State of Halo: Is This ‘AAA’ Franchise Being Relegated to the Back of the FPS Pack?

Halo’s popularity reached a fever pitch with the launch of Halo 2 (some would say it was the sole reason for owning an Xbox) and sustained a good chunk of its momentum with the launch of Halo 3 on Xbox 360. However, with the release of Xbox’s most expensive add-on Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Armor Lock Reach, the XBL population began to dwindle more rapidly than previous Halo titles. The precipitous drop-off in population continued with the launch of Halo 4. As of mid-July, Halo 4 rests at #8 on the XBL charts with almost no sign of regaining momentum. A quick perusal of ‘fan-sites‘ has plenty of reasons for the decline of this stalwart franchise ranging from 343 Industries not knowing how to make a proper Halo game to the inclusion of Armor Abilities still ruining the core gameplay of Halo yore. This begs the question: Are we witnessing the demise of the Halo franchise as we know it, or are the concerns overblown?

Comparing where the Halo series is to where it was, we are definitely a long way from the original Xbox days when Halo sat alone at the top. Where Halo 1 defined the console LAN gaming experience, Halo 2 followed it up years later by becoming the online multiplayer boilerplate for other titles to follow (I can hear a few SOCOM diehards vehemently disagreeing, but you’re definitely in the minority). However, no game or series can stay at the top forever. It seems just like yesterday gamers were waiting hand over fist for the next entry in both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series. Market saturation played a major role in the demise of both of them, and to some degree has hurt the reputation of the Halo brand.

Halo 2

I can’t help but feel at the time Halo 3: ODST was conceived, having already conquered the console multiplayer market, Microsoft and Bungie went for a new challenge and attempted to dethrone the defacto single-player franchise at the time, Grand Theft Auto. It was even hyped as a vast open-world experience akin to the GTA series. The final product came nowhere near matching the hype and certainly didn’t justify the $60 price point. Bungie’s vision of an open-world experience consisted of finding dead squadmates (5 in total), ‘flashback’ missions, and an occasional dropship encounter with the Covenant in a drab and dimly lit world. As for that critically praised multiplayer? Pretty much non-existent, with ODST only including a few Halo 3 multiplayer maps (which no one ever played) and the new ‘Firefight’ mode, a multiplayer version of ‘Survival Mode’. While Microsoft and Bungie were trying to conquer the single-player market with Halo 3: ODST, a relatively low-key franchise (in the console circles at least) known as Call of Duty was gaining serious momentum. However, Bungie had one more Halo title waiting in the wings and it seemed their reign of dominance in the multiplayer market would continue.

Well, that was my naive opinion before I played Halo: Reach.

I harken back to this Bungie ViDoc titled Carnage Carnivale. This ViDoc pre-dated the Halo: Reach beta and showcased the new armor abilities. As stated in the video, the beta was meant to collect feedback, find breaks in code, and perform balancing tweaks. Unfortunately for players, their suggestions seemed to fall on deaf ears. The overpowered Armor Lock ability, which is excitedly proclaimed as ‘super powerful’ and ‘insane’ around the 03:45 mark of the ViDoc, made its way to retail release. For the uninitiated, Armor Lock granted temporary but complete invulnerability from EVERYTHING. If you were about to get hit with a rocket, Armor Lock let you live. If you got stuck with a plasma grenade, Armor Lock absorbed the explosion. If someone was about to kill you with the sword, Armor Lock deflected the lunge. On the cusp of being killed? No worries, Armor Lock will give plenty of time for reinforcements to assist. To solely blame Armor Lock for Halo: Reach ‘s failings would be short-sighted. I haven’t even delved into bloom, sprint, and jetpack. Even Reach’s expanded Forge Mode had the unfortunate side effect of making the paid DLC worthless with players voting for custom maps over DLC in matchmaking. To this day, I haven’t played a single map on the Defiant Map Pack in matchmaking. It was quite obvious after playing Halo: Reach for a couple of weeks and seeing the ‘Occupy Halo 3 ‘ posts that it didn’t match up well against Call of Duty.

Halo 3

This past November, Halo 4 was released with a new developer at the helm and some stiff competition from Battlefield and Call of Duty. While the initial population was quite high, it has taken a steep decline in recent months. Part of this can be attributed to the less-than-stellar reception of the ‘casual friendly’ gameplay elements such as ordinance drops and sprint. Spartan Ops, the co-op story mode that would be the new ‘water cooler’, was ultimately a unique but dull experience. The uninspired Crimson Map Pack DLC, created by what I assume are now unemployed map designers, did little to stimulate a sagging population. And yet, despite its shortcomings and modest ranking on the XBL charts, I feel very optimistic for the future of the Halo franchise.

Beginning with Halo 4’s multiplayer, 343 Industries has done a lot of listening and incorporating community feedback into the game. The post-launch vacation may have been a bit too long for some, but there’s no arguing once they got around to making changes, the community has responded positively. It began in February where they rebalanced the Boltshot range. Some still argue that the Boltshot should no longer be a starting weapon, but by and large no one has asked for the range to be reverted. When Forgers wanted a larger space to craft their levels, 343 released Forge Island for free despite Forge creations competing directly with their DLC revenue. After months of testing, the weapon rebalancing update was launched in June making primaries (other than the DMR) useful. Right around the corner, 343 is bringing back Halo 3 favorite ‘The Pit’ with the Champions Bundle DLC. And all the while, 343 has been adding and updating Matchmaking playlists such as Grifball, Action Sack, Multi-Team, and more. Lost in all the backlash, Halo 4 is the best looking X360 multiplayer title with a rock-solid framerate, something Bungie didn’t achieve on the X360 hardware for any of their titles.

On the ‘story-content’ side of things, I liked 343’s take on the Prometheans and found them to be far more interesting enemies than the Brutes. Unlike others out there, I found Halo 4’s story (minus the ending) to actually be quite captivating, mainly because of the constant duress Cortana was under. And while Spartan Ops missed the mark, I applaud 343 for trying something so ambitious and believe they’ll hit paydirt on their second crack at it.

Halo 4

Has Halo lost its edge? A bit — otherwise it would be near or at the top of the XBL charts. The Modern Military shooters rule the roost at the moment, but Halo isn’t disappearing anytime soon. In comparison to titles like Gears of War: Judgement , which can sooner be found at a used game store than the ‘Top 20 LIVE Titles’ , or fatigued franchises like Resident Evil and Final FantasyI’d say Halo is in a pretty enviable spot at the moment. Microsoft appears undeterred by the criticism banking the series is popular enough to warrant another sequel and a new TV show.

So please, can we stop with the ‘Occupy Halo 3 ‘ movements already?

  • xkingxnitemare

    this is true to a point. but i think more than anything it was the rise of the COD generation that slowed down what halo was and formed what halo is now. having to change and evolve things to try and keep up. But i think Halo can be saved if they do the next gen right. and 60 FPS 1080p will be a good start. New hardware, new generation..COD starting to stale is a opportunity 343 and other companies to break the COD syndrom mold and start making games the way they want to again. they have a bigger opportunity to rejuvenate and do some cool things. I wouldnt count them out yet. they might not make billions in revenue with the next one. but Halo will be far from dead. Lets see if 343 rises to the challenge.

    • Ultimately, what’s sad about it is that Microsoft seems to be more about CoD than Halo nowadays. I remember back in the day, Halo was THE number one game! The pinnacle of multiplayer gaming on console and had the largest gaming community. Halo has legacy, I mean, It was Halo after all that made it an industry standard for first person and even third person shooters to utilize both analog sticks the way we do today! I still remember being used to playing FPS with 1 stick and auto aim, and playing Halo: CE, learning how to use the right stick to aim and kept getting my ass dragged across every map! Halo 4 released and Microsoft be like “Yeah we have a new Halo game. Spent billions, made billions” But with CoD they go out of their way to help CoD be a more popular shooter on Xbox. With exclusive deals partly funded by the money WE pay for LIVE(or so one gamer soundly theorized… )and it hurts my heart as a gamer to have to accept that this is true..I love the Halo franchise to death and I don’t blame 343 at all for this apparent drop in popularity on XBL. I blame Microsoft for their complacency regarding their own IPand it’s fans and their incessant pandering to the more “casual” audience and I don’t mind that to a lesser extent, but would you really sacrifice the face of Microsoft Xbox for the casual audience that for the most part well prefers CoD over Halo? Why help your competitor overtake your own game on your own platform?

      • Well said. Never thought of it that way. It makes sense that MS sees the popularity of COD and wants to capitalize on it. Sadly, like you say, that means Halo gets the shaft.

    • virtualmatrix258

      1080p 60fps? Bahaha…it’s console gaming. There is no 1080p 60fps lol.

  • WarBroh

    Company releasing the same game over and over one-upped by other company releasing the same game over and over.

    We’ll have the full story and a look at the weekend weather at 11

  • Axe99

    SOCOM diehard on record as disagreeing ;). Halo was great for its time, of course, but while it was a revelation on console, it felt very Quake-ey to me. SOCOM, on the other hand, was a whole new ballpark. And ran on dedicated servers to boot, which never hurts ;). Both great but very different games, and both laid different types of foundations for online MP gaming. Agree that Halo isn’t quite the stand-out it once was, but then it has a lot more quality competition these days, and it’s still a very well managed brand with a great underlying story/universe, and core (and, unlike SOCOM, far more accessible) gameplay that will remain enjoyable for the foreseeable future, so I wouldn’t see it going anywhere soon. Unlike poor ‘ole SOCOM, which is in all sorts of trouble (hopefully it’ll be H-Hour to the rescue ;)).

  • Katana67

    I found Halo 4’s singleplayer story to be incredibly boring, mostly because of it’s unnecessary addition of the Prometheans as a “new” enemy as part of justifying making another game. Halo 4 was profoundly -not- about the traditional military sci-fi that the Halo franchise is built upon.

    I don’t get this aversion to stories like in Reach. Reach, in my mind, was on par with Halo 1 in all respects. It was a great story, and I’m far more interested in the franchise exploring new characters who aren’t legendary SPARTANs (like Marines, ODST, UNSC Army, and lesser known SPARTANs). Master Chief is great, but I could care less at this point. Likewise with Cortana, I felt her “constant duress” as you put it, to be insanely overbearing and irritating.

    • Joseph

      wow, what is your take on MP then?

      • Katana67

        If that was a subtle jab at this site being MP focused and my comment being SP, then I’d probably ask the author of the article about his extensive coverage of the SP of Halo games.

        If it was a serious question, Halo MP has always been great. I have never been better at any other MP, than I was at Halo 1/2/3. Reach was wonderful as well, and I think it was a logical step forward given the new paradigm (The rise of CoD:MW). Though it did certainly have flaws, like the “Armor Lock” specialization listed above, it was a delightful MP game.

        That said, it wasn’t without drawbacks. A constant drawback of the Halo MP is that it simply takes too long to kill folks. Yes, I get that it’s what Halo is all about (i.e. Being a SPARTAN, having regenerative shields, etc.) but as a personal preference, I like people to die when I shoot them and not require a massive amount of rounds to bring down.

        Halo’s faults also lie with the fact that weapons are finite and placed on the map as such, so that there is a tendency for people to camp weapon spawns and the like so that they just hog them. Nothing explicitly wrong with this, it’s just a legacy system that seems a bit outdated. I know I never had any problems with it, but my friends would always get irate with me that I -always- got the sniper rifle.

        Halo 4, however, seemed all bad when I played it (which wasn’t for very long so take that with a grain of salt). The maps seemed wholesale uninspired and small, the gameplay was hyper streamlined to the point of being boring, and I still felt that the MP itself was betraying the military sci-fi focus of Halo. That, and it never really “looked” like a Halo game to me. The Promethean weapons, coupled with the Promethean scenery, as well as 343’s new SPARTAN armor designs, never really felt Halo-y to me.

        • Joseph

          I was being serious. I read your first comment and was interested on your take of the MP, that’s pretty much where I’m at with it too man(girl), Halo 4 is a pretty horrible game to play, I think I put in about 70 hours on it in total and had some EPIC ownage games where I consistently came out on top,but it still doesn’t stop me from disliking the game and the enjoyment out of it is…well…simply not there at all, hopefully halo 5 comes out better than 4…
          Lets just not get into bf3 😛

  • SubXero

    I may get skewered for this but maybe Halo should move towards more of a squad/team based MP game with defined rolls and an emphasis on objective game modes. Maybe something more like TF2 or BF. Probably wouldn’t hurt to up the player count when doing something like that either.

  • Sgt. Mofo

    Hey everyone – thanks for reading, and I really enjoyed reading all most of the comments so far. One thing I didn’t mention in the article is if you really enjoy custom games and find the included options somewhat ‘lacking’, you should definitely check out Great repository of custom maps and modes + people host custom game lobbies all the time.

    • WarBroh

      No offense but in the interest of full disclosure, was this a sponsored article?

      I’m genuinely curious why else anyone besides 343 or MS would be so concerned about Halo’s particular position on sales charts.

      • Since he hasn’t seen your Q just yet, Ill answer as his editor: Definitely not. Tom is quite the passionate guy about Halo and just loves to talk about it / analyze it / fap to it (lol, just kidding).

        I think I speak for him as well when I say we both wish a bright future for Halo.

      • Sgt. Mofo

        Not sure how you discerned that considering I said ODST wasn’t worth $60 and I wasn’t too complementary about Halo: Reach either. If Microsoft paid for an article like that, they’d probably want their money back.

        tl;dr – No, it’s not a sponsored article.

  • YinYang27

    All games seem to have their highest point. If Halo is reaching their’s I don’t know. But with DICE and Frostbite 3 getting more and more ambitious Battlefield could be the game that people think of when you say FPS. We’ve already seen less pre-orders for COD Ghosts. So maybe BF4 could cause Halo to reach it’s highest point.

    • RoderickVI

      Id really like that, BF series are great at what they do and i love them for that (despite all the issues) adding a more tactical arcade game to the fps market, but the arcade core gameplay should go to halo, first its more old school truely representing what fps is and was. and its not a washed up game to seem different as cod is

  • it’s not just 343, as the article states with Reach, Bungie played a part too, it was the pre concept plan for Destiny.

    • RoderickVI

      when bungie made the desition to kill master chief they should have stopped the games, the spinnofs ruined the franchise.

      Them 343 could have made Halo 4 directly after Halo 3 (cause it was already in development when Halo 3 shipped)

      Halo 4 could be the 5 year sequel and make a rebirth to halo instead of an overbore.

      Im sure Halo 5 which according to what we know might be open world or have enormous single player scenaries and mp maps. It might be the way to make a change for good in the game while still continuing the longtimed story.

  • Coming into it as a bit of a noob – Halo 4 being my first ‘serious’ multiplayer foray in the series – I’m really excited to see where 343 will take Halo 5, given the brand new hardware (60 FPS, 1080p) and the amount of feedback they must have received over the course of Halo 4’s lifetime. My personal gripe was the rather bland selection of maps and the fact that all of the cool ones were introduced later through DLC, which was barely ever played.

    I’m quite hopeful for Halo 5, however. Quinn (multiplayer designer of Halo 4 who joined the team only recently) seems to be steering things in the right direction, proof being in the last major weapon tune/gameplay update.

    Coming from a Battlefield/Call of Duty background, 343 made Halo 4 much more playable for me, but I can see how it upset the “real” fans. I enjoy the much faster-paced gameplay compared to previous Halo’s and I do really hope that carries over to Halo 5, but then again, I don’t know. Maybe that doesn’t belong in Halo. Thoughts?

    • Scott | MassNERDerer

      I struggled to get into Halo, also CoD/BF background, and have never given Halo 4 a chance. I like the idea of picking up the pace a bit, but also found a steep learning curve in previous series, so hopefully the new match making for next gen systems will help that as well.

    • Joseph

      Play a game of Halo 3 and you’ll see where Halo 4 went so horribly wrong with it’s MP, Halo 3 was the first game I ever played online and I thoroughly enjoyed it for 3 years before the population died out a lot from CoD and BF3, but it was the best/most fun game I have yet to play.

      The biggest problems with Halo 4 for me are:
      the UI (it’s ugly, feels horrible and that UNSC logo rapes my xbox)

      Ordinance Drops. Worst idea ever.
      Vehicles. So weak you wonder what the point is..I might as well be in a box of play-doh while that guy shoots molten fucking lava at me.
      Weapons, all over the place. They actually did a good job with the balancing I must say. But it was too little too late for me.

      Forge mode. I was never a fan but it’s worse than Halo 3, which isn’t good.

      Spartan Ops, it was actually kind of fun in co-op with a decent storyline. Dem cut-scenes.

      The most retarded thing about the game is the matchmaking. I paid 90euro for the limited edition on release day, so I got the season pass. I never once played on any of the DLC maps…..what a waste! Why put achievements/maps into a game if you can’t play it? WAKE UP!

      343 had better make some changes..maybe play some halo 3 for a bit?

      In saying all of that though, the campaign was fucking awesome and the graphics blew my mind at every turn. But that’s not what makes a game. :/

  • R.I.P. Halo

    343 had a blank check to build Halo 4. What came from it was a waste of money and time apparently. With no beta testing and nothing but terribly balanced weapons and abilities there wasn’t much else to expect. Let’s not forget the terrible maps as well that are being built out of house. It’s just a sad excuse to keep making what money they can. True halo died with Halo 3 before ODST and i don’t think it will ever be back. Now a days it seems more like CoD, just pump out as much of the same as you can and get the numbers that they can and they are happy with it. 343 stated that some of the people didn’t even like halo, what the f#*$k is that? Halo 4 was built for campaign and spartan ops and multiplayer was a distant thought. The only thing that leaves me a little hope for the future is Bravo, Quinn, and the Blizzard man that i cant remember his name that designs BA ranking systems. Halo 4 was and is a flop and it will be hard pressed to keep peoples attention i think with the next gen. I love halo, but i suppose like it has been said, once your on top there is only one place to go!

  • Brandon Stern

    I LOVE the Halo IP, it was got me really interested into gaming back in 2001. I loved the original trilogy, disliked ODST, and hated Reach. I actually really enjoy Halo 4, I love how fast paced it is, and armor abilities are balenced and spice up gameplay.

    I just hate how 343 left so much great content out of the game, for example;

    1. No playable Elites
    2. No UNSC air vehicle in multiplayer
    3. The Jiralhanae (Brutes) being absent along with all of their awesome weapons and vehicles.
    4. Theater mode not being available for campaign and Spartan Ops.
    5. FireFight being absent.
    6. No Flood to fight against (the MP mode does not count).
    7. No Drones, Engineers, or as I mentioned above Brutes.
    8. Forge being toned down in terms of features.
    9. Classic gamemodes (Assault, Race, Juggernaut, etc.) not being in the game.
    10. In-game CSR (Competitive Skill Rank) the 1-50 system has been added to Halo 4, but you have to go online to Halo Waypoint just to view yours and your friends.

  • MexicanBNR

    what i wanna see is halo origins, play as master cheif being abducted, injected with serums, him going through training. his first squad missions, losing his squad members, the invasion of harvest, play as mother fuggin sgt. johnson at some point. something like that would be great.

    • Joseph

      But he’s a kid in most of that………………….it wouldn’t work.
      Edit: read the books though if you haven’t already.

      • MexicanBNR

        yeah i’ve read them. but halo is getting stale. the multiplayer need to be way for difficult and really agressive just putting out ideas.

  • xHDx

    I love this Franchise. It has provided an amazing cooperative experience throught all of their games. I remember trying to get the 3 Vidmaster achievements with 3 friends, it was much more enjoyable than any other cooperative game i have ever played by far. The story line seemed to last for ages even when playing with friends. And finding the easter eggs throught the series like the teddy bears, the grunt which was friendly on the last mission of halo 3.

    After i heard Bungie was no longer leading the franchise, I knew it wouldn’t the be as good as it originally would have been. I hated Halo 4 because of how it played, and how the Forge games were runied by missed out features and the lack of input on the maps. It was rediculous to see that a map was about 1/30th of forge world. But anyways, I enjoyed the series or what remained of it, and I hear it still isn’t over!

  • Alco

    I love me some MP1st, but I hope the current state of Halo 4’s multiplayer vindicates my declaration of this being “the single worst review I have ever seen on this site.”

    Even with articles like this, I still feel that Halo 4’s multiplayer has gone severely undercriticized. It is, without question, the absolute poorest Halo multiplayer offering to date, and by a long shot.

    People have failed to recognize that Bungie was (and perhaps will prove to still be) the world’s preeminent console shooter developer. They were able to, way back in 2004, marry AAA gameplay with a comprehensive suite of features and create an online experience so profound that its competitors weren’t able to offer anything on par with them until (without exaggeration) 2012. Even then, only two developers–Treyarch and DICE–come to mind as having been able to deliver something similar in the console shooter realm.

    And yet the masses thought to themselves that a studio created out of thin air with a design team manned by essentially random people with barely any previous ties to Halo would be able to come in, make sweeping changes to gameplay, and still satisfy fans that had become accustomed to the best of the best. Laughable. Looking past the work that’s been done since launch (which, it should be noted, has ultimately been futile), the game on Day 1 was an absolute embarrassment. A laughing stock among people knowledgeable about Halo and the shooter market.

    You say you still have hopes? Well, admittedly, I still kind of do too, but it’s hard to derive confidence from a developer that in terms on communicating their thoughts and interacting with their community in a meaningful way are DEAD LAST when compared to other top shooter devs.

    Until the day comes when 343 openly apologizes and declares the charting of a new course in a clear and specific fashion, I do not wish them well professionally and I hope their salaries dry up.

  • zakrocz

    I think the main issue with Halo mp is that it looks pretty dated now, including the gameplay. I had a lot of fun online in Halo 1 on PC but each new Halo, the mp just looks like the same game and I think a lot of gamers are just bored with it.

  • roland0811

    First three Halos were awesome to me. Everything after that felt like a bunch of subpar half-assed filler. Halo 4 included….it’s just absolutely terrible.

  • Oerba

    Series died with Reach. Selectable starting classes, lower jump height, bloom, “perks” like Armor and Jetpack made the series feel like it was trying to be COD in the disguise of Halo. Then 4 adds killstreaks? Yeah, never touching the game again.

  • Mark Lenz

    Games like Halo that remain exclusives to one system will NEVER reach the profit & popularity of games like the CoD and Battlefield series.

    TitanFall will pay dearly when they release and see their sales numbers never hitting expectations when it releases on the XBone.

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