If you are curious about Halo lore, you are in for a treat. Right from the very start, the video games have been referencing to rich lore. Now, there are literally dozens of books, comic books, and movies to dive into. There is so much lore, you might ask yourself where you need to start. That why we break the Halo lore down to a few recurring themes, explain the very basics you need to know, and suggest some tie-in media for further reading or watching. Whether you are curious about the history of the Forerunners and the creation of the Halo Rings, or want to know what happened to other Spartans, or just need more Master Chief in your life, there is a story out there waiting for you!
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The Forerunners, the Flood and the creation of the Halo Array
Although the video games all take place in the twenty-sixth century, the lore goes back tens of thousands of years. In fact, this early period in the Halo Timeline forms the very foundation of the Halo lore. Everything we see in the video games is rooted in an ancient conflict taking place approximately 100,000 years BCE: The Forerunner-Flood War.
During this war, the ancient and highly advanced civilization of the Forerunners encountered the Flood, a remnant from an even older conflict and a parasitic lifeform that consumes other sentient lifeforms. In an attempt to wipe the Flood out once and for all, the Forerunners created the Halo Array: seven ring-shaped weapons of mass destruction capable of wiping out all sentient lifeforms in the galaxy.
After they fired the rings, the galaxy was reseeded with life preserved according to a plan from the Librarian. Her husband, the Didact, was another prominent Forerunner who opposed the idea of the Halo Array and instead proposed the more defensive Shield Worlds to be built. He also used the Composer to convert Forerunner and human essences into a digital form and placing them in mechanical war machines called Prometheans. Blinded by his own rage and insanity, the Didact was betrayed and exiled by the Forerunners and placed in a sacred tomb, a Cryptum, on Requiem.
If you want to know more about the Forerunners, we recommend reading the Forerunner Saga, consisting of Halo: Cryptum (first book in the Forerunner Saga), Halo: Primordium (second book in the Forerunner Saga), Halo: Silentium (third book in the Forerunner Saga) and Halo: Rebirth (epilogue to Halo: Silentium).
The Covenant is a religious alliance of alien species, most notably the Prophets (or San’Shyuum) and the Elites (or Sangheili). After a war between the two races, they forged the Covenant in 852 BCE, with the Prophets being in charge of politics and religion within the alliance, and the Elites being in charge of the military affairs. One special Elite at the time would hold the honorable title of Arbiter. The Covenant later conscripted many other species, including Grunts (Unggoy), Jackals (Kig-Yar), and Brutes (Jiralhanae).
The Covenant worships the Forerunners as gods and believe firing a Halo will take them on The Great Journey. They view humans as vermin that needs to be exterminated. Lies about these religious believes, including the purpose of the Halo rings, eventually leads to the Great Schism, a civil war between the Prophets and Brutes on one side, and the Elites on the other side. This internal conflict weakened the Covenant and eventually lead to the downfall of the once mighty alliance.
After the defeat of the Covenant, numerous splinter groups and factions remained, collectively known as Covenant remnants. Most notably are Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant, who remained true to the original Covenant’s believes and even fought alongside the Didact, who they viewed as a living god. The Swords of Sanghelios, under Arbiter Thel ‘Vadam, completely broke with the Covenant views, cooperating with humanity and promoting peace instead.
If you want to know more about the origin of the Covenant, we can recommend reading Halo: Broken Circle.
The UNSC, or the United Nations Space Command, is the military branch of the Unified Earth Government. After a series of conflicts in the 22th century, the UEG and UNSC were formed. The UNSC later engaged in the colonization of new planets. At the end of the 25th century, planet Reach became the heart of UNSC operations.
Spartans are human super soldiers, originally created by the UNSC to combat human insurrectionists. After the failed first generation, back then called the ORION Project, Dr. Catherine Halsey created the SPARTAN-IIs. Among them was John-117, also known as Master Chief. He was teamed up with Cortana, another creation of Halsey’s. This extremely smart AI assists Master Chief on his missions. The Spartans proved very effective against the human insurrectionists, but really became vital for humanity’s survival during the Human-Covenant War.
The SPARTAN-II Program consisted of abducted children. For the SPARTAN-III Program, orphans whose parents were killed by the Covenant were conscripted. The SPARTAN-IV Program finally used adult volunteers.
The SPARTAN Projects are a major theme in Halo lore. If you want to know more about the origin of the Spartans, more specifically the SPARTAN-II Program and The Master Chief, we can recommend reading Halo: The Fall of Reach and Dr. Halsey’s Personal Journal.
The Human-Covenant War
The first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, takes place in 2552. At that time, the Human-Covenant War has been going on for more than 25 years. The war is in fact a genocidal campaign by the Covenant, who stumble upon humanity in 2525. Blinded by their religious beliefs, the Prophets decide that humanity should be exterminated.
The Human-Covenant War ends in 2552, after the Prophet of Truth is killed at the hands of the Arbiter, with assistance of Master Chief.
Many tie-in media take place during the Human-Covenant War, so there is a lot of Halo lore here. The most interesting Halo lore can be found is the book Halo: Contact Harvest, which takes place at the very beginning of the conflict. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and Halo: Legends also give interesting insights in the war, while Halo 3: Landfall is a fan-favorite short movie taking place during the war that’s worth watching.
The Created Conflict
After the end of the Human-Covenant War, the galaxy is still in turmoil. Covenant remnants and humanity were still waging war on each other, when Master Chief accidentally awakened the Didact. He manages to defeat the ancient Forerunner, but also loses Cortana in the process. Cortana actually survived the confrontation with the Didact however and gained control of all ‘created’: first Forerunner constructs, including the Promethean forces and Guardian Custodes, and later numerous human AI’s.
Cortana imposed an imperial peace on the galaxy, called Pax Cortana, and used the Guardians to enforce this peace. Few stood against her, including the Banished under the leadership of Atriox, and humanity. Master Chief planned on capturing and deleting Cortana with help of The Weapon (a new Cortana-model AI created by Dr. Halsey), but Cortana sacrificed herself before Chief could even get to her to make sure the Banished would not capture Zeta Halo.
The Banished are a faction that broke off from the Covenant years before the Great Schism. They were formed and led by Brute warmaster Atriox, who stood up against the Covenant using his kind as canon-fodder. He recruited other Brutes and later incorporated other former Covenant species including Elites, Grunts and Jackals, and even some humans. The Banished don’t fight for religious believes like the Covenant did, but only fight for themselves and their own freedom. They will do anything to stay in power, even against the overwhelming forces of Cortana’s Created.
If you want to know more about the Banished, you can read the comic book Halo: Rise of Atriox, describing how the Banished came to be. The Banished also play a major role in Halo Wars 2 and the book Halo: Shadows of Reach.
Now that you are familiar with the Halo lore, you might want to dive deeper into the universe. In that case, check out our guide on where to start with the Halo Series. Be sure to also check out our complete Halo Timeline, placing every single video game, book, comic book, movie, and even audio dramas and board games in chronological order. We also got a complete overview of every single piece of media within the Halo Series.