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The best Halo games, ranked

The best Halo games list is always one to raise hackles because the entries are pretty damn good and everyone has their favorite. Everyone remembers the first / only time they scored a ‘Killimanjaro!’ spree on Last Resort during a heated online team deathmatch – we totally believe you did it. Or the first time you stared up at the titular ring in Combat Evolved, or those nights you spent ruining yourself trying to get through Halo 3’s Tsavo Highway on Legendary with three co-op buddies.

With Halo Infinite arriving in the coming months, there's no better time to think about what you'd rank as the number one in a list of best Halo games. Everyone has their favorites, but with such a selection of highly praised games, we have to ask: which one’s the best? Read on to see how we’ve ranked every Halo, from worst to best, and try not to mentally stick us with a plasma grenade should you disagree with the order…

9. Halo Wars 2

Ask yourself an honest question. Do you really need another Halo real-time strategy game in your life? Probably not, right? Well, you’re getting one anyway, champ! In defence of Halo Wars 2, it continues to get one thing absolutely right: it’s an RTS that works really well on a pad. The original is one of the few games in the genre that feels comfortable played on a controller, and this sequel subtly evolves the control scheme, giving you a streamlined strategy title that never feels like it needs a mouse and keyboard – though the PC version does support them.

New control groups make waging battles a more nuanced affair, and splitting your army into separate groups leads to multitasking alien murder on an epic scale. The story the Creative Assembly manages to spin is surprisingly decent too, and Blur Studio’s gorgeously rendered cinematics ooze big budget sleekness. The army-building antics of the new Blitz mode are also worthy of praise – recruiting enormous UNSC armies by building decks of cards is a really cute spin on the RTS formula. Halo Wars 2 may continue to try and fill a gap in the market that probably doesn’t need plugged, but it still serves up a decent slice of strategy. 

8. Halo Wars

It's hard to believe Halo Wars is even part of Microsofts flagship series. For one, it's about the rank-and-file of the UNSC, with nary a Master Chief in sight. Perhaps more importantly, it's not remotely close to being a first-person shooter. Developed by the studio that created PC strategy classics like Age of Empires, Ensemble Studios took Halo's myriad aliens, weapons, and vehicles and put them in a console-exclusive real-time strategy game - the video game equivalent of mixing oil and water. But not only does Halo Wars work - it's one of the series' unsung classics.

Halo Wars lets you build your own base, upgrade buildings, and amass a legion of soldiers, Warthogs, and Pelicans in order to crush the Covenant armada. But rather than getting bogged down in menus and statistics, Halo Wars streamlines the whole process for the Xbox 360, keeping the action running at a brisk pace that's distinctly Halo. It may not feature as many options as its more complex PC contemporaries, but if you want a break from staring down the barrel of an MA5 Assault Rifle, Halo Wars provides a unique perspective on an iconic franchise.

7. Halo 5: Guardians

Here it is, ladies and gents: the first (and hopefully only) Halo campaign that’s simply no fun to play on your lonesome. Make no mistake, Halo 5 was designed to be played with three online chums by your side. Fight against one of the campaign’s dratted Wardens – a infuriating breed of mini boss who can only be hurt from behind as your allies distract them from the front – and you’ll know exactly what kind of tiresome grind Halo 5 is when ‘enjoyed’ on your own.

Despite Microsoft throwing an insane budget at Xbox One’s first proper Halo, every part of Guardians feels confused. Master Chief has to share the spotlight with new spartan protagonist Locke, Cortana is kinda the baddie but not really, while the game’s controls crib on Call of Duty (Halo finally gets iron sights) and Titanfall (note the boost dash) without ever fully convincing. Even Warzone, a commendable, sprawling new online mode, feels outdated placed next to the ever evolving FPS treats of Destiny. Halo 5 isn’t necessarily a bad video game, but it’s unquestionably a deeply compromised one. 

6. Halo 2

The game that put Xbox Live on the map. You may look back and groan at all those lacklustre Arbiter missions in the campaign, yet there’s no denying Halo 2 has one of the most important online modes of all time. Though it needed a day-one patch to really sing (yes, even back then), Halo 2’s multiplayer stands as a landmark in the history of Xbox Live, bringing Bungie’s unique combat into a sprawling suite of matchmaking features, customization, skill ranking, and just about every feature you’ve come to expect from online games today.

Halo 2’s online encounters had a seismic impact on the Xbox landscape, and the hugely influential mode nearly covers up a wobbling campaign filled with linear environments, grating shootouts, and cheap ‘gotcha!’ moments. The plot is smart to frame the first game’s events as a spark that ignites civil war within the Covenant, but the spectacle is constantly looking for a better game to go along with it. At least Marty O’Donnell’s music is phenomenal.

5. Halo 4

Watching a studio take over a storied series from its creators is always difficult, but 343 Industries had it harder than almost everyone else. Bungie had essentially become The Beatles of game development by the time it bade farewell to its landmark sci-fi shooter. Halo 4 could've been the best game ever made, and it still would've been saddled with unreasonable expectations. Of course, this somewhat soft series reboot isn’t the greatest game of all time, it’s merely a very good shooter. But hey, that’s still a might fine accomplishment.

Halo 4’s campaign really shines, with smart level design that never falls prey to Bungie’s bad habit of making huge spaces that are easy to get lost in. There's nothing like Halo: CE's Library or Halo 3's Floodgate here – no Flood at all, in fact – making it the first numbered Halo to totally excise the series’ most annoying enemy. Multiplayer may try a little too hard to court the COD crowd – a sprint button in Halo still feels like heresy – yet there’s no denying this is one of the most gorgeous games ever to hit Xbox 360.  

4. Halo 3: ODST

ODST doesn't even let you play as a Spartan, yet it solidifies a decent spot on this list as a jazzy, essential part of the Halo legacy. You get a different perspective on the battle against the Covenant. You aren't an invincible, genetically-altered super soldier – you're just a guy who probably went down to the local recruiting office and signed up for the USNC. As such, you can't jump as high, survive as much punishment, or dual-wield weapons like the Chief. Who cares, though? Those shortcomings just makes your ODST stand out from the superhuman crowd.

Halo 3: ODST pulls together an engaging story that mixes the series' open-ended shooting with a detective-style story. Your character, the Rookie, becomes separated from his squad, and is subsequently knocked unconscious. When he awakes, he's forced to piece together the events caused by the shockwave from the Covenant ship's destructive departure over the city of New Mombasa. The campaign neatly ties into Halo 3's story, making it essential if you want to keep up with the overarching narrative. ODST is anything but the same old Halo game, and with a set of story missions you can tackle in any order you like, spread across a evocative sandbox-like city, this is perhaps the bravest entry in the franchise. 

3. Halo: Combat Evolved

One of the most influential shooters of all time. End of. Halo instantly made Xbox a credible gaming platform right out of the gate, and it remains one of the best launch titles ever. No, it’s not perfect – lord that the Flood-infested Library level ever suck – yet Combat Evolved still provided the granite-strong raw material that all future Halo outings were carved from. That first mission, where you drop into open combat with the Covenant, is often mimicked, rarely bettered (yes, 14 years later), and still brings out /all/ of the goosebumps. The story, while a little bloated, remains exciting, and the gameplay retains the lightweight, agile purity that's stayed constant over the years.

In fact, said agility, combined with super smooth shooting, forms the basis for Bungie’s latest space-opera, Destiny, which owes a massive debt to Halo: CE. The Anniversary edition of CE prettied up the visuals, leaving most other elements untouched for better or for worse. Good: the enemy AI remains as fun to fight as it was back in 2001. Bad: the Library still exists, and the weapons – while retaining a beautiful, lethal simplicity – feel limited by modern Halo standards. Regardless of flaws, Halo: CE remains a glorious, streamlined prototype that changed the FPS forever, and is still well worth revisiting, even to this day.

2. Halo 3

The best multiplayer game there’s ever been, and quite possibly ever will be. There, we said it. Forget Mario Kart, Goldeneye or Timesplitters 2. Halo 3’s multiplayer is incredible. INCREDIBLE. If you’ve ever gathered with your buddies for a disgustingly, life-affirmingly addictive two-vs-two team 49-50 deathmatch on Guardian, you know what we’re talking about. And if none of that sentence makes a lick of sense to you, rush out, pick up Halo: The Master Chief Collection, get together with three friends, and immediately indulge in the most moreish deathmatches (played across the best multiplayer maps) ever conceived.

The campaign ain’t half bad, either. The action is classic Halo in its prime, pulsing with superb gunplay, destructive vehicle segments, and co-op moments that still burn bright in the memory – remember /that/ Scarab fight? Couple this decidedly decent campaign with a multiplayer mode you may have gathered we’re quite fond of, and you’re left with a truly sublime Halo. 

1. Halo: Reach

Halo: Reach represents the pinnacle of Bungie’s tinkering with the Halo formula. The graphics still hold up thanks to strong art direction, the sense of movement is intoxicating, each weapon packs a mighty wallop, and the supremely paced campaign is easily the best story mode to come out of the series. Reach boldly experiments with established mechanics, and engages its players in a way no Halo before or since had the guts to. And don’t even get us started on the inevitable, selfless conclusion.

Customizing your Spartan becomes a thorough and personal experience, allowing you to get into the nitty gritty of building a look and loadout that perfectly suits your playstyle. Invasion mode offers up asymmetrical multiplayer that makes matches exciting and unpredictable. You can spend endless hours in Firefight with its full matchmaking support and variety of maps. Daily and weekly challenges force gamers to switch up their playstyles and try something new. Commendations reward the most dedicated players and feel like gaining a medal of honor. Theater and File Share let you easily record and share your most unbelievable, awe-inspiring, or just plain goofy moments. Halo: Reach was Bungie's farewell to the series, and it's a hell of a note to end on.

Paid maker of words, goes by many names: Meiksy… Macklespammer… Big Hungry Joe. Obsessive fan of Metal Gear Solid, Nathan Drake's digital pecks and Dino Crisis 2. Loves Jurassic Park so much, may burst at any moment.