“When you first saw Halo, were you blinded by its majesty?”
—Ord Casto, the High Prophet of Truth
I’ve spent most of the night thinking about how I might best begin this book, and I just checked the clock on the kitchen stove to see it’s now 3:43 a.m., so that seems as good a sign as any.
I tend to keep pretty vampiric hours these days—one of the perks of being self-employed—but there comes a point of diminishing returns. Every predawn hour you spend grinding for loot in Destiny, or mourning your misspent youth and rewatching Guardians of the Galaxy or Fanboys or the first season of Chappelle’s Show on Xbox Video for the tenth time, winds up costing you a lot of the work you might have otherwise gotten done later that day. My dad used to call this “burning the candle at both ends,” and it’s a concept I’ve become increasingly familiar with as I navigate the beginnings of my so-called adulthood. Dad’s liable to show up throughout this book, though not because of his blue-collar, workaday wisdom: He’s the one I have to blame for my videogame habit.
There’s a good chance, if you’re reading this, you’ve played Halo 2 at some point and know a bit about the game I’ll be discussing for the duration of this volume. But you needn’t have played or even enjoyed the game, if all goes well within these pages, for you to get something worthwhile out of a book that shares its name. I often find the best criticism is as much about the people who created a given body of work as it is about the art itself.
And if you get to the last chapter and decide I haven’t done my due diligence in critically evaluating Bungie’s seminal shooter, or that I haven’t done a fair job of convincing you it’s worth your time and money to actually get ahold of the game and play it, I hope you’ll at least enjoy the occasional tangent into autobiography; there’s simply no getting around the fact that I’ve spent most of my life playing videogames—and enjoying the hell out of them—solely because of the incredible people I’ve been fortunate enough to share them with.
Even the late Jim Kane, my paternal grandfather as well as the finest man I ever had the privilege of knowing, once spent a good six hours or so humoring me with a little friendly split-screen in Need for Speed: Underground. Family and friends reading this may think I’m making it up, but it happened. When I asked him about hauling over my original Xbox (the newfangled “Xbox One” makes for a tedious rewriting of the past, doesn’t it?) in a backpack and hooking it up to the living-room television, he was quick to say yes. And I’m so grateful for the memory.
That ill-fated console and its replacement got hauled around a lot in that backpack, and even with a decade’s worth of hindsight, the memories I built with Microsoft’s unexpected Hail-Mary hardware remain some of the fondest in my twenty-five years.
Grandpa used to pay me thirty dollars to mow his lawn, back before I got my driver’s license and passed that particular torch on to my brother, Derek, so it took me roughly seven mowings—maybe four, five months?—to save up the cash for an Xbox in 2002, when the console got a timely price drop to match that of its competitor, Sony’s PlayStation 2. By that time, I’d already spent untold hours at a childhood friend’s house playing his Xbox, a system that arrived one day in November ’01 without much fanfare from where I was standing (outside of a brief mention in Scrye magazine, which ran a photo of the fittingly boxy console beside its bulky day-one controller; I’ll try to dig this issue out of storage, assuming it’s still at my folks’ place), along with an Xbox-exclusive launch game titled Halo: Combat Evolved.
I suppose I don’t need to go on at length about how much of an impact Bungie’s universe had on me, personally, given that I elected to pen the first book of my career on the subject. But the Chief, Cortana, and their war against the Covenant blew the doors of my imagination wide open from the instant I first picked up my friend’s controller and stormed the beach in the opening encounter of “The Silent Cartographer,” taxiing my marine detachment around in a Warthog, and the impression hasn’t left me since.
It’s that rare, trademark Bungie moment, when the alien NPCs do something completely unexpected, or when you finally manage to pull off the action-movie stunt you’ve been struggling to nail with the right combination of your MJOLNIR suit’s energy shields, careful timing, and explosives—that’s what keeps players coming back. And it’s been there right from the start: on the Pillar of Autumn; on Halo, the Niven habitat for which the game was ultimately named; on “Cairo Station” and “Regret” and “The Great Journey”; not to mention all the fun to be had in Halo 3, Halo 4, and the outstanding prequel to the original game, Halo: Reach, which served as Bungie’s swan song within the Haloverse.
After nearly fourteen years, I can still find new reasons to go back and revisit the Master Chief’s now-legendary saga. That’s why I’ve continued to hold on to both my original Xbox and the 360, not to mention most of my discs, strategy guides, and a bazillion issues of OXM. And today, although it suffered some seriously embarrassing issues at launch, the very best vehicle for experiencing Halo and the rich tapestry of multimedia storytelling that surrounds it is Halo: The Master Chief Collection, released exclusively on Xbox One in November 2014 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of Halo 2’s original release.
It probably makes me a bona fide heretic to say so, but that four-game (or five-game, if you count the ODST “bonus” download as its own title, which it most assuredly is) anthology of flawed but tremendously beautiful Xbox One remasters is the finest software available on any next-gen console. I may have over eight hundred fifty hours logged in Bungie’s Destiny, at the time of this writing, and an impressive garage full of armored muscle cars and military hardware in the Xbox One version of Grand Theft Auto Online, but I’d take 343 Industries’ Halo 2: Anniversary as my game of choice any day of the week. Back in ’04, during a time when broadband Internet was not yet widely available in my hometown of Monmouth, Illinois, it played every bit as beautifully as it does now.
Even better, arguably: My first experiences with Xbox Live were also some of my best.
 Some fathers offer their kid a sip of beer that, though harmless at the time, eventually sows the seeds of teen alcoholism (or worse). Mine let me stay up late playing Super Mario Bros. 3.
 This was around the same time I convinced him to watch Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi with me in a single afternoon at his and Grandma’s place. Must have been 2004. His decades-long battle with the respiratory disease COPD was a real bitch, and it certainly didn’t do him any favors when it came to participating in family activities.
 Official Xbox Magazine, published by Future PLC from November 2001 until early 2014.