Xbox’s flagship shooter is an intergalactic sci-fi saga with narrative foundations that date back billions of years. Despite that far-reaching history, the actual Halo games largely take place within a single decade during the tail end and aftermath of the Human-Covenant War.
The mainline Halo games present a sequential storyline, though several spinoffs complicate the series’ chronology. With that in mind, we’ve created this brief rundown of the Halo timeline as explored in video games.
This list includes all mainline Halo games and most spinoffs, including the Halo Wars strategy games and Halo: Spartan top-down shooters. The mixed-reality game Halo Recruit, the arcade game Halo: Fireteam Raven, and the marketing ploy/mobile game Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled By Mountain Dew are not included.
- How to play in chronological order
- How to play by release order
The Halo Games in Chronological Order
As with most series, there are two possible ways to approach the Halo games: chronologically by release date or chronologically by narrative. The choice is yours, and both possible paths are outlined below, beginning with the narrative chronology.
With series newcomers in mind, these brief plot synopses contain only mild spoilers such as broad plot points, settings, and character introductions.
1. Halo Wars (2531)
Halo Wars is the series’ earliest-set game, taking place 21 years before the start of Halo: Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo Wars is set during the early days of the Human-Covenant War, a conflict started by the alien Covenant to preserve the false foundations on which it built its religion. Halo Wars follows the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) forces aboard the Spirit of Fire and the Red Team of Spartan-II supersoldiers as they take the fight to the Covenant across the planets Harvest and Arcadia, as well as the Forerunner installation Shield 0459 (aka Trove).
Halo Wars is the first of two real-time strategy spinoffs. The second, Halo Wars 2 (further down this list), is set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.
2. Halo: Reach (2552)
Halo: Reach is set 21 years later, during the summer months of 2552. Noble Team begins its fight with the Covenant on the planet Reach, one of humanity’s most prosperous colonies. Noble Team, including the playable character Noble Six, was heavily outnumbered in their fight, yet their efforts allowed the ship Pillar of Autumn and Cortana to escape Reach, setting the scene for Halo: Combat Evolved.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2552)
The ending of Reach leads directly into Halo: Combat Evolved, with the Pillar of Autumn entering Installation 04, one of seven ring-shaped worlds (i.e., Halos) created by an ancient species of highly intelligent beings known as the Forerunners.
The Pillar, carrying Cortana and John-117, aka Master Chief, is attacked by the Covenant and forced to crash-land on the ring. There, Chief fights Covenant forces and accidentally unleashes the Flood, an ancient species of parasitic organisms that feed on sentient life. Chief must find a way to contain the Flood outbreak without destroying humanity.
Halo: Combat Evolved also introduces series staples such as 343 Guilty Spark, the Forerunner Monitor tasked with overseeing Installation 04; Jacob Keyes, a commanding officer in the UNSC Navy; and Avery Johnson, a highly trained UNSC Marine.
4. Halo 2 (2552)
Set shortly after the conclusion of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 tells two tales: the story of a Covenant Sangheili named Thel ‘Vadam (aka The Arbiter) and the story of Master Chief’s continued fight against the Covenant and Flood.
The story takes place over roughly one month, with Chief and the Arbiter eventually coming together to fight for a common cause. The campaign introduces another Halo ring (Installation 05) and takes us to the series’ version of Earth, where the threat of a Covenant invasion looms. Halo 2’s ending gives us Chief’s legendary line: “Sir, finishing this fight.”
In addition to the Arbiter, Halo 2 introduces the Covenant Hierarchs (the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret) and Miranda Keyes, a commander in the UNSC Navy and the child of the aforementioned Jacob Keyes and the not-yet-introduced Dr. Catherine Halsey.
5. Halo 3: ODST (2552)
The events of Halo 3: ODST run concurrently with those of Halo 2 — specifically it begins after the Halo 2 mission Metropolis. ODST is set in New Mombasa, an early and vital battleground during the Covenant’s invasion of Earth.
The less-linear story centers around a group of six highly-trained Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), with the player controlling a character known as Rookie. Rookie encounters Covenant forces within New Mombasa as he searches the city for his scattered squadmates.
Among those squadmates is Nathan Fillion’s Edward Buck, who returns in Halo 5: Guardians as a member of Fireteam Osiris.
6. Halo 3 (2552–2553)
The conclusion of the original Halo trilogy, Halo 3 follows Master Chief through the final months of the Human-Covenant War. Chief and the UNSC once again attempt to prevent the Covenant from firing the Halo Array, which would wipe out all sentient life within a 25,000-lightyear radius. The Flood, meanwhile, descends on Earth, introducing a second existential threat to humanity.
Our heroes deal with the threat, and Master Chief leaves us with another unforgettable sendoff as he enters a cryo-chamber aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn: “Wake me when you need me.”
7. Halo: Spartan Assault (2554)
Halo: Spartan Assault is a spinoff game set between Halo 3 and 4. It’s one of two top-down shooters on this list alongside its sequel, Halo: Spartan Strike. Spartan Assault stars Spartan-IV soldiers Edward Davis and Sarah Palmer in a post-war skirmish against a Covenant faction led by Sangheili warlord Merg Vol. There’s not much added to the overall narrative, though Palmer also appears in Halo 4, 5, and Infinite.
8. Halo 4 (2557)
Halo 4 is a pivotal game in both the series’ ongoing narrative and the story of its development: It begins the Reclaimer Saga and begins the series’ life under 343 Industries following original developer Bungie’s split from Microsoft.
Halo 4 picks up four years after the conclusion of Halo 3, when Cortana awakens Master Chief from the cryosleep to deal with a Covenant threat. Halo 4 puts more emphasis on the relationship between Chief and Cortana, as the latter deals with the early stages of rampancy, a condition in which AI becomes dangerously unstable. The duo, meanwhile, face a new existential threat to humanity in the return of the Forerunners led by a new antagonist, the Didact. Chief explores yet another Halo ring, Installation 03.
We also get debut appearances from Cortana’s creator Dr. Catherin Halsey and a critical Forerunning being known as the Librarian.
9. Halo: Spartan Strike (2557)
Halo: Spartan Strike begins concurrent to Halo 2 in 2552 before jumping to 2557. The narrative consequences of Spartan Strike on the ongoing Halo saga are minimal; the story follows a group of UNSC forces fighting the Covenant while tracking down a Forerunner artifact called the Conduit.
10. Halo 5: Guardians (2558)
Considered the poorest of the Halo campaigns, Halo 5 commits the cardinal sin of moving the focus away from the series’ beloved Master Chief in favor of Fireteam Osiris led by Jameson Locke, a Spartan-IV supersoldier tasked with locating the Chief and bringing him back to UNSC leadership.
The story cuts between Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, who under Master Chief’s command, is on its own mission to track down a rogue, power-hungry Cortana.
11. Halo Wars 2 (2559)
Set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite, Halo Wars 2 introduces the Brute warlord Atriox, the leader of the Banished and a major antagonist in Halo Infinite.
Halo Wars 2 features the return of Red Team and the Spirit of Fire from the first Halo Wars. The team is awakened after 28 years of cryosleep and arrives at the Ark, where they encounter Atriox and the Banished. Despite poor odds, Red Team sees itself as the shield between the Banished and humanity, and so they fight. The unresolved UNSC-Banished conflict continues in Halo Infinite.
12. Halo Infinite (2560)
The series’ most recent game by chronology and release date is Halo Infinite. It brings the focus back to Master Chief and introduces players to the series’ first open world on Zeta Halo (Installation 07).
Infinite brings the Banished from Halo Wars 2 into the mainline series while introducing another threat in the Endless, an ancient race of beings until now imprisoned by the Forerunners. The Endless are represented in the Infinite campaign by a new character named the Harbinger.
Chief’s new allies include a UNSC pilot named Fernando Esparza and an AI replica of Cortana known as the Weapon. In addition to Atrioix and the Harbinger, Infinite’s lineup of villains includes the Banished War Chief Escharum and the Sangheili Spartan killer Jega.
How to Play The Halo Games By Release Date
- Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)*
- Halo 2 (2004)*
- Halo 3 (2007)*
- Halo Wars (2009)
- Halo 3: ODST (2009)
- Halo: Reach (2010)
- Halo 4 (2012)*
- Halo Spartan Assault (2013)
- Halo: Spartan Strike (2015)
- Halo 5: Guardians (2015)*
- Halo Wars 2 (2017)
- Halo Infinite (2020)*
*Mainline Halo games
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Author: Jordan Sirani