Playing Halo Games in Chronological Order
Halo is a military science fiction media brand created by Bungie that is now managed and produced by 343 Industries, a division of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios. The first-person shooter computer game Halo: Combat Evolved and its tie-in novel, The Fall of Reach, established the franchise in 2001. Halo Infinite, the most recent main game, was published in 2021.
Combat Evolved began as a real-time strategy game before evolving into a first-person shooter and being released as an exclusive on Microsoft’s new Xbox video game console following Bungie’s acquisition by the firm. Bungie recovered its independence in 2007 and continued to release Halo games until 2010. Microsoft founded 343 Industries to direct the brand in the future and has produced games both independently and in collaboration with other teams.
As with most series, the Halo games may be approached in two ways: chronologically by release date or chronologically by plot. The decision is yours, and both options are detailed below, beginning with the narrative chronology.
These concise plot synopses, written with series novices in mind, contain only light spoilers such as general plot points, settings, and character introductions.
1. The Halo Wars series (2531)
Halo Wars is the series’ first game, set 21 years before the events of Halo: Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo Wars takes place in the early days of the Human-Covenant War, a struggle begun by the extraterrestrial Covenant to preserve the false principles on which its religion was based. Halo Wars features UNSC forces onboard the Spirit of Fire and the Red Team of Spartan-II supersoldiers as they combat the Covenant across the worlds Harvest and Arcadia, as well as the Forerunner facility Shield 0459. (aka Trove).
The first of two real-time strategy spinoffs is Halo Wars. Halo Wars 2 takes place between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.
2. Halo: Reach (2552)
Halo: Reach takes place 21 years later, in the summer of 2552. On the planet Reach, one of humanity’s most successful colonies, the Noble Team begins its conflict with the Covenant. Noble Team, which included the playable character Noble Six, was vastly outnumbered in their combat, but their efforts allowed the ship Pillar of Autumn and Cortana to leave Reach, establishing the stage for Halo: Combat Evolved.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2552)
The Pillar of Autumn enters Installation 04, one of seven ring-shaped worlds (i.e., Halos) established by an ancient species of extremely intelligent creatures known as the Forerunners, at the end of Reach.
The Covenant attack the Pillar, which is carrying Cortana and John-117, aka Master Chief, and forces it to crash-land on the ring. Chief fights Covenant soldiers there, unintentionally unleashing the Flood, an ancient species of parasitic organisms that feed on sentient life. Chief must discover a solution to stop the Flood without annihilating humanity.
343 Guilty Spark, the Forerunner Monitor tasked with supervising Installation 04; Jacob Keyes, a commanding officer in the UNSC Navy; and Avery Johnson, a highly trained UNSC Marine, are also introduced in Halo: Combat Evolved.
4. Halo 2 (2552)
Set shortly after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 recounts two stories: the story of a Covenant Sangheili named Thel ‘Vadam (aka The Arbiter) and Master Chief’s ongoing battle against the Covenant and Flood.
The plot unfolds over the course of about a month, with the Chief and the Arbiter eventually joining forces to fight for a shared goal. The campaign introduces a new Halo ring (Installation 05) and transports us to the series’ version of Earth, where a Covenant invasion threatens. The ending of Halo 2 features the Chief’s iconic line: “Sir, concluding this fight.”
Along with the Arbiter, Halo 2 introduces the Covenant Hierarchs (the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret) and Miranda Keyes, a UNSC Navy commander and the child of the aforementioned Jacob Keyes and the yet-to-be-introduced Dr. Catherine Halsey.
5. Halo 3: ODST (2552)
The events of Halo 3: ODST takes place concurrently with those of Halo 2, beginning after the Halo 2 mission Metropolis. ODST takes place in New Mombasa, a crucial battleground during the Covenant’s invasion of Earth.
The less-linear plot revolves around a team of six highly trained Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), with the player controlling Rookie. Rookie faces Covenant soldiers while searching for his scattered squadmates in New Mombasa.
Among those squadmates is Nathan Fillion’s Edward Buck, who returns as a member of Fireteam Osiris in Halo 5: Guardians.
6. Halo 3 (2552–2553)
Halo 3, the concluding installment of the original Halo trilogy, follows Master Chief through the closing months of the Human-Covenant War. Chief and the UN Security Council try yet again to stop the Covenant from launching the Halo Array, which would wipe out all sentient life within a 25,000-lightyear radius. Meanwhile, the Flood descends on Earth, posing a second fatal threat to humanity.
Our heroes defeat the menace, and Master Chief bids us farewell as he enters a cryo-chamber onboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn: “Wake me when you need me.”
7. Halo: Spartan Assault (2554)
Halo: Spartan Assault is a Halo 3 and 4 spinoff game. It’s one of two top-down shooters on this list, the other being Halo: Spartan Strike. Spartan Assault pits Spartan-IV soldiers Edward Davis and Sarah Palmer against a Covenant force led by Sangheili commander Merg Vol in a post-war conflict. Although Palmer appears in Halo 4, 5, and Infinite, there isn’t much added to the broader story.
8. Halo 4 (2557)
Halo 4 is a crucial game in both the series’ ongoing story and its development: It kicks off the Reclaimer Saga and marks the beginning of the series’ life under 343 Industries, following the divorce of original developer Bungie from Microsoft.
Cortana awakens Master Chief from cryosleep four years after the conclusion of Halo 3, to cope with a Covenant threat. The relationship between Chief and Cortana is more prominent in Halo 4, as the latter deals with the early stages of rampancy, a condition in which AI becomes dangerously unstable. Meanwhile, the return of the Forerunners, commanded by a new nemesis, the Didact, poses a new existential threat to humanity. Chief investigates another Halo ring, Installation 03.
9. Halo: Spartan Strike (2557)
Halo: Spartan Strike opens in 2552, simultaneously with Halo 2, before leaping to 2557. Spartan Strike has a little narrative impact on the current Halo tale; the story follows a group of UNSC warriors fighting the Covenant while searching for a Forerunner artifact known as the Conduit.
10. Halo 5: Guardians (2558)
Halo 5, widely regarded as the weakest of the Halo campaigns, commits the cardinal mistake of shifting the focus away from the series’ beloved Master Chief and toward Fireteam Osiris, led by Jameson Locke, a Spartan-IV supersoldier entrusted with locating the Chief and bringing him back to UNSC leadership.
The story alternates between Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, which is on its own mission to find a renegade, power-hungry Cortana under Master Chief’s leadership.
11. Halo Wars 2 (2559)
Halo Wars 2 introduces the Brute warlord Atriox, the leader of the Banished and a significant opponent in Halo Infinite, who is set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.
Red Team and the Spirit of Fire from the first Halo Wars return in Halo Wars 2. After 28 years of cryosleep, the team awakens and arrives at the Ark, where they meet Atriox and the Banished. Despite the odds, Red Team sees itself as a barrier between the Banished and humanity and thus fights. In Halo Infinite, the unresolved UNSC-Banned confrontation continues.
12. Halo Infinite (2560)
Halo Infinite is the series’ most current game in terms of chronology and release date. It returns the spotlight to Master Chief and introduces players to Zeta Halo, the series’ first open world (Installation 07).
Infinite introduces the Banished from Halo Wars 2 into the regular series, as well as the Endless, an ancient race of beings formerly imprisoned by the Forerunners. In the Infinite campaign, the Endless are represented by a new figure known as the Harbinger.
Chief’s new companions include a UNSC pilot named Fernando Esparza and the Weapon, an AI duplicate of Cortana. Infinite’s villains include the Banished War Chief Escharum and the Sangheili Spartan killer Jega, in addition to Atrioix and the Harbinger.