The Definitive Ranking of Every Halo Campaign
After playing through every mainline Halo game over the past year or so, here's how every entry's campaign stacks up against the rest.
For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been gearing up for the release of Halo Infinite by revisiting every mainline game in the series. Despite having played nearly all entries countless times, this was the first instance in nearly a decade that I was finally returning to some of these classic shooters. I also did this seven-game playthrough with fellow DualShockers writer Michael Ruiz, and speaking for us both, I think it ended up being some of the most fun either of us have had with video games in a hot minute.
Of course, now that I’ve finished my playthrough of the saga, there’s only one thing left to do: rank every game in order from worst to best. Using math, science, and my own objectively correct intuition, I’m going to let you know which Halo game is the cream of the crop and which ones just can’t match up. You’ve surely seen Halo game rankings, but I can promise you: this is the only one on the entire internet that is completely factual.
Also, as the title indicates, my rankings here are only going to be based on the campaigns from each Halo entry. While I have spent a fair amount of time with each game over the years and can still recall my feelings of multiplayer, Forge, Firefight, Spartan Ops, and a variety of other features that have been present, we’re just going to be sticking to nothing but campaigns for this ranking. So before you go yell at me in the comments and tell me that I should’ve put one game higher or lower than another, keep this in mind.
7. Halo 5: Guardians
If you clicked on this article and expected to see Halo 5: Guardians in last by default, well, you weren’t wrong. Unlike a lot of other fans, I really didn’t remember strongly disliking Halo 5’s campaign before playing it again here recently. Upon finishing it up a little under a week ago, yeah, I can now reaffirm that it’s definitely not great.
Overall, there isn’t one major thing I can point to in Halo 5 that makes it a lesser experience than every other entry. Instead, it’s a death by a thousand cuts situation. Most notably to a lot of fans, myself included, playing as Locke and Osiris Team for 80% of the campaign isn’t as fun as it is to play as Master Chief. Then there’s also the fact that the squad-based gameplay that 343 tried to lean into with this entry just doesn’t work well at all. Since the game is more focused on fighting as a team, 343 littered the environments with way more enemies than in past entries, leading to me and my companions being downed in this installment way more than any other Halo campaign. Plus, I cannot begin to express how lame it is to have to fight one boss nearly ten different times over the course of the game.
There are some redeeming aspects of Halo 5, but those mainly are present in the game’s multiplayer offering, which, as I said, isn’t being taken into account here. As such, Halo 5: Guardians easily stands as the worst in the series and makes me somewhat nervous about Infinite‘s prospects later this year. If anything, I’m glad that Halo 5 at least prompted 343 to return to the drawing board and create an entirely new engine before continuing on with the development of the franchise.
6. Halo 4
This one was actually really tough for me because largely, I think Halo 4‘s campaign is pretty darn good. For 343’s first outing, Halo 4 ended up boasting a tight, concise campaign that feels excellent to play. Like, seriously, before 343 really mixed up the franchise’s control scheme with Halo 5, 4 was the best installment in the series by far with the “classic” shooting stylings. Not only that, but all the new additions to the game in the way of new enemy types, new weapons, and new vehicles all felt great to me.
I think the only reason it didn’t end up going higher on this list is just because I really cannot get invested in the new direction that Halo 4 took the series’ story. Look, I’m not a big Halo narrative guy by any means. I’ve never read any of the novels, listened to spin-off podcasts, and honestly, I don’t care if that TV show ever gets up and running. Still, I just find it hard to care about Master Chief’s current struggle with the Forerunners. DualShockers‘ own Steven Santana wrote a piece for us a few months back talking about how Halo‘s storytelling felt better when it was smaller, and I totally agree with that. For all of the qualities of Halo 4 that I like, I wish it was a bit easier to get invested in.
5. Halo 3
Despite being the game where Master Chief finishes the fight, Halo 3‘s campaign isn’t as great as I remember it. Yes, there are standout levels like The Covenant and Tsavo Highway that are excellent, but it’s the missions in between that I forgot were so straightforward and bland until this recent replay. This isn’t to say that the campaign is bad though, because it absolutely isn’t. Halo 3 has so many memorable moments, it ends on a high note, and altogether just wrapped up the initial Halo trilogy in a fantastic way.
Halo 3 is arguably the zenith of the franchise’s popularity and it’ll likely never get bigger than it was when it launched in 2007. Even though it’s my least favorite installment in Master Chief’s original three-game outing, Halo 3 is still excellent in its own right and is a game that an entire generation of players will look back fondly on for years to come.
4. Halo: Combat Evolved
It’s honestly wild how well Halo: Combat Evolved holds up. For a game that is nearing its twentieth anniversary (that’s so bizarre to even say), Combat Evolved still feels fresh to this day. Having played through the game countless times in my life already, I was really surprised in this most recent playthrough at how fun the game still is. This just speaks to how well-polished and realized Bungie’s initial outing was on the original Xbox.
Comparatively, Combat Evolved doesn’t reach the same highs as other campaigns in the series, but from front to back, it’s still a much stronger experience than a handful of other installments. As such, it slots in nicely right here in the middle of the pack.
3. Halo 2
In the opening hours of Halo 2, Master Chief prevents a bomb from blowing up his ship. He then drags that bomb with his bare hands to an airlock, jumps out into space with it, flies into the middle of a Covenant ship, and then detonates it before safely landing back aboard his own aircraft.
Halo 2 is far and away the most memorable campaign in the Master Chief line of Halo titles, which is crazy because you don’t even play as Chief in about half of the game. Bungie’s bold idea to place you in the shoes of the Arbiter, the initial antagonist of the first Halo, paid major dividends in this sequel. Not only did this decision help spice up each mission a bit and make them feel more varied, but it further fleshed out the world of Halo to great effect. The way that Master Chief and the Arbiter’s stories also end up crossing over near the conclusion of the game is also fantastic.
Halo 2 also just has so many little things that really put it over the top, too. The game’s score features the work of legendary guitarists Steve Vai and John Mayer, the ending cutscene is perhaps one of the most iconic in the history of video games, and the Anniversary edition which launched with Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a truly fantastic remaster. If Combat Evolved was the game that brought console shooters to the masses, this sequel is what made Halo a household name.
2. Halo: Reach
From the outset of Halo: Reach, you know how the campaign is going to end. Not only had Reach’s history been well-documented in Halo lore, but the campaign opening itself makes it clear that you will not be surviving this mission. And with this at the forefront of your mind, it makes Reach all the more compelling and intriguing to play.
Even though the entire Halo series is set on the backdrop of war, Reach is really the only game that captures that wartime atmosphere. Some of the missions within Reach are set on the backdrop of massive battlefields, reminding you constantly that you’re just one cog in this larger scheme. Plus, Reach is one of the few Halo entries that actually makes the Covenant feel threatening, unlike the fodder that they can sometimes be for Master Chief. Reach also makes you feel overwhelmed in the best way possible, with the epilogue mission really nailing this idea more than anything else.
Bungie really went out on a high note with Halo: Reach. Not only is the storytelling and journey of Noble Team perhaps the best single arc in the series, but some of the new ideas, guns, and mechanics that were introduced here worked incredibly well and are still present in the franchise to this day. Bungie was really starting to take the Halo saga in some interesting directions before its work on the series ended. At the very least, I’m glad that the studio gave us Reach before moving on.
1. Halo 3: ODST
I’m going to be honest: I’m shocked that Halo 3: ODST ended up reaching the top of my list here. To me, stepping into the shoes of an overpowered super soldier is half of the allure in playing each Halo campaign. For the best installment in the series to end up being the spin-off entry of Halo 3 that doesn’t have you playing as a Spartan and instead forces you to utilize a faceless, voiceless soldier shouldn’t work as well as it does, but here we are.
Compared to every other Halo entry except for maybe Reach, ODST just oozes a distinct tone and feeling that is never present in other campaigns. Backed by the best Halo soundtrack of them all, ODST‘s focus on isolation in a somber environment makes it wholly unique compared the loud, bombastic tone that is frequently found in other installments.
More than anything though, I think what I realized I loved the most about ODST was just how the campaign was constructed. Instead of just going from one mission to the next without pause, Halo 3: ODST is a semi-open world title for some brief portions. You’ll have to wander around the streets of New Mombasa and try to figure out what happened to the rest of your squad before being launched into a flashback sequence that details what they’ve been up to. It’s a simple idea on paper, but it’s one that makes ODST feel more cohesive in its storytelling than any other Halo campaign.
I’ve had a lot of ideas in recent months about how 343 Industries should look to construct Halo Infinite’s campaign and I really hope that they look to ODST for inspiration. While we don’t know what Infinite might look like just yet, if the game does go in a more open-ended direction, ODST‘s template blown up on a larger scale could potentially work out really well. If the Halo series wants to bounce back moving forward, 343 would be smart to borrow ideas from the franchise’s best campaign of them all.