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20 Years of Determination in the Halo Saga

Twenty years ago, I had never heard of Xbox until I was introduced to the beefy original console at church. Prior to that, I played games on a Windows XP laptop. One of those was a science fiction, first-person shooter I became absorbed into, called Halo: Combat Evolved. Many years later, Halo became a video game industry titan. Bungie—the series’ creator—caught lightning in a bottle with the story of the Master Chief, also known as Spartan-117 and John, among other names. November 15, 2021, marked twenty years of his galaxy-wide adventures with his story of determination to save humanity from a myriad of enemies, no matter whom or what he’s up against. The series continues on December 8, 2021, with the launch of Halo Infinite. I have always considered Master Chief an inspiring hero, and while God is the ultimate inspiration of determination to save humanity, we can also be inspired by Master Chief’s undying, sacrificial heroism throughout the Halo saga.

Before it was just Master Chief and Cortana doing most of the work, but galactic peace takes lots of teamwork, even humility when crossing enemy lines to find common ground.

Master Chief’s story begins in Halo: Combat Evolved. He—a biologically augmented Spartan-II super soldier—and his AI partner Cortana are tasked to save surviving Marines on a massive ring-like world called a Halo. They discover an alien race called the Covenant, who seek to use it as a superweapon to destroy galactic life for their religious crusade. Determined to not let the Halo be fired, Chief and Cortana blow up their flagship to break it, and then float adrift in space in a dropship. But the fight to save humanity was just getting started, and the stakes only got higher.

Master Chief has been found and returned to Earth in Halo 2. One of the Covenant’s military leaders, Arbiter, is on trial for failing to protect the Halo, but he soon learns his superiors, the Prophets, lied about the rings’ purpose not as a gateway to heaven, but to destroy all life. When Spartan-117 is battling the Covenant on a second Halo ring, players are also tasked to play as the Arbiter and ally with humanity. Together, they eliminate those who still believe the Prophets’ lie. Cortana then volunteers to stay back in the Covenant space capital so John can return to Earth to finish the fight, but he promises to rescue her. Before it was just Master Chief and Cortana doing most of the work, but galactic peace takes lots of teamwork, even humility when crossing enemy lines to find common ground, and we see this evolve even more in the next game. 

Halo 3 brought the climactic end to Bungie’s trilogy. Humanity is surrounded by the Covenant, except those loyal to the Arbiter. Master Chief has returned to Earth to finish the fight and stop the Covenant from using the Ark to activate all Halo rings in the universe. But John does not forget the promise he made to Cortana. She is a top priority to him, as well as humanity, because she has the spirit of humanity in her equal dedication to sacrifice much to save others. When he retrieves her from a dangerous place, they barely escape in a ship after blowing up the Ark. However, their ship is cut in two by the Ark’s explosion as it enters slipspace, and he is adrift with Cortana again. 

After developer 343 Industries took the reins, they gave us one of the most emotional stories with Halo 4. John is awoken after four years of cryosleep to find he has drifted to the world Requiem, a gigantic metal planet built by the ancient Forerunner race to protect life from the Halos firing. Throughout this journey, Cortana is glitching out from nearing the end of her seven-year lifespan as an AI. Master Chief struggles to save her and stop an awakened Forerunner military leader and his army. In the end, Cortana makes a big sacrifice to save John and help stop the Forerunner. After all this time, Cortana expresses her sentiments about their relationship. His job was to take care of her, he says. But she says they were supposed to take care of each other; their relationship is a reflection of his and her duty to humanity.

Halo 5: Guardians’ story picks up months later. Master Chief has strange visions of Cortana still being alive, so he goes AWOL with Blue Team: his three Spartan-II teammates from the old days. His persistence to save his closest companion is unwavering. At the same time, new Spartans are ordered to hunt for the truth about his and Cortanas’ disappearance. While this happens, mysterious Forerunner Guardians—enormously tall metal beings—appear in the galaxy to be used by Cortana, who is alive and far more powerful than before. She relishes in her newfound capability to control others with power and betrays John. Nevertheless, he attempts to sway her to return home with him, but now Cortana sees protecting humanity as forcing them to stop destroying themselves. His story left off with his reuniting with the Arbiter and Dr. Catherine Halsey, the Spartan-II’s creator. This set the stage for the largest chapter in his story with Infinite.

Determination is one of Master Chief’s defining character traits—one I admire having grown up with him. No intricate maze of Forerunner landscapes or plasma bolts can stop him from protecting humanity. It is hard to tell if he grows more weary from a combat career, or the emotional toll of his non-romantic feelings toward Cortana. Nevertheless, he sticks to his duty unless his orders are immoral. One example is not giving up Cortana to his military superiors, even though she was degrading in Halo 4. It is wrong to disobey a direct order. Even so, Master Chief does not let his feelings blind him when they conflict with the right course of action. He doesn’t rest and puts himself on the frontlines to finish any objective. I have always loved that. Even if he fails once in a while and cannot save everyone, he never waivers in his mission.

All life is meant to flourish, yet many want to be greater than others. Saving humanity so it flourishes is his primary duty, whatever the cost, even to himself. Master Chief now has to use his words and heart to end tyranny, and becomes a source of hope.

God desires all of humanity to be saved as well. He loves to protect and to lead—never faltering, unlike a super-soldier. God leads and fights for those who love him. Determination is part of his character to turn people back to him. In the Old Testament, the Jews cycled through following God and rebelling a great many times. God sent prophets and strong leaders to guide them back, wanting to save them from their enemies—to love and instruct them. In the Halo series, John-117 is committed to saving humanity from destruction, as well as tyranny. From the beginning, he is a shield and a sword. All life is meant to flourish, yet many want to be greater than others. Saving humanity so it flourishes is his primary duty, whatever the cost, even to himself. Master Chief now has to use his words and heart to end tyranny, and becomes a source of hope for many by the time of Infinite. While all of that is inspiring, God does the legwork, and infinitely more, as our neverending hope.

Twenty years later, I love that Halo continues to leave an imprint on so many fans. Its success made it synonymous with Xbox, even revolutionizing the first-person shooter genre. Master Chief’s saga has and will continue to be a part of my life. His toughest obstacle comes on December 8th against Escharum: the Brute Leader of the Banished. Looking back, Halo 5’s story left a lot of players in disappointment with poor writing and a deceitful marketing campaign. That said, 343 Industries’ commitment to bringing the series back to prominence with Halo Infinite may pay off. I remain cautious about it, yet tremendously excited that their own determination will save Halo yet.

Writing stories that leave an impression is Matthew’s life pursuit. When not writing, he consumes single player games, Halo’s multiplayer, and various books. He is a Contract Game Writer, a Freelance Writer, and works toward a career in video game writing and authorship. You can see some of his writing on his website: matthewbirdzell.com

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