Daily Musings: Early Thoughts on Halo 4's Story

Posted by Cramjomlin (61 posts) -

Before reading, be aware of the following:

  1. As of this writing, I have not yet completed the Halo 4 campaign, cooperatively or otherwise.
  2. I have been made aware, by a friend, that additional story insight is available in the campaign's hidden terminals, none of which I've watched.
  3. This write-up will be relatively spoiler-free.

Expanding on the fiction of video games in the form of a novelization is, by no means, a new idea. Many major franchises, including Diablo, Mass Effect, Resident Evil, and many, many others have taken part in this to provide rabid fans with either side stories, or expansions of existing stories. In the case of Halo 4, I personally believe 343 Studios may have blurred the line between the two a bit much.

I have been a long-time Halo fan. I've played every iteration, sans Halo Wars, and enjoyed them all. I even went as far as to read the first four Halo novels, mainly because I wanted to learn more about Master Chief's back-story. Since then, I have stopped reading them, simply because they no longer focused on the history, or the ongoing battles of Master Chief. Through reading those early novels, I learned a good amount about Master Chief, Cortana, Dr. Halsey, the Halo installations and the Forerunners. So, naturally, I thought that I would be prepared, going into the Halo 4 story, without reading any of the recent novelizations. Sadly, I feel like I was wrong.

For the first couple of hours, things were going great. Chief woke up from his cryogenic slumber, shot up a bunch of Covenant, landed on a Forerunner planet, and then went about his business. All standard Halo fare, and all exactly what I wanted. Eventually, you run into a main antagonist, a first for a Halo game. This is where things started going south for me.

I was expecting an encounter similar to the first time Master Chief meets 343 Guilty Spark in the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Dialogue along the lines of, "Who are you?" and "What is it you want?" seemed like a fair guess as to where this first encounter would go. This was not the case. Almost right off the bat, Cortana begins calling the antagonist by a particular name that I have never heard before. Master Chief never questions this, and also seems to have an idea of who this character is and what is going on. At this point, I'm starting to doubt myself. "Did I miss a cutscene?" "Have I missed dialogue between the Master Chief and Cortana?" These were a few of the questions running through my head as I continued through the story. Moving on, you run into another character related to the antagonist and, once again, Cortana and Master Chief do not seem surprised and seem to know this character as well. Now, I know it isn't just me being dense.

I did a little research, and discover that pretty much all of the questions that I have were more or less answered in the two most recent Halo novels, Cryptum and Primordium, written by Greg Bear. This made me feel a little better, but at the same time, frustrated. I want to be able to play through the entire story of Halo 4 without being absolutely required to read the novels. They were never necessary for it's predecessors, and I don't see why it should be now. Sure, I can bumble all the way through the Halo campaign, understand most, but not all of it, and leave it at that. As you can tell, I don't want to do that at all. Fans should never HAVE to engage in reading or researching supplemental material in order to understand everything in your game's story. It doesn't really seem fair.

Now, positive things. Everything relating to Master Chief's past is fantastic. Everything involving Cortana's impending rampancy is fantastic. Anytime Master Chief is engaging with officers on the Infinity, it's fantastic. I really do love Halo 4...mostly. I look forward to finishing the campaign and writing down my final thoughts. Most of this is probably stuff that would only bother Halo super-fans, so some may not see why I'm being so whiny about it. But I think that it is important that studios know that not all of their fans read every novel, comic or other media that they release. Some of them just want to play the game, and they want a full experience from that alone.

#1 Posted by Cramjomlin (61 posts) -

Before reading, be aware of the following:

  1. As of this writing, I have not yet completed the Halo 4 campaign, cooperatively or otherwise.
  2. I have been made aware, by a friend, that additional story insight is available in the campaign's hidden terminals, none of which I've watched.
  3. This write-up will be relatively spoiler-free.

Expanding on the fiction of video games in the form of a novelization is, by no means, a new idea. Many major franchises, including Diablo, Mass Effect, Resident Evil, and many, many others have taken part in this to provide rabid fans with either side stories, or expansions of existing stories. In the case of Halo 4, I personally believe 343 Studios may have blurred the line between the two a bit much.

I have been a long-time Halo fan. I've played every iteration, sans Halo Wars, and enjoyed them all. I even went as far as to read the first four Halo novels, mainly because I wanted to learn more about Master Chief's back-story. Since then, I have stopped reading them, simply because they no longer focused on the history, or the ongoing battles of Master Chief. Through reading those early novels, I learned a good amount about Master Chief, Cortana, Dr. Halsey, the Halo installations and the Forerunners. So, naturally, I thought that I would be prepared, going into the Halo 4 story, without reading any of the recent novelizations. Sadly, I feel like I was wrong.

For the first couple of hours, things were going great. Chief woke up from his cryogenic slumber, shot up a bunch of Covenant, landed on a Forerunner planet, and then went about his business. All standard Halo fare, and all exactly what I wanted. Eventually, you run into a main antagonist, a first for a Halo game. This is where things started going south for me.

I was expecting an encounter similar to the first time Master Chief meets 343 Guilty Spark in the original Halo: Combat Evolved. Dialogue along the lines of, "Who are you?" and "What is it you want?" seemed like a fair guess as to where this first encounter would go. This was not the case. Almost right off the bat, Cortana begins calling the antagonist by a particular name that I have never heard before. Master Chief never questions this, and also seems to have an idea of who this character is and what is going on. At this point, I'm starting to doubt myself. "Did I miss a cutscene?" "Have I missed dialogue between the Master Chief and Cortana?" These were a few of the questions running through my head as I continued through the story. Moving on, you run into another character related to the antagonist and, once again, Cortana and Master Chief do not seem surprised and seem to know this character as well. Now, I know it isn't just me being dense.

I did a little research, and discover that pretty much all of the questions that I have were more or less answered in the two most recent Halo novels, Cryptum and Primordium, written by Greg Bear. This made me feel a little better, but at the same time, frustrated. I want to be able to play through the entire story of Halo 4 without being absolutely required to read the novels. They were never necessary for it's predecessors, and I don't see why it should be now. Sure, I can bumble all the way through the Halo campaign, understand most, but not all of it, and leave it at that. As you can tell, I don't want to do that at all. Fans should never HAVE to engage in reading or researching supplemental material in order to understand everything in your game's story. It doesn't really seem fair.

Now, positive things. Everything relating to Master Chief's past is fantastic. Everything involving Cortana's impending rampancy is fantastic. Anytime Master Chief is engaging with officers on the Infinity, it's fantastic. I really do love Halo 4...mostly. I look forward to finishing the campaign and writing down my final thoughts. Most of this is probably stuff that would only bother Halo super-fans, so some may not see why I'm being so whiny about it. But I think that it is important that studios know that not all of their fans read every novel, comic or other media that they release. Some of them just want to play the game, and they want a full experience from that alone.

#2 Posted by HistoryInRust (6334 posts) -

With regards to Cortana and Master Chief being totally okay with who Didact is, it just makes me wonder how seriously the players are supposed to consider the terminals in Halo 3, which is where all that Didact and Librarian business got its start. If the Master Chief reads all of the terminals, then he basically makes direct contact with an ancient Forerunner AI on The Ark, who vows to help him in some way.

The whole situation makes me stop and say, "Wait. Is it canon for Master Chief to have read those? Why would a developer make such essential bits of narrative so clandestine?"

Obviously, Bungie didn't know that far ahead that Halo 4 was going to be about Didact. But that doesn't excuse 343, who really ought to have retroactively considered that and, maybe, done some work with the script of Halo 4 to fill in the players who aren't up to speed with the relatively dense extended universe.

I don't know. It's a weird scenario. Sometimes I wish I could just sit in on creative meetings and see how the people in the room come to certain logical conclusions.

#3 Posted by Cramjomlin (61 posts) -

@HistoryInRust: I totally agree with you. It would be nice if they either made the terminals easier to spot, possibly along the main path of the campaign, or just scrap them altogether and put the videos from them online. I don't want to have to seriously hunt for extremely necessary story beats.

#4 Posted by xMEGADETHxSLY (446 posts) -

The Covenant say it before Chief & Cortana say it. It's also on the radio in the crash site. 100% no need for outside reading

#5 Posted by mrfluke (5268 posts) -

100 percent agree with the OP.

i mean gameplay wise, its the best halo,

but i cant help but feel a bit disappointed in the story for the game due to the lack of context of stuff in the game, how are everyday players supposed to know that the covenant in this game are called the Storm covenant and are a rebel faction of the covenant that pretty much said FUCK THIS, when arbiter took control of the covenant in the end of halo 3 when they provide 0 context about this in the game.the lack of context really hurts what could have been a serious GOTY contender

#6 Posted by Cramjomlin (61 posts) -

@mrfluke: I honestly had no idea that the Covenant that you fight were known as "Storm Covenant." I learned that just now from your comment alone. And, at this point, I HAVE completed the campaign and I still didn't know that. That being said, I'm planning on doing a second run by myself and finding all of the terminals, which allegedly shed some light on things.

#7 Edited by big_jon (5743 posts) -

@mrfluke: Chief says in the first mission that these Covenant seem more fanatical than the ones fought in the past. there is back story there that is pretty interesting, but I don't think it is all that necessary for the story of Halo 4.

The Didact sections are way too dropped on the payer though with little to no exposition, I am well versed in Halo and I still found it jarring, the characters reaction to this should have been way more "WTF?!". Halo 4 is still a great game and worthy of game of the year consideration to me though, the story between Chief and Cortana was still very well executed in my opinion.

#8 Posted by Cramjomlin (61 posts) -

@big_jon: The story and dialogue between Master Chief and Cortana is absolutely fantastic. Upon finishing the game, I'm able to forgive a bit of the Didact bits, simply because the ending is just SO DAMN GOOD.

#9 Posted by big_jon (5743 posts) -

@Cramjomlin: I agree.

Cortana's death really hit me, that shit hurt, seeing Chief's quite pain was pretty sad. That dude has lost almost everyone that he has ever cared about and keeps trucking on.

#10 Posted by pweidman (2342 posts) -

While I love the fiction in Halo 4 and the way 343 went deep so into it, I agree tc, they really didn't handle it correctly. There should've been more in the Prologue or maybe in some other accessible area in this game for players to catch up on the fiction and become much more informed. Only having the info, much of which is still inferential, in the terminals is not enough.

Surprising missteps by 343, and regardless of the massive effort making this game it was an oversight. Maybe they'll learn from it going forward w/the trilogy.

#11 Posted by mrfluke (5268 posts) -

@big_jon: in my opinion since we fought covenant for 5 halo games, id like a little more exposition to why there here, like have the UNSC that you meet inform you (or have master chief ask them why are the covenant fighting us) that its a rebel faction of the covenant that split off from the main branch cause essentially they didnt want to follow arbiter, that would have been interesting foreshadowing for a plot point for halo 5

as for the didact reveal, yea it could have been better, like id understand not having chief freak out, but have like cortana be shocked or something.

i think there is a very good story in halo 4, i think its just a shame most of it is not in the game, thankfully the interaction between chief and cortana was well done though

#12 Posted by mrfluke (5268 posts) -

@Cramjomlin: they touch a little bit on the covenant stuff but they primarily shed on why the didact is the big bad, which is worth seeing,

i found it a bit weird only because i read the forerunner books, and didact was kind of a good guy in those books,

#13 Edited by big_jon (5743 posts) -

@mrfluke: Yeah, I just wish they would set aside more time for cut scenes to be honest, every Halo has the issue of the back third of the game having all the story crammed into it, at least that's what I think. I am one of the guys who reads all the books, beats the campaign dozens of times, gets 30,000 kills in multiplayer, and salivates over the cut scenes, I just want them to spend more time in cut scenes so we can get more substance out of them in the future. They are way too worried about the lowest common denominator getting bored of not shooting things, and I say fuck them, they don't give two shits about the actual story anyways, let them skip, and shoot more Grunts.

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