Ridiculously early this morning, Microsoft announced the Fall 2015 launch of Halo 5: Guardians. The game has been teased since even last year’s E3, but it appears they’re going to take their time in bringing it to market, ensuring it’s the best possible product.
Few details were revealed about the game other than its box art, title, release date and the fact that it will debut with the live-action Halo TV show as well. But it’s one of those aspects I want to focus on (even though I could launch into a tangent about how “Guardians” is an odd subtitle given that word’s importance in Bungie’s Destiny).
It’s the central art, which shows a new Spartan in the center with Master Chief as its reflection. And even though there’s a lot of armor plating on all Spartans, the size and shape of the figure in question appears to be female.
Even though Halo 5: Guardians is described as “the next installment in the legendary saga of the Master Chief,” the new Spartan’s placement above him would seem to indicate that she might be a new protagonist, with Master Chief possibly playing a supporting role.
This would be a pretty big switch for the series. Like 90% of other video game protagonists, Halo has always had a male lead in the form of the Chief. On rare occasions there were supporting female Spartans like in Reach (and in expanded universe materials), but to date, the most prominent female character in the Halo universe has been Cortana, Master Chief’s AI companion.
Cortana is a great character with even better voice acting, but there’s no getting around the fact that over the years, she’s become an increasingly sexualized damsel. More often than not, Master Chief is rescuing her from something or another, and in terms of her character design, she’s evolved into a hypersexed entity that I’m not even comfortable featuring here, lest I get in trouble with Forbes’ publishing policies. Here’s a look at what I’m talking about in case you haven’t seen her lately.
This is why a fully armored, gunslinging female Spartan as a new hero would be a really welcome change for the series. While I don’t think Halo has been an overtly “sexist” series to date, it has stayed within the confines of traditional video game storytelling in which a powerful male warrior is constantly tasked with saving a scantily clad female. If Halo 5: Guardians breaks out of that trend, that would be a breath of fresh air for not only Halo, but the shooter genre in general.
Some are guessing that with this unfamiliar Spartan on the cover, perhaps you’ll be able to create your own hero in Halo 5. That you can pick your gender, armor, and so on. That could be cool too, but I wish that 343 would simply decree that a specific female character they’ve designed and written is the lead.
Even though it’s great for games like Saints Row, Mass Effect and Skyrim to allow you to design your own female protagonist, it takes another level of commitment to have your game be led be a preordained female character. It’s usually only a few established legends that get that honor (Lara Croft, Samus Aran) and new female leads are few and far between.
It’s too early to say whether or not this is what 343 is doing with Halo 5: Guardians, though I’ve reached out to ask them directly. For the evolution of the series, I hope I’m right, and it would make me even more curious about Halo 5 than I’d be if it were just another Master Chief venture.
(Side note: An additional theory from Forbes’ Daniel Nye Griffiths – “Co-op with pneumatically embodied Cortana? The visor glow is blue…”)
Update: 343′s Frankie O’Connor has taken to NeoGAF to say that it is “not a girl” in the game’s artwork, and on his Twitter asks “who’s the new guy?” Unless he’s being deliberately misleading or Spartan-ified Cortana doesn’t count as a girl, I suppose everything I’ve said above is negated. Which would be really disappointing.
Update 2: Now super-confirmed via Halo EP Josh Holmes: “For everyone speculating about the mysterious Spartan in Halo 5: Guardians, he’s not Palmer (or Cortana!). He’s a NEW character. :)”
So not Cortana, not a female, not someone from existing canon, not a create-a-character. That’s actually a lot of info for a single tweet. A bit sad the female Spartan lead idea was shot down so quickly. Would have been a nice change-up for the series for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Maybe next time…