When it comes to character customization, Halo has been more of a mixed bag than many think. Customization is a fantastic way to add a new level of immersion in a game as it changes the experience from playing as a character to being a character in the game. With a series like Halo which possesses such a heavy story universe, being a character in the game is both feasible and exciting to many as it’s easy to build “your Spartan” into the fiction.
For me, customization dramatically enhances my enjoyment of any game, and with recent games, it’s been more and more of a standard to have a large range of customization for characters. Call of Duty has been increasing its customization depth for years now, with AW really showing off how far you can go. Is it really central to Halo though as many (myself included on occasions) claim? Safe to say it’s had a bumpy ride in the series so far, and the reality isn’t always how it appears at face value.
Halo: CE allowed you to change your character’s color, visible only in FFA modes. At this point, character customization wasn’t much of a thing, mostly due to tech limitations. A lot of games around this time used different character models rather than customization player models. For the amount you actually saw the different colors, it really wasn’t worth using, either.
Halo 2 introduced elements of swapping entire character models by allowing the additional option of choosing between Spartan or Elite. At this point, the character begins to gain an identity, as emblems were introduced here which allow for many, many combinations. The emblem becomes your identity within the match, appearing on your armor but really only noticeable to the player.
Halo 3 was a major step up, including over 30 armor permutations across 4 interchangeable parts and 2 races. This is when players really get their unique identity in Halo, with a massive range of combinations and colors to customize your armor and emblem to your choices. Halo 3 also introduced gender choice, which altered the voicing for your Spartan.
Halo: Reach, however, is the kingpin of customization Halo games. Bumping the number of interchangeable parts up to 8 with the addition of wrist gear, visor color, knee guards and utilities, Reach also extended gender choice into a visual change in terms of body proportions, as well as neat “Armor Effects” to add a comedic or more styled touch to your Spartan. Helmet customization went a layer deeper and allowed players to accessorize their helmets with additional pieces of tech to make their Spartan even more unique. In addition, players were offered a selection of Halo character voices to apply to their character in Firefight mode. The number of armor “sets” was also dramatically increased to complement the more detailed customization offering.
The part of Reach’s customization that really sealed the deal, though, was that through the unique character setup of its campaign, NOBLE’s new recruit (known only as Noble Six) took the form of whatever Spartan model the player had produced. Reach literally made the player become Noble Six. For many, myself included, that facility alone ranked the game very highly in the Halo series standings despite certain criticisms of other elements in the game.
Halo 4 took a small step back, removing the option to play as an Elite, and reducing the number of changeable parts to 6, removing wrist gear and leg utilities in favor of a greater number of armor sets – over 40, in fact, after all DLC had been released. The number of visor colors was also increased and armor skins were introduced, as an addition to the options for armor coloring.
Interestingly, and disappointingly for fans of customization, options were drastically reduced for the Master Chief Collection. Halo CE& 2 remained unchanged, whilst the most customization games available in MCC, Halo 3 & 4, were restricted to complete armor sets, preventing players from modifying specific armor pieces to create their own unique character. Presumably, this was down to tech or time limitations, so we shouldn’t read too much into it from an MCC angle.
However, Halo 5 seems to be carrying on this trend. Seeing as I only just found this out while researching for this very post, you may well not know also. Josh Holmes confirmed via Twitter (Tweet 1, Tweet 2) that Halo 5’s armor customization suite will be just as in the beta, limited to changeable helmets, visors and full suits. The depth of customization in Halo 5 will apparently be evident in the variety of armor sets available, so expect to have a similar figure to Halo 4’s 40 sets, if not more. We also got a glimpse of armor skins returning in 5 via the beta, some of which were physical changes rather than “painted” changes, like the alternate Mark VI suit. We will just have to wait and see if the options available in the game allow players to create that “unique” Spartan. Sadly, I can’t shake the feeling that having experienced the pinnacle of Halo customization (Reach), 5 will be unable to get near the level of customization I would like to see in future Halo games.
I think that customization comes in 3 major forms.. It can come in the most minor of offerings like in Halo CE, where not only were the options limited, but the visibility limited to FFA only, it can progress to Halo 3 & MCC status, where there are more options but the final product won’t be unique enough that it becomes “your” character, and then it can peak at Halo 4/Reach levels where you are highly unlikely to find a “clone” of your character.
It’s interesting, really. Stereotypically speaking, if you ask the average Halo player, customization holds a significant place in Halo. It’s not a game maker/breaker, but it’s important to a lot of players. However, looking into it game-by-game, very few of the many Halo games actually implement a customization setup that allows a truly “unique” Spartan to be created. Players like myself have seen what Halo accusation has been, clearly could be again, and are disappointed with the possible direction it’s heading in. With that in mind, finding a balance in the region of Halo 4’s customization is probably the ideal depth. Anything more and Reach becomes less of a one-off experience where your Spartan becomes a fictional Halo character, anything less and it won’t have enough identity to be worthwhile.
It’s fair to argue that the reason Reach has the customization suite with the most depth and unique results is because that system was deliberately devised to complement the faceless hero in Noble Six, by making the player “become” Six. Therefore, in knowing that Halo 5 stars known characters in the campaign (Master Chief and Locke), each with their own established visual identities, it’s arguably unreasonable to expect a deeper customization offering that mirrors or exceeds that of Reach, because it’s only going to appear in multiplayer. A repeatedly dying & respawning character model has little need for such detailed identity because the only times it’ll be seen in use is multiplayer, where players are either busy shooting at it or alongside it, and aren’t really interested in which helmet other players are wearing.
All in all, Halo 5’s customization is rather good by today’s standards, and on-par with most Halo games, provided 343 deliver on the variety of suits and skins. It’s safe to say that customization is important to Halo, but it’s really the depth of customization that is the conversation point here. The necessity for depth comes from the exposure. If it’s just a character model to be shot at or ignored, then we’re fine as we are for Halo 5, if this unique model has a place in the story or some other use which requires uniqueness, then there should be more depth.
What do you think? Was the customization fine in the Halo 5 beta? What would you like to see?
Let us know in the comments!
P.S. I’d love to see a different HUD enabled when different helmets are equipped to a Spartan character! (Take notes, 343i, I’ll be waiting 😛 )