Halo 2: Revisiting 15 Years Later

Halo 2 was a very late Xbox game but it sure was a big one.

Halo 2 in 2004

The first Halo 2 gameplay video

Halo 2 was first announced at E3 2002 with a trailer that looked way too good (and wasn't) true. There was lots of speculation but the real blowout was a gameplay demo at E3 2003. It didn't originally release as direct feed and so you had to find bootleg shakycam footage of it, and because many homes were still on dial-up I remember my friends and I using the school computer lab at lunch to watch it. Halo 2 has a whole bunch of new mechanics and each brought about an audible gasp from the audience. The signature dual-wielding mechanic that allows you to mix-an-match guns, being able to hijack an enemy vehicle, turrets, and the marines can finally drive! This was in addition to a host of new weapons and enemies and the promise of more mutliplayer now online through Xbox Live. To this day I don't think I've seen a game with this much pre-launch hype.

As you'd expect is was massively successful on numerous fronts thought not without one very big disappointment. The game was panned for ending on a big cliffhanger that would not be resolved until the 3rd game.


Halo 2 not a huge departure from the first but there are loads of new features that really enhance the gameplay. I mentioned a few above:

The weapons also got an overhaul. The pistol is replaced with the Battle Rifle which is more of a main weapon, there's also the "magnum" which looks like the pistol and is all around terrible. The SMG replaces the assault rifle and is dual weildable. Most of the dual wield weapons suck except the Plasma Pistol by the way. As a treat for Halo CE players the game finally lets you have some of the tease weapons you weren't allowed to have. The Energy Sword, which is awesome as has since become a staple of the series. The one-shot kill lunge is satisfying. The Fuel-rod Gun which is a sort of covenant rocket launcher and the Sentinel Beam which is also not a good weapon. In fact it seems like they wanted to make Covenant versions of every weapon so there's also the energy carbine which is basically the battle rifle and exists just so you get a decent weapon on the Arbiter levels.

There's also a few new enemies and changes to old ones. High level Elites are now white instead of gold and can dual wield plasma pistols in addition to having swords. Jackals can also be snipers that can shoot you at long range, and are super annoying. There's these bug enemies called drones that are fly around annoyingly but really don't add much. Hunters got a big upgrade and have a nastly back attack for players (like me) who got a little too familar with Halo CE's matador techinque. There's also brutes which are another high level enemy like elites and eventually become a staple.

Cario Station

This level is mostly used an introduction to the game. You get to try our the new turrets and dual wielding and get some space set pieces, or as much as you could in 2004. It's actually very reminiscent of Halo CE's first level. The level has at least one interesting gimmick where get to go into these outdoor space parts with a cool muted sound and low gravity with flying elites. It's a neat little change of pace in an otherwise pretty meh level. Unfortunately for the legendary player the game starts on a bad foot. This level is so damn difficult and frustrating and was clearly not balanced at all. You need to defeat hordes of Covenant coming off boarding ships, usually 4-5 waves per checkpoint. On Legendary everything is swarming with Elites and they kill you fast. One of the optimization they made for Halo 2 was to ditch health and just use shields. As one take put it "it's like playing Halo Legendary with 1 health". 3 good hits will kill you. Blue Elites die slightly faster but the new white ones that replace Halo's gold elites take more than an entire Battle Rifle clip just to drop the shield. Packs of 3-5 in a room isn't uncommon either and sometimes they carry dual plasmas which kill you all that much faster. Strangely, because legendary is so unbalanced sword Elites aren't even a threat because they have to at least close some distance. Every weapon sans the Battle Rifle and Plasma Pistol in this is level is garbage and can't kill anything but you also run out of ammo for the Battle Rifle and Plasma Pistol as you slowly whittle down enemy camps, any missed shot and the enemies regenerate all their health.

I had to lower the difficulty because I was hitting some brick walls, it's just boils down to AI luck in some places. Switching to Heroic just made everything too easy though. You can play quite aggressively without much penalty but it's at least fun. After completing the whole campaign I decided I might as well go for it and tried legendary again. You absolutely need to know where the checkpoints are and what ammo you need for the next room. A lot of the success is making sure to bring spare plasma pistols to fights and waste as little rifle ammo as possible so you can combo elites. Even then the last chamber I had to get lucky as the AI got stuck on objects so I could battle rifle through the 6 Elites guarding the bomb.


This is more like it. This starts the stretch of levels that were prominently featured in the previews. There's a lot of good stuff here. First off, it's not unfairly difficult, for the most part. "Most part" being that there's an awful lot of Jackal snipers, a new enemy in Halo 2. On reasonable difficulty levels they knock your shield out to let you know they're serious. On legendary they simply kill you instantly and much of the time you won't even know where it came from leading to a lot of trial and error to find them. Even if you know where they are it can still turn into a bit of a sniper quick draw. That part is at least a bit fun, getting randomly one-shotted isn't. This level doesn't go easy with the Elites either. You'll face plenty of white ones and even get a sword in the first area. After an annoying corridor section with snipers you get to fight some Elites in a small plaza. This is another excellent bit where you can use the sword and the back alleys to come up behind them for some satisfying back kills. Legendary is still punishing though so a frontal sword assault will usually kill you when you are melee'd in retaliation as a sword is not a one-hit kill. You also get a vehicle section at the end. The marines kill themselves quickly so it's mostly just you, and your vehicle doesn't last very long either. You can sometimes get some kills with a Ghost but it's often easier just to bypass a lot of the enemies to avoid getting killed. Oh and did I mention you can finally destroy those annoying dropship turrets with rockets? What a nice new feature.


This is a continuation of Outskirts and starts out with a rather fun tank section. However eventually you are forced into a tunnel with more sniper jackals. But that won't prepare you for the other side when you need to face by my count 12 (!) snipers that keep respawning. You then go to an annoying section where you have to defeat 3 wraith tanks. Since your marine companions are worthless you have to strafe the Wraith in a Ghost which takes a long time, roughly 20 seconds of sustained fire while being ever so careful not to get hit by a plasma mortar. Finally you get to the signature set-piece of this act, a battle with a Scarab. This was impressive in 2004, with a massive vehicle traveling through a waterway filled with enemies on top. In heroic and under you'll be pressed to jump on and start cracking heads like a super soldier, but in legendary it's best to sit back and pick them off. You need to be especially conservative about the snipers as they are very hard to see on the moving platform but they still have perfect aim. Once the Scarab reaches the end of the waterway the illusion is broken as it just sits there waiting for you to jump aboard and kill the remaining elites in the cockpit.

The Arbiter

Halo 2 pulls a bit of a Metal Gear Solid 2 bait-and-switch. While you still play as Master Chief, much of the game is spent playing as the Arbiter. Basically, Covenant Master Chief. They are exactly alike except for one key difference, instead of a completely useless flashlight, the Arbiter has temporary invisibility. I remember disliking this level in the past but upon replay it's actually pretty good. The invisibility makes all the difference as you can have fun assassinating Elites with a sword to the back. This also makes the game flow better as you don't need to slowly and constantly pick things off at a distance. Instead you can maneuver close enough and then go stealth to immediately kill the tougher enemies. The Elites are also a little easier as they often carry Sentinel Beams which don't kill you in 2 seconds. Not much memorable here though, just a lot of corridors. The level ends with a Banshee dogfight section. This part is annoying due to how fragile you are and how impeccable the enemy's aim is. I found it best to let the Phantom do most of the work and just focus on staying alive.


Another decent level and the first time we are re-introduced to the Flood. They went through a few changes as well. They now have a much large hitbox on the "head" and this will instantly kill them if you use the carbine. There tend to be less of them, groups are rarely larger than 5 in a single wave. They get back up a lot less too as the "popcorn" flood are much fewer in number. Overall, they fixed some of the bigger annoyances from the first game. You start on a weird elevator that goes multiple directions as flood jump down on to it. Sometime you'll meet Sentinels which have 50% chance to target you instead of the Flood. Since the Flood are easier this time around, you can freely kill the Sentinels and handle the mob on your own as they are just a nuisance. You follow the heretic leader but he hides in his bunker so to flush him out you need to cut the cables holding up the building. This is a neat sequence where you take an energy sword and cut some cables though there cables are not well marked. As you cut them, the building starts to lean and eventually starts an endless freefall (how high up was this thing anyway?) which is a really cool effect for 2004. You then climb back down and eventually fight the leader in a boss fight. He spawns a bunch of holograms but the safety protocol was turned off I suppose because they hit you like a real Elite. You have to deal damage to him over a few rounds. I don't really understand how it works since it's all shield damage, right? But after about 3 cycles of him respawning holograms and flying up into a vent he dies.

Delta Halo

This level starts out with you storming a temple. Your marines are not very much help. After you take it you fight a few waves and eventually make your way to a bridge where there's another Scorpion tank section. Unlike the last one you need to go slow and carefully take out the turrets and ghosts as the legendary tank is very fragile in addition to being slow. You also need to make forward progress in some sections or you'll meet the dreaded respawning ghosts. Next you go on foot through a small temple and come across...the valley. Here is probably one of the worst sections in the game. It's played up a like a serene waterfall valley but don't let it fool you because hypertension will rapidly set in. Positioned around the valley are sniper jackals and you will be spending a lot of time dying to them, without any indication which direction you got hit from. Occasionally a wave of drones will fly in and these are extremely deadly. Without a good one-sided corridor to hide in, you're basically going to die. Even getting a checkpoint can be bad as they love to trigger with barely enough time to get to cover before an unholy horde of Plasma Pistols sets upon you. I probably died 30+ times slogging it through here. Not level one terrible because you at least have the equipment to survive but it's gonna be rough. In the end you find a floating temple complex. Just lure the honor guards out and snipe them, easy after that last part.


We continue on from the end of Delta Halo's floating complex. You fight through some rooms and come across a moving gondola that takes you across the water or elevators that are also submarines. The atmosphere in this level is pretty cool and varied. The fights themselves aren't too interesting. There's one building full of snipers and some Hunters which can be pretty tough. The second gondola is also a real pain as you probably still have a banshee to deal with, plus flying Elites and an absolutely awful pack of grunts with Fuel-rod Guns that manage to kill you even behind cover. If you can kill the Elites then just stay hidden and wait for the gondola to move again, don't try to engage. Also, why can't the Pelican just fly me over to the temple? There's sorta a thing about Keyes not sending backup and the Pelican being close to out of fuel but they fly overhead to drop off some ammo so can't they just pick you up and let Master Chief jump out at the destination (as he is known to do)? In the end you have a showdown with Regret (the prophet, not the emotion). It's okay I guess? You have to jump on his chair like its a vehicle about 5 times and punch him in the face, it's actually kinda hilarious. There's honor guards and grunts constantly spawning which makes it annoying and it doesn't always give you checkpoints. The boss design doesn't really get any better.

Sacred Icon

Oops all Sentinels. This level starts confusing as you are not given any prompt about what to do, especially on legendary and I sure didn't remember how this level worked. Apparently on lower difficulty levels you can disable the glowing things that spawn sentinels but on legendary you need to shoot them. I was so confused I had to look it up because I thought something was broken. So this this level isn't all Sentinels. As expected the Flood return and are more annoying than ever. At least you get a shotgun. What? It sucks now!? Yup, fewer shells, shorter range and less stopping power. Flood generally won't be killed in one shot unless it's point blank. How tragic. To add insult to injury the Flood are even better with shotguns so even at medium range it's easy to take a fatal blast. So strangely the Battle Rifle is your best best if you can get some ammo for it. The best advice is to keep moving and just try to hit checkpoints as it's unclear which areas have unlimited spawning enemies and which don't. Eventually you end up back outside. I guess that was all pointless or something? The final part is a defense sequence but the Elites are thankfully less squishy than humans so they do a good job and most of the work.

Quarantine Zone

Oh shit, the Flood got a driver's license too! This level is just annoying because there's so much going on and lots of respawning. Flood drive suicidal so they like to ram you and it does a lot of damage against legendary's glass vehicles. The big robots can often respawn so much of it just pushing through. One your back on foot, I found just trying to run past everything worked better than dying to a horde of shotgun Flood. Use that invisibility. You get a scorpion tank in the second section which ups your fire power but the Flood have a lot of health so it takes 3 shots to kill a Ghost. Also, if they dismount from a vehicle flip sometimes they have rocket launchers which means you're probably dead. Finally, you jump onto a big moving platform with Flood dropping down on to it. Thankfully, the AI is stupid so I was able to get the Flood to bunch up and just chill and prevent others from spawning while the platform did its routine. As much as I praised level 4, these Flood levels are starting to suck.


Besides the first level this one is in the running for worst level in Halo 2. Right off the bat it's extremely stupid, you have exactly 0.5 seconds to find cover or you are immediately killed. This is not exaggeration, you pretty much need to plan which direction you're pressing the stick when you start. Then you must last 6 waves of brutes and grunts. It's pretty much impossible without escaping up into the rafters but you will not have enough ammo and you don't really get anything that can finish an enemy off. So you're stuck with just needlers and you need to painstakingly kill everyone but the last grunt so that the next wave doesn't spawn, grab some guns and take them back up to your nest like a rat. There's a very hard wave with a Brute chieftain that can kill you quickly with a Brute Shot, and once you pick off a few enemies in that wave some Brutes will bust through the door at the top and probably kill you before you can even turn around. Absolutely miserable sequence, but at least it's the beginning so if your checkpoints suck you can start over. On the whole, Brutes aren't too bad. One headshot can kill them but it can be a bit tricky as they wear helmets. But a very quick barrage from a carbine to the head area can kill them quickly. If all but one die and the last one is close by it goes berserk. This means it runs around randomly using melee attacks. Depending on the area this either makes them a non-threat or can be a bit of a problem as headshots are now very hard to pull off. Sometimes you get a sword and it's satisfying to put the poor animal down. You'll also come across some Hunters and snipers and a couple of really annoying sections with Elites. The end in particular is a last middle finger as you fight 5 elites: 2 ultras, 1 honor guard and 2 spec-ops. If you're luckily you still have beam rifle ammo for the ultras, otherwise it's another one of those fights.


At least we get a good chaser. Playing as Arbiter just fixes a lot of the problems I have with this game. Elites last a lot longer and are better at helping you out, you tend to get better weapons, and you can strategically use cloak you get out of sticky situations. The latter is shown off again at the beginning of this level as you need to cleverly take down some Brutes with just a sword. There's some more Brute fights and then you move on to a vehicle section which is quite fun. It looks like Grunts can use Ghosts to help you out now, but they don't go very far before dying. You also have to be careful of snipers as they can kill you pretty quick even in a vehicle but at least you get a warning shot. The last part is a bit of a sniper arena. You can cheese it by triggering enemy waves and then doubling back to the far side of the basin but it's fun fight, except random sniper re-enforcements you never see coming.

High Charity

Another Flood level. Nothing too interesting going on here aside from the spooky atmosphere. There's even an invisible Flood Elite to scare you! This level is surprisingly short but not too bad.

The Great Journey

Halo 2 almost sticks the landing, almost. This level starts off pretty cool. It's a vehicle section but your buddy gets an invincible Wraith. Too bad you just get a Specter which will probably get totaled pretty quickly. You need to stay next to the Wraith but not close enough that it runs you over (new drivers am I right?). Then you and your Elite friends plus some Hunters get to rampage. Hunters are pretty durable meat shields but they do die eventually to the massive salvos of Brute Shot grenades. Also snipers, thank God this is the last of them. The next part seems cool but actually sucks. You need to "escort" a Scarab to the chamber where Tartarus is. Since Banshees are pretty much made of purple porcelain, the Scarab will be escorting you. My advice is to just ignore everything, you'll lose most of the dog fights, and just find a nice perch by the door to hang out while the Scarab makes its way over. Inside you face a few waves of brutes and will probably run low on ammo but the room has a cool glass floor you can hide under for some final stealth action. Then the boss fight. Awful, simply awful. Basically you're on a floating disc with Tartarus swinging his hammer and insta-killing anything that moves. He's also invincible for some reason. Occasionally some allied Elites will stop by to sacrifice themselves to his gavel. You have to wait for Johnson to shoot him 3 times in a row and it drops his "shield" (seriously though what the hell is that blue wavy thing around him? Plasma stench? I don't remember this being explained at all) and then you can shoot him a few times. It's terribly designed because not only is it hard to tell when the shield is down, especially in anniversary graphics, but there is virtually no feedback you did anything when you land hits. At least he's pretty stupid and easy to kite around but Johnson can also be a crappy shot. Sometimes Brutes will join the party and they are the real boss because if you don't see them coming and find a hiding place they'll kill you quick with their Carbines and Brute Bhots. After what seems like an eternity of thinking "am I doing any damage at all?" Tartarus has an aneurysm and dies. The end.

Final Thoughts

Halo 2 is a very interesting game in terms of video game history. It's an absolute monument of a game. If you were a fan of Halo it literally took everything you could put on your wish list and made it reality. I can think of very few sequels like this that leave no stone unturned. You got more weapons, every "what if?" omissions from the previous game, more enemies, more vehicles, more level variety, more story, better graphics, better sound, online multiplayer with a matchmaking system that would be the benchmark for all FPS games to follow. But is it better than Halo: CE? Well, that's hard. As a whole package with multiplayer, probably. While my playthrough was just single player 95% of the time for many players would be spent in multiplayer. As a single player package, I think not. Not because it doesn't address most of the flaws of the original, but because it just didn't get the balance right. Halo: CE on Legendary can be frustrating at times, in Halo 2 nearly every level has at least one absolute rage inducing fight, and the worst ones can take over and hour of resetting to just get lucky enough to survive. Where Halo had abnormally long checkpoints, Halo 2 sometime forces them in awkward situations and levels are often too long to want to repeat. Some of the adds like snipers just make you want to throw a controller through the TV.

It's really interesting to go back to. So much came back to me as I was playing. I didn't hate my time with it, but I don't think I'd ever choose Legendary again.

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