The best ‘Halo’ games: the must-plays, and a few you can skip

Finish the fight. A lot.

With Halo Infinite arriving later this year, there’s never been a better time to argue over what the best Halo games are. After all, Master Chief and his adventures are a hugely pivotal part of what’s made the Xbox so successful over the past 20 years.

It’s even easier to see for yourself if you have Xbox Game Pass and you really should treat yourself to a subscription if you haven’t already. Having played through all the main franchise games in quick succession, we’ve decided to take the bold move of ranking them all in order of what’s best and what’s not so great.

Granted, these are Halo games and honestly, none of them are terrible. They’re all worth your time, especially if you get into the story and lore behind them all. On that note, we’ve focused specifically on campaign modes rather than anything multiplayer-related because that’s a whole other debate.

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Prepare to disagree or maybe grudgingly agree a lot while we rank the best Halo games.

Halo 3

Halo 3
Halo 3. Credit: Microsoft.

Besides being the game to showcase just what the Xbox 360 was capable of back in the day, it’s the set pieces that make Halo 3 stand out in your memory. That moment when it’s you against two huge, terrifying scarabs, that even on the easiest of difficulty modes provide a fair bit of challenge due to being gigantic. Sure, there are plenty of vehicles at your disposal but it takes genuine strategy to overcome these beasts. Elsewhere, there’s the final closing moments of Halo 3 where it feels like a race against time to survive. It’s hideously over the top at times but it suits the Halo nature perfectly.

Everything about it is well-balanced so you get to enjoy the return of the Assault Rifle and the sense that every firefight actually feels reasonably potent and meaty. Even shooting at the likes of a humble Jackal or Grunt still feels pretty good and satisfying. Designed to ‘finish the fight’, it doesn’t, of course but there’s still that sense of victory and finality to it. You’ll feel like a part of an over-the-top space opera even if you weren’t paying much attention to the story beforehand.

Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved. Credit: Microsoft

The game that started it all, Halo: Combat Evolved has aged remarkably well for a 20-year-old game. Feeling as fresh as it did back then with only a few minor gripes, it’s a very close second to Halo 3. Very close indeed. It’s another one full of memorable set pieces even right down to a strange affection we still feel for a Flood-infested library that’s simultaneously a bit tedious and yet surprisingly tense too. Who wants to be chased by a seemingly never-ending infestation after all?

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The enemy AI is a little dated at times but that can work in your favour thanks to clusters stoically refusing to run away from a carefully tossed grenade so we don’t consider that as a downside by any means. And yes, the weapons might feel dated by later Halo standards but they still pack a punch. As you should, you’ll immediately feel part of something bigger making this the perfect opening game to something that we doubt anyone could have envisaged would become such a big deal one day.

Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST
Halo 3: ODST. Credit: Microsoft.

Halo 3: ODST marks a significant change of pace to any other Halo game and look, we get it. Not everyone is going to like it so highly ranked. Instead of playing as Master Chief, you’re a soldier who’s dealing with a mystery. There are still plenty of enemies to shoot at and some nice set pieces but this is a quieter affair. A lot of the time, you’ll be wandering around lonely parts of New Mombasa, seeking out clues to figuring out what just happened in war.

It takes a little adjustment at first but it ties nicely into Halo 3‘s story giving you some insight into what it’s like to be a humble soldier rather than the almighty Master Chief. You can’t help but wonder if your guy simply wandered down the wrong recruitment office one day and got in too deep. It’s a bold move for the franchise but one that pays off. Expect more melancholy than outright epic action here.

Halo: Reach

Halo Reach
Halo Reach. Credit: Microsoft

Setting everything up nicely, Halo: Reach is an admirable prequel. It might be halfway down our list but remember — this is quite the list. Without the focus on Master Chief, you get the benefit of being what it’s like to be part of a Spartan crew, giving you more of a sense of the world around you and tossing in a fair bit of vulnerability too, much like Halo 3: ODST. There’s no dual-wielding here either, further demonstrating that you’re not so good at the fighting thing as you might like to be.

Alongside that is a surprisingly emotive storyline that reminds you that this is the end of an era for these soldiers, even if it leads into the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved where you’ll feel far more souped-up. We’re a bit undecided on the sprint power-up as it feels less in key with the Halo way of doing things but hey, these guys need all the help they can get.

Halo 5: Guardians

Halo 5: Guardians
Halo 5: Guardians. Credit: Microsoft

Go straight into Halo 5: Guardians from Halo 4 and you will hate it. The controls are different and you’ll feel incredibly uncomfortable at first. The pacing is off too. This is a game that has more in common with Titanfall than a Halo game so we get that some people will despise it. However, settle into Halo 5: Guardians and it’s a lot of fun. That extra boost of speed is satisfyingly, well, speedy, and you’ll find yourself getting into the rhythm as time goes on. The introduction of iron sights is a much overdue feature too and soon helps you out during key moments.

It’s not perfect by any means otherwise Halo 5: Guardians would be further up the list. You almost need backup from friends with some bosses such as the rather irritating Wardens that require you to hit them from behind. Friendly AI is pretty good but it’s not as good as a person to help you out. There’s also not much sign of Master Chief with replacement Locke not the most exciting of characters. Still, moments like a Predator-inspired sequence amongst fog stand out in a way that feels different to other Halo games and once you get into its change of pace, you’ll soon appreciate it.

Halo 4

Halo 4
Halo 4. Credit: Microsoft

Halo 4 is fine. Just fine. Honestly, that’s its problem. It doesn’t stand out. It’s all perfectly enjoyable enough but there’s no true standout moment that wows you other than a brief experience with a Pelican flight that provides a bit of variety. Instead, it mostly seems to think that bigger is better and it’s not. About two-thirds of the way into the game, you’ll find yourself constantly fighting against the odds as the game throws seemingly everything at you. It turns a bit dull. The satisfying combat is there but even that can outstay its welcome.

The final boss battle is a little bit too obvious too although we’ll forgive it slightly for a reasonably affecting ending that we won’t spoil here. Ultimately, it’s the pacing that lets Halo 4 down. It’s so eager to please that it simply throws too much at you, leaving it all feeling a bit empty. Except for that ending. You’ll see what we mean.

Halo 2

Halo 2
Halo 2. Credit: Microsoft.

Historically, Halo 2 is incredibly important. Its multiplayer changed everything and it had a tough act to follow after Halo: Combat Evolved. However, it hasn’t aged brilliantly and we’ve got to gauge this on what works well now. The introduction of regenerating health and dual-wielding are good steps forward but the latter isn’t brilliantly executed in hindsight.

Pacing issues are also evident with the very beginning exceptionally sluggish before you fend off an invasion from a Covenant boarding party. Just as things get going, it all dies down again and never quite picks up the pace, despite a brief moment of liveliness with a Scorpion tank. Throw in some slightly misguided stealth-style sequences and an abrupt ending and Halo 2 never quite feels as comfortable as other games in this ranking. It’s one to push through a little at times.

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