For this particular post, I thought I’d give a shout-out to the expanded Halo lore that has sprung up in the bountiful form of books.
Halo is my all-time favorite video game, and part of the reason it has branded itself onto the chamber walls of my heart is because of those books.
I won’t go into the exact details of Halo’s story here, but if you want to, you can check out these Below Average synopsis posts I made for Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 by clicking on them links.
Side note: The synopsis for Halo 3 is coming eventually. I haven’t forgotten about it.
I will, however, talk about the benefits the Halo books lend to the games, my favorites, and how the games should incorporate the lore in the future.
The best kind of Halo books have little to do with the events of the games. They tell compact stories within the Halo universe revolving around characters we barely see in the games. For example, Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten tells the backstory of a side character from the first game, and damn if he didn’t make the character of Avery Johnson more popular by doing so.
That’s a great example of my favorite kind of Halo book.
A book like The Flood is the complete opposite of that.
The Flood by William C. Dietz is a retelling of the plot of the first game. I mean, I’m a total lore-nerd when it comes to Halo, so I did enjoy reading the book. Plus, it gave me some hints about secrets in the game. However, in terms of an objective reading experience, you could kind of tell that the novel was a bit derivative.
So the best Halo books add to a universe that we’ve glimpsed in the games. Playing a Halo game is like visiting an exotic new location. Reading a Halo book is like hiring a tour guide to tell you about the places you are walking through.
Now, if the average layman were to pick up a random Halo book from their local Barnes & Noble, I’m not going to lie, they’d probably get a bit lost. Many of the plots rely on the fact that readers will know certain aspects of the Halo universe. Since I have played all the games and been immersed in the lore since high school, it’s actually pretty difficult for me to discern what will be obtuse to a newcomer or what will make sense.
But if I were to recommend Halo books to anybody, here are the five I would choose:
1. Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nyland: This is a classic Halo book, perhaps the classic, and it would be the best start for a newcomer. It describes the events before the first game, setting up the story of the main character and the war he finds himself thrust in. You’ll learn what the SPARTAN program is and how the war with the Covenant escalated. I know certain Halo fans dislike how the story conflicts with the plot of the game Halo: Reach, but I like both, and I take them on as separate entities in the same universe.
2. Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear: This is the first book of The Forerunner Saga, and even though it’s a strange read, I adore it. The plot takes place millennia before the plot of the first game. It talks of the Forerunners, the ancient alien race that built the Halo rings and battled the Flood before Master Chief did. The book is written with a weird syntax which takes some getting used to, but after a while, I appreciated it. The Forerunners should speak and act differently from how a human would, and the book reflects that. A word of caution though: be prepared to interpret things freely as you read. And the best delight this book brought to me came from revelations that tied to the games. I would not recommend this book to a newcomer unless they are committed to reading more lore.
3. Halo: Glasslands by Karen Traviss: This is just a well-written book. Straight-up awesome writing. The Halo games have trouble translating the human nature of characters into the games (with a few exceptions), and this book excels at making these characters feel real. Traviss tells the story of a special ops group comprised of different members from different branches of the United Nations Space Command. They each have had different experiences in the Covenant War, and it shaped who they are and how they approach the situation they find themselves in.
4. Halo: Broken Circle by John Shirley: This book wowed me by making Prophets seem sympathetic. (Well, certain Prophets.) Any Halo fan can tell you that the Prophets are a race of aliens in the Covenant that only come across as religious fanatics or manipulative schemers in the games. The Prophets, or San’Shyuum as they call themselves, are not to be contained by such representations thanks to this book. It shows us what they were like before they became a political nightmare. It also gives a narrative for how the Covenant came together. (The Covenant being a group of different alien races that banded together to find the Halo rings and destroy humanity.)
5. Halo: Last Light by Troy Denning: I discovered Troy Denning waaaay too late. I have since been rectifying that, and several of his Halo books are on my to-read list. Last Light is my favorite so far. He gives us a closer look at the Spartan-IIIs, and he tells a close-knit story that is separate from the events of the games. It also helps that his main character, Veta Lopis, is an outsider to the UNSC. You get to experience her reactions to the Spartans as she sees what they can do for the first time.
Now, I love lore as much as the next person, but I do have problems when the games include too much of it. My favorite Halo games are the first one and Halo:Reach, and they both have a story that relies more on its setting than on plot points. It allows the player to draw conclusions on their own without shoving too much narrative down their throats.
Side note: I do like narrative-heavy video games. But Halo has never been about a heavy narrative, not in the in the original games at least. And I liked them that way.
Halo 5: Guardians handled its narrative all wrong. It made the mistake of trying to jam too much lore into every seam of the game. With so much lore dripping out of it, the actual story of the game lost its tightness. Plus, it made it so that only a person who had read every bit of lore could enjoy the game with a thorough understanding of the characters.
I believe future games should return to the story-telling habits of the first ones. Less can be more, show don’t tell, and, for the ever-loving love of god, GIVE US BACK COUCH CO-OP.
To come to a conclusion, I just want to say that the Halo universe is a rich one, oozing with science-fiction possibilities. If you want to get into it, don’t let the growing library of books supporting it daunt you. Pick one up and get ready for some excitement. (But seriously, at least start with The Fall of Reach.)