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Halo And Its Great Journey

Well, it's about that time isn't it? Halo 4's release date rests a mere 3 days away, as of this writing, and we're finally going to find out if 343 Industries really pulled off the big job. The big job being Microsoft's most valuable, and profitable gaming IP, ever, and one that will either set the standard for all Halo games to come, or will send 343 back to the drawing board.

From what we've seen as far as review scores go, 343 has achieved that success despite the unbearably daunting task. Not only has it garnered critical acclaim from reviewers throughout the industry, but it's being called the best Halo title in the series by many of those who are giving out the review scores. While this is exciting, Halo 4's testing isn't even close to being over with. While there have some very nice things are being said, 343's first title still has fans to please, and tons of money that needs to be made before it could be considered successful. Not to say it won't sell well, but fan reaction is sure to dictate the sales of future games in the series.

For starters, it feels a little odd to see a studio other than Bungie handling this series that's been rabidly loved by many (including myself). Don't get me wrong, I have faith in 343 Industries. With people like Frank O' Conner (who is essentially the narrative compass for the series) being put in charge of the series after working on Halo for so long, I feel like it's in safe hands. It's just that, Bungie has held such a special place in the hearts and minds of gamer's since the original Halo, that saying goodbye to them after all of the good games they've put out is a little jarring. It's like losing an interior designer that's been decorating every house you've owned since your original property, and then taking on a new one that's been praised by your friends. You've got high hopes, and know that they'll do a good job, but you don't know if they really get what kind of look that you're going for. 

Who am I kidding though? I'm incredibly hyped up for Halo 4. I've been pouring over any story involving the game, and bombarding my twitter followers with whatever video I'm currently obsessing over at any given minute. After seeing the gameplay, reading the reviews, and getting into heated conversations with my fellow Halo fanboys, I feel that we've got a great new interior designer.

Before we get too far into the next phase of Halo's legacy, I'd like to stop and take a look back at the history of the series up to this point. After all, we wouldn't have this bad ass title approaching, without the bad ass titles that came before it.

Halo: Combat Evolved is still looked upon by many as the greatest game in the series. From the moment you step out of the crashed UNSC escape pod, and onto the forsaken ring that the series draws it's name from, the essentially takes you on a visual ride. It was this mysterious title dedicated to discovery, and wonderment, while also laying down the foundation of modern day shooters. The pacing, and guns, grenades, melee approach to combat is still found in the majority of the games that have us aim down a barrel, and had some of the best enemy AI to be found in any game at the time. Halo perfected the elements found in past shooters, and brought about the true dawn of the first person shooter.

It's successor, Halo 2, was released to overwhelmingly high expectations, and by most standards, exceeded its predecessor in many ways. It left behind some of that mystery that bled so profusely from Halo's edge's but also continued to polish the excellent smooth gameplay that the original title was so gushed over. Halo 2 also brought about an added sense drama in the form of the Arbiter. The Arbiter is an Elite (a race within the genocidal brotherhood called the Covenant) and the first character that we play as other than the Master Chief, as well as the first, and only time that we've gotten to play as the enemy. His tragic downfall, and then quest for redemption add a new layer to the Halo series, that I feel eventually led to the development of other story elements, the relationship between Cortana and Master Chief being a prime example.

After another long wait, Halo made its way to the newest (and current of course) generation, in the form of Halo 3. Once again, the game released to mountainous expectations, and to some didn't quite live up to those pesky standards. To the rest of us, it was a masterpiece. It brought about a satisfying end to a war that spanned books, graphic novels, and obviously the previous two video games. This is also the point where Halo got into a sales-war with a first person rival, by the name of Call of Duty 4, as both franchises made an absurd amount of cash within weeks after release. Halo 3 is my personal favorite Halo title, as it was the first game in the series to really try to pluck at our emotional chords with it's saddening ending, while meshing elements from both the first and second entries in the series resulting in the most well rounded Halo game I've played.

Not long after Halo 3, Bungie's desire to leave the franchise behind was starting to be hinted at, as Microsoft lost ownership over the studio, and Bungie became an independent. This all happened around a year before the release of Halo: ODST, one of my favorite Halo titles, that released to mixed reactions from critics, and fans alike. Many loved the change of pace caused by a change of mood, and pacing. Battles were reduced to a smaller scale, and the player was thrust into the shoes of a character that wasn't Master Chief. The story was a bit more somber, and Bungie made an attempt to make the player feel alone in a city taken over by the Covenant. Some felt alienated (puns!) by the somewhat short campaign, and the mood, but it was a title that proved that the Halo franchise had many other directions available to it that it could easily be sauntered off into.

The last Bungie title as we all know, was Halo Reach. A game, that once again released to mixed fan reaction. Reach sold well, just as its predecessors had, and attempted to show a more emotional side to the Halo series throughout the campaign, as it told the story of a planet on the verge of destruction, and the Spartans caught up in its coming fate. For me, Reach didn't quite deliver on the goal set by Bungie, as the title felt a bit rushed. You were constantly being pushed from checkpoint to checkpoint, and when something major happened to a character it felt heartless. Despite that aspect of the game, Halo Reach was still an incredibly fun experience, and in my opinion perfected the gameplay that had already been such a treasured aspect of the Halo series.

Looking back on the Halo franchise as a whole, it's easy to see why there's so much pressure on 343. I'm basically stating the obvious there. The thing that interests me the most moving forward, is how the fans react to Halo 4 following the recent trend of the Halo games. The past three games - while great - had a sort of divide among the fans of the series.

If the reviews are indeed correct, and Halo 4 brings together the elements that make Halo, Halo, and delivers on 343's promise of an engrossing, and emotional campaign, then I feel that the fans will have nothing to fear, and that divide will become a little more one-sided.

From what we've been shown of Halo 4 so far, is seeing a quite a few changes. New enemies and weapons are being introduced, and the focus is moving more towards story, as 343 tries to spin a new tale for Chief, and Cortana. Whether or not the new formula works, the Halo series is once again evolving. Here's to 343 and the changes they bring to this series we fans adore. Hopefully they all turn out to be for the better.

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