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Halo 5: Narrative (SPOILERS)

November 3, 2015

Cortana Halo 5

There was a request to start discussing the story for Halo 5. Here is the “official” Stranded thread. All spoilers after the jump! You first.

P.S. She doesn’t look so sweet-faced anymore. 😦

  1. November 3, 2015 5:39 pm

    This is not a complete review. Just starting the conversation.

    Rampency is alive and well in Halo 5.

    Bigger is not always better. In this case, I am not referring to the maps or gameplay, but to the story. The Cortana twist was unexpected for sure, but once it started, I began to feel where it was going. We have a new enemy in the Halo universe. I was sad they chose to go this direction. Not so much for sentimental reasons (although I was bummed on that level), but mostly because the story arc keeps changing. I liked fighting Covenant in Halo CE and Halo 2. Then in Halo 3, the Flood took center stage, and we began to question why we were even fighting the Covenant anymore. Then Halo 4 with the Protheans. “Why do we need these?”. Now Halo 5, I didn’t feel like I should be fighting anyone. Just find Cortana and figure out what she’s up to. Up to no good. Or… The Ultimate Good. Don’t know. Or do we?

    We can discuss. But my feeling after finishing the game was. I’m done with Halo. It’s gone rampent.

    I don’t care about the story anymore. A lot of filler missions that served no real purpose in bringing the story along.

    Hours wasted in a beautiful next gen universe.

    Similar to the hours, years wasted with Cortana by Chief. Only to have it all flipped upside down. Betrayed by an AI.

    Question is. Is the change in her actually rampancey?

    Also, why did she need Chief anyway? He served her no purpose that I could understand.

    He was just summoned because she wanted his approval? Since he didn’t give it, she was going to hibernate him for 10000 years, only to wake him to say. “See! Look what I did! The Universe is at peace. Told you so!… love me Chief!”

    Meh. Disappointed overall.

    Rampency. Too much is just that. Too much.

    What did you, do you think?

    • Blankman permalink*
      November 3, 2015 7:34 pm

      343i was already setting up Cortana to be the villain of its next offering. It was foreshadowing when she was explaining that even though UNSC would most likely pair John-117 (Master Chief) up with another A.I., even if it were another version of her; it wouldn’t be “her.” So it was a bit cliche when they did, in fact, make her the primary villain of Halo 5 & 6. The twist was anticlimactic because players already knew that Cortana was going through Rampancy even when Bungie was in charge of Halo. That fear was always there. Hence, the institution of the seven-year lifespan for all A.I.s.

      Honestly, I’m not bothered by the path that 343i has chosen to take its tale. I can understand the emotional investment in the years that we’ve had Cortana speaking into John-117’s ear which in actuality is us- the player(s). The attachment or bond that was forged leaves many of us feeling betrayed because Cortana & Master Chief worked together through symbiosis. Even though Cortana was an A.I., she humanized John-117. She brought out his human qualities: compassion, emotions, & vulnerabilities. He wasn’t just a seven-foot super soldier in armor that was built like a tank. I hope the final part of this trilogy, Halo 6, delves further into how Master Chief copes with the realization that part of what made him human is threatening everything that they’ve fought for. Too bad, 343i relies too much on other mediums (shows, comics, and novels) to tell the in-depth story.

      As I discussed with Suns during the weekend, Cortana’s rampancy has made her more akin with Anakin/Vader because she wants to bring peace to the universe by any means necessary. One of the most important fundamental aspects of humanity, free will, is essentially negated. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Since Cortana has control of the Domain which controls every Halo installation and the Forerunners’ enforcers, the Guardians; it’s her way or the highway. The inability of Master Chief to reason with Cortana should have been developed more than what was shown thus far. Cortana simply doesn’t need Master Chief to tell her what to do anymore.

      The solitary human aspect that Cortana exhibits is love for John and those that he cares about. However, her thinking is that of a child regardless of how intelligent she may be. She sought John’s approval like a child seeks approval from his/her parent. When he wouldn’t give it, she is going to do what she intended to do in the first place. John’s question/statement of how many lives Cortana had already killed was to probe her sense of compassion; whether there was still a shred of it remaining in her new conscience. The thing that makes humans, well- human. Cortana no longer exhibits that with the exception of her intrinsic love for John. In a way, it serves as a commentary that artificial intelligence can never take the place of human intelligence. There are some things that you can’t simply quantify.

      Remember when Anakin asked Obi-wan why the Jedi simply couldn’t force people to do what was for the greater good instead of all the politics and arguing that comes with decision-making? Just because you can doesn’t necessarily make it so. That pretty much sums up the irrational logic that Cortana is imposing on the universe. I don’t want to get religious, but God can impose his will anytime he wants to. Since he is a loving God, he allows mankind to exercise free will to an extent. When enough time has passed, then there will be judgment. That kind of responsibility of power is what Cortana is lacking.

      You’re definitely entitled to your opinions about the Halo games, but I’m a bit saddened to hear that this is the end of the road for you, Jimmy. With every middle portion of a trilogy whether it be movies or games, the journey isn’t complete until you see it to the end. Halo 5 is supposed to serve as “The Empire Strikes Back” portion of the tale. Halo 4 was about the lose of your comrade, your confidant, a part of who you are. Halo 5 is about that piece of you developing its own sense of judgment and decision-making; becoming self-aware and thinking that they know best. For those that are still invested in 343i’s tale, we’ll stick around for the next three years until Halo 6 is completed. I’ll pass judgment on whether the studio succeeded or failed in its storytelling, but only until then.

    • November 6, 2015 3:19 pm

      “I don’t want to get religious, but God can impose his will anytime he wants to. Since he is a loving God, he allows mankind to exercise free will to an extent. When enough time has passed, then there will be judgment. That kind of responsibility of power is what Cortana is lacking.”

      THIS. In a single swoop, you have addressed one of the most difficult questions, “If God exists and He is good/loving, why is there suffering in the world?” Thank you for writing this. It basically is my personal statement of faith, and probably my favorite thing (and the best thing) ever written here at the Stranded. I will leave it at that. Thank you Kenny.

    • November 6, 2015 3:48 pm

      Like and Like.

      With God we have the Bible to understand his character. However due to interpretation, that Character is open for discussion.

      Same I guess goes for Cortana, except with her we just don’t Know anymore.

    • November 7, 2015 11:19 am

      That’s what a good story should do. Make you reassess your concepts and core beliefs.

      From a outsiders perspective that’s what I do as well with the bible even if it’s not from the perspective of a spiritual belief as it is written, but ultimately as what we as a human race aspire to be.

      From my secular humanist perspective I think the core beliefs that we passed down in different dogmas speak of this struggle to create a balance in the world we are shaping for future generations.

      The message becomes fundamental as music when it’s not diluted in specific concepts or dogmas, and sometimes through metaphors we can see more of it in a purest form than we otherwise would have.

  2. November 4, 2015 2:31 am

    Liking this discussion now. Great stuff, Guys! I have to think on it more (and find some open time) before I can jump in and speak intelligently on these matters.

  3. Herandar permalink
    November 5, 2015 9:13 am

    So Cortana is a Big Bad, but Microsoft is trying to get her on people’s smartphones? Hmmm. That might not give off the best impression of Microsoft.

    • November 6, 2015 8:20 am

      Hilarious catch, Herandar! You are absolutely right! Next thing you know they will be calling her something else. Reminds me of the Germans changing the names of the ships after they starting losing some of them. We can’t have the Deutschland sunk! This wasn’t such a good idea!

    • Herandar permalink
      November 6, 2015 4:53 pm

      I asked the Cortana on my phone if she was rampant, and she did not give me a definitive answer: “A circle may be infinite, but my answers are not.”

    • November 6, 2015 5:15 pm

      Really, did she actually say that? (I wouldn’t be surprised if they had anticipated that question and programmed the response.)

    • Herandar permalink
      November 7, 2015 8:33 am

      Yes, but I think that is a default response to questions that don’t really make sense to Cortana and aren’t easily dismissed as internet searches.

  4. November 5, 2015 10:45 am

    Good discussion so far:

    Here’s my ‘Round 2’

    Movies, Books, Games such as Halo are based upon someone’s interpretation of Reality. As some of you know, I’ve been writing a novel for some years now. The most difficult part, is deciding whether a character would actually do something as I depict. What is their motivation? What is their true purpose? Is this character believable?

    If I fail at this (or any writer), the audience has a problem. They don’t believe it is possible.

    “Character A would never give Character B such n such. Why would they?”

    If I force something to happen that doesn’t really make sense, it is called “Suspension of Disbelief”.

    suspension of disbelief. phrase. a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.

    That is what I found in the Star Wars movies (discussed at length), and I also now find in the Halo 5 story.

    But with Halo 5, there is a twist…

    Cortana is not human. We have been lead to believe that she ‘is’, by the way she interacts with Chief, but there has always been a caveat. She is an AI (so how much can we really trust her ‘humanity’), and also there is the issue with her Rampancy.

    Now in Halo 5, she states she is “cured” of Rampancy, but is she really? Seemingly not… She has self diagnosed herself to say – “Hey! I’m not Crazy!!” as she foams from the mouth and cuts herself…

    Kenny makes a good point in that this relationship between Chief and Cortana has appropriately taken center stage. Fair enough. They are the main character for sure. However, as the audience, we are getting lost because this is uncharted territory in regards to “suspension of disbelief”. The reason is the AI factor. It’s kind of like how Magic is used in literature / movies / etc… It is the problem solver.

    Get in trouble? Use magic to get out of it… Kind of unfair and cheating in a sense.

    Similar with AI. The real Cortana would never act like this. But now she is…

    I am guessing the road Halo will be following is going to be one of two paths. Either Chief is going to track her down and (with Halsey’s help) “Fix Cortana”, Or…. Someone (i.e. Cortana is gonna get destroyed eventually…

    Kind of sad either way, because fixing her or destroying her is just a “blip” in the story of Halo. I”m mean how long are they gonna drag out this Cortana thing?…

    Since the beginning, The REAL enemy is (was) the Flood. Hunger and Thirst for everything

    The other enemy is the Covenant (although they are more like misguided children with a lot of firepower).

    Promethean seem to have no real depth to them. They are the old bosses, who got kicked out of this universe due to the flood (their solution being to eliminate everything in the galaxy including themselves…), and now are trying to re-establish themselves via Cortana? I’m getting lost here, because the only organic that I’m aware of that is still alive is the Librarian. And she seemed to be set on handing over the ‘keys of the galaxy’ to Dr. Halsey (i.e. humans).

    But…. Somehow Cortana has now stepped in and is the new boss.

    Getting confused here…

    That is kind of my point to all of this. The story is stretching so far it is practically impossible to keep up. Also, there are so many scraps, that seemed important at some time, only to be tossed away. Such as the “Great Journey”, and the role of the Brutes and the Prophets. They were just kicked to the curb to be forgotten.

    The Story that drew me into Halo was the Flood (horror factor), and the Covenant (misguided / powerful / fun to fight).

    The Left turn they made in Halo 4 is where I wanted to get off… Halo 5 is just a sort of continuation of this new Promethean direction, except now they abducted my favorite character.

    I would have much preferred if all the Halo’s were like 1 and 2. Tour the Galaxy, cleanse the Flood, Fight some Covenant who want to take over everything too (and Glass it no less…). Simple enough, and could have made many games in this manner. Fight to save a new colony that had just been invaded by the Flood and or the Covenant. Good enough.

    Or for that matter, go on the offensive. Find Covenant (or Flood) home base and kick some ass.

    These kind of story lines made/make sense because we know who the bad guys are and why.

    I still stick with my original statement “Halo has gone rampant” and I’m not really looking forward to where this train ends up.

    I did that with Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith. “Give them a pass / pay my money and see what they come up with….” That was disappointing to say the least…

    Stop the train. I’m getting off.

    However… Halo 5 MP is fun. Sort of… Warzone feels like a goulash stew. Full of everything, satisfying. But… Somethings missing. Actually just the opposite. Too many ingredients. And now I have a stomach ache.

    Standard Arena is good standard Halo MP though. Except…. Man! So many ways to die! Ground Pound, Front thrust pound. Reminds me a Gears 3 and the meat shield. Just started to get to be too many ways to do things. Old guys like me need it a bit more simple… Halo 2 didn’t even have sprint.

    Maybe I’m just getting old, and have outgrown this stuff, I don’t know. All I know is that it isn’t sitting well with me, and that is something that you can’t fake. “Did you love it?” “Um…. NO”

    • Average permalink*
      November 5, 2015 12:06 pm

      Thoroughly enjoying the MP, the Arena is great!

      Warzone is a cluster #$#@ but fun if you have a crew like we did, I wouldn’t play it alone.

      The Campaign did nothing for me, it was fun to run around in but I wasn’t invested in it at all. It seems like Destiny’s non-existent story, no time to explain, just go here do this back and forth. Example, work to save the arbiter in 50% of the missions? He has no impact on the story at all, literally nothing except being cannon fodder for the AI.

      Loving the game, but what it is missing:
      – Ability to see what your friends are in within the friends list (gametype &/or party participants)
      – Social playlists, where do I play when my GF or brother wants to try? Warzone? No. Arena? HAHA NO.

      One other thought, the REQ system is interesting and different, I find COD’s skins/unlock system is done in a very good way of promoting/learning different play styles. It expands the game because you’re ‘forced’ to play a certain gun to unlock things for it, which changes how you approach encounters/etc. I think that makes it more competitive and fun for others to join in to be honest.

      All in all, it’s very fast and very competitive. At times it’s a bit overwhelming, but I’m enjoying it thoroughly. No longer is a player 100% dominant because they have X rifle.

    • November 7, 2015 10:30 am

      I agree with all of this.

      I still think Halo 5 is very shallow compared to other Halos and other AAAs. Black Ops 3 just released a ton of content which drives H5 shallowness to a higher level considering they have similar dev times.

      I think req packs is a great idea but limited to one mode mostly which has 3 maps.

      Hopefully Forge becomes the hail mary and saves the day as well as whatever DLC they put forth in the future.

    • November 7, 2015 10:55 am

      I think in many ways Halo 5 was just a simple extension of MCC.

      Never materialized as the Ultimate Halo I thought it would be. Just some new modes and playlists, to bring the franchise in other directions, but pretty much if we want the full package we have to go back to MCC and revisit the old halo.

      As for the story I think you want Rambo 2. You know put on the bandana, load up the big guns and let’s shoot some baddies.

      The reason why the story changed was because the covenant was a fundamentalist conglomerate of alien races that wanted to destroy a big part of the universe to “cleanse” it.

      Some within that conglomerate realized the fundamentalism for what it was. That’s the whole reasoning why some “bad guys” became good.

      The rampancy actually is just another twist to that fundamentalist metaphor but using the “greater good” instead. The end justifying the means, etc.

      They both touch some deeper subjects indirectly as we play shooting gallery.

      I think overall the benefit of all these stories is not to get off the train when they don’t suit your need for a specific narrative, but instead dig deeper in them and find bigger meanings and correlation with our existance that may show a different perspective than our present day viewpoint.

      I mean that’s what a good story should do.

      There’s always ways to find Rambo 2/80’s action movies set pieces for quick thrills. I mean replaying it you don’t even need to think about the story.

  5. November 5, 2015 11:12 pm

    To throw my two cents in there, my biggest problem with the Halo campaigns aside from backtracking is the complete and utter separation of narrative (served almost entirely in the non-interactive cutscenes) and gameplay.

    It was after Halo 2 that I played Gears and I just loved how the story never pretended to be more than the action I did on the screen. Cutscenes were very short, and just a continuation of the after-effects of the action (as opposed to the action itself – that the biggest encounters are often done in the non-interactive cutscenes in Halo is a CRIME).

    In Gears the story IS fighting the monsters under the bed. That’s all. They diluted it somewhat in Gears 2 and 3, but I was never fighting alongside Locusts; it just became a free-for-all. And the action, even when on rails, was always fresh and incredible.

    Specifically to your points, Kenai, I agree with you about everything except the AI. All the non-humans should have remained enemies throughout, and I think, they should have used the rampancy towards the end, for a twist, with a horror movie aspect to it. I love the concept of rampancy, it was just really squandered in this series.

  6. November 7, 2015 10:21 am

    There’s a backstory of why Cortana is doing this from the animated Halo: Reach episodes that came with the deluxe version.

    Basically she is a construct of Dr. Halsey and she is doing what’s best for mankind, just like with the spartan program.

    There’s a play of roles in the halo series. John is the dry cold robot and cortana was the humanly AI.

    With the turn of Cortana they are humanizing indirectly the Master Chief. The tale of blue team becomes much more emotional in the episodes with the sacrifices they had to make, the story IMO is much better there than in Halo 5.

    The game in many ways is the worst medium to tell it because you have to make set pieces to fill up hours of gameplay, etc.

    That’s why I decided to just watch the cutscenes and be done with it.

    As a game it disappoints, but the narrative was setting up is really all about Master Chief’s team.

    I don’t think I would necessarily pay $60 to expirience it, but I do look forward to see where they go with it.

    I think they had no choice of where to go in the narrative. The way the trilogy was done by Bungie seemed they were going to close it sooner than Microsoft would have liked.

    This way by making Cortana the villain in it’s present form, you technically free MC.

    I don’t doubt they will redeem her eventually and go back to basics at some point. Or just kill her off and make him roll with blue team from now on.

    They key here is MC is actually becoming a character now. Not just a mindless savior. He will have to make choices that are more complex than just shoot and save the day (Which IMO would have made a terrible character for a movie).

    • November 7, 2015 5:38 pm

      “There’s a play of roles in the halo series. John is the dry cold robot and cortana was the humanly AI.”

      This and other great points, Frenik.

      And, I too really enjoyed having the story spliced together for easy consumption.

    • Blankman permalink*
      November 8, 2015 5:32 pm

      You’ve made many good points, Frankie. The thing is the Cortana in Halo 5 is no longer the same version that she was in H4. As she warned, the future iterations of her wouldn’t be who she was or used to be no matter how she looks & sounds.

      Master Chief needs to define who he is now without his AI serving as his “humanity.” That is the challenge that 343i has to tackle in the next game. They haven’t quite scratched the surface of their enigmatic hero in H5.

      BTW: Kenai, the Librarian is not alive, it is only her essence programmed into AI that relays the info & history of the Prometheans.

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