Technically, I did not absorb EVERY piece of Halo-related media in the last three weeks. There are a few comics, a whole mess of audio logs and terminal records, and a couple of books I didn’t get around to.
That said, my most recent dive into the Halo lore – reading the “Shadow of Intent” and “Smoke and Shadow” novellas, playing “Halo Wars 2” and its DLC, and going back to read the four graphic novels that make up the “Escalation” comic series – was a hell of a binge and a good place to stop and call this experiment a success.
I had intended to skip the Halo comics, for the most part, since they didn’t seem to be particularly important… but it turns out that 343 decided to stick the plot that happened between Halo 4 and 5 into Escalation, including resolving the fate of Halo 4’s main antagonist, and it also ties into the original Halo Wars game, which looks like it will be a big part of upcoming events.
So, even if you ignore every other comic series, this one seems pretty essential. Also, you should read it before Halo 5, not after like I did.
Ignoring the fact that I read them out of sequence, I liked them a lot. They’re definitely not standalone affairs, and I continue to marvel at just how obtuse this series is if you’re not reading everything ever published for it, but I suppose that the intended audience for a Halo comic is someone who has probably at least played most of the Halo games and is looking for some content to fill the time between new entries.
Leaving the comics aside, I also read two short (and digital-only) novellas, the first being “Smoke and Shadow” which took kind of a look at a few average joes just trying to get by in the post-war universe and getting themselves wound up in a bigger mess. It’s a good setup for a solid mystery/adventure, and a perspective that is a nice change from all of the “the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance!” high-stakes drama. It ended kind of prematurely, though, probably because it ties into Halo Wars, was released before Halo Wars 2, and couldn’t actually have a real ending without knowing where Halo Wars 2 was going to wind up. That’s a mark against it, but I will be looking forward to any sequels.
I also liked “Shadow of Intent”, even though it was yet another Elite novel. Your reaction to it will likely be directly proportional to how curious you were about what happened to that one Elite with the weird face in the Halo 2 cutscenes.
The first Halo Wars seemed to be very deliberately separated from the mainline games, and I expected that the sequel would likewise be happening in a place and time set well away from them. Instead, it takes a path that stretches credulity just a tiny bit to get it closer to the events of the numbered games, but… well, you know, that’s not really all that important. The thing I like about any RTS is the process of building up a massively-overpowered army and then using it to steamroller over the entire map, and Halo Wars 2 was just as good as the first game at scratching that particular itch. The fact that the end ties directly in to the end of Halo 5 as well (with one of the better “stuff just got real” moments) is just a bonus.
The base campaign is pretty short. I think you could probably blow through it in a day if you approached it in a businesslike fashion, and the two DLC campaigns are even shorter. I took about three nights to go through all of it. Now, I’m a big fan of shorter games, and got it for half price in the recent Spring sale, so I’m 100% happy with what I got for what I paid… but if you are paying full price this might be a tougher sell unless you’re interested in the multiplayer.
As an experiment, I even tried the gamepad controls for a level or two, and they weren’t bad. This is definitely something you could play from a reclining position on the couch, if you were in the mood – I wound up going back to mouse & keyboard, which fit my tastes better, but I did miss the easier camera control of the more console-centric controls a little once I’d done so.
So, that makes 17 novels, 3 Novellas, 5 graphic novels, 4 movies and 11 games, just to be caught up for whatever Halo 6 turns out to be. At some point, they really need to figure out a way to bring the player up to speed on all of the different bits of the storyline, though I’m not sure how you’re going to do that without a “Thank you for purchasing Halo 6! Please watch this massive clip-show of a movie before you start!”
It looks like it will probably be bringing the crew of the ship from the two Halo Wars games in contact with the crew of the ship from Halo 5, and I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to that.
I also can’t deny that, as crazy as the prospect of doing a deep dive into all of the games and media tie-ins was, I enjoyed the experiment. It has me really tempted to do another play through the Mass Effect games, this time with all of the DLC installed. That was another series where the games just didn’t flow well at all, and I have to suspect that most of that was because I was just playing the vanilla versions.
Maybe I should take a little break before I do that, though.