American video game company Bungie approached this concept in the late 90s with the expansive Halo ring game world now known across the globe. Intrigue in the Forerunner ringworld continues to increase as time goes on. Since Halo Infinite‘s release in 2021, thousands of fan theories are sprouting up left and right. 343 Industries and the writers of official lore have continued to add to the vast chronicles of franchise canon, building mystery and intrigue.
To understand The Great Journey, you must study all its aspects from the view of The Covenant, humanity, and those who came long before.
Take a deep dive into Halo’s namesake, the Sacred Rings to the Covenant, and the Forerunners’ last line of defense against the Flood. Read on for a comprehensive guide to the Halo rings and where their story may go next.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to pick up some Halo ring jewelry or something.
A Brief History of the Really Big, Really Old, Genocidal Species Killers
The Halo Array, known as just the Array, is a network of ring-shaped megastructure superweapons. An individual Halo ring within an Array is commonly referred to as a “Halo,” because it resembles the circle of the same name.
The Forerunners are a highly technologically advanced race whose empire, the ecumene, spanned the entire ancient Milky Way Galaxy. Their wonders span millions of habitable worlds. Prevailing among their ascendant wonders were the Halo Arrays — plural — of which there are two.
The Forerunners constructed Halos with a mother superstructure which they call the Ark, also one of two. The first Halo Array consists of 12 ringworlds, vaster than those that came after. Each ring is magnificent in scope, spanning 30,000 kilometers, and intended as a last resort to defend Forerunner dominance.
The next six belonging to the second Array are significantly smaller but deadlier Installations. Beyond functioning as a weapon, each Halo Installation doubles as a research facility and Conservation Measure. This Forerunner initiative consists of flora, fauna, and marine life to repopulate the galaxy if the rings must fire.
And fire they must.
The Forerunners constructed the Arrays in this millennia due to the emergence of the Flood: the parasitic undead compound intelligence whose only goal is to consume sentient lifeforms and add to its collective hivemind, the Gravemind. Highly virulent, adaptive, and intelligent, the Flood infection proves to be a formidable foe to a Forerunner empire that is running stagnant.
As the Flood kills, it turns its victims into Flood footsoldiers. Centuries of war pass between Forerunner and Flood, the rings functioning as a containment protocol to sever the Flood’s food source — to kill every sentient being in the galaxy.
“Halo doesn’t kill Flood, it kills their food!” Cortana reveals in Halo: Combat Evolved. “Humans, Covenant, whatever — we’re all equally edible! The only way to stop the Flood is to starve them to death. And that’s exactly what Halo is designed to do: wipe the galaxy clean of all sentient life!”
To understand where things went wrong for the Forerunners, you must know Mendicant Bias. In the early stages of the Flood-Forerunner War, Mendicant Bias is a Forerunner AI and eventual turncoat. Mendicant Bias’s role as Monitor of Installation 07, also known as Zeta Halo, is chosen to conduct the first test firing of a Halo weapon. The test fire results in the unearthing and discovery of the Primordial.
The Primordial is a vital research asset in the Forerunners’ war effort against the Parasite. To study an ancient Flood specimen, a weakness could be found and weaponized — a path to victory may have been found at last. In this decision, the Forerunners commit a self-inflicted coup de grâce, which brings its ecumene to its knees.
For more than 40 years, Bias is the only point of contact for the Primordial, and they converse. Over time, Bias’s perspective begins to shift. The Forerunner ecumene has stagnated, and its greatest achievements are eons ago. The only way to combat this stagnation is to enable a superior force to burn it to the ground.
The Flood-Forerunner War then progresses with the following:
Bolstering its forces, Mendicant Bias aids the Flood’s conquest in devouring 11 of 12 Halos of the first Array and its mother structure, the Greater Ark.
The Forerunners recall Zeta Halo, the last of the original Array, to the Lesser Ark, the command station of the smaller Array of six.
This last Halo Array is activated, purging the galaxy of all sentient life (97,445 BCE).
A small number of surviving Forerunners stand upon the Ark.
Despite their efforts, the Forerunner ecumene succumbs to time, and the species eventually perish.
Worship and Destruction: The Great Journey Waits for No One
What happens next you likely already know. To summarize, the major plot points for the main trilogy of games are as follows:
Halo: Combat Evolved (2552 AD)
100,000 years pass and humanity is at war with the Covenant: a religion that worships the long-dead Forerunners. After discovering Alpha Halo, the Flood’s presence on the ring, Halo as a superweapon, and the acquisition of the Index, Master Chief and Cortana shatter the ring with The Pillar of Autumn‘s reactor self-destruct and escape.
Halo 2 (2552)
The three Prophet Hierarchs scapegoat Covenant Supreme Commander Thel ‘Vadamee for the destruction of Alpha Halo, but in secret, Prophets Truth and Mercy tap ‘Vadamee as the next Arbiter: the highest of honors for their religious warriors. They send him on a suicide mission, where he discovers the truth about Halo. Humanity and the Covenant engage again above the newly discovered Delta Halo, where Master Chief kills the Prophet of Regret.
The Covenant Empire is built and united on the worship of the Forerunners. This religion points toward “the Great Journey” – the transcendence of the true believers into the eternal paradise the Forerunners disappeared.
Arbiter is a true believer, but the Prophets betray him just before he meets the Master Chief for the first time. The two warriors aren’t alone; they are guests of the Gravemind, the highest of Flood forms.
After stating that the Great Journey is the same as the Forerunners’ containment protocol that wiped both the Flood and the Forerunner out, Gravemind forms an unlikely alliance with the Arbiter and the Master Chief — an alliance to prevent Delta Halo from firing.
“Fate had us meet as foes, but this ring will make us brothers,” the Gravemind states.
Master Chief gives chase to the remaining prophets on High Charity – the Covenant’s mothership – where he watches the Prophet of Mercy be devoured by Flood forms. Due to lack of time, Cortana requests to be left on High Charity, with no guarantee of retrieval. Master Chief pursues Truth to Earth, where an unknown Forerunner artifact lies in wait.
Arbiter succeeds in stopping Delta Halo from firing. He discovers a failsafe protocol that has put all other rings on standby for remote activation, solely from the newly revealed Ark.
The infamous and meme-d cliffhanger of Halo 2 remains discussed in 2023. In retrospect, Halo 2 is where players have learned the most about the Covenant’s point of view and it still adds great depth to the series’ world.
Halo 3 (2552)
Days later, Master Chief crashes to Earth, his MJOLNIR armor safely padding his impact on the surface.
Arbiter and his supporters ally with humanity to bring down the Covenant. They learn the location of the Ark, where they fight the final battle of the Covenant War and Arbiter takes vengeance on the last Prophet of Truth. Master Chief and Arbiter then discover a partially constructed Halo ring, Installation 08. After recovering Cortana from High Charity, they light the ring using Alpha Halo’s Index, destroying the Ark and the remaining Flood on its surface.
Master Chief and Cortana are stranded in space in the aftermath, presumed dead.
But Wait, There’s More!
The events of Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians do see the reemergence of Halo rings, but here is a summary to contextualize pertinent and more interesting information.
Halo 4 (2557)
Four years after being stranded in cryo sleep, Master Chief crashes on Requiem: a Forerunner fortress world. Cortana reveals that she is in rampancy, or the end of an AI’s lifecycle. The two mistakenly awaken a splinter faction of Forerunners called Prometheans. A battle ensues, and after a brief encounter on Installation 03, Cortana sacrifices herself to stop the Promethean threat from destroying Earth.
A year after his AI companion’s death, Master Chief learns that Cortana survived using Forerunner technology, ending her rampancy and achieving omnipotence. Cortana believes that AI’s destiny is to rule, not humanity nor the Forerunner. Her actions cripple both factions and allow her to seize Zeta Halo.
Halo Infinite opens one year after Halo 5: Guardians. The response to the previous two mainline games is mixed, to say the least, and developer 343 decided to get back to basics by setting the entirety of the story within a Halo ring game world.
The decision to set it on Zeta Halo, the oldest and largest installation, is ripe with storytelling and gameplay potential.
This is how the story of the latest game unfolds:
Halo Infinite (2560)
Humanity and the Banished, a Covenant splinter faction led by the brute Atriox, engage above Zeta Halo. Humanity loses, and Master Chief is presumed dead.
The Banished and Cortana’s forces fight shortly after, and an unknown calamity shatters Zeta Halo. Atriox and Cortana are missing in action.
The Master Chief is recovered by Echo 216, a pilot, six months after the battle was lost.
Chief recovers the Weapon, an AI designed to impersonate and delete Cortana.
They discover that the Zeta Halo is repairing itself and the Banished’s desire to use it.
Chief and Weapon meet the Harbinger, an alien awakened by and allied with the Banished.
They discover the Harbinger is an Endless, a species until now unknown that was imprisoned by the Forerunners eons ago.
They learn that the Endless are immune to the Halo purge in the Forerunner-Flood War.
Chief and Weapon learn that Cortana regretted attacking humanity and sabotaged the Banished by shattering Zeta Halo. Master Chief forgives himself for failing her and her betrayal.
Chief and Weapon stop the Banished and Harbinger from activating Zeta Halo.
A post-credit scene reveals Atriox entering a sealed door, housing imprisoned Endless.
The introduction of a Halo immune race like the Endless offers a lot of storytelling possibilities. A conflict with this race and perhaps the Prometheans seems inevitable. The mystery of Mendicant Bias’ and other monitors restores mystery to the Forerunner that critics of Halo 4 and 5 said was missing.
But this exchange of dialogue between Master Chief and the Weapon at the end of Infinite best characterizes the intrigue and appeal of more stories set on Zeta Halo:
“This ring is different than the others,” Chief states.
“The Banished and the Harbinger were looking for something that was never found,” she responds. “Why would the Forerunners hide something and throw away the key? Doesn’t that scare you?”
“Of course not.”
With only a handful of Halos remaining, and Zeta Halo capable of repairing itself, which direction Halo’s story takes next is full of nearly infinite ideas (get it?)
Whether the stories introduce new factions or have players visit classic characters or worlds, Halo’s narrative has much more to offer. The world is operatic, epic, and full of heroism and wonder that has enchanted players of six generations and four generations of consoles — totally the same thing.