The story of Halo so far: What you need to know before playing Halo Infinite

There are two major Halo milestones on the horizon: The series’ 20th anniversary, and the launch of Halo Infinite. For those who lived through it, it can be hard to think that we first set foot on the titular Halo ring two decades ago now, and yet the fanbase for this game has only grown as the series has gone on. Despite dropping the number, Halo Infinite is technically the sixth game in the mainline series, but there are even more spinoff games, and even more expanded media outside of games.

While the lore of Halo spans literally thousands, if not millions, of years, you don’t have to go back to the very beginning to understand what is going on with the Master Chief in preparation for Halo Infinite. However, new fans, or older fans who have been waiting for this game a very long time, may not be familiar with the events leading up to this latest adventure with our favorite Spartan II. If you need a refresher on the events that bring us up to the start of this game, without getting bogged down in the complex lore that only die-hard fans really need to dig into, then we’re here to catch up in time for Halo Infinite. 

Spoiler alert: It should be obvious considering the nature of this article, but yes, we’re spoiling just about all the Halo games’ plots ahead. That includes Halo Wars, Halo: Reach, Halo: Combat Evolved: Halo 2, Halo: ODST, Halo 3, Halo 4, Halo 5: Guardians, and Halo Wars 2. Read on prepared to have those games spoiled if you haven’t played them.

Further reading

Halo Wars

Halo Wars was, and still kind of is, one of the black sheep of the Halo franchise. It’s an RTS, not FPS, doesn’t feature Master Chief, and there isn’t even a mention of a Halo. So, why is it important? Well, it sets up the entire conflict of the first several games, and characters here will actually swing back around and become very important in setting up what’s going on in Halo Infinite.

Set in 2532, which is six years into humanity’s war with the Covenant and 20 years before Halo: Combat Evolved, the game follows the commander of the UNSC warship Spirit of Fire, Captain James Cutter, who is engaged in battle on the planet Harvest where they have been ordered to investigate the Covenant that have set up bases there. As it turns out, the Covenant, under the command of an Arbiter (not to be confused with the Arbiter from Halo 2), have been digging out ancient Forerunner technology under the surface. The human forces defeat the Covenant at the dig site and discover that the tech was actually a map that would lead the Covenant to another human-occupied planet known as Arcadia.

The crew of the Spirit of Fire proceed to Arcadia, chasing after the Covenant, and attempt to fight off the alien threat while evacuations are made. The defense is successful, but the Arbiter does manage to kidnap Ellen Anders, the Spirit of Fire’s scientist and Forerunner expert. The crew gets back aboard their ship and chases after the Arbiter to an undiscovered planet. Here humanity first encounters a threat even greater than the Covenant, the Flood. But they also learn that the planet itself is hollow, and within the shell is a small sun. The Covenant plan on activating a hidden fleet of Forerunner ships within this planet as a secret weapon to finally win the war against humanity.

Anders manages to escape while the Covenant are activating the Forerunner ships, and the crew decides to try and obliterate the new fleet before the Covenant can escape with it by removing and overloading their own faster-than-light engine within the miniature sun to cause it to go supernova. The crew kill the Arbiter and his team attempting to stop them, but the engine was damaged and can no longer be detonated remotely. Forge, the ship’s Sergeant, stays behind to manually detonate the engine as the Spirit of Fire escapes. However, no longer being able to travel at faster-than-light speeds, the crew has no choice but to enter cryo sleep until they are rescued.

Halo: Reach

Twenty-one years later, the Covenant are still advancing on humanity, wiping out nearly every colony we have, and have just discovered one of humanity’s strongest military outposts, Reach. The important thing about this planet you need to know beforehand is that this is where the Spartan program was born, producing the genetically modified super soldiers like the Master Chief, who won’t be making an appearance just yet. Master Chief is a Spartan II, while the main characters of Reach are Spartan IIIs, which are slightly-less-super super-soldiers, but easier to make.

Noble Six is the newest Spartan addition to Noble Team, a squad of Spartan IIIs stationed on Reach just before the Covenant ambush the planet. While on a mission to check up on a comms relay, they find that the Covenant have found and are invading Reach and are immediately put to work defending Sword Base. Sword Base is where Dr. Halsey, creator of the Spartan program, is stationed. After rescuing Halsey, the team is sent on various missions across Reach to try and repel the Covenant forces, including the assault on a Covenant supercarrier in space. As the team goes on more missions, more members of Noble Team begin to fall, and it becomes more and more clear that Reach can’t be saved.

Noble Team is eventually directed to go back to Sword Base by Halsey to retrieve an artifact she has that she insists is the key to winning the entire Covenant war. Spoiler alert, it kind of is. This artifact turns out to be the A.I. Cortana, which they need to bring to the ship the Pillar of Autumn to be taken off of Reach. More of Noble Team are granted noble (get it?) deaths as they fight their way to the shipyard. Eventually, only Noble Six remains to deliver Cortana to Captain Keyes of the Pillar of Autumn. Noble Six is forced to stay behind, however, and use a massive turret to cover the Autumn’s escape. Noble Six is eventually overwhelmed and dies on Reach.

Halo: Combat Evolved

Taking place directly after Halo: Reach, we finally meet our main protagonist of the series, Master Chief, as he is woken up aboard the Pillar of Autumn. Keyes used Cortana to pilot the ship through slipspace, arriving near the titular ringed structure we will come to know as Halo. Unfortunately, the Covenant were not far behind, attacking the ship and forcing Master Chief to team up with Cortana and evacuate onto the Halo’s surface.

After a hot landing, Chief and Cortana round up as many survivors as possible in an attempt to survive the still-pursuing Covenant forces. They soon learn that Keyes has been taken captive, so they launch a rescue mission, learning the name of Halo and that the Covenant think it is some kind of Forerunner weapon. Not knowing what, or how, it could be used, they unanimously agree that it would be better not to find out. While Keyes goes looking for weapons, Chief and Cortana head to the control room. After accessing the computers here, Cortana discovers that something sinister is hiding on the ring and urges Chief to go find Keyes.

Here the Flood finally shows up again, canonically anyway. This parasitic hivemind infects any sentient life, assimilating it into their own ranks with rapid efficiency. The Flood, now loose on Halo, awaken another important character, 343 Guilty Spark, who is an A.I. in charge of maintaining Halo. He (or they?) insist that Master Chief turn on Halo’s defense system to contain the Flood, which poses a massive threat to the entire galaxy if it escapes. That makes sense, but Cortana realizes in the nick of time that the so-called defense systems Spark intends for Master Chief to activate will actually kill off all sentient life in the galaxy, and not the Flood. Basically, it would only end up killing the Flood because it wouldn’t have any sentient life left to feed on. Not a good deal, really.

Instead, Chief and Cortana just decide it would be better to blow the whole thing up, which they could do by overloading the Pillar of Autumn’s reactors. The only problem is that Keyes is the only one with the ship’s activation codes. They track down the Captain, who had been absorbed by the Flood, and get the codes off him. Triggering the Autumn to explode, Chief and Cortana make a thrilling escape, avoiding Flood and Covenant forces, and manage to board a ship and make it away from the massive explosion. Unknown to them at the time, Guilty Spark also managed to survive the Halo’s destruction.

Halo 2

You know that one elite from Halo: Combat Evolved? The one that was apparently in charge of stopping you from blowing up their holy superweapon? No? Doesn’t matter, he was there the whole time, trust us. Anyway, he’s not doing so good since the leaders of the Covenant blame him for, you know, the whole blown-up Halo thing. Instead of killing him, though, they make him the next Arbiter. Meanwhile, Master Chief is given a fancy medal for blowing up Halo back on the main fleet orbiting Earth.

We also learn a lot more about how the Covenant work, such as their three leaders being the High Prophets of Truth, Regret, and Mercy, plus a new race called the Brutes that fill their ranks. All you really need to know about them is that they worship anything made by the Forerunners, and specifically believe that activating Halo is the way to achieve salvation through a “great journey.” But, since it turns out humanity are the only ones who can actually activate Halos, these Prophets decide to wipe us all out to cover up the fact that their “religion” i

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