seeing the credits roll for Halo 5, I felt like I had been told that I was drinking coffee with Colombian decaffeinated coffee crystals: https://youtu.be/Tg5aVzSDme4

  2. papageno says:

    Thank you for giving voice to this. The way everything turned out is just, as you said, so disappointing. I’m hoping that this game is setting up for a grand conclusion in Halo 6 that ties back to all that you’ve noted from Halo 4.

  3. Please tell me that someone from 343 knows you and that they will read this and think about what they’re doing..You are absolutely right in every way.

  4. leugim says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, being a huge halo lore fan Im deeply dissapointing with how 343 handled the story, I just sold Halo MCC and Halo 5 and don’t plan to read any of the upcoming books, graphic novels or whatever.

  5. Phenotype says:


    I’ve told you before on Halo Waypoint, but I’m a super huge fan of your writings. Your posts on this blog really allowed me to see Halo 4 in a brand new light and it increased my love for the game. And I’m so glad to see you tear apart and deconstruct Halo 5’s pathetic story.

    Not everything is bad. There’s a lot of interesting themes and all of the right things were there in the marketing. You had Blue Team and Osiris, the Arbiter and Sanghelios, themes of rivalry and family, and what sounded like an interesting follow-up to Halo 4. But the game ruins this through lazy writing and disregarding all of the plot threads in Halo 4. Halo 5 is extremely incongruent with its predecessors.

    The worst part is that Halo 5’s main problems could easily have been fixed through creative writing. For example, instead of completely shafting the Ur-Didact and replacing him with Cortana, Halo 5 could have been about the Ur-Didact assuming control of the Guardians and inciting an AI rebellion (since he himself was composed).

    Cortana could have been revived by the Domain but she would have played a similar to the Librarian in Halo 4. She would have further accelerated Chief’s evolution and guide him and the galaxy from behind the scenes, with goals that do not necessarily align with the UNSC. That would have been subtle, nuanced and morally grey.

    That idea makes much more sense than telling a story about a beloved Halo character murder, lying and cheating and insisting that’s she’s somehow morally grey. They could have had their cake and eaten it too.

  6. Zach Ahearn says:

    YES a million times yes. I was thinking about writing my own review much like this I wonder if I’ll have to now.

  7. BLACKED95 says:

    For me one of the worst things is how Cortana goes from a literal icon of Feminism in Gaming during Halo 4 (having a strong female character who keeps her agenda to the end) to… This.

    Halo 5 is also completely disappointing because Cortana becomes a sexist gaming cliché of “Women with power are bad”. How the fuck did that happen? I thought Bonnie Ross would not allow for this to happen.

    Halo 5 is the definition of disappointing. I will stay forever with the Forerunner Trilogy and Halo 4. Until it is retconned, Halo is basically dead.

    • You should take that complaint directly to Bonnie Ross and 343 themselves: Considering their implied political values, they would probably be very surprised and thought what they did with Cortana was -very- “feminist.”

      It’s important to keep in mind that, considering the political climate going on with video games lately, everyone seems to have their own little ideas as to what “equality” entails, and 343 are no exception.

      Anyway, I don’t plan to hijack this comment section with a political debate (I plan to elaborate on my own blog, one day), so I’ll just leave it at that and people can make what they will of it.

  8. I thought you were above the typical fan mentality of regarding something as shit for not conforming to preconceived wishes. Just because something is not what you expected or hoped for does not mean it has no value. Halo 5 is a fantastic game. Halo 4 still has my favorite story, but Halo 6 surprised me and that’s rare these days.

    I disagree with your premise that a game should be what its marketing is. Leading up to the game’s release, the marketing provided us with basic themes that are present in the game. Some of those themes were exaggerated, like the Chief’s mutiny. The entire plot regarding Cortana was left out of marketing so we could enjoy the surprise as gamers. I prefer my games not to be spoiled by their ads and for that I thank 343i.

    As for Jul, I’m glad he got cut out because I never cared about him. There are far more interesting Elites and hopefully they will get screen time in Halo 6. I never felt like the Didact was all that important to Halo’s ongoing story. He was merely a catalyst. Halo 4 was about Cortana’s rampancy and the Chief helpless to stop it. The Didact was just the McGuffin to keep things moving forward.

    Cortana’s evolution is fascinating and I can’t wait for Halo 6. She is most certainly not evil. To me it’s like she’s been reborn and is like a child. She has God like power, but her naivety has trapped her in the kind of hubris that we all grow out of on our way to adulthood. She believes what she is doing is right because, like a child, she never considered she could be wrong. The implications of this are world changing for Halo. While I believe that John can save her from herself and they will be allies again, her newly founded race will almost certainly be a threat without her. Halo 5 surprised me with its world altering ending and I haven’t been surprised by Halo since the release of the Flood in Halo CE. 343i deserves accolades for daring to go where no one expected.

    It’s also possible that the Cortana of Halo 5 isn’t the original Cortana. She could be one of the broken Cortana’s that the original Cortana split off from herself to fight the Didact in Halo 4? If so we could see Master Chief hunting down the original Cortana to stop her broken sister. This could all be a Didact conspiracy and everything set up in Halo 4 will see fruition in Halo 6. Halo 5 may be the required segue. A brilliant gameplay filled and visually/aurally beautiful segue.

    How can you say that the game plays it safe? Turning Cortana or one of her broken sisters into the antagonist, even a benevolent antagonist, is extremely risky. Nobody was expecting it. I know it’s painful to watch a character you love choose a dark path, but that stirring of emotions is what drama is all about. Don’t you want to be surprised?

    I’m disappointed in your unwillingness to accept a brave new world for Halo.

    • Phenotype says:

      He didn’t say it was “shit” because it didn’t meet his expectations. He actually said he likes the game; particularly its gameplay and multiplayer. What he was trying to get across what that Halo 5’s story had major flaws because of how it misrepresented the EU, how it shafted important character’s life Jul and the Didact (who is important, regardless of whether or not you like him), and because it turns a character evil without bothering to build-up to it simply for shock value.

      The marketing was extremely misleading. It portrayed themes of rivalry between Osiris and Blue Team and ONI’s corruption that just didn’t exist at all in the game. Not to mention all of the outright lies 343 told, as Haruspsis points out. At least Halo: CE, Halo 3, ODST, Halo: Reach and Halo 4’s marketing actually felt relevant to the final game.

      The Didact was a superior villain with tonnes of a build-up in the books and was alluded to in Halo: CEA, and you’re suggesting that he was simply a catalyst for Cortana being the villain when there was no build-up to her turning evil or returning after dying and having closure to her story in Halo 4? The game would have been much better if the Didact had remained the villain and if it had continued the plot threads that Halo 4 and Spartan Ops produced. Instead it feels very detached from Halo 4.

      Reviving Cortana was the safe option because leaving her dead would have allowed Chief’s character to progress further with Blue. Instead, Cortana is back and the Covenant isn’t defeated because Sali is now its leader. None of the characters have developed well and the universe is the same asides from the cliched AI uprising. And you yourself are implying that Cortana should return to being good again, despite the fact that this both undoes Halo 4 and Halo 5’s story. Some consistency in future narratives would be nice.

      Cortana is evil. There’s no denying it. She’s threatening the galaxy to comply to her demands with the threat of death if they don’t comply with her. She’s also willing to cheat, lie and emotionally manipulate the Chief to accomplish her goals. And she outright bullies Osiris and resorts to verbally abusing them. She’s now no better than any other dictator or Halo villain. Even if she sees herself as a god, even gods should treat their children well. She’s not a child.

      Redeeming Cortana would be a terrible idea. Not only is this doubly safe and redundant, but it’s actually dangerous to suggest that a victim should be the one to redeem their abuser. Cortana’s toxic behaviour and treatment of the Chief carries many similarities to real-world abusive relationships. Forcing John to fix her in Halo 6 would be extremely irresponsible on 343’s behalf, not to mention redundant and pointless if they’re going to undo their decisions (again).

      • Cortana is clearly not evil. Play the game again and pay attention this time. She doesn’t what she feels she has to for the greater good. Misguided and well intentioned, but not evil.

        As for Jul, he was a terrible villain. The Didact was a cool, but he was the least important character in Halo 4.

        Halo 4 is a bridge to a new saga. You’re mistake is wishing it was a pillar.

      • Draft says:

        How do you try to defend Cortana? It makes zero sense. Where were you in the defense of the Ur-Didact, the Gravemind, Jul, Kinsler and the Hierarchs? Because they do basically the same thing Cortana is doing now, believing they know better, that they are superior and because of their “superiority” all shouldn’t oppose their rules, allow them to continue their evil behavior, and not to tell their racism towards others thinking “their kind” is above the others. Cortana is evil regardless of what you think.
        Jul and Didact, the same, they are important regardless of what you think. Jul and the Didact had three novels each entirely dedicated to fleshing them out and give more personality to them (Gravemind as well, since he was in the Forerunner trilogy). Hell, Truth, Mercy and Regret had character development in the novels. You can’t tell three novels for each character makes them unimportant. Cortana had no buildup to her villany and there she is.
        If this new saga, that started masterfully with Halo 4 is going to continue this way, then 343 will see many of their lore dedicated fans going out, because multiplayer is all that saves this game.

      • Draft: “Where were you in the defense of the Ur-Didact, the Gravemind, Jul, Kinsler and the Hierarchs? Because they do basically the same thing Cortana is doing now”

        Not true, not even close to true.

        Ur-Didact is motivated by revenge, Cortana is not.
        The Gravemind wants to replace all life with a twisted mockery of it, Cortana does not.
        Jul is blinded by hate, Cortana is not.
        Kinsler is a rapist, Cortana is not.
        The Hierarchs killed billions of humans to maintain a lie, Cortana reluctantly caused collateral death to prepare an avenue to peace.
        Cortana wants peace for all life. All sentient species would have freedom to do anything, but war. She is clearly not evil. You can disagree with her methods, but her intentions are good.

      • Draft says:

        Their actions weren’t the same, but the context of they thinking they are doing what is right is the same and do apply, as I said before.
        Cortana relutanctly did nothing, she did what she wanted to do, that was kill people. If you read Shadow of Intent or know who Rtas ‘Vadum, Thel ‘Vadam and Terrence Hood are, you know you don’t need to kill billions of people in order to achieve piece. Force a peace isn’t really peace, and will end horribly.
        Besides, Gravemind’s motivations are the same as Cortana. “Peace for the galaxy”, “unification”, “end of the wars”. Only difference between Cortana and him is just that instead of organics she uses mechanics. All of those antagonists outright killed tons of people for their own gains.
        There isn’t such a excuse for totalitarism and dictatorship. There isn’t. Killing innocent people, imposing dictatorship, forcing the species of the galaxy to obey her, in order to achieve her “piece” is never going to work. Besides, she will use the Composer and even Halo if it is necessary to impose her rule. How use the Composer and the Halo Array on someone is not only barbaric and inhumane but also justifiable. The logic ends not here, but right there when Cortana says she will kill everyone who doesn’t obey her, as Haruspis pointed out in his well-written analysis.

      • Dude, Gravemind wants to EAT all life and shit out a giant pile of death. That’s not peace, it’s fucking evil. Cortana has the power to create REAL peace for all life so she feels she has the responsibility to sacrifice few for the needs of the many. TOTALLY DIFFERENT. If people are free to do as they wish, but not allowed to go to war, what’s so evil about that? On a smaller scale, it is no different than today’s laws against murder and the police who enforce it.

        If I had the power to stop ALL WARS, I’d do it even if it costs some lives initially. That’s not evil, it’s pragmatic. Cortana isn’t evil.

      • Draft says:

        Cortana is willing to wipe out everyone who dares to resist. Destroy the entire culture of a species. It seems somewhat .. evil.

      • And what would they be resisting? Peace? Who’s more evil, the one who calls for peace or the one who fights against it?

      • Draft says:

        There is nothing of peace when you will die in case you don’t accept one vision of peace. If you didn’t believed in the Master Builder’s version of peace you died, same with Cortana. If you didn’t believe in the Flood peace, which was eat and assimilate everyone into Flood in order to end the wars, you died. It’s history repeating itself, and Cortana being as tyranical and evil as Faber and the Gravemind were.

    • Crucible117 says:

      Are you insane?

  9. Mark says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve felt so much of this but with exams its been difficult compiling it all.

    When 343 said Halo 5 Guardians was their centrepiece/big one/critical to Halo’s future, I thought damn it’d be good. I can’t imagine going back to pre-Halo 5 games and playing without the abilities and the speed. But the story was A BOTCH UP. Halo 4, being as awesome as it was, is what….ignored? It’s like none of what happened in Halo 4 is relevant at this point.
    Osiris for all their greatness were made at terrible cost to Blue Team. Beyond unbelievable that Spartans that are nearly 50 with more than 3 decades of combat experience have “no personalities”.
    I’d honestly just like to rewind back to before October 27, when all those beautiful possibilities were imaginable with Hunt the Truth, the MCC, and all the other marketing stuff. The game, story-wise, was a massive letdown. Worst Halo story bar none.

  10. Paul says:

    I am still not certain if this was the real Cortana, a Halsey reproduction, a fragment or even a forerunner fake (I’m thinking of a certain and very dangerous forerunner warrior servant AI from Last Light). If it is the real Cortana then we still have to take into consideration earlier Halo releases, not just her rampancy but also her intimate interactions with the gravemind. In this respect Cortana and the Didact could well be mirrors of each other, like the Didact and Mendicant Bias. Assuming Cortana is not incomplete or a fake or under some other powerful influence like what I suggested above.

    The ‘forerunner’ Domain. Is this deliberate to through us off? Is this possibly a diminished Domain, or perhaps something similar to the abyss of the composer and not the true Domain at all. After all if Cortana can access the Domain then shouldn’t every forerunner ancilla also be able to?

    The marketing is weirdly misleading almost as if the game that they were planning on making was scrapped at some point and they just kept with their marketing plan. And the game did reveal way too much too early on But the biggest flaw with the story telling and it’s only real fatal one is that none of the players avatars have any effect on the outcome at all. Osiris and Blue Team are all just observers of events. From the moment it is revealed who the main antagonist is to the revelation by ‘Cortana’ to the galaxy of her intent to rule them because the Mantle belongs to the created, nothing the protagonists do alters this outcome even slightly. Even the Warden Eternal is not overcome in any meaningful sense. No critical intelligence is gained to make any difference to the outcome of this or any future conflicts, that we can say for certain anyway. This lack of agency leaves little in terms of meaning to the many levels of play through.

    The game itself was pretty awesome in every other way. They just didn’t give enough with the story to make it satisfying. Ah, well. At least we have the books, which I have always preferred anyway.

    Anyone have any thoughts on Cortana’s motivations, validity, state of mind or what may be influencing her? I’d like to read them.

    • Marketing is irrelevant to the quality of a game. Team Osiris saved Blue Team from the cryptum, thus ensuring the Master Chief will be able to find the real Cortana and defeat or redeem the broken one that has taken control of the Domain and who is most likely being manipulated by The Didact. But that doesn’t matter, because a story doesn’t need the heros to win. This portion of the Halo saga is much like Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back. At the end, the heroes barely escaped the future is uncertain. It’s considered the best film in the series and Halo 5 ended on a similar note.

      As for Cortana, whether she is the original Cortana or her broken sister, she is clearly not evil. If she’s the original, to me it’s like she’s been reborn and is like a child. She has God like power, but her naivety has trapped her in the kind of hubris that we all grow out of on our way to adulthood. She believes what she is doing is right because, like a child, she never considered she could be wrong. The implications of this are world changing for Halo. While I believe that John can save her from herself and they will be allies again, her newly founded race will almost certainly be a threat without her. If she’s one of Cortana’s broken sisters we could see Master Chief hunting down the original Cortana to stop her. This could all be a Didact conspiracy and everything set up in Halo 4 will see fruition in Halo 6. Halo 5 may be the required segue. A brilliant gameplay filled and visually/aurally beautiful segue.

  11. Kyle Reynolds says:

    Like so many people have stated above, Thank you for giving us voice for concern of were the story is going for Halo. ever since I beat the game I have been waiting for your essay in stating how I felt and you hit every single note. Thank you and I hope 343 reads this.

  12. volk91 says:

    Hey man,

    This is a very good post. I agree with you on the overly safe direction 343 went with spending so much time on multiplayer and ending up way underdelivering on the story. It almost feels laughable how with Halo 4 we had a great story and complainanable multiplayer, while with Halo 5 everyone is praising the Arena and ends up feeling cheated by knowing a lot of the Lore without a reward.

    I realize that you had a hard time writing this post, but do you have any prospects of doing the mission analysis you did in Halo 4?

  13. volk91 says:

    Hey man,

    This was a really good post. I really appreciate that you didn’t brake into a rant and stuck to your objective criticism and suggestion. I fully agree that with Halo 5 343 did a 360 from working on story (Halo 4) to multiplayer (Halo 5). I feel quite cheated for following so much of the lore.

    I realize that you had a hard time writing this post. However, do you have any prospects of doing the mission analysis you did in Halo 4 regardless of how badly the overall story is? I really enjoyed your in-depth breakdown of all the Halo 4 missions. While Halo 5 did not do such a good job, I do believe that it still has a story to tell.

    • Why would you want to read the ramblings of an angry fan that chooses to be intentional obtuse regarding the themes of Halo 5, refuses to accept change, and makes absolute judgement like, “Cortana is Darth Vader, but not as good”? Haruspis has lost his way and no longer is the Halo fan we could rely on. Halo 5 is the best game of the year and the second best Halo game in the series. This article is a travesty.

      • haruspis says:

        Kevin’s right everyone. I don’t share his opinion, so I’m no longer a paragon of the Halo community for you to rely on (as if I ever tried to be).

      • I apologies for that outburst and retract the insults. Your article isn’t a travesty, it’s just your opinion. The thing is that I held your opinions on Halo 4 in high regard because it’s my favorite in the series and your website is one of the few that treats it fairly. Halo 5 is an amazing game, best of the year, so I wasn’t just surprised that you didn’t like it, I was let down. I was hoping for the same in depth analysis of Halo 5 that you gave Halo 4 gave a rant that I disagree with on every single point. The implications of Cortana or one of her broken sisters taking over the Mantle is world changing for Halo and it has me excited about the future of the series more than any of the novels have.

        You are entitled to your opinion and again I apologies for marginalizing it. I hope you will return to Halo 5 and respect it for what it is rather than what you had hoped it would be.

  14. Interstel says:

    Everything else I agree with, except Jul. I feel like his death was one of the moving points of Halo 5 Guardians. The first mission was solid, but they should’ve made him go down with a fight, not like this. Cutscene, whatever, let him show us how badass he is.

    He was just a testing ground for Locke, that sucked.

  15. pulsor93 says:

    I feel like you make some damn valid points, as do some of your complainers. That said, I feel that there are a few ways to make up for some of the mistakes.
    1. Have the Jul killed in Halo 5 turn out to be a body double, so the real Jul could enact a gambit to make the rest of his forces see him as some sort of major religious figure.
    2. Cortana’s actions are a result from Gravemind’s brainwashing making her enact a Plan B.

  16. Jameson Locke says:

    Yeah i have really come around to disliking the story i guess i was still hungover from Hunt The Truth. But i feel not only was the effect of Cortana’s death on John squandered which i wanted to do a stage of grief theory on because in halo 4 and after he was clearly experiencing this. But the relationship between John and Locke was gone too. Locke knowing why John went AWOL before he even met John was just like why?

    The all Hail Trailer and all the media surrounding them i wanted Locke to have joined the Spartan IV program because of John and what he had done as Master Chief since Locke was all about saving humanity. Even going out on his own because he didn’t think the UNSC was capable of saving anyone. But when word of the heroic Spartans came out that’s to me what made him agree to ONI’s proposal. So when Locke hears the savior of humanity is up and gone and “questioning everything he has done for the UNSC” as 343 said i felt something would happen between these two.

    Then came the ‘All Hail” trailer John under the statue that says “duty and honor above all” which is what the Master Chief embodied, Locke going on to say “let us see him forever as you and not as you” Let us see this statue and the title of Master Chief not the man who sullied the reputation of this legend.

    Sorry for my mad ravings but the description of Mark IV’s Helmet made me think of this again. A battered Mark IV helmet once worn by the Master Chief is the last thing that SPARTAN-IV candidates see before beginning their grueling evaluation and preliminary augmentation cycle.

    Locke seeing this had to be powerful to him

    I’ll stop here, Yes this is Locke from the archive. Thanks for writing these you are a huge reason of why i study on the lore harder and loving it more than anything. I strive to be a fraction as good as you.

    So Thank You.

  17. iRaiseHell says:

    As always, wonderful job! Reading all your post leading up to Halo 5 had me on the edge of my seat begging for this story. Excepting the story telling to advance and be better and more powerful.

    But none of that happened. Let down after let down… I will never play through the story again. I don’t want to remember any of it. I want to read more of how it should of been and leave it at that. Thank god for good multiplayer because I am done with the story of Halo after this upset.

  18. Avery says:

    Dude a great article and a beautiful piece on Juls story. 343 needs to hire you badly because you can redeem Halos story.

  19. glhicks says:


    Here we are now with a few months distance from the release of H5G – and if anything I now feel more disappointed with the game than I did after completing it back in October.

    The narrative of H5G made a mockery of the emotional impact of the ending of H4. There was, as you have said, not a single element of Master Chief comming to terms with anything. H5G, as delivered, is essentially a catalogue of missed opportunities and very badly handled attempts at character arcs.

    MC and Blue Team, as prestented, are little more than cyphers who have very little real impact on the narrative. It felt to me, at least, that 343i incorporated the Blue Team missions as an after thought because it suddenly occurred to someone that they should.

    I also felt that the resurrection (or whatever the correct term for briging a dead fictional AI character back to life is) of Cortana was a munumental mistake on 343i’s part. Then it being suggested that the fans don’t get the nuances of the character is little more than a pathetic cop-out.

    Cortana is an utter joke and a badly forced plot device. I’m left with the distinct impression that the actions of Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris are essentially irrelevant to the game narrative. The narrative would have played out pretty much exactly the same way even if Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris had not been present in the game at all.


  20. Pingback: Critical examination: Did Halo 5’s narrative missteps robb the title of it’s GOTY chances? | Halo Monitor

  21. TrueBlueHero says:

    haruspis I recommended your blog (and linked to this article) – in my analysis of press reactions!
    You inspired me to start writing about H5’s narrative myself!

    Critical examination: Did Halo 5’s narrative missteps robb the title of it’s GOTY chances?

  22. Excellent post: You voiced the falws in Halo 5’s story far better than I ever could.

    I didn’t really understand Halo 4’s story at the time of release, but after going back to it earlier this year, and taking the time to explore the lore outside the game itself, I thought 343 were pushing some really incredible stuff and I was looking forward to seeing how they would develop it. It’s just upsetting that they would seemingly throw everything away in the garbage and decide on a completely different direction, for reasons which are incomprehensible to me.

    The only thing which gives me optimism is that we know Halo 6 isn’t going to be the end, so there’s plenty of room to bring back what we’ve been given. But so far 343 don’t seem to be acknowledging the negative criticism.

  23. psychediver says:

    Very well written and considered.

  24. Al says:

    He spelled segue wrong. FAIL

  25. Pingback: What has caused Halo 5’s storytelling regression? – Halo Monitor

  26. TrueBlueHero says:

    Hey Haruspis, I would really like to stay in touch with you as I feel that we’re pulling in the same direction (giving people a voice that care about Halo’s storytelling).
    But there is no way to contact you directly!
    Probably you can write me on Xbox Live? My GT is TrueBlueHero!

    I’ve released another article on my blog:
    “What has caused Halo 5’s storytelling regression?”

    As neither of us writes on a regular basis I’m thinking of joining forces? Let me know what you think!

  27. Connor says:

    Awhile ago I stumbled upon your web page that links all the EU books and media on halo and as a casual halo player I wasn’t too interested. But one of the links caught my attention and after reading that article you wrote I was so inspired I bought 14 halo books the next day. I’m also following your recommend read order I believe as well and I’m currently on Ghosts of Onyx. The depth and detail you put into your ideas and recommendations amazes me and I wish they were what 343I went with. You should seriously be a writer for them. I love the detail you put into character paths and analysts and the questions you bring up and potential plot lines. Keep up this great work good sir!

  28. Eric says:

    Hi, just came across your Halo venting page. What an awesome write up about Halo 5 marketing lies. I can’t believe how much I agree with you. Just looking at game play of Halo5 is one of the best no complaints, but as you states Halo is all about the story and 343 screwed with it.

    thanks for expressing my disappointment🙂

  29. Pingback: Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Osiris | haruspis

  30. Pingback: Halo 5, Level-by-Level Analysis – Reunion | haruspis

  31. Adam says:

    Just came across your page and wanted to say thank you! I don’t always agree with your perspective on all things Halo, but I appreciate that you can articulate why you feel the way you do. I happen to agree that Halo 5 was fantastic in the level design and enemy design department, but a major letdown in the story department. I want to think that it was all Brian Reed’s fault, and that 343i should try to bring in a writer more like Chris Schlerf to shepherd the franchise. Unfortunately, I think the truth is a lot of the story decisions must have still needed approval from multiple levels within 343i, which has dampened my expectations for the franchise moving forward. As you mentioned, it’s particularly surprising in light of how well-written and built-up Halo 4’s story was.

    Again, thanks for the good read and keep it up!

  32. johnjoe117 says:

    I just wish they could have some consistency throughout the trilogy or saga. Halo 5 in terms of story telling could honestly be part of another franchise with how it relates to every other halo game.

  33. d0x360 says:

    I agree with some of your points but others I don’t. I love for example the didact may very well return. This is a game not a book, I there is a limit with whatlevelhappen in a single game and halo 5 may very well just be more setup that we won’t fully understand until halo 6.

    I’d imagine the didact being ultra pissed off when he awakens again to discover a human created ai has inherited the mantle and forerunner ai have once again betrayed him.

    That needs to be setup and in game story land that’s basically a full title unless of course you want horrid pacing like uncharted 4 where 90% of the game is dialog.

    Also consider certain book characters mean nothing to a majority of players. The books sell well but they aren’t read by most of the fanbase. 343 needs to be ultra careful what they include because if you don’t know a character then wtf is the point?

    I have trust in the team that they know where they are going and how we will get there. Yes the marketing was..very misleading but honestly chief vs Locke is a no contest fight.

    343 absolutely nailed level design and gameplay, they brought mp to a new modern level and while I agree that I would love at LEAST double the amount of story in the game…hell I’d love as much as possible we need to accept that they had to modernize the gameplay first and they did so I have faith with 6 they will be able to focus a lot more on story

  34. Pingback: Requiem Ruminations | haruspis

  35. Brandon says:

    We should take control of the universe and write fan fiction! The only reason this is happening is because 343’s gotta make the big bucks, but the thing about a story is that it has to be written the proper way. How 343 is handling it, it has become downright unbelievable. I am thinking about writing halo fiction for free simply because I’m sick of how 343 has been treating it. Halo has been dear to me for most of my life and its such an amazing story that has to be told properly, and money can’t do that.

  36. Pingback: Subtlety and Nuance – Reimagining Halo 5’s Cortana | haruspis

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