Halo 2 and Halo 3 comparison

How do Halo 2 and Halo 3 fair against each other?

Halo 2 game masterchief in a dark suit holding dual smg weapons next to Halo 3 game masterchief in a dark suit holding an assault rifle

How does Halo 2 compare against Halo 3, and how have both improved over Halo CE?

As a long-time Halo player and a huge fan of the series, I dare to say, I felt that it was essential for me to write a review. Well, not just any review, but one that falls under my two most favorite titles: Halo 2 and Halo 3. I know that both games are quite old, but they still hold some value in terms of re-playability and sentimental value for the community. After the Halo: The Master Chief Collection (AKA Halo: MCC) came out, they were constantly updated with new content and going strong. When Halo: Infinite finally comes out, perhaps the series will be in the spotlight again. Hey, if I’m still playing them almost 20 years after the first Halo game, there must be something special about them.

I will briefly introduce and review both games and then compare them by highlighting their key differences with respect to: gameplay, campaign levels, multiplayer, and the overall user experience.

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Halo 2 (XBOX) was first published in 2004 by Microsoft Game Studios, and it was the continuity of the 2001 title: Halo: CE. In short, the game was a direct improvement over the previous generation with a new game engine and elements. Online and LAN multiplayer was improved drastically by implementing: matchmaking, emblems, lobbies, and the option to create distinct clans. Graphics and gameplay-wise, significant improvements took place as well, allowing you to fully experience Covenant weapons and vehicles in their greatest detail with new effects and textures.

On the other corner, we have Halo 3, which was released 3 years later (2007) and would mark the “End of the Fight” between the Covenant and humans, and the civil war within the Covenant. The third game of the series closely resembled Halo 2, meaning that fans wouldn’t have a hard time learning the changed game mechanics. The physics didn’t change much either, and the overall “feel” remained about the same, as it should. Of course, just like with the previous game, vast enhancements have taken place since the title was released for the Xbox360 system and that would enable the game engine to take advantage of the improved hardware to bring the game to higher standards.

Furthermore, new weapons and vehicles were added, but the most notable element for me, was the addition of Equipment, which meant that a player could utilize equipment such as: shield training orbs, shield re-generators, trip mines, active camouflage, etc. This brought new dynamics to the campaign and even more so to the multiplayer.

Halo 3: Bubble Shield (video by Dude Gamer via YouTube).


Halo 2 Campaign

The Halo: 2 campaign was the most fulfilling for me. It was able to show us both sides of the same coin in a flawless manner. From the start, it gave a great in-depth look at the UNSC space station, its internal operations, the casual conversations between the marines and Master Chief, and the chain of command while at the same time it shed some light on the struggles and internal politics of the Covenant in ‘High Charity’ (their respective capital). It just showed us that the Halo universe is vaster than we thought when compared to what we’ve seen in Halo: CE. I won’t delve into the details regarding the plot, but the fact that both the UNSC and Covenant‘s finest warriors battle their way to end the crisis and eventually cross their paths only to see each other become partners and finally friends, tells us that it was unique and not to be missed.

The Arbiter talking to Spartan Locke in a Phantom ship
The Arbiter is telling Spartan Locke about his bond with Master Chief (image by ‘Halo 2: Anniversary’).

I felt that the game’s progress was smooth and reached its climax as it should with a steady but progressive pace. The final scene gave us unquestionable information on what was going to follow in Halo: 3. And so it happened. As the third installment, Halo 3‘s script made sense by simply continuing the final chapter of the story and telling how this intergalactic crisis would finally end.

Halo 3 Campaign

But, this time, the campaign was not strongly focused on the plot as much as on the action. Halo 3 felt more like an all-out war, and your responsibility in the game was to complete your mission while engulfed in the chaos. Another bitter move was to remove the option of playing as The Arbiter. Rumors say this was done due to multiple complaints by fans with the pretext of playing as an Elite actually ruined the real Halo experience, which is absurd, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, but why the heck should somebody complain about playing as The Arbiter?

Anyway, in campaign mode, you experience one great battle after another along with our quadruped friends (AKA ‘Scarabs’) surprising us along the way. Some new units, weapons, and vehicles made their appearance too, but as I stated earlier, for me the biggest change was the addition of ‘Equipment’, since some levels of ‘Legendary’ difficulty are almost impossible to complete without it.

Halo 3 purple blue Scarab with green plasma mouth
Halo 3 Scarab in the campaign (image by VerdanskChips9 via Reddit.com).

The new engine effortlessly shows off the upgraded graphics and mechanics as a result of the higher technical specifications of Xbox360 compared to Xbox. Common bugs and glitches found in Halo 2, have been ironed out, and there is noticeable balance in multiplayer sessions as well.

Nevertheless, true Halo fans never wanted the story to ever end and this played a big role in developing Halo 3: ODST, Halo 4, and Halo 5. But that’s a story for another time.


Halo 2 Weapons

The most pleasant surprise in Halo 2 was dual-wielding the smaller weapons. All those previously “useless” weapons somehow managed to give the enemy a run for their money, especially if combined properly. For example: wielding ‘Plasma Pistol’, on one hand, to break the enemy’s shields while using ‘SMG’ on the other to defeat your enemy. Does anyone want to talk about the fun of dual ‘Needlers’ and how your enemies “popped” multiple times?

Another cool addition was the ability to use Covenant weapons to their fullest extent, just like any human weapon. I still remember falling madly in love with the ‘Beam Rifle’ (the Covenant alternative of the human sniper) which was commonly used in the game by the infamous ‘Jackals’ who still give severe…. headaches to the community to this day. But things get even better when you play as ‘The Arbiter’ (Elite) along with a squad of black-op Elites and are able to use ‘Active Camo’ and wield the ‘Energy Sword’, immersing you completely into the Sangheili ways of fighting. Other cool Covenant weapons worth noting were the: ‘Fuel Rod’ ‘Gun’, ‘Carbine’, and ‘Brute Shot’.

On the other hand, humans did not receive many upgrades compared to their previous set of weapons. The ‘Assault Rifle’ was swapped for the all-time favorite ‘Battle Rifle’ and the ‘Pistol ‘was nerfed a significant amount. The ‘Rocket Launcher’ became more resourceful by having faster missiles and activating “homing missile mode” when targeting vehicles. A good addition was the ability to swap weapons with an ally on the spot. This gave some versatility in battles and tough situations.

Halo 3 Weapons

Moving on to Halo 3, the weapon arsenal was drastically upgraded when compared to Halo 2. Starting with the most significant and most impressive: the ‘Spartan Laser’. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that they brought back my old love: the ‘Assault Rifle’. I really never quite understood why this iconic rifle was ditched in Halo 2, but fortunately for us, they figured out their huge mistake and made up for it.

Halo 3 ODST Marine in black suit shooting Brute with Spartan Laser with Grunts nearby and Phantom in background
Halo 3 ODST Spartan Laser (image by GameSpot.com).

As far as the Covenant weapons go, only the Brutes have received a plethora of them, with my favorite being: the ‘Gravity Hammer’ and the ‘Mauler’ (also dual ‘Maulers’). Dual-wielding, however, has lost its huge importance because you no longer need two of them to do the job compared to Halo 2. It seems that the community didn’t accept the fact that you would need two of your weapons to win in a fight. Frankly, so far, it feels nicely balanced even with ‘Needler’ losing its dual-wielding option.

Fortunately, the ‘Plasma Pistol’ has been brought back to the limelight. Vehicles can be disabled now with a charged shot (EMP charge), which provides players with more ways of defeating vehicles in both campaign and multiplayer. Armored Brutes are also affected just like the Elites, even though they don’t have energy shields. Those bullet sponges are easier to take down now.


Halo 2 Vehicles

Just like with the weapons, the range of Covenant vehicles you can use in Halo 2 increased too. Now, you are able to fully operate ‘Wraiths’, ‘Spectres’, and board the ‘Scarab’ during a part of the game (but not control it). I still dread those moments when I was looking at parked ‘Wraiths’ in Halo CE without being able to board them. Nonetheless, the ‘Gauss Warthog’ was the only new human vehicle to be added, but it shouldn’t be underestimated as it deals massive damage to ground and air units and vehicles, quickly and accurately. Vehicles are also dependent now on your shield energy level, and not their structural integrity. This means that the vehicle can take practically infinite hits and get destroyed only when your shields are completely depleted. Another big change is telling your allies when you want them to board, or get off the vehicle by facing them and pressing the action button. No more unsolicited invites, or driving away from your ‘Warthog’.

Halo 3 took it from there and spiced things up by adding the ‘Hornet’ to the human race, which is supposed to counterbalance the Covenant‘s ‘Banshees’. The advantage of this air unit is its VTOL design, which is more practical than a Banshee as it hovers still midair. The twin homing missile launchers of the ‘Hornet’ are very effective against air and ground units, and the reason they are disabled in multiplayer. Although, some people might find the addition of the ‘Mongoose’ (4-wheel motorcycle) pretty important, I found it to be very hard to maneuver without flipping it upside down every time I stepped on a pebble. It can be very fun though when you carry your buddy in campaign or multiplayer and run around the enemies.

Halo 3 Hornet Campaign flying with marines
Halo 3 Hornet (image by ‘Halo 3’ in-game screenshot).

On the Covenant’s side, anti-aircraft ‘Wraiths’ are a good addition, but with a very low impact on the campaign progress. They are equipped with twin ‘Fuel-Rod Guns’ look-alikes and are very effective against aircraft, but with very slow projectiles. Unfortunately, they cannot be boarded or controlled. On the other hand, ‘Scarabs’ are no longer invulnerable and can be beaten in a certain way (I won’t spoil how).

Brutes need some love too. They now have a Brute version of the Covenant’s ‘Spectre’, called “Brute Prowler”. It functions in the same way as the ‘Spectre’ and as if that wasn’t enough, Brute‘s ‘Choppers’ have been added as the equivalent to the ‘Ghost’. They have compelling front-facing cannons and if you press boost, you can destroy small vehicles with ease given the size of those choppers.


Halo 2 Units

In Halo 2, the UNSC remains exclusively composed of humans as everyone would have expected, so nothing new to see here. However, the Covenant receives the biggest addition that appears to be important for the plot: our furry friends, the Brutes.

Halo 2 brute holding brute shot
Halo 2: Brute holding a Brute Shot (image by ‘Halo 2’ in-game picture).

As for The Flood, there are no major changes. They are just more agile, albeit smaller, and easier to kill compared to Halo CE. Overall, all units look more detailed and their move-set has been improved. The sound sets have been enriched extensively too, which makes the dialogs quite fun to listen to. 

Halo 3 Units

Jumping to Halo 3, The Flood receives some major upgrades while the rest remain the same. ‘Tank-form’, ‘Stalker-form’, ‘Ranged-form’, and ‘Pods’ are here to give you some trouble, especially if you play on Legendary difficulty. Changes in their move-set, and how they interact with other units in the game, have taken place as well.

Halo 3 flood types
Halo 3: New Flood types (image by HALO Alpha).

Regarding the Covenant, the most noticeable upgrade is the segregation of Brutes in different ranks, with the highest being the Brute or Jiralhanae Chieftain wielding a ‘Gravity Hammer’ that can do some serious damage with an AoE push pulse. On top of that, he also is immune to sticking ‘Plasma Grenades’ and has the ability to become invulnerable to any damage for a few seconds. If you play on Legendary difficulty, it feels almost like a mini-boss.

Halo 3 Brute Chieftain wielding a Gravity Hammer
Halo 3: Brute Chieftain wielding a Gravity Hammer (image by HALO Alpha).


Halo 2 Multiplayer

This is where all the money in this game goes. Multiplayer in Halo 2 was at least 10 times more fun compared to its predecessor. The upgraded engine made it possible for movements and weapons to feel smoother and be more precise. The health bars were removed along with fall damage. Overall, the multiplayer felt much faster, snappier, and lighter. This had a great impact as it diverted the focus from difficult controls to having fun. I’d like to add that I still consider Halo CE to be as much fun, but for more selective players because it is less forgiving and more prone to punishing weaker players during a match. You ought to account for gravity, sluggish movements, health bars, and the rather overpowered weapons if you wanted to survive. Having a full shield and health bars wouldn’t guarantee your survival. Therefore, skill gaps played a huge role in this game.

The new set of maps and the refinement of the existing ones gave a really diverse package that would fit your play-style and mood. The cherry on the cake was the split-screen function. If you owned the Xbox or the Xbox One version of Halo: MCC, you could play in a 4-way split-screen session with your buddies. In my experience, cheating was pretty common by peeking on your opponent’s part of the screen, but it still gave me a good chuckle. I still prefer it over LAN or online co-op sessions. Unfortunately, split-screen is still not available on the PC versions of any Halo: MCC game. The community strongly believes that 343 Industries is going to implement this function at some point in the future. So do I, but for now we can only hope.

Halo 3 Multiplayer

In comparison, Halo 3 added a greater variety of play styles to an already successful multiplayer. New maps, new vehicles, new weapons, and all the ‘Equipment’ I mentioned earlier, changed the dynamics of the single and multiplayer modes. The game felt more diverse and simultaneously well-balanced. Gone are the days when getting a ‘Scorpion Tank’ would automatically grant you victory. EMP discharges from ‘Plasma Pistols’, ‘Spartan Laser’, and ‘Missile Pod’ are there to destroy any vehicle, while ‘Bubble Shields’ protect you from those.

Halo 3 Multiplayer Red vs Blue team shooting bubble shield and warthog on top carrying Spartans
Halo 3 Multiplayer (image by Stark2k via Reddit.com).

Apart from the improved gameplay, better graphics and more beautiful scenery made the game pleasant to the eye. However, I have to point out the biggest downside of this game is its crippling bugs or persisting issues and the one that turns me off the most is: hit registration. I cannot even count the number of times I missed my shots or emptied a whole magazine clip to someone’s head, just to see them walk away like nothing happened and no energy shields drained. Another example is when I was riding a ‘Scorpion Tank’ and I shot a person 4 times only to see him/her walking unscathed from the battle. This issue seems to be prevalent on the PC version of MCC and you can find multiple threads on different websites related to it and even though the latest updates supposedly fixed it, but not really.


Hopefully, I was able to give you a great idea of how Halo 2 and Halo 3 have improved compared to Halo CE, as well as the key differences between them.

All the extras and the quality of multiplayer on the third title made it one of the best and most competitive titles in the Halo universe to this day, but failed to capture my interest with its single-player experience, as I strongly find Halo 2 the best among the three titles in terms of the single-player campaign and its replay value.

Which one was your favorite and why?

Did you have a similar experience?

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