For a guy that averages only a few words per game, the Halo series has somehow managed to make the Master Chief a surprisingly sympathetic character. Maybe it’s because I read the books when I was a teenager, so I’m painfully aware of how John 117 was kidnapped as a child and forced into military slavery where he was tortured and transformed into a human superweapon, but I feel for the guy—especially in Halo’s original trilogy.
His entire life has been spent saving humanity’s ass from insurrectionists, aliens, scarier aliens, and ancient aliens (that are still pretty scary). And if the story of Halo 5 and Infinite is as connected as it looks to be, now Master Chief has to save the galaxy from his AI partner-slash-girlfriend, Cortana. There’s tragic irony in the reality that Master Chief’s closest ally is now his enemy. But now that this story has been stretched over six games, it’s getting harder to care. That’s why I’m hoping that Microsoft and 343 Industries do the right thing and kill the Master Chief in Halo Infinite.
Oh Chief, my Chief
The emotional crux of Halo has always been John 117’s relationship to Cortana and how they’ve survived so much horror and trauma together. When Cortana is stranded aboard High Charity, an enormous Covenant space station in Halo 3, there’s an entire mission where Master Chief risks everything to retrieve her even though it seems hopeless. Hell, the entire series is basically defined by Master Chief’s selfless sacrifice to humanity, and I’m growing increasingly tired of seeing him dragged out for one last rodeo. Leave the Chief alone, you monsters.
Halo 3 was the perfect end to Master Chief’s arc (and it seemed like the series was finally ready to move beyond him with Halo: Reach), but it wasn’t long before 343 Industries busted him out of cryosleep so he could save the galaxy again. What came next were two of the most underwhelming Halo games that spoiled so much of the established lore in an attempt to unearth a new bad guy to fight. The Didact couldn’t possibly live up to the iconic horror of the Flood or the religious zealotry of the Covenant.
The stories of Halo 4 and 5 weren’t all bad, though. I enjoyed exploring the idea of AI rampancy and watching Cortana start to corrupt after seven years of service. Knowing that she couldn’t live longer than seven years was a tragic revelation akin to someone finding out they have a terminal illness. This ends up being the major plot point of Halo 5, wherein Master Chief goes rogue to save his girlfriend yet again. Unable to cope with the idea of losing her, Master Chief refuses to hand her over to the military and breaks his code of honor.
But Cortana clearly can’t be saved. Though she hasn’t gone completely crazy (yet), in Halo 5 her sole mission is to use powerful alien tech to basically become the sheriff of the galaxy. She wants to control everything, which is a little disconcerting to the humans that created her. The game ends before Cortana can enact her plans (or Master Chief can stop them) so this becomes the question that looms over Halo Infinite: What will happen to Cortana?
It’s a question I care about. But at the same time, I feel like this resolution has been dragged out far too long. This entire narrative arc could have been told in just a single game, but we’re nine years into this story and I wouldn’t be surprised if 343 Industries wants to keep this story going forever. It’s right there in the name.
If that’s the case, I’m out. I’ll pretend everything after Halo 3 never existed and that Master Chief and Cortana are still floating in space aboard the wreckage of Forward Unto Dawn.
I get that Master Chief is an icon like Crash Bandicoot or Mario and that Microsoft is probably reluctant to ditch the face of their biggest franchise (sorry Blinx), but that’s antithetical to telling an emotional story with proper closure. Stories need an end, and when characters are continually thrown into new adventures without any emotional growth they start to feel cartoonish and one dimensional, like a certain Italian plumber or a bug-eyed marsupial.
That’s why I’m going to play Halo Infinite hoping that Master Chief doesn’t make it to the end. His entire life is defined by cleaning up messes for humanity—a child forcefully turned into a war hero who embraced that destiny because he realized he was the only one who could do the job. There would be something profound in him making the ultimate sacrifice not out of a sense of duty, but out of love for the person who has endured every hardship alongside him.
Of course, killing Master Chief isn’t the only plausible conclusion to this story, but anything less would feel insincere, I think. It’s hard to imagine Old Man John living out his final days on a farmstead somewhere with Cortana by his side. And if he does survive the conclusion of Halo Infinite, I’m worried that 343 Industries will one day cave to the temptation to drag him back out for more adventures and whatever emotional connection I have left to Master Chief will be traded for an opportunity to sell more games.