Halo 2 was something truly wonderful and it remains so even to this day. Hype can be a very powerful ally or the beginning of a game’s downfall. There are so many games that have fallen to this but the first game that comes to mind is the Fable series, especially the third entry. Games can even still be pretty good and still have shortcomings simply from the hype they generate. Some games even have the opposite happen and are still able to exceed all expectations in spite of all the hype. Halo 2 is absolutely a prime example of the latter.
The original Halo helped reshape multiplayer and even helped the Xbox survive the doubt that gamers greeted it upon release. Its sequel would help Xbox maintain the faith that gamers were now giving it and help Microsoft secure the dominance in the market. The PS2 might have been selling better but damn it if Microsoft was giving them hell the entire way and Halo 2 was very much responsible for aiding in this fight. The impact it had absolutely cannot be overstated. It was everything the first game was but somehow even more–which is everything a sequel should be.
Halo 2 helped shape the foundation of Xbox Live while also bringing gamers to it in droves. It did exactly what the original Halo did for multiplayer gaming and LAN parties but for Xbox Live. It gave people a reason to want to jump online and show off their skills. Furthermore, it also contained many features that went on to become staples of both Xbox Live and online gaming. While these features are now just taken for granted, back then it was just Bungie providing a solid and top-notch online multiplayer experience. Online gaming wouldn’t be as great as it is if it weren’t for Halo 2. It’s just like I said: the impact of Halo 2 can not be overstated.
The opening cinematic and intro to Halo 2 let gamers know that they were in for one hell of a ride and that really meant something. The original release had already cranked everything up to 20 so it was insane to even suggest that Halo 2 could outdo it–but it did. From the moment you’re dual wielding two SMGs and just creating a pile of Covenant bodies, it was clear that this was a special game and that Bungie had no intention of sliding into mediocrity or even getting too comfortable.
The story of Halo 2 is a wild ride and it, along with outside media, really helped expand the universe and lore of the Halo storyline. The first game had twists and turns and a great story but the sequel helped expand upon all that the first game set up. The opening cinematic alone lets everyone know that there’s a lot of story to take in and while gamers can skip past it and just shoot all that moves, Halo 2 compels those sort of gamers to give it a chance.
Aside from the cliffhanger ending, the story received universal acclaim. There was some initial skepticism with controlling the Covenant Elite known as “Arbiter” but after giving it a shot the overall consensus was positive. This was brave of Bungie and it really helped add additional depth and more perspective to an already rich and detailed world. Getting to see more motivation for the villains and forced to accept their motives while also having to take in a defector helped mature Halo 2 past just the blood and gore that earned it an ‘M’ rating.
The cliffhanger ending may have bummed people out at and around its release but just like the masterpiece that is The Empire Strikes Back, all is forgiven now that the next release is out and more of the story has been told. This isn’t a bad cliffhanger really. It’s just hard to accept it and to have to wait a few more years for the next game. I do still remember holding my controller and being stunned when the credits rolled. Now it’s nice being able to just pop in the next disc though and continuing to destroy Covenant forces with a smile on my face.
The gameplay is where Halo 2 shines the most. Bungie added new enemies, weapons, and features to an already well-rounded game and other developers should take note of how to continue an already awesome series (*cough, cough* Activision *cough, cough* all of your franchises *cough*).
The first major change that players were able to experience was the lack of a traditional health bar. Some loved it, while others hated it but either way, it was gone. Master Chief now just had a shield with regenerating health. At the time this did feel a bit odd and definitely wasn’t the norm but now it’s pretty common. From Call of Duty to Gears of War to Mass Effect 3, more and more games began going in this direction. It is nice not having to worry about how much health you have and certainly helps with a checkpoint system. Gamers no longer had to worry about the game auto-saving when they’re down to one dot of health and no way to go back and re-do a section without just restarting the entire chapter. Another nice thing is it constantly brought skill for the here and now to the forefront of the shootout conversation. There was no more just chipping away at players. Now is all about a player and another player and constant equal footing on the playing field. It may have felt strange at first but all you have to do is look around and utilize the hindsight to know that Bungie’s foresight was absolutely 100% spot on.
The level design of Halo 2 was definitely more open and detailed than the original. Textures and just level design in general felt even more thought out. It was very refreshing and other than a few stand out multiplayer maps from the original, I enjoyed the maps much more on Halo 2 as well. The world felt alive and it added that much more weight and gravity to the story and the mission of Master Chief. That’s right; finishing the fight was somehow even more badass and compelling because this world just felt that much more worth saving.
The multiplayer lives on in the Master Chief Collection and may I just say that I will forever thank Microsoft for this decision. The multiplayer is too detailed, well thought out and fun to have died out. You can always grab some original Xbox systems or 360s, and system link too of course should you decide on couch co-op. Keeping multiplayer on the couch is always fun but the online multiplayer of Halo 2 was and remains breathtaking. The amount of modes, customization, and map design is just amazing. Maps helped push players into each other and encouraged player interaction while still inviting strategy with both weapon placement and environmental design. There were spots to engage in camping but they were known, obvious and fair. You knew someone was perched up there and not only did it take them some time and thought to get up there but it’ll take you an equal amount of time to take them out. It was balanced and that kept it feeling fun and fresh.
Everything has held up so well with Halo 2 and it is absolutely one of my favorite games on the original Xbox and in the Halo series. The original Halo created the foundation and was an absolute delight to play but the sequel doubled everything, exceeded expectations, and brought a grand sense of scale while also making everything even more compelling and epic as players experienced both the campaign and multiplayer.
If you haven’t played this incredible game then you owe it not only to yourself but also to the developer to check it out. It’s extremely cheap and runs on Xbox 360 as well! I usually see it for next to nothing at gaming shops and would gladly pay much more than pocket change to simply re-experience all that lies in this beautifully developed game. If you want to play the well-made remaster and the rest of the Master Chief’s journey from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 then you can just pick of the Master Chief Collection on Xbox One. It’s a bit dearer than most used games but it’s easily worth five times what it’s going for.
Halo 2 has aged perfectly despite being over a decade old and I absolutely think that it will be talked about and imitated for decades yet to come. It truly deserves its place with the great games of their respective times, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Donkey Kong Country, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It represents some of the best shooting mechanics and level design that you can experience in a first person shooter and yes, I’m looking right at you DOOM and Quake.
- Tightly designed gameplay
- Addictive shooting and fun weapons
- Nice variety of weapons, levels, and enemies
- Epic story with a detailed universe
- Classic Halo multiplayer that helped shape multiplayer both offline and online
- Cliffhanger at release was a letdown but in retrospect is appropriate
- Some bugs when played on Xbox 360
- Sometimes difficult to determine enemies when playing as Arbiter