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Why did Halo 3 never click for me?

OP Volkeran

Hey Everyone,

I have recently been playing a lot of campaign missions from the original trilogy.

I’ve had tons of fun and nostalgia playing through the anniversary editions of Halo 1 & 2 and was excited to get into three.

when I booted up the game I was reminded that three never really clicked for me.

I was hugely invested in both the Chief’s and Arbiter’s story in Halo 2, to which I though the ending set-up Halo three fantastically:

- Chief goes back to Earth and Lord Hood to finish off Truth.
- The Arbiter joins with Miranda, Johnson and Guilty Spark on a quest to find the Ark.

I expected both characters to have amazing parallel stories, that (after stopping the invasion of earth and deactivating the Ark) would culminate in them teaming up in the end to destroy the Gravemind.

I believe a lot of people will disagree with me;
Nearly review at the time (2007) praised the campaign for it’s epic scale, grand story, and perfectly tying up all the loose ends. I was really surprised to found out I didn’t feel like that at all after I had completed the campaign.

If I had to sum up why I think Halo 3 felt dissapointing to me it would be the following:

• The story became more shallow, instead of the deep, geeky and more mature tone Halo 2 had.

• No more intertwined though seperate storylines

• Truth’s menacing voice-actor Michael Wincott was replaced by Terrece Stamp, that made the character sound more demented than cunning.

• I felt like the cinematography and writing during cutscenes of Halo 3 was a lower quality than that of Halo 2.

• It always felt like a cop-out that we never actually get to see the gravemind, except for some tenacles after killing Truth. Why wasn’t Cortana being held in the same room as where the Gravemind rebuilt itself on High-Charity? He had been questioning her since the end of Halo 2.

• The overall campaign had less sence of place and felt less like a grandiose journey. (This is more feeling, and is quite subjective).

With Halo CE it felt great that after leaving the Pillar Of Autumn you set out to explore a multititude of locations on Alpha Halo, you come full circle to end it where it all began.

In Halo 2 the story starts in High Charity, moves to a space station around earth, to africa, to a Forerunner research station orbiting Threshhold, to a new Halo ring, to High Charity, to end on the halo ring, and sets up a showdown on earth.

I felt like I got to explore all these locations at my own pace (especially the Halo’s), really investing myself in these fictional spaces.

In Halo 3 I feel like we only get to see Africa, the Ark, some hallways on High Charity and a short level on the new Halo (which I would have loved to walk around on for another one or two!). And almost the entire time there is an actual army of humans and elites pushing you to hurry up and keep running down the levels intended path.

I feel like I was never able to lose myself in this world, looking up at the skyboxes and listening to the ambience.

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I am very curious to hear what people here think about (my issues with) Halo 3’s campaign.

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TLDR: I adore Halo CE and Halo 2 & but Halo 3 left me feeling disappointed.
I can't comment on everything because alot of what you say is subject to your opinion and there is no right/wrong answer to them. However, I can try and offer an explanation for some of the issues you raised:

1) The lack of separate stories.

Halo 2 was heavily criticised for this by a large number of reviewers and fans alike. People were not happy that Halo pulled a MGS2 Raiden on us and just wanted to play as the Chief. This issue was made worse, like MGS2, where most of the marketing material only showed Chief and the battle for Earth. To quote some reviewers:

"Halo 2 gives up some of its focus from a storytelling standpoint, which becomes especially apparent once you finish the campaign. A great deal of attention is paid this time around not to the humans struggling for survival, but to the Covenant and what turns out to be a major political upheaval within their ranks. You spent the first game indiscriminately killing these fiends--yet now you're expected to be sympathetic to them and their hatred for humankind." (Gamespot, 2004 - https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/halo-2-review/1900-6112628/)

(Regarding Master Chief) - "The first game gave you just enough to make his status as ​“Humanity’s Last Hope” something that truly felt epic and intriguing.
However, the structure and pacing of Halo 2 dramatically reduces his role in the game, to the point of nearly being misleading. Look at any of the trailers, any of the commercials, any of the marketing, and it’s clear the Chief was being touted as Mankind’s savior in its darkest hour — when in fact he’s reduced to a background character that’s barely there for half of the game (at least, that’s what it feels like). And it just seems odd to me to take a nearly iconic figure like the Master Chief, and do anything that might diminish him. (Opuszine.us, 2004 - https://opuszine.us/reviews/halo-2-2004-bungie-studios)

However, that said, the same sources also say:

"To the game's credit, all this adds some newfound complexity to the story (even the collector's edition version of the game's manual is written from the Covenant perspective), and the plot itself is executed quite well." (Gamespot, 2004)

Furthermore, the Arbiter's inclusion was also a 'cover-up', with alot of these reviews making no mention of the switch to the Arbiter. I think IGN demonstrates this in their review:"Bungie has wisely placed heavy restrictions on what can be revealed regarding the story of Halo 2. In fact, I can only talk about the first three chapters, which center on Master Chief's arrival to Earth and subsequent combat in the streets." (IGN, 2004 - http://uk.ign.com/articles/2004/11/08/halo-2-limited-collectors-edition)

The shallowness of the story can be attributed to the fact Arbiter's story is no longer separate but I think you'll have to discuss further your opinions on that. Arbiter's story is still there but the writers had to incorporate it into the Chief's story more without taking gameplay away from the Chief. There ARE some slight plot differences if you play the game in co-op with the Arbiter present e.g. The mission Cortana has completely different lines in some sections of the intro as a result of the Arbiter joining the Chief. Ultimately though, Arbiter's story was almost done at the end of Halo 2 in my opinion, his 'rival' Tartarus had been slain so he had his revenge for the beginning of the Brutes betrayal so in Halo 3, the Elites were supporting Humanity until the opportunity to slay Truth presented itself, which they gave to the Arbiter instead of the Chief.

2) Truth's voice change

The Prophet of Truth's voice change was a result of Michael Wincott not wanting to reprise the role for Halo 3, hence his replacement with Terence Stamp. I can't find much in the way of primary sources for this but it seems to be the generally accepted reason from what I can find.

3) Lack of appearance by the Gravemind (full body) and Cortana change of location.

This is a tricky one, we only saw Gravemind in a cutscene in Halo 2 in a confined location which can all be heavily scripted for performance reasons. Halo 3 also only had him appear in cutscenes but I assume that the lack of Gravemind in Halo 3 is an engine limitation. The only place I can think of where his appearance could be justified is the mission 'Cortana' but given his size in Halo 2's cutscene, how would you make that work gameplay wise? A big open room with no cover shooting a bullet sponge? It's possible Bungie couldn't think of a viable way to bring him in.

Cortana was actively being interrogated at the end of Halo 2, with Gravemind being thought to use the logic plague like he did to Mendicant Bias to drive Cortana closer to insanity. Being that she's in High Charity's network she could have simply attempted to escape the Gravemind but, given that the Gravemind has all the knowledge of the Flood, he probably was able to hack into it anyway to continue to cause her severe damage and trauma. We see her actively being affected in the message she recorded for the Chief at the end of Floodgate. Outside of Halo 3, extra lore surrounding this has recently been released, showing more of her interrogation and the techniques the Gravemind used against her. Hidden Xperia does a good job of covering this, though I can't find the source this comes from (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DYoSVaaESI).

4) Less feeling of grandoise in the campaign

I know this is opinion but I agree. For me, this is because the maps feel more constrained than Halo CE and Halo 2. There are some large maps like The Ark and The Covenant but most of them feel restricted and the illusion to me is lost. Take Sierra 117, a lush jungle but you're still forced and entrapped by the rivers and forced down a certain route. Compare to Metropolis in Halo 2, where the map is also forcing you down a corridor, yet it somehow feels more open, despite not being as open as The Ark/The Covenant or even Delta Halo, AOTCR etc. Even then, some of the more open maps like The Covenant had sections where it felt small, the Hornet section with the game barriers forcing you to go a certain route spring to mind. That said, it did have some 'big' moments like Forward Unto Dawn arriving in-game on The Ark but overall, it felt 'smaller' to me. Alot of this can be attributed to technical reasons, still experimenting with the engine on the Xbox 360 etc but Bungie doesn't seem to have discussed this outright so I'm basing this on assumption and personal preference.

I agree again about the lack of exploration of fictional places. For a game titled Halo, the Halo rings had nothing to do with almost the entire campaign. We only spent the last level on an unfinished Halo ring. The Ark was somewhat cool but given the nature and tone of the story, given that Humanity/Elites were rushing to stop Truth, I felt that we never really had time to explore unlike other Halo games. It's a bit hypocritical of me to say that given that Halo 2 we were rushing to stop Truth from getting the key to Delta Halo but I think it's probably because, given all Halo's were on standby, it's probably because the stakes were higher in Halo 3.

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Short version - I agree with a lot of what you say and you are entitled to your opinion. Some of the issues do have an explanation but I hope some of the above offers you some insight to why some decisions were taken with Halo 3.
Volkeran wrote:
—————
TLDR: I adore Halo CE and Halo 2 & but Halo 3 left me feeling disappointed.
First I'd like to ask, did you play Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3 when they were released? I ask because you said you were playing through the remastered versions which leads me to believe that you didn't play Halo 3 when it was released back in 2007.

I know it's seems trivial but its hard to explain if you weren't part of the Halo 3 hype in 2007. Us, as Halo fans, were anxious to see where to story would continue after Halo 2's abrupt ending. Everyone knew that Bungie had to basically erase the entirety of the final act for Halo 2. So when September 2007 finally came and Halo 3 was released, everyone was beyond excited to see how the story would end. It was an achievement in story telling and the first time we got to experience four player co-op.

Its hard to see and understand in this day and age because there are countless other games, stories, and campaigns to compare Halo 3's campaign to. For it's time, the campaign was incredible. In my opinion, it was one of those things that you had to be there to truly understand. I know that's not fair.
I can't comment on everything because alot of what you say is subject to your opinion and there is no right/wrong answer to them.

...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Short version - I agree with a lot of what you say and you are entitled to your opinion. Some of the issues do have an explanation but I hope some of the above offers you some insight to why some decisions were taken with Halo 3.
Wow, that was a great read. Well written and thought out. Thanks James.

1) On limiting the Arbiter's story:
I feel like there are a lot of parallels between Halo 2 and Halo 5 Guardians. Both games introduced a new playable character that took focus away from the Master Chief, and left a lot of fans feel betrayed by a false marketing campaign.

I remember being 14 years old when Halo 2 released, and actually loved the inclusion of the Covenant's perspective. I can now understand that a lot of people felt like the rug was pulled out from under them. As I had a similar experience with Halo 5 changing perspectives and sidelining the Master Chief.

2) Voice of Truth
I've heard the same about Michael Wincott. Really too bad!
3) Gravemind
I like the point you make about running in to him during gameplay. I would have probably disliked fighting it, but I did like the grand confrontational tone of meeting the Gravemind in Halo 2. I remember kind of waiting for the cutscene (all throughout the mission The Covenant, Cortana and Halo) with the Gravemind's reappearance while playing Halo 3 back when it released, but it never came.

I would have really liked there to have been a cutscene where the Chief meets the Gravemind after it has revealed itself as a Nemesis (after betraying Chief in Halo 2). Maybe as a sort of closure.

4) I just hope that Halo Infinite slows down a bit, and gives more of a sense of place. I still sometimes find myself replaying the level Halo from CE, to experience the enigmatic serenity among the pines, rolling hills and metal structures.

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A seperate point I forgot to make in my initional post, that I would like to hear your thoughts on:

I actually really missed having the Elites as an adversary. The stress and time management their regenerating shields created, coupled with their honourability and great combat dialogue are a huge part of what makes the combat in Halo CE and Halo 2 so enjoyable for me.

I really liked having them as allies in Halo 3 in context of the story, I just remember thinking the Brutes were rather forgettable to fight.

After feedback from the community, Bungie reintegrated the regenerative shields (for Brutes) in Halo ODST, which made them way more fun to fight, and made the combat feel more Halo-like to me.

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Once again, thanks for your response.
Volkeran wrote:
—————
TLDR: I adore Halo CE and Halo 2 & but Halo 3 left me feeling disappointed.
First I'd like to ask, did you play Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3 when they were released? I ask because you said you were playing through the remastered versions which leads me to believe that you didn't play Halo 3 when it was released back in 2007.

I know it's seems trivial but its hard to explain if you weren't part of the Halo 3 hype in 2007. Us, as Halo fans, were anxious to see where to story would continue after Halo 2's abrupt ending. Everyone knew that Bungie had to basically erase the entirety of the final act for Halo 2. So when September 2007 finally came and Halo 3 was released, everyone was beyond excited to see how the story would end. It was an achievement in story telling and the first time we got to experience four player co-op.

Its hard to see and understand in this day and age because there are countless other games, stories, and campaigns to compare Halo 3's campaign to. For it's time, the campaign was incredible. In my opinion, it was one of those things that you had to be there to truly understand. I know that's not fair.
Yes. Maybe I should have been more clear in my introduction, but I have indeed played all mainline Halo games after CE on the day of their release.

I was among one of those kids (17 y/o at the time) that was super hyped for the trilogy's conclusion. Halo 2 remains one of my favourite sci-fi stories to this day, because of the inclusion and meditation on the Covenant's perspective. I did not feel that same connection and depth in Halo 3. This is all based on my personal opinion and my experience with the game of course.
Volkeran wrote:
Volkeran wrote:
—————
TLDR: I adore Halo CE and Halo 2 & but Halo 3 left me feeling disappointed.
First I'd like to ask, did you play Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3 when they were released? I ask because you said you were playing through the remastered versions which leads me to believe that you didn't play Halo 3 when it was released back in 2007.

I know it's seems trivial but its hard to explain if you weren't part of the Halo 3 hype in 2007. Us, as Halo fans, were anxious to see where to story would continue after Halo 2's abrupt ending. Everyone knew that Bungie had to basically erase the entirety of the final act for Halo 2. So when September 2007 finally came and Halo 3 was released, everyone was beyond excited to see how the story would end. It was an achievement in story telling and the first time we got to experience four player co-op.

Its hard to see and understand in this day and age because there are countless other games, stories, and campaigns to compare Halo 3's campaign to. For it's time, the campaign was incredible. In my opinion, it was one of those things that you had to be there to truly understand. I know that's not fair.
Yes. Maybe I should have been more clear in my introduction, but I have indeed played all mainline Halo games after CE on the day of their release.

I was among one of those kids (17 y/o at the time) that was super hyped for the trilogy's conclusion. Halo 2 remains one of my favourite sci-fi stories to this day, because of the inclusion and meditation on the Covenant's perspective. I did not feel that same connection and depth in Halo 3. This is all based on my personal opinion and my experience with the game of course.
That does clear things up. Knowing that now, I honestly have no earthly idea as to why you didn't feel that connection. I was smitten when Halo 3 came out
I remember that you weren't the only one, kids from my old school who played halo 2 were extremely disappointed with halo 3 and just remained on halo 2 when 3 came out some game's just don't click for people.
I remember that you weren't the only one kids from my old school who played halo 2 were extremely disappointed with halo 3 and just remained on halo 2 when 3 came out some game's just don't for people.
I guess so! Maybe I should talk to them one day ;)
Volkeran wrote:
Volkeran wrote:
—————
TLDR: I adore Halo CE and Halo 2 & but Halo 3 left me feeling disappointed.
First I'd like to ask, did you play Halo: CE, Halo 2 and Halo 3 when they were released? I ask because you said you were playing through the remastered versions which leads me to believe that you didn't play Halo 3 when it was released back in 2007.

I know it's seems trivial but its hard to explain if you weren't part of the Halo 3 hype in 2007. Us, as Halo fans, were anxious to see where to story would continue after Halo 2's abrupt ending. Everyone knew that Bungie had to basically erase the entirety of the final act for Halo 2. So when September 2007 finally came and Halo 3 was released, everyone was beyond excited to see how the story would end. It was an achievement in story telling and the first time we got to experience four player co-op.

Its hard to see and understand in this day and age because there are countless other games, stories, and campaigns to compare Halo 3's campaign to. For it's time, the campaign was incredible. In my opinion, it was one of those things that you had to be there to truly understand. I know that's not fair.
Yes. Maybe I should have been more clear in my introduction, but I have indeed played all mainline Halo games after CE on the day of their release.

I was among one of those kids (17 y/o at the time) that was super hyped for the trilogy's conclusion. Halo 2 remains one of my favourite sci-fi stories to this day, because of the inclusion and meditation on the Covenant's perspective. I did not feel that same connection and depth in Halo 3. This is all based on my personal opinion and my experience with the game of course.
That does clear things up. Knowing that now, I honestly have no earthly idea as to why you didn't feel that connection. I was smitten when Halo 3 came out
Haha, I think I summed up my handful of reasons at the top of this page ;)