Halo has had its fair share of ups and downs, but when Microsoft’s legendary franchise has been good (which isn’t an uncommon occurrence), it’s been the absolute best at what it does. That, of course, means that over the past twenty years, the series has showered players with many unforgettable moments that instantly burn themselves into our memories. Here, we’re going to be talking about a few such moments that have stood out to us the most. Given the sheer embarrassment of riches here, we’re obviously going to have to pick and choose and leave some stuff out, so if any omission stands out to you, sound off in the comments below.

WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for all Halo games.

STEPPING OUT ON THE RING FOR THE FIRST TIME (HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED)

It makes sense to start with this one. For millions of people out there, this is the moment that defines Halo, and it’s easy to see even now why this is such an iconic moment. After fighting your way through mazy corridors and cramped rooms aboard the Pillar of Autumn in Combat Evolved’s first mission, you then crash land on the mysterious Halo ring. And that moment when you first step out of the escape pod and lay your eyes on the majestic and alien beauty of the landscape and the ring that curves into the horizon in the distance- that’s a magical moment that will never be topped.

ARBITER (HALO 2)

The Master Chief instantly became gaming icon when Halo: Combat Evolved first launched, and obviously, people were excited to step back into his armoured shoes in Halo 2. He wasn’t the only start of the show in the sequel though, and the Arbiter shared that spotlight with him as the game’s second playable protagonist. Being able to play as the Arbiter was a huge moment in Halo 2 when that perspective switch first happened, not just because you realized you’d be wielding an Energy Sword at some point, but also because of all the narrative and storytelling implications that had.

“WAKE ME WHEN YOU NEED ME” (HALO 3)

halo 3 wake me when you need me

It’s not easy to conclude a story as rapturously successful as Halo, but Bungie tied off the arc with great aplomb in Halo 3. It was a joyride from start to finish with a story that satisfactorily concluded that arc of the series- while, of course, leaving the door open for future stories to be told. And really, those final few minutes of the game were perfect in how they did that. Master Chief getting into his cryo tube and telling Cortana to wake him when she needed him was the perfect way to cap off that sequence.

CORTANA’S SACRIFICE (HALO 4)

Halo 4 was a big moment for the series, as the first Halo game to not be developed by Bungie, and while it certainly wasn’t as successful as it should have been in a number of ways, there were some areas where it absolutely floor series fans. The way it developed the characters of Master Chief and Cortana, for instance, was a highlight of the experience, and watching their relationship grow was an integral part of the story. Seeing it all culminate in what at the time was framed as Cortana’s big sacrifice and eventual death was truly shocking, and that scene where the two of them had their final conversation before that happened was a gut-wrenching one. In retrospect, the whole mess of a situation surrounding Cortana in Halo 5 kind of cheapens that moment, but at the time, it hit really hard.

THE KRAKEN (HALO 5: GUARDIANS)

halo 5 kraken

Halo 5: Guardians has plenty of critics and detractors out there, and honestly, the many, many criticisms that get leveled at the game are not without merit. It’s not like the game had no redeeming qualities though. The campaign, for instance, had some truly incredible sequences- chief among them being the fight against the Kraken. The sheer scale of the fight and the adrenaline-fueled design of that encounter made for one of the best and most thrilling combat set-pieces in Halo history.

THE FLOOD AWAKENS (HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED)

Halo: Combat Evolved does something that the series hasn’t done a whole lot of since- it turns into a horror game every now and then. Halfway through the campaign, one particular mission sees the introduction of the Flood, and it’s an absolutely terrific section of the game. UNSC Marines have no idea what’s going on, the Covenant are scared out of their wits about something that you can’t quite figure out, you’re in a creepy and atmospheric forest, and then all of a sudden, you encounter this strange, mysterious enemy that you don’t know what to make of. That constant feeling of dread and fear that Halo: Combat Evolved created in those moments really left a lasting impression.

GIVING THE COVENANT BACK THEIR BOMB (HALO 2)

halo 2 bomb

Of course, Halo’s also always been full of moments of pure badassery- and this moment right here is the flag bearer for that group. The Master Chief grabs on to a massive bomb that’s counting down to zero, grabs on to it and throws it off a ship, flies through empty space, crashes the bomb into a huge Covenant vessel to completely obliterate it, and flies back to safety. And while he’s doing all that, you’re just sitting there and staring at your screen with your mouth hanging open. It’s a moment that every Halo fan will always remember, made even better in Halo 2: Anniversary thanks to its spectacular new cutscenes.

FINAL WARTHOG RUN (HALO 3)

halo 3 warthog run

Frantic Warthog runs and Halo endings are a truly iconic duo, and appropriately enough for the game that concluded the series’ first arc, the final Warthog run in Halo 3 as the game approaches its final moments is perhaps one of the most intense and memorable sequences in the entire series. Driving the iconic vehicle at breakneck speeds while everything crumbles around you and the ground beneath you literally falls away- how can something like that not be enjoyable?

EXPLORING NEW MOMBASA (HALO 3: ODST)

halo 3 odst

This isn’t a single moment, so we’re cheating a little here, but it’s still worth talking about. Halo 3: ODST is the definition of an underrated gem, and its focus on quite exploration in a single city environment is one of many things that set it so far apart from anything else Halo has ever done. Being able to explore New Mombasa and soak in its environments was a highlight of the experience in an already-excellent game.

FLYING THE PELICAN (HALO 4)

halo 4 pelican

Vehicular combat is a crucial part of any Halo experience, and while the franchise had no shortage of fan-favourites in that department in its early years, one iconic one that players always wanted to control but never got the chance to was the Pelican. Halo 4’s campaign finally changed that. Being able to fly and control a Pelican yourself isn’t something that would be noteworthy in basically any other game, but for longtime Halo fans, it was an unforgettable moment.

343 GUILTY SPARK’S BETRAYAL (HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED)

halo combat evolved

343 Guilty Spark remains that one Halo character that series fans love to hate more than any other (well, perhaps other than Locke), and the moment where that hate originates from will forever be seared into our brains. The introduction of the Flood is still very fresh when this happens in Combat Evolved, but the entire sequence where you learn about the true nature of the Halo Ring and about 343 Guilty Spark’s actual motivations remains a classic to this day.

PATHS CONVERGE (HALO 2)

halo 2 gravemind

From the get-go, once you realized that Halo 2’s story is going to be equally split between Master Chief and the Arbiter, you just knew that there would be a crossing of paths where their stories would converge. And the more things heat up and the more the game develops their character, the more the expectations for that moment continue to build. The scene in Halo 2 where the Chief and the Arbiter finally do meet lives up to those expectations. Watching the two characters interact and quickly come to an understanding to form an uneasy alliance against a common foe is fascinating, made all the more interesting by the fact that this is also the scene where the Gravemind is first introduced.

JOHNSON’S DEATH (HALO 3)

halo 3 johnson

Avery Johnson was a major character in the Halo games during the Bungie years, and as crucial as he was as Master Chief’s ally throughout the trilogy, it wasn’t surprising at all that by the time Halo 3 came around, he’d become a fan-favourite. His death in the trilogy’s conclusion was made all the more heart-breaking by that fact, in fact. True to his character though, Johnson went down kicking and fighting, and it’s a death scene that Halo fans won’t be forgetting about anytime soon.

“SURVIVE” (HALO: REACH)

Halo: Reach is still one of the best Halo campaigns ever (if not flat-out the best, period), but out of all the memorable and breathtaking moments that define that experience, the one that fans will always remember is the very end. Noble 6’s final stand against insurmountable odds and eventual death while the planet of Reach burns in the background was heart-wrenching and truly haunting, and will forever remain one of the best things Halo has ever done. Will the Spartan fight against an undefeatable foe right until the end, or give up and accept an untimely death? The fact that that depressing narrative element is baked right into the gameplay at that moment makes it all the more impactful.

THE CLIFFHANGER (HALO 2)

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Sure, the only reason Halo 2’s cliffhanger exists is because Bungie was forced to chop off an entire section of the game due to development constraints, and yes, at the time there was no shortage of people who were more than a little mad about how the game ended. But one way or another, it was a moment that Halo fans will never forget. And honestly, in retrospect, it’s a really good cliffhanger ending all things considered, especially since those who experience it for the first time now no longer have to be worried about having to wait several years to see how the story plays out.