Halo. The first thought to come to mind whenever I see those 4 letters is the iconic Gregorian chant serenading the sparsely textured box canyons, pine trees, and vast superstructure of the ring world itself. It was 2002, not too long after Halo: Combat Evolved had launched, that I had my first experience with Halo. Since then my love for the series, in particular its lore has only grown. I’m sure many long time first-person shooter fans have played at least one of the Halo games, and if they haven’t they’ve seen the name around. Halo has grown into one of the few FPS juggernauts still remaining in the modern age, alongside Call of Duty and Battlefield. However, since the start of the “Reclaimer Trilogy” (Halo 4, 5 & 6), Halo has found itself in a peculiar state.
Fans of the series praised Halo 4 for having one of the best, if not the best, stories the series had seen, yet they scorned the multiplayer to the point where only a few months following the game’s launch, only 2,000-4,000 players were online at any given time. Compare that to even Halo 3’s multiplayer servers in 2014, 7 years after the game launched, which often saw activity upwards of 11,000 players and you get a once heavily-populated shooter that appears to be struggling. Fast-forward to 2015, the launch of Halo 5: Guardians and the opinions from 4 suddenly reverse. Halo 5’s story is scorned for trashing the lore its predecessor set up and for being far overhyped for what was ultimately presented. Halo 5’s multiplayer was praised for returning to Halo’s quasi-arena shooter origins while still remaining modern enough to compete with the quickly evolving Call of Duty series, with many going so far as to say that Halo 5 multiplayer is on the same level as the highly-praised Halo 2. With only a single game left in the main franchise, it’s difficult to see what 343 Industries’ final product will be for the series. Will they capitalize off of the successes of 4’s story and 5’s multiplayer and create a game that, according to fan opinion, may be the best of the series? It’s hard to say, but even though the future may not be clear for us as fans, one company knows just where the future of Halo may lie.
Enter Spartan Games, a tabletop wargaming company based in the UK. Spartan Games is best known in the wargaming community for their Firestorm and Dystopia franchises, but they’ve recently tackled a far larger IP. At last year’s Salute, a convention for tabletop wargames, Spartan unveiled Halo: Fleet Battles, a tabletop spaceship combat game they were co-creating with 343 Industries. That same summer, Halo: Fleet Battles roll out of production and into retail bringing a whole new experience to fans of the series and newcomers alike. For the first time, Halo fans could build massive fleets and recreate the many space battles found all throughout the lore. The game was received well, with most of its audience residing in the UK, while smaller, but no less dedicated pockets grew here in the United States. Since its release last July, Fleet Battles has seen a multitude of releases that have drastically changed the game and its options and Spartan has no plans of stopping.
Last Saturday, this year’s Salute came to a close and Spartan added another chapter in the Halo tabletop story. Halo: Ground Command is set to release this summer, almost directly mirroring the release schedule of Fleet Battles. Even though most of Halo’s levels take place on the ground, rarely were they able to simulate the true feeling of large-scale ground combat. This was Spartan’s goal with Halo: Ground Command, to give Halo fans alike an opportunity to reenact the large-scale conflicts seen in the lore, such as the Fall of Reach or the Battle of Earth. Ground Command will even be compatible with Fleet Battles, allowing the games to be played simultaneously to reenact boarding sequences and orbital bombardments. One advantage that Spartan’s Halo series has is accessibility. A good read of the rulebook will give you a pretty good understanding of the game’s rules, enough to start a game even if you may have to refer to the book again. It’s no more difficult a process than most board games, making Fleet Battles and Ground Command accessible to even newcomers to the wargaming genre like myself. This accessibility speaks a lot to the future of Spartan’s Halo series, as any Halo fan would be able to pick up the game and try it out, especially with the recent release of a more cost-effective starter set.
Spartan’s aim to provide Halo fans with new experiences, many of which are discussed and fantasized about in the community, could shape the future of Halo as an IP. Wargames often have a habit of enduring; Warhammer and many Civil War and WWII-era wargames have been around for years, even decades now. One attached to such a recognizable IP has potential to endure as well. Just look at Star Wars: X-Wing and Star Wars: Armada, which are continuously growing in popularity. The Halo tabletop series has potential to take a foothold and propel forward, continuing the Halo legacy even if the video games come to a conclusion. Spartan Games is pouring a lot of love and careful consideration into Fleet Battles and Ground Command, maintaining as much lore accuracy as possible while still maintaining game balance. Speaking from experience, Fleet Battles maintains that Halo feel; the alien Covenant are brutal powerhouses who rely on getting up close and personal and melting through human ships, while the UNSC rely more heavily on tactics and striking in large numbers. It’s safe to say due to Spartan’s dedication to the lore and their close relationship to 343 that Halo: Ground Command will generate a similar experience to the FPSs the series began with. Just at a large scale. The tabletop games hold great potential and I cannot wait to see where both companies take the series.
If you’re a fan of Halo or a fan of wargames, I recommend giving Spartan Games’ Halo series a look. The models are incredibly well detailed (and mostly resin past the initial releases) and Fleet Battles is accessible, fun, relatively affordable, and emulates the fleet-scale battle very well. Ground Command is shaping up to have a more polished version of the Fleet Battles combat system and its ability to be played alongside Fleet Battles to augment the experiences just opens the doors for replayability. There’s even talks of a dogfight-level mini game to be played during one of the phases in Halo: Fleet Battles, something akin to Star Wars: X-Wing. I’d give my complete two-cents on Halo: Fleet Battles, however I may save that for its own article as I have a lot to say about the game itself. Nevertheless, the Halo tabletop scene has a bright future ahead of it and I feel Spartan Games has the love and commitment to carry it there.
This article was written by Jake Miller.