This year ushered in the release of Halo 5: Guardians, the next installment in 343 Industries trilogy after taking up the mantle from Bungie back in 2009. With it, we got to witness a transformation that has been years in the making, one which left us with a hefty cliffhanger. This time it wasn’t about seeing Master Chief’s face.
Before continuing, please be aware that this article contains spoilers from the story of Halo 5: Guardians. If you haven’t played the game and want to experience the story yourself, please go do so and return.
Altogether, Halo 5’s story ended up being a complex beast, covering many different aspects of the universe and introducing a threat bigger than most fans anticipated. Sure, we’ve got a conflict going on between Master Chief and the newly introduced Spartan Locke, but that’s a smaller part compared to the bigger picture. And that bigger picture? It’s probably where Halo 6 is headed.
It all starts early on in Halo 5, where we discover that Cortana is actually alive — and actively reaching out to Master Chief mentioning the ‘Domain’ and the ‘Reclamation’.
In this initial communication, Cortana is basically saying that the time for Reclamation has come; meaning that the Mantle of Responsibility is about to be passed down from the Forerunners to another race, presumably humanity (as hinted at by previous Halo installments). But, as the story progresses in Halo 5, we learn that the ‘new’ Cortana has come to believe that the Created — human A.I. — are the true inheritors of the Mantle.
The Mantle itself is a belief originating with the advanced race that existed before the Forerunners, one which provided them with an entitlement and responsibility for the protection and cultivation of the specific and planetary systems within their own empire.
In order to enforce this doctrine across their vast empire, the Forerunners built the Guardians, which we first see in Halo 5. These Guardians are over 1.4 kilometers high, capable of concealing themselves underground, producing giant electromagnetic pulses and shockwaves, as well as traveling through slipspace. Each one is capable of policing an entire solar system by itself, working to keep the ‘lesser’ systems in line under the Forerunners rule. But the Forerunner empire fell from power and these Guardians were buried underground across the galaxy, left inactive until the events of Halo 5.
And these events are where we find out Cortana’s plans to betray Master Chief, trapping him while she works to deploy all of the Guardians in order to use them to enforce the Mantle of Responsibility. During this deployment, she also manages to get most of humanities AI constructs to join her — with the exception of a few who stand with the UNSC.
Despite her best efforts, Chief does manage to escape, thanks to our friendly neighborhood Locke and his team as she yells the Master Chief’s name while jumping into slipspace. This is where things honestly get interesting, because here we get to start speculating about where Cortana’s character could go in Halo 6.
It’s obvious that we’re going to be fighting against Cortana and her Guardians in Halo 6 as Locke and Master Chief, working with the Arbiter and his troops to find the UNSC Infinity. But what about Cortana? I, for one, truly believe she hasn’t entirely gone to the dark side.
If you’re familiar with the Halo universe, you’ve probably heard of rampancy. This condition is a terminal state of being for artificial intelligence, where they start to behave the exact opposite way they were programmed. Basically, the AI start to develop delusions of godlike power and hate for the mentally inferior people who made them. And since Cortana was developing the condition back during Halo 4, it’s almost certain that it’s influencing her current actions.
Typically, AI are destroyed before rampancy runs full circle — but that wasn’t the case here. See, after Cortana scarified herself to save Master Chief at the end of Halo 4, her remnants were brought to Genesis, a forerunner planet connecting to the Domain. The Domain itself holds the reserve of knowledge from the entire Forerunner race, including their collective experience and essence — something that the remnants of Cortana clearly meshed with, resulting in the new Cortana we’re now going to be fighting against in Halo 6.
But it’s curious how she clearly cares about John (Master Chief) throughout Halo 5, going so far as to imprison him like a pet until her work under the Mantle of Responsibility is finished. Why does she care if he trusts her? Why does she want to keep him alive if he’s fighting against her? Maybe there’s a little bit of the old Cortana left that might bring her back to us from the dark side.
Of course, we’ll have to wait until Halo 6 drops before we can find out if she’s redeemable, but until then? We can just sit and ponder how creepy it is to hear her humming over a Halo ring, you know — that one device designed to wipe out all sentient life.
Halo 5: Guardians is available on Xbox One.