As the Halo franchise has grown, more and more newcomers have become acquainted with the series with different works. Many people ask what games should be played, how many novels must be read to get the bare minimum of the story, which can be skipped, or whether it is better to experience the series chronologically or via publication history.
There are no right answers for how someone should experience a franchise, but the Forward Unto Dawn staff has crafted a few sample chronologies for those interested in experiencing the games, expanded universe, or following a single character’s arc. These are not completionist guides—minor or tangential works are ignored, as are ones that do not necessarily contribute greatly to the larger lore. Each chronology includes some notes providing overview and rationale behind the ordering. As new books, games, and comics come out, we will be updating these guides and adding new ones. If you’re interested in getting a condensed summary of the entire scope and breadth of the Halo universe, you can check out Forward Unto Dawn’s upcoming Timeline.
The Halo games
As the main anchors of the franchise, the Halo games can be roughly played in release order. The major exception is Halo: Reach, which sets up the events of Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo 4 suffers from key narrative elements being relayed in optional terminals rather than the game proper. As such, the Halo 4 Terminals are watched prior to playing the game, not only to outline the fall of the Forerunners that was implied and referenced throughout the Halo Trilogy, but to establish the character of the Didact and foreshadow the player’s arrival at Requiem.
Spartan Ops is included as it catalogues the events following the main Halo 4 campaign, and finally involves Dr. Halsey directly into a game narrative following her reveal within the prologue for Halo 4. It also introduces characters who will be relevant in Halo 5.
The Halo novels
For those interested in reading through the Halo series as it exists in written form (whether as a fan or a newcomer to the series) it is important to understand that the specific revelation of details regarding the universe must be altered in order to get the most out of the storylines.
The Forerunner Trilogy, as placed here at the beginning of the list, undeniably ruins the twist present in Halo: The Flood. However, it makes up for this by being the most elegantly written and—for new fans—one of the best way to ease in from other sci-fi franchises. In this order, we go from the Greek tragedy that is the Forerunner’s downfall, to picking up the pieces 100,000 years later with the Covenant and humanity locked in war. Readers are introduced to the conflict and the birth of the Spartans with Halo: The Fall of Reach, which leads us to the rediscovery of the Halo rings and the Flood in the next novel, bringing the conflicts back to their origins and completing a circle started in Halo: Silentium.
From here on, the saga slowly shifts focus to the Master Chief’s compatriots and Dr. Halsey. After Halo: First Strike, John is cut from the picture, and we follow the few remaining Spartans. Within the Kilo-5 Trilogy and moving forward, Blue Team and Dr. Halsey begin to take a backseat, the focus shifting towards a new cast of characters, and a tonal shift in humanity’s role in the galaxy. Novels such as the adventures of Grey Team (in The Cole Protocol and Envoy) as well as one-offs such as Broken Circle that have few (as of yet) repurcussions for the wider universe are not included in the reading list altogether.
Master Chief’s story
As the main character of the series, Master Chief’s story spans games, comics, and novels. The Fall of Reach details his early life up to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Novels such as Silent Storm detail more of the early Covenant War years. Not included are minor cameos or works that don’t feature Chief’s inner life in great detail (Forward Unto Dawn, for example, is ultimately a Lasky story where Chief appears, not a Chief story.) While Combat Evolved can be played, the novelization of the game, The Flood contains more character moments for Chief and should be considered a literary alternate to spend more time with the character; as the novel does include large chunks of recitation of gameplay moments, reading it and playing the game together are not recommended.
Avery Johnson’s story
The colorful, fan-favorite, and cigar-chomping Sergeant Avery Johnson has only one major work in which he is the main character, but he has appearances and major supporting roles in the second and third Halo games. The short comic “Breaking Quarantine” provides the bridge for the character (basically just a repeated NPC in the first game) to grow into the established character we see in First Strike.