Xbox’s flagship shooter is an intergalactic sci-fi saga with narrative bases that stretch far back billion of years. Despite this wide-ranging storyline, most of the actual Halo games take place within a single decade during the end and aftermath of the Human-Covenant War.
The mainline Halo games present a sequential storyline, although multiple spinoffs complicate the series’ chronology. With that in mind, we created this brief overview of the Halo timeline as explored in video games.
This list includes all mainline Halo games and most spinoffs, including the Halo Wars strategy games and Halo: Spartan top-down shooters. Mixed reality game Halo Recruit, arcade game Halo: Fireteam Raven and marketing trick/mobile game Halo 4: King of the Hill Fueled By Mountain Dew are not included.
Halo games in chronological order
The Halo games in chronological order
As with most series, there are two 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 narrative chronology.
With series newcomers in mind, these short plot summaries only contain light spoilers such as general plot points, settings and character introductions.
1. Halo Wars (2531)
Halo Wars is the earliest game in the series, taking place 21 years before the launch of Halo: Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo Wars is set in the early days of the Human-Covenant War, a conflict started by the alien alliance 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 Red Team Spartan II Super Soldiers as they fight the Alliance across the planets Harvest and Arcadia and the Forerunner installation Shield 0459 ( aka trove).
Halo Wars is the first of two real-time strategy spinoffs. The second, Halo Wars 2 (further down this list), is set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite.
2. Halo: Reach (2552)
Halo: Reach takes place 21 years later, in the summer months of the year 2552. The Noble Team begins their battle with the Alliance on the planet Reach, one of mankind’s most prosperous colonies. Noble Team, including the playable character Noble Six, was heavily outnumbered in their fight, but their efforts allowed the ship Pillar of Autumn and Cortana to escape Reach, setting the scene for Halo: Combat Evolved.
3. Halo: Combat Evolved (2552)
The ending of Reach leads directly to Halo: Combat Evolved, where the Pillar of Autumn enters Installation 04, one of seven ring-shaped worlds (i.e. halos) created by an ancient species of highly intelligent beings known as the Forerunners.
The pillar carrying Cortana and John-117, aka Master Chief, is attacked by the Alliance and forced to crash-land on the ring. There, Chief battles Alliance forces and accidentally unleashes the Flood, an ancient species of parasitic organisms that feed on sentient life. Chief must find a way to stem the tide without destroying humanity.
Halo: Combat Evolved also introduces series staples such as 343 Guilty Spark, the Forerunner Monitor tasked with monitoring Installation 04; Jacob Keyes, a commanding officer of the UNSC Navy; and Avery Johnson, a highly qualified UNSC Marine.
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 the Master Chief’s continued battle against the Covenant and Flood.
The story unfolds over about a month, with Chief and the Arbiter eventually coming together to fight for a common cause. The campaign introduces another Halo ring (Installation 05) and takes us to the production version of Earth, where the threat of an Alliance invasion looms. The end of Halo 2 gives us the iconic line from Chief: “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 UNSC Navy and the child of the aforementioned Jacob Keyes and the previously unintroduced Dr. Catherine Halsey.
5. Halo 3: ODST (2552)
The events of Halo 3: ODST unfold concurrently with Halo 2 – specifically, they begin after the Halo 2 mission Metropolis. ODST is set in New Mombasa, an early and important battleground during the Alliance invasion of Earth.
The less linear story revolves around a squad of six highly skilled Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs), with the player controlling a character named Rookie. Rookie encounters Alliance forces in New Mombasa while scouring the city for his scattered squadmates.
Among those comrades is Nathan Fillion’s Edward Buck, who returns in Halo 5: Guardians as a member of Fireteam Osiris.
6. Halo 3 (2552–2553)
Completing the original Halo trilogy, Halo 3 follows the Master Chief through the final months of the Human-Covenant War. The Chief and the UNSC try again to stop the Alliance from launching the Halo Array that would wipe out all sentient life within a radius of 25,000 light years. Meanwhile, the deluge descends on earth and poses a second existential threat to humanity.
Our heroes deal with the threat, and Master Chief leaves us with another memorable goodbye as he enters a cryochamber aboard the ship Forward Unto Dawn: “Wake me if you need me.”
7. Halo: Spartan Assault (2554)
Halo: Spartan Assault is a spinoff game set between Halo 3 and 4. It’s 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 Merg Vol. Not much has been added to the overall narrative, although Palmer also appears in Halo 4, 5, and Infinite.
8. Halo 4 (2557)
Halo 4 is a pivotal game in both the series’ ongoing narrative and the story of its development: it begins the Reclaimer Saga and begins life of the series under 343 Industries after the original developer Bungie separates from Microsoft.
Halo 4 picks up four years after the end of Halo 3, when Cortana awakens the Master Chief from cryosleep to face a Covenant threat. Halo 4 puts more emphasis on Chief and Cortana’s relationship as the latter deals with the early stages of proliferation, a state in which the AI becomes dangerously unstable. The duo, meanwhile, face a new existential threat to humanity when the Forerunners return, led by a new antagonist, the Didact. Chief explores another halo ring, Installation 03.
We also get debut appearances from Cortana’s creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey and a critical forerunning known as the librarian.
9. Halo: Spartan Strike (2557)
Halo: Spartan Strike begins concurrently with Halo 2 in year 2552 before jumping to 2557. Spartan Strike’s narrative implications for the ongoing Halo saga are minimal; The story follows a group of UNSC forces fighting the Alliance 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 Fireteam Osiris, led by Jameson Locke, a Spartan IV super-soldier tasked with defeating the Chief to locate and return to UNSC leadership.
The story alternates between Fireteam Osiris and Blue Team, commanded by Master Chief, on their own mission to track down a rogue, power-hungry Cortana.
11. Halo Wars 2 (2559)
Set between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite, Halo Wars 2 introduces the brutal warlord Atriox, leader of the Exiles and a primary antagonist in Halo Infinite.
Halo Wars 2 features the return of Red Team and Spirit of Fire from the first Halo Wars. The team is awakened after 28 years of cryosleep and reach the Ark, where they encounter Atriox and the Exiles. Despite the odds, Red Team sees themselves as a shield between the Exiles and humanity, and so they fight. The unresolved UNSC-Banished conflict continues in Halo Infinite.
12. Infinity Halo (2560)
The latest game in 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 (Installation 07).
Infinite brings the Exiles from Halo Wars 2 to the mainline series and introduces another threat to the Endless, an ancient race of beings previously held captive by the Forerunners. The Infinite 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 the Harbinger, Infinite’s villains also include the exiled warchief Escharum and the Sangheili Spartan killer Jega.
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How to play the 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)
- Halo Infinite (2020)*
*Mainline Halo games