After more than 20 years, Halo is one of the most important franchises in Microsoft's first-party arsenal. From its trend-setting debut as the game to own on the original Xbox to a well-received sequel that put console multiplayer gaming on the map to the new Halo TV series on Paramount+. Halo's history is full of influential and genre-defining moments.
Times change, though, and with Halo's original developer Bungie ultimately passing the torch on to 343 Industries, the series has gone through big updates, numerous sequels, and plenty of spin-offs. The best Halo games have combined riveting single-player campaigns with engrossing multiplayer modes, and according to critical consensus, these are the finest games in the series.
Best for: Multiplayer game fans, video game graphics appreciators
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The original game that helped turn the Xbox console into a household name, Halo: Combat Evolved's high-concept storyline and living room multiplayer established a new benchmark for the FPS genre when it first arrived. Not just a system-seller for the Xbox, Halo was one of the most influential FPS games of its time and blazed a trail forward for the genre with its split-screen multiplayer and a cinematic campaign that made good use of Master Chief's agile aggression to tear through Covenant forces. A smooth-as-silk action experience even after 20 years, the original Halo is a founding father of the modern-day first-person shooter and one of the biggest reasons why the genre has found so much success on home consoles.
"A game that will become the new benchmark for first person shooters. Quite frankly, it's one of the better ones that I have seen in a long time, at least since Half Life." — Next Level Gaming
Best for: Multiplayer fans wanting less story and more online action
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If Halo: Combat Evolved put console FPS games on the map, then Halo 2 was the trailblazing sequel that connected the world with its groundbreaking multiplayer. Turning the Xbox console into a hub of online competition, Halo 2's multiplayer represents a seismic shift in how games can add value to their fanbases. Combined with Halo 2's satisfying grasp on action, the template for smooth matchmaking, custom game modes, and skill-ranked multiplayer matches can be traced to the foundation that Bungie created for its second Halo game. Not just the best online shooter of its day, Halo 2's memorable campaign, deadlier enemies, and the introduction of signature weapons all makes for a sequel that's still fondly remembered to this day.
"It's a noble achievement in storytelling, gameplay balance, and multiplayer design. And it's easily the best console-based, online game on Earth. Easily. Like so many people have said thus far: In 2004, Halo 2 will own you." — IGN
Best for: Fans looking for a satisfying end to a trilogy
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Halo 3 might not be remembered for rewriting the video game rulebook the way that its predecessors did, but it's still a fan-favorite game that became the gold standard for everything that came after it. A fun and epic campaign that made good use of the Xbox 360's hardware, Halo 3 builds on the improvements introduced by Halo 2 and runs wild with its level design. Besides the blockbuster storyline that finishes at least one massive fight across the stars, it's the multiplayer department where Halo 3 truly shines. Dozens of memorable maps make for some of the most intense competition in Halo history, and on the slim chance that you can't find a level or game mode that suits your tastes, the comprehensive Forge can be used to generate something new and exciting. That unprecedented level of customization is where Halo 3 truly shines, as you'll find fans tinkering with the game to create memorable modes such as Grifball.
"The Forge is a gargantuan achievement that puts game design in the hands of players, daring you to be creative and invent a Halo
3 multiplayer experience all your own. Of course, the multiplayer is every bit as astonishing as it has been in past iterations and even eclipses its predecessors in many respects." — Eurogamer
Best for: Halo fans wanting a more experimental detour from Halo's regular action
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Bungie's swansong to the Halo franchise before it went on to develop Destiny, Halo: Reach is a lean and mean chapter in the series that benefits from exceptional art design, an energetic soundtrack, and a campaign that's perfectly assembled. Detailing one of the most pivotal moments in Halo lore, Halo: Reach is a strong example of how compelling this saga's storyline can be when it shines the spotlight on the other Spartans who exist in that universe. Halo: Reach also boldly experiments with the core mechanics of the series that had been established in other games, while its multiplayer is a mix of old favorites, new ideas, and a versatile the popular Forge in which custom games can be designed. It may end on an inevitable and heartbreaking note, but Halo: Reach allowed Bungie to go out with a bang in this epic and ambitious love letter to the franchise.
"Halo: Reach is everything a Halo fan has ever dreamed for. All that was lacking from previous Halo games is here and then some. This is Bungie's love letter to their fans and they've definitely gone out with a bang." — Destructoid
Best for: Newcomers to the Halo series, multiplayer fans who prefer more modern FPS ideas
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With Bungie fully committed to the development of Destiny, Halo 4 was a make-or-break moment for 343 Industries, a studio that had been tasked with carrying the franchise forward into the future. The debut mainline entry from the studio is a game that pushes the Xbox 360 to the bleeding edge of what that console is capable of on a technical level, while the story attempts to establish a more mythical status quo for Master Chief as the Prometheans enter the picture. Halo 4's multiplayer proves to be more divisive, though, as it adds more modern features to its arsenal, such as a dedicated sprint button that had longtime fans up in arms and a focus on loadouts that strip some magic from the usual multiplayer main course. Still, 343 Industries made an impressive first impression with Halo 4, proving that the studio was more than up to the task of handling Microsoft's main event franchise.
"Halo 4's combination of modes offers a very impressive package. The campaign offers a familiar but genuinely captivating ride, while Spartan Ops and War Games both take multiplayer in some welcome directions that'll undoubtedly hold your interest in the coming months." — Digital Spy
Best for: Fans of next-gen gaming, strong storytelling, and an evolving multiplayer
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Halo Infinite is both an ambitious attempt to make Master Chief's universe bigger than ever and a humble return to his roots, a new sandbox to explore that evokes memories of the first time that players donned the Mjolnir armor of the legend and fought back against impossible odds. A game of two parts, Halo Infinite balances an evolving narrative with a focus on its multiplayer that's deeper than ever before, paving the way for a game that's designed to adapt and change with the times. Some of that evolution could already be seen in its multiplayer, which had a surprise launch during the 20th anniversary celebrations of Xbox, as 343 Industries continues to tweak and refine its online mode. At its core though, Halo Infinite is a confident return to past glories, a one-two punch of narrative and multiplayer that gets back to basics and runs wild in a new Xbox Series X playground. This time, Master Chief is going to be sticking around for a whole lot longer than he usually does.
"Halo Infinite strives to transform what it means to be a Halo game, making Chief into a reluctant father figure for a young and naive AI and putting him into an open-world setting. It turns out that was a risk worth taking for the franchise, as Infinite is an incredible game." — GameSpot
Best for: Fans of co-op gaming
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One of the more polarizing entries in the Halo series, Halo 5: Guardians is an ambitious attempt to tell a different story within that universe that was more in line with modern FPS games of that decade. The end result was a game that deviates from the traditional Halo formula, sidelining Master Chief for large sections of the game and handing control over to a new generation of Spartan soldiers. That's not to say that the game doesn't have its moments, as battling side by side with former enemies on their home planet while wielding some beautifully over-engineered weapons makes for some thrilling encounters. Even if critics generally liked the technical parts of the game, the divisive gameplay changes, a storyline that went into weird territory, and the lackluster Warzone mode didn't earn too many fans, with Guardians eventually becoming the black sheep of the Halo series.
"There will certainly be some players who find that the specific omissions in Halo 5 are extremely disappointing, and you'll see a rough edge or two, but all in all there's a fantastic big-budget shooter in Halo 5 with lots to see and enough multiplayer options to keep you going for quite some time." — Giant Bomb
Best for: Fans of a more grounded take on Halo
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Beloved by fans for its gritty and more focused detour from the usual Master Chief expedition, Halo 3: ODST, became a cult classic with those who fell in love with the scrappy cast of marines that you play as. A more human and fragile approach to the Halo world, Halo 3: ODST is a more challenging and engaging experience set in a city under siege, more open-ended in design with the freedom to tackle missions in almost any order you want, and loaded with a cast of voice acting royalty. In the multiplayer department, Halo 3: ODST's mix of traditional death-match and couch co-op is joined by Firefight mode, a pulse-pounding horde mode that can be made even more difficult with the use of Halo's infamous Skulls system to throw unique modifiers into each map. A more intimate and grounded experience, Halo 3: ODST's tonal shift makes for a fascinating departure from the usual super-soldier antics.
"It's the shadow cast by Halo 3 itself, and its contemporaries then and since, that proves slightly too long and broad for Bungie's valiant efforts of the past 18 months to escape, because no matter the quality of what's on offer, they can't reasonably make the same demand of your wallet, and yet they still do." — Eurogamer
Best for: Fans of the original Halo wanting a visual update
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The original Halo game is still just as enjoyable playable today as it was 20 years ago, and its anniversary package is a loving tribute to the impact that it had on the industry when it first arrived. While virtually every aspect of this game is identical to the original, the real treat is the ability to switch between graphical modes on the fly. Whether you're a fan of the chunky character models or you prefer to see a more high-res approach to Master Chief's first console adventure, that transition between modes is a startling reminder of just how far the series had come graphically between Xbox generations.
"Bungie's iconic title was clearly an ambitious project, and this modern remastering sufficiently highlights what it was that made the original Halo: Combat Evolved such a landmark gaming moment to begin with." — VideoGamer
Best for: Real-time strategy fans
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With a universe caught in the middle of the best war machines that humanity and exotic alien races can throw at each other, it was only a matter of time before someone saw the potential for a Halo real-time strategy game. Developer Ensemble Studios took a crack at that idea in 2009, creating a Halo riff on the genre that was a console-exclusive for the time. Surprisingly, the game runs like a treat, and the tight controls, always-satisfying rush of building a base, and unleashing an army in the direction of assembled Covenant forces establish Halo Wars as an underrated classic. The genius moment here is that Halo Wars is an RTS that is stripped down to its bare essentials, tossing any superfluous content straight out of the airlock in favor of a lean and mean tactical experience. The fact that a game this good-looking runs smoothly on the Xbox 360 is nothing short of a modern miracle, and it wouldn't be long before a sequel built further on that foundation.
"Halo Wars isn't rocket science, and it isn't perfect either, but it'll satisfy Halo fanatics to the exact same degree as anyone hankering for a decent console game where you tell a large piece of rolling ordinance which direction it should be rolling in. And that, when you think about it, is quite an achievement in itself." — IGN UK