Xbox’s flagship shooter is an intergalactic sci-fi saga with narrative foundations stretching back thousands of millions of years. Despite that wide-ranging story, the actual Halo games largely take place within a single decade during the end and aftermath of the Human-Covenant War.
The main Halo games feature a sequential story, though several spin-offs complicate the series’ chronology. With that in mind, we’ve created this brief overview of the Halo timeline as explored in the video games.
This list includes all of the main Halo games and most spin-offs, including the Halo Wars strategy games and top-down shooters from Halo: Spartan. Excludes the mixed reality game Halo Recruit, the arcade game Halo: Fireteam Raven, and the marketing/mobile game Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled By Mountain Dew.
Halo games in chronological order
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 narrative. The choice is yours, and both possible paths are outlined below, beginning with the narrative timeline.
With newcomers to the series in mind, these brief plot synopses contain only minor spoilers such as general plot points, settings, and character introductions.
1. Halo Wars (2531)
Halo Wars is the first game in the series, taking place 21 years before the start of Halo: Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo Wars takes place during the early days of the Human-Covenant War, a conflict started by the alien Covenant to preserve the false foundations on which they built their religion. Halo Wars follows United Nations Space Command (UNSC) forces aboard the Spirit of Fire and Spartan-II Red Team supersoldiers as they battle the Covenant across the planets Harvest and Arcadia, as well as the facility Forerunner Shield 0459 (also known as Trove).
Halo Wars is the first of two real-time strategy spin-offs. The second, Halo Wars 2 (further down this list), sits between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.
2. Halo: Reach (2552)
Halo: Reach takes place 21 years later, during the summer months of 2552. Noble Team begins their fight with the Covenant on the planet Reach, one of humanity’s most prosperous colonies. The Noble Team, including the playable character Noble Six, was outnumbered in their fight, but their efforts allowed the Pillar of Autumn ship and Cortana to escape the Reach, setting the stage for Halo: Combat Evolved.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2552)
The ending of Reach leads directly into Halo: Combat Evolved, with the Pillar of Autumn entering Installation 04, one of seven ring-shaped worlds (aka Halos) created by an ancient species of highly intelligent beings known as the Halos. Forerunners.
The Pillar, carrying Cortana and John-117, aka Master Chief, is attacked by the Covenant and forced to land in the ring. There, Chief battles 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 features series staples such as 343 Guilty Spark, the Forerunner monitor tasked with overseeing Installation 04; Jacob Keyes, Commanding Officer of the UNSC Navy; and Avery Johnson, a highly trained UNSC Marine.
4. Halo 2 (2552)
Set shortly after the conclusion of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 tells two stories: the story of a Covenant Sangheili named Thel ‘Vadam (also known as The Arbiter) and the story of the Master Chief’s ongoing fight against the Covenant and Flood. .
The story unfolds for about a month, with the Chieftain and the Arbiter finally coming together to fight for a common cause. 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. Halo 2’s ending gives us Chief’s legendary line: “Sir, end this fight.”
In addition to the Arbiter, Halo 2 introduces the Hierarchs of the Covenant (the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Repentance) and Miranda Keyes, a commander in the UNSC Navy and daughter of the aforementioned Jacob Keyes and the as yet unintroduced Dr. Catherine Halsey.
5. Halo 3: ODST (2552)
The events of Halo 3: ODST take place at the same time as those of Halo 2; specifically, it begins after Halo 2’s Metropolis mission. ODST is set in New Mombasa, an early and vital battlefield during the Covenant’s invasion of Earth.
The less linear story centers around a group of six highly trained Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), with the player controlling a character known as Rookie. Rookie encounters Covenant forces inside New Mombasa as he searches the city for his scattered squadmates.
Among those squadmates is Nathan Fillion’s Edward Buck, who returns in Halo 5: Guardians as a member of Fireteam Osiris.
6. Halo 3 (2552–2553)
Halo 3, the conclusion to the original Halo trilogy, follows the Master Chief during the final months of the Human-Covenant War. Chief and the UNSC once again attempt to prevent the Covenant from firing the Halo Array, which would wipe out all sentient life 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 the Master Chief leaves us with another unforgettable farewell as he enters a cryogenic chamber aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn: “Wake me up when you need me.”
7. Halo: Spartan Assault (2554)
Halo: Spartan Assault is a spin-off game that takes place between Halo 3 and 4. It is one of two top-down shooters on this list along with its sequel, Halo: Spartan Strike. Spartan Assault stars Spartan-IV soldiers Edward Davis and Sarah Palmer in a post-war skirmish against a faction of the Covenant led by the warlord Sangheili Merg Vol. Not much is added to the overall narrative, though Palmer also appears in Halo 4, 5 and Infinite.
8. Halo 4 (2557)
Halo 4 is a pivotal game in both the ongoing narrative of the series and the history of its development: the Reclaimer Saga and begins the life of the series under 343 Industries following the original developer The separation of Bungie from Microsoft.
Halo 4 picks up four years after the conclusion of Halo 3, as Cortana awakens the Master Chief from cryogenic sleep to face a threat from the Covenant. Halo 4 places more emphasis on the relationship between Chief and Cortana, as the latter deals with the early stages of rampance, a condition where the AI becomes dangerously unstable. Meanwhile, the duo face a new existential threat to humanity in the return of the Forerunners led by a new antagonist, the Didact. Chief explores another Halo ring, Installation 03.
We also get debut appearances from Cortana’s creator, Dr. Catherin Halsey, and a critical Forerunning known as the Librarian.
9. Halo: Spartan Assault (2557)
Halo: Spartan Strike begins simultaneously with Halo 2 in 2552 before jumping to 2557. Spartan Strike’s narrative fallout on the ongoing Halo saga is minimal; the story follows a group of UNSC forces battling the Covenant while tracking down a Forerunner artifact called the Conduit.
10. Halo 5: Guardians (2558)
Considered the poorest of the Halo campaigns, Halo 5 commits the cardinal sin of shifting the focus away from the series’ beloved Master Chief in favor of the Fireteam Osiris led by Jameson Locke, a Spartan-IV supersoldier tasked with locating the Chief and bringing him back from lap. to the UNSC leadership.
The story splits between Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, who, under the command of the Master Chief, have their own mission to track down the rogue, power-hungry Cortana.
11. Halo Wars 2 (2559)
Set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite, Halo Wars 2 features the Brute warlord Atriox, the leader of the Banished and one of the main antagonists of Halo Infinite.
Halo Wars 2 features the return of the Red Team and the Spirit of Fire from the first Halo Wars. The team wakes up after 28 years of cryosleep and arrives at the Ark, where they meet Atriox and the Banished. Despite the odds, the Red Team see themselves as the shield between the Banished and humanity, so they fight. The unresolved UNSC-Banished conflict continues in Halo Infinite.
12. Infinity Halo (2560)
The most recent game in the series by timeline and release date is Halo Infinite. Bring the focus back to Master Chief and introduce players to the series’ first open world in Zeta Halo (Install 07).
Infinite brings the Banished from Halo Wars 2 into the main series while introducing another threat in the Endless, an ancient race of beings hitherto imprisoned by the Forerunners. The Endless are represented in the Infinite campaign by a new character named 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 Harbinger, Infinite’s roster of villains includes the Banished Warchief Escharum and the assassin Sangheili Spartan Jega.
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How to play Halo games by release date
- Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)*
- Halo 2 (2004)*
- Halo 3 (2007)*
- Halo Wars (2009)
- Halo 3: ODST (2009)
- Halo: Reach (2010)
- Halo 4 (2012)*
- Halo Spartan Assault (2013)
- Halo: Spartan Strike (2015)
- Halo 5: Guardians (2015)*
- Halo Wars 2 (2017)
- Infinite Halo (2020)*
*Main Halo games