Shortly after Halo 4 was revealed during Microsoft’s E3 press conference, Microsoft Game Studios head Phil Spencer sat down with OXM UK and admitted that Microsoft lost its way with the most recent Halo releases, referring to ODST and Reach. As far as Spencer is concerned, those two titles moved the Halo franchise away from its core, namely Master Chief, and weren’t received as favorably by fans because of it.
“The key question for me in managing the studio and the creatives is ‘what is Halo?’, making sure Halo lives up to what I think gamers fell in love with [playing Combat Evolved]... What does that mean? Playing Master Chief,” explained Spencer.
“We kind of lost our way a little bit, I’ll say. And that’s why I wanted to make sure that at the unveiling of Halo 4, you knew you were playing Master Chief, that John was back. Because Master Chief is the John Wayne character of that universe, and that’s who you want to play.”
I’ll admit, at first I read Spencer’s above statement and was immediately rolling my eyes. I love Master Chief just as much as the next Halo fan. He’s become a gaming icon. However, his story-arc is about as one-dimensional as can be. Over the course of Halo 1-3, we learned little to nothing about the character, other than the fact that he loves Cortana. For gamers who haven’t read the Halo novels, Master Chief is still a blank slate. At least in the case of Reach, Bungie made strides to flesh out the cast and actually deliver a worthwhile plot that hits the rights emotional notes.
But then Phil Spencer continued on with his interview and a clearer picture started to take shape. The way Microsoft sees it, ODST and Reach just weren’t friendly titles to Halo newcomers. The emotional cores of their stories fell flat if you weren’t a diehard Halo fan. And that’s what Microsoft and 343 Industries are trying to bring back with Halo 4 -- narrative accessibility.
“If you were a Halo fan for Halo 1, 2 and 3, Reach made sense to you, but fundamentally there are a ton of players on our box right now that didn’t start with Halo 1,” continued Spencer. “What we said was: ‘let’s get back to what Halo is about’.
“I loved Reach as a game – as a fan of the fiction, I totally love the story in Reach, Reach is one of the best stories in the Halo universe. But it made more sense to you if you were a Halo fan.
“If you were new to Xbox 360, 360′s where you started playing on Xbox, you understood what Halo 3 was. ODST and Reach, maybe you weren’t as centered.”
While it pains me to admit it, Spencer does have a point. I still believe Halo: Reach is probably the best game in the Halo series, but for newcomers it was a hard nut to crack. Bungie’s swan song title was clearly made for fans of the universe and fiction first. So now we just have to wait and see what Microsoft and 343 Industries bring to the table with Halo 4. Let’s cross our fingers that it’s more than just Master Chief shooting at Covenant goons.