The inconvenient truth is that from a critical perspective Halo has fallen into a downward spiral. That trend accelerated with the completion of the original trilogy and hasn’t stopped yet. There are probably hundreds of potential reasons for that (e.g. perceived innovation of the franchise, review standards, loss of quality,…) but one might ask:
Why on earth is Halo 5 with it’s (arguably) much superior mechanics and MP-components even worse rated than Halo 4?
While studying dozens of reviews for both games, I came to a very simple conclusion (see my analysis here): Editors care a lot for campaign as well as storytelling and Halo 5 just didn’t deliver.
But what about the wider Halo community? Do we the players mostly care about MP aspects as forum discussion might suggest? Is the uproar about bad storytelling in Halo 5 just that of a small minority?
I wanted to find out.
Big Halo Campaign & Storytelling Survey
Format: Google Forms online survey – LINK
Timeframe: Jan 29 – Feb 03, 2017
Promoted via: Halo Reddit, Halo Waypoint, Facebook, Twitter
Can I have the raw data? I’ll send you the Excel-file if you ask me nicely.
Sample prodecure: self-selection
IMPORTANT: Most likely NOT a representative sample of Halo players in general – but more likely representative of community-active Halo fans (i.e. more likely to be better informed, more likely to be ‘opinion leaders’)
Sample size: 440+ responses
As the survey didn’t include any mandatory fields (respondents were allowed to skip questions) the numbers vary from item to item
Let’s dig into the results!
1.1 How old are you?
The good news first: The respondents are much younger than I’ve feared. I always had that picture of an aging fanbase in my mind (HCE released 16 years ago!) but as it turns out three quarters are 23 years old or younger.
The bad news: As 30+ I’m feeling pretty old now.
1.2 What was the first (mainline) Halo game you played?
Despite the young age of the respondents more than 60% had their first Halo experience with Halo Combat Evolved. What may sound contradictory at first (at the time of release most respondents were 7 years and younger) isn’t that surprising on second thought. It only makes sense to start with the first entry of a series, even if you pick up a game years after release.
Another interesting note: For almost 93% of the respondents a game of the classic trilogy (H1-H3) has been their entry point into the franchise which might partly explain the prevalent strong emotional attachment in the community.
II. Importance of campaign aspects
The bigger the number (1-10) the more important the aspect.
1… not important
10… very important
2.1 Single player experience
2.2 Coop experience (in general)
2.3 Split-Screen Coop
2.4 Presentation / graphics
2.5 Music / sounddesign
2.8 Campaign aspects comparison
Mean… average score
SD… standard deviation (the bigger the number the more different the opinions)
The biggest takeaways:
* Respondents almost universally agree that the SP experience is of utmost importance
* The Coop experience is quite important as well, yet the importance varies much more strongly
* Split-Screen Coop has the greatest variation i.e. some people care a lot, others not at all
* What most likely distinguishes Halo from other AAA games: The Halo community cares more about music / sounddesign than presentation / graphics – quite remarkable!
* Not surprisingly gameplay is king
* But here comes the big surprise: Respondents think that storytelling is as important as gameplay (!) with more ’10’ ratings (312 = 70,3%) than any other item and very little variation (94% rated ‘8’ or higher).
A friendly reminder that Halo isn’t your typical FPS and that you shouldn’t mess with storytelling (Halo 5 says ‘Hi!’).
2.9 Bonus question: Is the importance of storytelling dependent on the age of the respondents?
Storytelling is extremely important to all respondents regardless of age. The graph makes it seem as though the age groups of ’34-38′ and ’39+’ care even more, with such a low number of people in these groups (9 and 6) however that might be a coincidence.
2.10 Bonus question: What should 343i prioritize given limited ressources (time/budget)?
Another clear statement from the respondents: More than three quarters would prioritize the SP experience over the Coop experience.
Side note: Imo 343i did exactly the opposite with Halo 5.
III. Rating of the Halo campaigns overall
The bigger the number (1-10) the better the rating.
3.1 Halo Combat Evolved – overall campaign experience
3.2 Halo 2 – overall campaign experience
3.3 Halo 3 – overall campaign experience
3.4 Halo Reach – overall campaign experience
3.5 Halo 4 – overall campaign experience
3.6 Halo 5 – overall campaign experience
3.7 Overall campaign experience comparison
The biggest takeaways:
* Halo 3 has the best rated campaign followed by Halo 2, Halo CE / Halo Reach, Halo 4 and Halo 5
* Respondents clearly favor the Bungie Halo campaigns which doesn’t come as a surprise
* What’s striking is the big gap between Halo 4 and Halo 5.
While you see symmetrical bell-shaped curves in both distributions there is a noticeable high number of ‘1’ ratings in Halo 5 indicative of great frustration or disappointment.
I would argue that the reasons for Halo 5’s poor result have very little to do with the quality of the core gameplay mechanics or that of the level/mission design (both superior to Halo 4 imo). There might be two key differentiators: The quality of the single player experience and that of the storytelling (I’ll come back to this soon).
Regardless of the reason it’s very easy to see why Halo 5 fell behind Halo 4 in the Metacritic ratings.
3.8 Bonus question: Does the first Halo game you played influence your ratings?
The above graph indicates that this might indeed be the case. People who started their Halo career with a certain game always rated that game higher than people who first played another Halo entry. The effect seems to be stronger in Halo CE and Halo Reach.
As only 5 respondents in total said that Halo 4 and Halo 5 were their first Halo games, they’re not included in this analysis.
IV. Rating of the storytelling
4.1 Storytelling – Halo Combat Evolved
4.2 Storytelling – Halo 2
4.3 Storytelling – Halo 3
4.4 Storytelling – Halo Reach
4.5 Storytelling – Halo 4
4.6 Storytelling – Halo 5
4.7 Storytelling – comparison
The biggest takeaways:
* Halo 2 und Halo 3 share the first place, followed by Halo Reach, Halo CE, Halo 4 and Halo 5. Who would have thought that after Halo 2’s introduction of an unpopular second protagonist and infamous cliffhanger ending?
* While there is once again a ‘Bungie bonus’ Halo 4 manages to come pretty close
* Halo 5’s downfall is brutal compared to Halo 4 by the same developer (-3,5 on average). The respondents are clearly dissatisfied with the change of direction which perfectly corresponds with the media’s critical reception as well.
I’ve laid the results on top of each other in order to call attention to that striking difference:
V. Approval of statements
Approval of statements (1-5)
1… strongly disagree
5… strongly agree
5.1 “I think there should be a greater emphasis on storytelling in future Halo titles”
Another testament to the high importance of storytelling for the respondents. 94% agree or strongly agree that there should be a greater emphasis on storytelling in future Halo games.
5.2 “I would like to see more depth in Halo’s storytelling (e.g. deeper characterization, more complex themes,…)”
While this statement is quite similar to the last it is also more specific. While a ‘greater emphasis on storytelling’ could mean a lot of things (e.g. just doing better what has been done before) this is about more depth and complexity. Halo’s characters and themes have always been simplified for the games – so do the respondents think that this depth of storytelling is good as it is or do they long for more complexity?
At least for me the result was surprising: An overwhelming majority of 84% would like to see more depth in Halo’s storytelling.
5.3 “Halo games tend to confuse me story-wise (don’t know what’s going on etc.)”
There is repeated discussion whether or not Halo games confuse players story-wise (e.g. Didact in Halo 4). While it would certainly be interesting to compare different Halo games, 78% of the respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Just keep in mind that these people are very likely better informed than the average Halo player.
5.4 “After Hunt the Truth I’m extra wary when it comes to future Halo marketing”
It is no secret that the excellent Hunt The Truth marketing campaign for Halo 5 resulted in a lot of disappointed expectations. 64% agree or strongly agree that they are extra wary when it comes to future Halo marketing which might be a challenging hurdle to overcome for both Microsoft and 343i.
5.5 “Storytelling-wise Halo 5 was a letdown for me”
This is another confirmation that a lot of people were very disappointed with Halo 5’s storytelling as 82% agree or strongly agree with the above statement.
5.6 “I’m optimistic that 343i can offer great storytelling in Halo 6”
Given the relatively harsh reaction to Halo 5 in this survey this result surprised me as the majority of respondents seems to be optimistic when it comes to Halo 6.
If I had to guess it’s because fans really want it to be good. People also argued that Halo 5 stumbled but was a great setup for Halo 6.
I remain cautious: I want to believe but 343i’s lack of communication about the matter and no signs of personal changes in the narrative team do not instill me with confidence.
That is why I would like to urge you: Please spread the message!
Halo fans deeply care about the single player campaign, Halo fans deeply care about good storytelling!