From the inception of the franchise in 2001, Halo’s fiction has only grown more complicated. Multiple games, novels, comic books, toys, animated features, and other media have created a rich tapestry of characters and storylines – but gamers new to the franchise could be forgiven if they felt a little lost at times. Without a doctorate in Halo-ology, what does a newcomer need to know?

Last week, Jeff Marchiafava sent up the Halo franchise with an great funny recap of the Halo series for folks who don't especially care about the details of the story. You should check it out; it's quite amusing. For folks about to dive in to Halo 4, you may want a slightly more comprehensive summary of the story so far, so here we are here to help with an updated version of our Abbreviated Halo Fiction article.   

So when is Halo set?
It’s the 26th century. Humanity has been hard at work exploring and colonizing the galaxy. A discovery called Slipspace technology allows for faster than light travel, and our species is spreading far and wide. The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) governs and protects a huge number of planets and people across the galaxy.

Who are the Spartans, and who is this Master Chief guy?
Humanity still doesn’t always get along with itself, even some five centuries into the future. Many of the outlying colonies want to rule themselves, and rebellions against the UNSC become a big problem. To combat the threat, the military creates a secret super-soldier program – the Spartans. The Spartan-I soldiers were mentally and physically augmented marines, but the subjects eventually had too many side effects from their treatments to be viable.

The Spartan-IIs were the brainchild of Dr. Catherine Halsey, a genius human scientist who kidnapped exceptional children from their homes and prepared them from birth for the program. Training them from childhood, enhancing their abilities with genetic manipulation, and gifting them with incredibly advanced protective suits called MJOLNIR armor, the Spartan-IIs were humanity’s super-soldiers – and they proved it in countless battles, first against the human rebels, and later against the Covenant.

Master Chief is the leader of the Spartan-IIs. He’s almost always referred to by his rank. His lesser-known name is John-117: His original name (John) combined with his number on the list of potentially viable children for the program (117).

Who or what are the Covenant?
One of two groups of “bad guys” that antagonizes humans through most of the Halo games. The Covenant is actually an organization, not a race. The collective is comprised of several alien races working together. They control a big part of the galaxy. They’re obsessed with a long-lost alien race called the Forerunners, around whom they’ve built a religion. They see humanity as a blight on those religious beliefs, and aim to destroy them.

So who are these Forerunners?
Good question. Glad you’re paying attention. The Forerunners were an alien race that was around a hundred thousand years ago, and they left behind a lot of technology. They ruled the Milky Way galaxy until an extra-galactic threat called the Flood showed up.

The Flood. Those are the other bad guys, right?
Exactly. The Flood is a parasitic lifeform that nearly wiped out the Forerunner’s advanced galactic civilization. They can infect any organism of reasonable biomass and take it over. In order to combat the threat, the Forerunners were forced into a desperate gambit. They built giant weapon installations, collectively called the Halo Array, to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy and thereby defeat the Flood. To preserve as much as they could, the Forerunners built an Ark, where they kept samplings of a huge number of species. The Ark was built far away from the Halo Array to keep the species safe. The Forerunners fired the Halo Array, starving the Flood of their food source, and then reseeded the galaxy with all the races they’d kept safe on the Ark, including humanity.

So that’s where the name of the game comes from?
Yep. In the first game, Master Chief and his allies arrive unexpectedly at one of the Halo facilities, which looks like a giant ring world. The idea that one of these Halo weapons may be fired again, thus wiping out life in the galaxy, is one of the major threats in the games.

[Next up: I've got the backstory. What happens in the actual games?]