Halo 4's billion year secret: The full Halo timeline
7th May 2012 | 17:30
When 343 Industries revealed the first in-game footage from Halo 4, shortly before March's Game Developers Conference, they did it a little too quietly.
Franchise director Frank O'Connor, creative director Josh Holmes, and incredi-named executive producer Kiki Wolfkill rolled their tape, sat back, and refused to say anything concrete about the game. The footage, they assumed, speaks for itself - and it does, but only in the context of a billion years' worth of Halo history.
Bungie's own in-game timeline didn't always tally with Microsoft's licensed novels and comics, so when Bungie bought independence with ODST, Reach, and a truck full of money Microsoft turned to one company − 343 Industries − totake full control of the Halo universe, extended or otherwise.
343 Industries handle Halo's Waypoint website and app, produced the Halo Legends animated shorts, published three novels, and managed Sabre's Combat Evolved remake. Under Bungie and Microsoft the Halo timeline was malleable, but for 343it's set in stone. Halo's extended universe is informing everything about Halo 4, from its setting on a Forerunner Shield World to the enemies drawn from a point 100,000 years in the past. Halo 4's protagonists were first introduced inthe pages of Primordium and Cryptum and its new technologies debuted in Glasslands.
Catching up with it all could take a while, so we've done the hard work for you, pulling together threads from every piece of Halo fiction and ironing out the contradictions for adefinitive wrap-up of one billion years of fiction. We then tell you what it all means for Halo 4.
1,000,000,000 - 150,000 BC
150,000 BC: RISE OF THE FORERUNNERS
110,000 BC: THE FALL OF MAN
Who is... The Didact?
A Forerunner Promethean and the leader of the Forerunner military, the Didact lead his people to victory against humanity, but was imprisoned for his opposition of the Halo array. His original body was killed in 100,000 BC, and his consciousness found a new home in the body of Forerunner Manipular Bornstellar. The Didact once again took control of the military in the Flood/Forerunner war but his plans for fighting the Flood were rejected by the Forerunners' council, leaving only one option when Mendicant Bias broke their defensive line. His whereabouts after firing the array are unknown.
Certainly, the Didact survived the firing of the Halos. In his final transmission he tells the Librarian "I will begin our Great Journey without you,carrying this bitter record" - presumably, we suspect, joining the last of the Forerunners on their voyage out of the galaxy rather than taking the Covenant's version of the 'Great Journey' and dying with everyone else. The Didact and his armies will play a key role in Halo 4, but whether as friend or foeisn't clear.
Now residing in Bornstellar's Builder-class body, the Didact would lack the four metre-tall, 1,000 kilo body he had as a Promethean. In one of Halo Anniversary's Terminal videos, Guilty Spark remarks: "what I would not give to have a single company of Prometheans here. They would restore order with their trademark lethality, although... that would mean he would have to be here, too. And without the Librarian around to temper his rage, well... These Reclaimers might almost prefer the Flood."
BETWEEN 109,000 AND 101, 300 BC: THE PRELUDE TO WAR
100,300 BC: THE FLOOD/FORERUNNER WAR
100,043 BC: MENDICANT BIAS
Since 343 took custody of the Haloverse they've published three novels tied directly to Halo 4. The first of the Forerunner Saga is Cryptum, telling the story of the Didact in 100,000 BC and establishing the complete history of the Forerunners and the original prehistoric human empire. It introduces the humans Chakas and Riser and sees the Forerunner Bornstellar become the new the Didact. The Didact eventually kills the man who imprisoned him, takes control of the Forerunner military, and heads off in search of his human friends Chakas and Riser, and the missing Halo 07.
100, 000 bc: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Who is... The Librarian?
One of the Forerunner Lifeworkers, the Librarian relocated to Earth following the Human/Forerunner war and shepherded the devolved human species back towards civilisation. When her husband, the Didact, was imprisoned she placed a pre-programmed 'geas' in one group of humans, encouraging them over many generations to seek out the Didact's cryptum.
The two were briefly reunited on the Ark during the Flood/Forerunner war, but were separated when the Librarian continued her mission. In the final days of her life the Librarian constructed the artefact beyond Voi and forced Didact to activate the Halo array by preventing any possibility of her rescue. Somehow, she is still alive.
There is evidence in Halo Anniversary to suggest the entire Halo timeline is part of the Librarian's millennia-long plans. "Her strength was in planning and positioning the pieces, and then being bold enough to let it happen." says Guilty Spark in one of 343's Terminal videos. It took her 1,000 years to free the Didact and she did it without ever interfering directly. 100,000 years after her supposed death, other more secret plans are coming to fruition.
100, 000 B: THE END OF EVERYTHING
The following plays out in hours:
SOME TIME SOON AFTER 100,000 BC: A FRESH START
Primordium begins some time after 2556 with the Office of Naval Intelligence capturing a damaged Monitor identified as a duplicate of 343 Guilty Spark. This version of Spark goes on to recount how his personality is based on the ancient human Chakas and tells the story of how the Didact and a small group of humans recovered Mendicant Bias' hijacked Halo 100,000 years earlier. At the novel's climax, the Chakas/Spark Monitor seizes control of the ONI ship and sets a course for the Librarian's resting place, claiming she is still alive with the spirits of his old friends. The third book in the Forerunner trilogy has yet to be published, but will presumably cover the final months of the Flood/Forerunner war.
30,000 BC: HUMANITY RETURNS
938 BC: THE PROPHET / ELITE WAR
852 BC: THE COVENANT
Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space for 100,000 years.
2517: THE SPARTAN II PROCESS
2525: THE HUMAN / COVENANT WAR BEGINS
2531: HALO WARS
2532: SPARTAN III
2552: HALO REACH
2552: HALO 2 & HALO ODST
2552: HALO 3
2556: LOST IN SPACE
The first of 343's post-war novels follows Spartan creator Dr Catherine Halsey inside the Forerunner planet of Onyx, and the team tasked with bringing her to trial for the crimes committed in pursuit of the Spartan II program. 343 have confirmed events in Glasslands will lead into Halo 4, and it's likely the casual references to the hyper-advanced UNSC Infinity and Spartan IV program are very deliberate seeds planted for the Reclaimer trilogybeginning in Halo 4. Glasslands ends with Halsey inONI custody, the galaxy at peace, and with humanity adopting Covenant and Forerunner technology into their existing tech.
BEYOND 2556: HALO 4
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR HALO 4?
Halo 4 is a different way to make a Halo game. Over five games Bungie wrote the Halo timeline and edited it whenever it was convenient - ignoring Eric Nylund's Fall of Reach novel to make Halo: Reach and squeezing the Microsoft-mandated ODST expansion into the series. Halo's new team at 343 Industries didn't write the timeline, but their fresh start and the studio's total ownership of the games and extended universe means they're respecting the timeline more than Bungie ever could.
The maps, characters, and technology in Halo 4 all have roots in Halo's games, novels, comics and animated movies. For the first time, the multiplayer mode ties to the campaign and offers up a good reason for red Spartans to fight blue Spartans, on maps ripped straight from Halo's extended fiction. Wraparound is a classic circular Halo deathmatch map - allelevation changes and steely surroundings on a Forerunner shield world. Warhouse is a civilian construction facility orbiting a gas giant where automated machines build a towering UNSC Cyclops Mk II mech - an evolution of Halo Wars' Mk I - as a war plays out at the giant's feet. Nope, you won't be able to pilot the mech, but that's okay; 343 say there'll be even bigger vehicles in the campaign.
Karen Traviss' post-Halo 3 novel Glasslands introduced the fourth generation of Spartans to the Halo universe and sent a Spartan II into battle with the UNSC's first suit of Mjolnir Mk VII armour. It's those Spartan IVs who'll star in the multiplayer mode, and every Spartan IV is equipped with the slimline new armour. Multiplayer perks are tied to components that let you create custom classes and looks on the fly, equipping extra armour, stronger shields, or more exotic armour abilities.
It's not a great stretch to expect the Master Chief's own jet pack to be among the custom parts. The Chief leaves the Ark at the end of Halo 3 wearing Mjolnir Mk VI Powered Assault Armour, but he emerged from his cryotube in last year's Rebirth trailer wearing a new Mjolnir variant.
Return of the Chief
It's possible the Chief emerged from the tube for some upgrades between Halo 3 and 4, or - more likely - 343 will bodge it and say there was a prototype Mk VII suit knocking about on the Forward Unto Dawn all along. The first suit of Mjolnir VII armour was tested by a Spartan II in the post-war novel Glasslands, so an early prototype on the Forward Unto Dawn suit is almost credible, but let's hope 343 have a cleverer explanation that that, eh?
In any case, 343 are respecting the timeline when they gave the Chief's new armour a jet pack module - the Mjolnir armour abilities were first introduced on Reach's battlefield as a new innovation in 2552, but the early prototypes never made it off Reach so they skipped Bungie's Halo trilogy. Armour abilities should be standard issue after Chief's three-year kip.
Every Spartan in Halo 4's multiplayer can sprint as standard, meaning Chief is equipped with at least two of Reach's armour abilities - the Jet Pack and Sprint modules. We're speculating here, but it's possible the Chief's new gear could include the Active Camo, Decoy and Dropshield systems, too, while multiplayer would use them as expensive custom components on your upgraded armour. "We want to give players a greater sense of empowerment through choice," says creative director Josh Holmes; built-in armour abilities would let 343 improve on some of Reach's features while giving Chief more options. It would be a crucial step in modernising Halo and giving you more choices on the battlefield.
Countdown to E3
"One of our goals was very gameplay focused" says executive producer, Kiki Wolfkill. "It's about providing a really visceral first-person experience and what it feels like as a player to embody Chief, really delivering on that fantasy of being a 900 pound Spartan." There are more CoD-style moments where you'll see life in the suit, tearing open doors and hanging from precipices in first person.
"Our other goal revolves around storytelling and character development," she adds. "There's such a rich fiction around Master Chief that exists in other mediums which haven't traditionally been experienced through the games. There's going to be a very ancient, very dark threat, and the decisions he's going to need to make and the things he'll need to overcome will really start to define him a little differently as a character."
The game-changing secrets will have to wait until June's E3 showcase. Expect the first campaign reveal live on Microsoft's stage, and expect the best from Microsoft's dream team; they've had a billion years to work on it, after all.