Halo is a sci-fi first person shooter franchise created by Bungie, managed by 343 Industries and owned by Microsoft Studios. The Halo franchise includes 14 games, 13 novels, and seven graphic novels. The main games in the series are Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Wars, Halo: Reach, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 4, and Halo: Spartan Assault.

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ESRB Ratings

Halo Trilogy:

M for MatureM for MatureM for Mature


T for TeenM for MatureM for Mature
T for Teen

Reclaimer Saga:

Halo 4 ESRB

Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll

Violence: The Halo games all depend heavily on gun violence. About 95% gameplay is spent shooting at aliens or bashing in their heads with the butt of your gun. And there is blood. However, it’s usually multicolored alien blood, and its realism varies from game to game.

Alien blood

Alien blood from Halo: Combat Evolved (circa 2001)

Scary Imagery: Part of the game involves large insect-like parasites which attach onto other living creatures (humans included) and create pretty creepy monsters. The aliens in the game also come in varying degrees of scary. By Halo 4, the graphics can be quite realistic.

Strong Language: There is some light swearing.

Player Interaction: Some Halo games have the option to be played online with strangers from around the world. Headsets enable anyone to say anything they like in real time without censure, so you might encounter strong language.

Nudity and Costuming: The character Cortana is an artificial intelligence, but she is represented by a holographic image of a woman wearing a skin-tight outfit. Most other characters are clothed in bulky military garb.

Story & Themes

The games are, for the most part, individual pieces of one grand plot, rather than stand-alone stories. It’s a very complicated universe, but here are the basics.

Far in the future, humans have invented faster-than-light space travel, which has allowed them to colonize other planets. When the outer colonies come under attack from a coalition of hyper-religious aliens called the Covenant, a group of military humans including the supersoldier Master Chief  and the AI Cortana accidentally stumble across a giant ring called a Halo, big enough to support life on its surface. The pursuing Covenant disable the human ship, and both groups land on the surface of the Halo.

Master Chief and the AI Cortana

Master Chief and the AI Cortana

Master Chief, with Cortana downloaded into his electronic armor, discovers that this Halo is one of many Halos throughout the galaxy, and that they were created thousands of years ago by a now-extinct ancient species called the Forerunners as weapons against insect-like parasites called the Flood. Except Halo doesn’t just kill the Flood—it wipes out all sentient life in the galaxy, thus depriving the carnivorous Flood of their food source. The Halo is designed to send out the seeds of life for all of the species it destroys, so that thousands of years later, once the threat from the Flood has passed, life may return. It’s sort of a reset button for the Milky Way.

The Halos have been activated before, and they worked as planned. The humans in the game are actually on their second evolution. The Forerunners, however, never returned.

On the surface of the Halo, the Covenant soldiers are super excited because they worship the Forerunners as gods, and they see the Halo as a holy relic. They think that by activating it they will become enlightened. Master Chief, realizing the destructive power of the Halos, knows he has to destroy them in order to save both humanity and the Covenant.

While running around on the surface of the Halo, the Covenant accidentally release a few surviving Flood, who had been preserved within the Halo. The Flood proceed to infect both humans and Covenants, turning them into a zombie-like army of death.

The Flood

Several humans merge with the Flood to create a creepy blob monster.

Master Chief manages to destroy the first Halo, and the next several games detail various wars between the humans, the Covenant, and the Flood, including the destruction of more Halo installations and most of the continent of Africa.

Though the aliens that make up the Covenant have little characterization in the first Halo game, later games go so far as to cast aliens as main characters, giving them distinctive voices and personalities. During the second Halo game, one species from the Covenant realizes that activating the Halos is a really bad idea, and they join with the humans.

The Creators

Halo was created in 1999 by Bungie and is owned by Microsoft Studios. In 2009, Bungie and Microsoft parted ways. Oversight of the franchise shifted to 343 Industries, a newly-created internal division of Microsoft. Halo 4 was the first game created entirely by 343 Industries.


M for Mature: Most Halo games have achieved a mature rating from the ESRB, despite the fact that they lack the moral ambiguity of other M-rated games such as Grand Theft Auto. This has led to some dissent over the ESRB rating system, and an appeal for more nuanced ratings in the future.

Conversation Starters

  • Why do you think we never see Master Chief’s face? How does this affect your opinion of his character?
  • When is violence justifiable?
  • How do the Covenant’s religious beliefs affect their military decisions? What about their beliefs are healthy, and what makes their beliefs dangerous?
  • What do you think of the bond between Master Chief and Cortana? Can a computer have a relationship with a human being?
  • Do you think the Forerunners were justified in their methods of eradicating the Flood? Master Chief does not make the same decision when presented with the opportunity—do you agree or disagree with his choice?
  • The Forerunners considered themselves to be caretakers of the galaxy. Do you think that they had a responsibility, given their technological advancement, to hold this role? Or were they forcing their own beliefs onto other species?


Master Chief, also known as John-117, is the protagonist of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4. His face is almost always hidden by his military helmet. He is quiet, calculating, and stoic.

The Covenant is a coalition of several alien species who have banded together under a single shared religion. The Covenant worship the Forerunners and are the enemies of the humans, who fought with the Forerunners millennia ago.

UNSC stands for “United Nations Space Command,” and is the military, scientific, and explorative representation of humans in outer space.

Spartans are supersoldiers created by any of the SPARTAN programs, funded by the UNSC. The SPARTAN program was originally designed to end a massive human civil war, but later proved useful when the Covenant attacked. Master Chief is a Spartan.


This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.