343 Industries has had a somewhat rough time picking up Bungie’s narrative torch. In the hands of its original developer, the Halo franchise told a cohesive story through the main trilogy and several side games. While a tale of a lone space marine taking on an alien menace won’t win any awards for originality, it was laser-focused on delivering massive set pieces and epic moments that players lived through in-game. The Halo games created by 343 Industries, in contrast, don’t always feel like they’re all part of one long narrative. Both Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians feel like puzzle pieces, and fans need to fill out the board with expanded universe content like novels in order to see the full picture. The sad truth is that quite a few of these books end up telling stories better than the Xbox games the Halo franchise revolves around.
Click the button below to start this article in quick view.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t Halo spinoffs in Bungie’s era, but the franchise’s creators didn’t seem concerned with integrating that material into their work. In some ways, they directly contradicted it, pushing the narrative of John-117 as the last remaining Spartan in a universe where he canonically teamed with several Spartan cohorts before and after his first adventure on the titular ringworld. For some fans, 343’s warm embrace of the wider lore is most welcome, but it had a significant effect on Halo‘s ability to draw in a wide audience with its single-player campaigns. When the big villain of Halo 4‘s adventure meets his fate in a comic book years before Halo 5: Guardians, the end result is a player base consisting of just the most faithful fans.
Halo Infinite looks to buck this trend by returning to many things that nostalgic fans of Halo: Combat Evolved might remember. However, it’s likely that 343 will also continue to reference the stories told outside the game, especially if Infinite hopes to fill a map the size of a Halo ring. To catch up on the best stories already told in the world of Halo novels, here are the best selections from across the long history of Master Chief fiction.
Must-Read Halo Novels: Eric Nyland’s Work
Eric Nyland wrote the very first Halo novels to expand on the lore and give readers a look beyond the games. Both The Fall of Reach and First Strike offered a story surrounding Halo: Combat Evolved that gave definition to a protagonist Bungie purposefully left blank. His works introduced the world to Master Chief’s Blue Team allies, Catherine Halsey, and more characters who would later find their way into both the games and spinoff media like the upcoming Paramount+ TV show. The scenes on Reach in Nyland’s first book would also go on to inspire much of Bungie’s own Halo: Reach, as they both depict the initial days of the conflict between the UNSC and Covenant forces.
Nyland would sadly only return once more to the series following his initial two works, but Ghosts of Onyx is quite the sendoff. While his first two novels focused on Master Chief’s birth as a Spartan and his trip home following the events of Combat Evolved, Ghosts of Onyx shifts away from John-117 and focuses on the Spartan-III program. When John’s wave of Spartan soldiers was mostly declared missing in action, the UNSC replaced them with a new program that recruited minors orphaned by the ongoing war. Onyx covers the beginnings of that program and the discovery of a Forerunner artifact that would narratively help bridge the gap between Bungie’s work on Halo and the story 343 Industries wanted to tell. All three books feature throughlines and story beats that serve as the backbone for every future story told in Halo‘s universe.
Must-Read Halo Novels: Bad Blood
Players of the well-received Halo 3: ODST got to explore the city of New Mombasa through a very different visor. The four Orbital Drop Shock Troopers players meet throughout ODST don’t show up in future games, but their story does pick up in a pair of novels written by Matt Forbeck. Starting with a short tome called Halo: New Blood and continuing with a full sequel titled Halo: Bad Blood, Buck, Dutch, Romeo, and Mickey continue to find their way in a changing UNSC. Dealing with feelings of disillusionment once fighting shifts from aliens to rebel factions, the story also explores the unseemly aspects of the UNSC and other Earth governmental bodies in this universe.
With Buck showing back up on Fireteam Osiris in Halo 5: Guardians and likely returning to future games due to his fan-favorite status, these stories also provide great context that’s missing from the game’s main plot. Buck tries to be a voice of reason to Spartan Locke in Halo 5 due to his years of experience, and players who have seen him struggle with his own band of brothers feel it even harder when the foolhardy leader of the team disregards his suggestions. Bad Blood is an excellent side story that hopefully allows the characters from ODST to reemerge in the games at some point in the future.
Must-Read Halo Novels: Fractures
The universe of Halo beyond the games is vast, with many characters and stories that wouldn’t fit into the confines of a first-person shooter. Halo: Fractures is a short story collection that reads like a primer on the greater universe. Each bite-sized story is written by a different author and serves as a gateway to a whole other branch of novels and extended fiction. Several of the stories, like Into the Fire and Promises to Keep, serve as connective tissue between other novels and introduce characters that have years of stories ahead of them. Because of this, the book serves as the ultimate sampler platter, a season of variety TV all about introducing someone to every corner of a franchise that is about much more than just shooting Halo’s aliens in their weak points.
In a way, this format could also be the driving force that makes the next Halo the 343 game that captures the magic of the original trilogy. While Halo Infinite will definitely have a narrative that continues on from the mostly derided revelations of Halo 5: Guardians, its open-world structure opens the door for a lot of side stories covering other corners of Halo’s extended universe. There is room for side stories featuring the cast of Halo 3: ODST, RTS title Halo Wars 2, and the best of the novels. In this way, maybe Infinite can find a narrative that satisfies everyone and forges its own path away from Bungie’s Halo trilogy.
Next: Halo Art Celebrates Series’ Past & Future For Xbox’s 20th Anniversary
Marvel Celebrates AAPI Heritage Month with Special One-Shot Comic
About The Author