How to play the Halo games in chronological order

Xbox’s flagship shooter is an intergalactic sci-fi saga with narrative foundations that date back to days gone by billions of years. Despite that far-reaching history, the actual Halo games largely take place within a decade during the end and aftermath of the Human-Covenant War.

The main features of Halo games present a sequential storyline, although several spin-offs complicate the chronology of the series. With that in mind, we’ve created this brief overview of the Halo timeline as explored in video games.

This list includes all Halo games and most spin-offs, 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 trick/mobile game Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled By Mountain Dew are not included.

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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 story. The choice is yours, and both possible paths are outlined below, starting with the narrative chronology.

With series newcomers in mind, these brief plot synopses only include: mild spoilers such as broad plot points, settings, and character introductions.

1. Halo Wars (2531)

Halo Wars is the earliest game in the series and takes 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 United Nations Space Command (UNSC) forces aboard the Spirit of Fire and the Red Team of Spartan-II super-soldiers as they battle 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 spin-offs. The second, Halo Wars 2 (further down this list), is set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.

2. Halo: Range (2552)

Halo: Reach takes place 21 years later, during the summer months of 2552. Noble Team begins its battle 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 combat, but their efforts allowed the ship Pillar of Autumn and Cortana to escape Reach, setting the stage for Halo: Combat Evolved.

3. Halo: Battle Evolved (2552)

The end of Reach leads directly to Halo: Combat Evolved, entering the Pillar of Autumn Installation 04, one of seven ring-shaped worlds (i.e. Halos) created by an ancient species of highly intelligent creatures known as the Forerunners.

The Pillar, featuring 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 that oversees Installation 04; Jacob Keyes, a Commanding Officer in the United Nations Security Council Navy; and Avery Johnson, a highly trained Marine from the United Nations Security Council.

4. Halo 2 (2552)

Set shortly after the end of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 tells two stories: the story of a Covenant Sangheili named Thel’ Vadam (aka The Arbiter) and the story of Master Chief’s ongoing battle against the Covenant and Flood.

The story takes place over about a month, with Chief and the Arbiter finally coming together to fight for a common goal. 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. The ending of Halo 2 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 United Nations Security Council Navy and the child of the aforementioned Jacob Keyes and the unintroduced 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 battlefield during the Covenant’s invasion of Earth.

The less linear story revolves around a group of six highly trained Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), with the player controlling a character known as Rookie. Rookie encounters Covenant troops in New Mombasa as he searches the city for his scattered squadmates.

Among those squad members 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 to the original Halo trilogy, Halo 3 follows Master Chief through the final months of the Man-Covenant War. Chief and the UN Security Council once again try to stop the Covenant from firing the Halo Array, which would destroy all living things within a 25,000 light-year radius. The deluge, 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 farewell as he enters a cryo-chamber aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn: “Wake me up when you need me.”

7. Halo: Spartan Attack (2554)

Halo: Spartan Assault is a spin-off game set between Halo 3 and 4. It is 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 Marrow Vol. Not much has been added to the overall story, although Palmer also appears in Halo 4, 5 and Infinite.

8. Halo 4 (2557)

Halo 4 is a pivotal game in both the ongoing story of the series and the story of its development: it begins the Reclaimer Saga and begins the life of the series under 343 Industries following the lead of the original developer Bungie’s split from Microsoft.

Halo 4 continues four years after the end of Halo 3, when Cortana awakens Master Chief from cryosleep to face a Covenant threat. Halo 4 puts more emphasis on the relationship between Chief and Cortana, as the latter deals with the early stages of rampant, a state where 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. Catherine Halsey and a critical forerunner known as the librarian.

9. Halo: Spartan Attack (2557)

Halo: Spartan Strike starts simultaneously with Halo 2 in 2552 before jumping to 2557. The narrative implications of Spartan Strike for the ongoing Halo saga are minimal; the story follows a group of UNSC troops fighting the Covenant as they track down a Forerunner artifact called the Conduit.

10. Halo 5: Watchmen (2558)

Considered the poorest of the Halo campaigns, Halo 5 commits the mortal sin of shifting its focus from the series’ beloved Master Chief to Fireteam Osiris led by Jameson Locke, a Spartan-IV super-soldier tasked with locating the Chief and return to the leadership of the UN Security Council.

The story centers on Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, who is under the command of Master Chief on his own mission to track down a rogue, power-hungry Cortana.

11. Halo Wars 2 (2559)

Halo Wars 2 is set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite and 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 meet Atriox and the Banished. Despite the bad odds, Red Team sees itself as the shield between the Banished and humanity, so they fight. The unresolved conflict banned by the UN Security Council continues in Halo Infinite.

12. Halo Infinity (2560)

The most recent game of the series 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 (Install 07).

Bringing the Banished from Halo Wars 2 to the main series, Infinite introduces a new threat to the Endless, an ancient race of creatures previously held captive by the Forerunners. The Endless are represented in the Infinite campaign by a new character called 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 assassin Jega.

How to play the Halo games by release date

*Mainline Halo Games

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