Halo on Paramount Plus is the ultimate battle between history and lore

Here’s a surprisingly loaded question: what is Halo, Microsoft’s 21-year-old hit video game franchise, about? Play the games and you’ll experience a thin but useful sci-fi thread about humanity’s struggle against an advanced alien collective of religious fanatics dedicated to annihilating them, and the cyborg supersoldier Master Chief who is our best hope to stop them. There are just enough moments of grandeur, horror, and scale to be memorable, and most games end long before you start to question their intelligence. They’re pretty good, I’m saying, largely because they shake things up in serene but hostile spaces and hint at a larger conflict in the background.

That’s how most people understand Halo: it’s the backbone that backs up each game’s story campaign and the loose rationale for the aesthetics of the game’s wildly popular competitive multiplayer portion (arguably where most Halo fans settled in a long time ago). However, Halo also has a rich tradition of ancillary media: stacks of books, shorts, and comics that go much deeper than that. There are stories about the nature of artificial intelligence, war crimes committed for the so-called “greater good”, space operas about a precursor alien species that lived before those we meet in the games, and stories about the series’ religious hierarchy. ‘ the villains. It’s crazy stuff, some surprisingly good, some less so.

Halo, the Paramount Plus TV series airing on Thursday, is a continental break between these two camps – the fans who know all about the big Halo universe and the people who just play the games. It’s baffling because, for the first time in 20 years, he’s asking Halo fans to separate “story” from “lore.” Where previously fans could interact with the books and games interchangeably and (mostly) not contradict each other, the series’ creation of an independent “Silver” timeline for its events has effectively erased the ‘slate.

This can make the first episodes of the series very… weird. I would say it has to be like that, though. Halo, like any TV show, has to tell a story. And the body of fiction in the Halo games isn’t story: it’s lore. A collection of stories and narrative ephemera intended to add texture and context, in service of the main purpose of fiction: games.

Lore is a natural choice for games. It’s a way to reward the greater time investment that most games require with many whys and hows. Human beings are storytellers by nature, and the gap between your actions in a game and the environment in which those actions take place is a rich place for stories to develop, so why not help it? Lore is like fertilizer, taking an existing relationship and accelerating it.

TV shows don’t have that relationship to rely on. They have to tell a story, and unfortunately for Halo, the source material doesn’t give it much to work with. There’s a lot of story in the universe, and you can see a lot of it on screen, but characters, individual motivations, rich antagonists – Halo must come with all that fabric. And so it gives a face to a faceless man in actor Pablo Schreiber’s Master Chief, an act that for some may be sacrilege in itself, despite being necessary for a show that can’t count. on its audience’s familiarity with tradition. . (At least not the way The Mandalorian can, thanks to greater familiarity with Star Wars.) Halo surrounds Chief with other faces and a familiar story, one where Chief rebels against the one order he can’t follow, confident that viewers will want to know what the other characters are up to: why?

In this regard, it is refreshing to see how little of this tradition has been at the heart of Halo – while it’s great fun to theorize with fans and collectively build wikis about a show’s mythology, it should never be mandatory. Soon the show will have its own lore, enough to (hopefully) flesh out an all-new take on Halo as it enters its third decade.

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