Halo, Starring The Keyes Blob
It may be possible to take small items from Halo and Halo 2 and extrapolate on whether or not they might be more, or less, important than they seem. Many fans took note of the "Keyes Blob" in the first Halo to be something worthy of attention. It was the only Flood unit that did not fit into any of the known forms: carrier, combat form, infection form. I think they were right to note this. In Halo 2, we are introduced to the character Gravemind-- which also is the only known form in the published games that is not a carrier, combat, or infection form. It seems able to contain or absorb the bodies of the dead in a way that is different than other forms do; Gravemind does this to the Prophet of Regret. One might interpret the Keyes Blob's absorption of Captain Keyes as a foreshadowing of this, and thus conclude that Installation 04 does not, at the time of the game, have a Gravemind entity, and that possibly the Keyes Blob is the beginning of the formation of same.
This is, of course, speculative. If anything I am persuaded to believe it is likely there is a connection between the two because I believe that the presence of a unique item in the story such as the Keyes Blob is meant to suggest something to the audience, and the existence of some Flood unit with more significance (and perhaps intelligence) than the other forms is also suggested by 343 Guilty Spark's comments about Flood behavior. That we see this suggestion take form in Gravemind during Halo 2 seems to me no mere coincidence. I believe Bungie deliberately foreshadowed the existence of Gravemind with its presentation of the Keyes Blob.
To that end, I would argue that the entire mission of the level, Keyes, is completely symbolic. That, in fact, the entire purpose of that level is to reveal the Keyes Blob to the player, and that for the purpose of the story, nothing else is necessary. And when trying to construct other reasons for the player to go through that level, Bungie unwittingly tips the player off that the mission is symbolic.
Let's take a look at the situation at the start of Keyes. We've already had two missions so far where the explicit goal was to rescue Captain Keyes. In the first, Truth & Reconciliation, he is held prisoner by the Covenant, and we infiltrate a Covenant cruiser to rescue him.
Later, having reached the Control Room on Keyes' orders, Cortana finds out Keyes is in danger again, and we are dispatched to stop him from releasing the Flood in 343 Guilty Spark. Of course, it's too late; the Flood are already released and Keyes has been taken by them aboard still another Covenant cruiser. By then, the plan is to destroy the Halo by detonating the PoA. Here is where things start to get fishy:
The systems on the Pillar of Autumn have failsafes that even I can't override, without authorization from the captain. We'll need to find him or his neural implants, to start the fusion core detonation.
This is the beginning of the symbolic mission. The real mission of Keyes is to see the blob. But having rescued him already once, the mission can't be to rescue him. But why isn't it? Cortana doesn't know that Keyes is dead, at this point, she only knows the position of his implants. Yet she bothers to mention that destroying the ship requires the captain "or his implants"-- foreshadowing the fact that he might be dead, even though the opening moments of Keyes reveals that he is not. Bungie is setting the audience up, through Cortana, to come to grips with the fact that Keyes isn't dead, but isn't getting out of this alive.
The justification for needing the Captain's input to destroy the ship also seems exceedingly weak. The Captain might easily have been killed and his implants destroyed. Keyes might have fallen down an abyss, or been disintigrated. Having such a system would also mean that, should it have been necessary to detonate the PoA's engines while the Captain was still a prisoner-- perhaps because his rescue was not practicable or for some other reason-- doing so would have been impossible. It seems to me reasonable that there would be other means-- either other crew capable of performing that duty, or that Cortana herself would have been able to do it. We're supposed to believe Cortana can hack into alien systems with ease, but is unable to circumvent the security of the Autumn, even in the direst situation? It strains credibility.
And in the final level, Bungie discards even this situation. With Guilty Spark in Engineering, the Master Chief has to detonate the engines manually, which one imagines doesn't require the Captain's neural implants. However, if that were possible-- and if it were as simple as it turns out to be-- why didn't Cortana think of it earlier? Why risk trying to retrieve the Captain's implants if it isn't absolutely necessary?
I think the only believable answers are that what was happening to Keyes was significant, and it was important that the player see it. Of course, that significance might have taken many forms; so simply knowing that the Keyes Blob was important would not have enabled everyone to logically suppose the existence of Gravemind as he appears in Halo 2.
However, similar examiniations of parts of Halo 2 may reveal what is important foreshadowing and what is not; what are solid assumptions on which to base predictions, and which are not.
So, what new assumptions does the plot of Halo 2 lead to? Which of these is reliable? What new points significant, and might be foreshadowing of what is coming next, and what might we predict could happen in Halo 3 by combining these elements?
Civil War And New Alliances
It's no secret that battles with more than two sides and the dissolution of old associations is a trend in Bungie games. In Marathon it happens several times. The colony ship Marathon begins with three artificial intelligences-- one of which, it turns out, has gone Rampant and signalled to extraterrestrials, who show up and start shooting up the place. So quickly there is a split between Leela, the "slavishly loyal" goody-two-shoes AI who wants to help the humans fight the invaders, and Durandal-- who has slightly different plans. Durandal also helps the player against the Pfhor, but also has his own agenda: freeing the enslaved S'pht race and helping them against the Pfhor.
Add to the tally the third AI, Tycho, who in the fullness of time is so enraged over Durandal's betrayal of the human race that he actually allies himself with the Pfhor, against Durandal and the S'pht, for the purposes of revenge, even though the initial basis for his anger was the Pfhor's massacre of the human colony at Tau Ceti.
In Halo and Halo 2 we see similar themes. What begins as a fairly simple conflict in Halo 1-- Covenant and humans against each other-- quickly becomes complicated by the introduction of the parasitic Flood, whom it seems will attack anything living and subvert it. A series of three-way battles ensue, wherein the Covenant are sometimes your unwitting allies in fighting the Flood, even as both are trying to eliminate you.
This trend is taken to the next level in Halo 2. As Truth and Tartarus scheme to supplant the Elites with the Brutes as the guardians of the Prophets and the vanguard of the Great Journey, rebellion breaks out among the Covenant, pitting the Elites, Grunts and Hunters on the one side against the Brutes, Jackals, and Drones on the other.
(The Prophets, of course, do not actually take part in any of these battles, but nicely round out the number of total races in the Covenant at seven. Personally, though, I feel those divisions are cruelly unfair. Elites and Brutes seem roughly equal in terms of toughness and equipment. Elites have swords and can dual wield plasma rifles, while the Brutes have the Brute Shot which is good for long-range explosive mayhem as well as slicing enemies from chin to navel. But drones are at least as dangerous as grunts with their plasma pistols, especially given their increased mobility, and while Hunters are powerful, I'd certainly wager that an unseen Jackal sniper at a distance is a bigger threat than a pair of Hunters up close. But I digress.)
So we might take as a provisional new assumption, "the Covenant is broken."
However, we need to examine this a bit further to see what it actually means, and what may happen in subsequent events.
Insofar as there is open fighting among the Covenant races, it does appear to be broken. However, I'd argue it is broken in the sense that the cessation of hostilities that it was suppose to engender has come to an end; but it doesn't mean that the framework that was built around it has collapsed.
The Arbiter, at least at first, refuses to believe what Gravemind tells him about Halo. Half-Jaw, as far as we know, is not even aware of it. What they are both aware of is that the Honor Guard has been recommissioned to replace Elites with Brutes, and that in the ensuing conflict the Elites on the High Council have been killed by the Brutes. What is going on here is not the end of the Covenant-- it is a civil conflict brought on by the displacement of the Elites from their privileged place, and the other races taking sides in this argument.
The Arbiter appears to accept that Halo is a weapon and not the beginning of the "Great Journey" at the end of Halo 2, when he attempts to persuade Tartarus not to activate the ring. However, none of the other Elites are yet aware of this, nor can we be certain they would accept it if they did.
The most popular prediction I've seen based on this theme is that the Elites, as well as possibly the Hunters and the Grunts, ally with humanity against the other Covenant races.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Is this a reasonable prediction to make?
In some ways it would seem yes. In the Marathon series, the player gets help from human soldiers customized by Durandal when fighting against the Pfhor, allied by the S'pht, while on the S'pht homeworld. While not nearly as significant to the plot as the Flood are to Halo, the S'pht homeworld also has another race, the Flick'ta, who will attack just about anything and are later suggested to be the evolutionary ancestors of the S'pht, prior to their cybernetization by the Pfhor. NOTE: Reiginko properly corrected me here that the Jjaro, not the Pfhor, cybernetized the S'pht. The Pfhor merely enslaved them afterwards.
A human alliance with the Elite faction of the Covenant would follow this trend.
However, there may be problems with this. For one, I've always found Elites to be my favorite targets in the game, offering a nice balance of challenge. Each of the units on the opposing side has some element that makes them more annoying, if not more challenging, to fight-- the skittish flying patterns of drones, the "berserking" behavior of Brutes, which ironically make individuals harder to kill the more you hurt them-- and, well, jackal snipers. Need I say more?
The thought of having to play a significant portion of Halo 3 against only those three units and the Flood, while Elites, Grunts and Hunters are off-limits as allies-- is not an appealing one. Nevertheless, we cannot discount the possibility that Bungie may somehow make adjustments to gameplay that will offset this-- either by changing the behavior of the units, or introducing new ones. However, based on the significance of '7' in the Bungieverse I think we're done with new Covenant races.
Next time: is this alliance really going to exist in Halo 3, and how long might it last?