Halo 2’s “Uprising” — A Masterpiece Of Levelcraft Storytelling 

Hey all!

Bit of an interesting one for you today, inspired by Hidden Xperia’s praise of “Uprising” in Halo 2. I want to analyze this level and pose the argument that this level is excellent proof that level-specific storytelling can add a significant amount of character and depth to a game while also contributing to the main plot of the game as a whole.

You may be asking, “What do you mean by level-specific storytelling?” 

What I mean is, narrative and story told to the player through experience with the level, and contained IN said level, NOT related to the overarching story of the game itself. However, the overall objective of the mission is connected to the main plot, and thus the level remains connected to the rest of the game while also telling a separate, smaller narrative.

In the case of “Uprising” this is the self-contained story of the Elites and their revenge against the Brutes’ betrayal. The overarching objective, however, of fighting your way to the Control Room, is a part of the much larger, broader story in Halo 2’s final act – stopping Tartarus from activating Delta Halo.

Some of you reading this may believe that this is looking too far into the level – that I’m seeing a story that’s simply not there. I would argue otherwise, and I hope that I can convince those of you who may believe that to agree with me with this analysis.

So…let’s get into this!

Uprising Start
“Uprising” starts with Arbiter being teleported by the Gravemind to a cliff face leading into a dense jungle, the Control Room visible in the distance. 

Oh, So That’s How It Is

“Uprising” begins with our arrival to the scene of a slaughter. Right off the bat we can visibly see the stray shots of Plasma Rifle and Brute Shot fire, and even some Elite corpses as Brutes finish killing several off-guard Elites:

 

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As beautifully melodic and sad music plays, we make our way into the forest, with nothing but our Plasma Rifle. Immediately we find a dying Elite Minor, mortally wounded and barely clinging to life:

Uprising 1
This Minor was the only Elite in this area that was able to cling to life long enough to see Arbiter arrive.

“The Brutes…have betrayed us,” he says. “The Councilors…”

And then he slips away.

As we take our fallen comrade’s Energy Sword, we can hear Brutes nearby arguing over what to do with the numerous Elite corpses.

“Let’s just throw them over the edge,” says one Brute, standing near the edge of a small cliff.

“Where’s the fun in that?” says the other.

As we approach the pair, two more Brutes come into view and begin patrolling the area. At this point, we engage them, stealthily assassinating them one by one with our Active Camouflage and Energy Sword. After a moment, a Brute Captain from further ahead shouts, “Go see what’s taking them so long!” and more Brutes move forward, discovering the Arbiter’s presence.

Analysis: This entire introduction to the mission gives a strong sense of sadness and helplessness as you see how these savages have betrayed their trust and killed them while their backs were turned. It truly makes you feel like something absolutely awful has transpired here.

Uprising 2
A place of tranquil beauty has become one of dishonorable, traitorous bloodshed.

 

After finishing off the remaining Brute forces and moving up to an entrance to a nearby Forerunner structure, a Spec-Ops Elite runs out, Energy Sword drawn.

As he views the several dead Elites in the area, he somberly comments, “By the Prophets – what have these Brutes done?!” He then turns to you and proclaims, while clenching his fist in anger, “They have shed our brothers’ blood – and for that, they must die!

Uprising 3
A small detail I appreciate here is that the fist-clenching animation is solely used in this one moment in Halo 2. Unless I’m mistaken, this animation is unique to this specific Spec-Ops Elite.

Following this, several Elite Drop Pods are sent to the pair’s position.

A Zealot busts down his pod door, exclaiming, “Hah! Over so soon?” as your Spec-Ops Elite ally comments, “A Zealot. So much for a stealthy advance.” The Zealot, as well as Elite Minors and your Spec-Ops Elite, join up with you, forming a formidable fighting force.

Analysis: What makes the moments like this so impactful on the atmosphere of the mission is that you truly feel like you’re among your brothers. From the shared disgust and shock regarding what the Brutes have done, to the humorous banter between the Zealot and Spec-Ops Elite, you feel like a part of a unified group of people, with one common goal: Revenge. 

 

The Brutes Shall Pay For The Blood They Have Spilled…

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As your lance moves forward, several Grunts link up with you and bravely fight on your side, solidifying their allegiance and loyalty to the Elites.

You move forward through the structure to discover a small cave. “Long have I waited for this!” exclaims the Zealot as you and the Elite fighting force charges forward and kills several Brute, Jackal and Drone traitors. During the fight, Grunts join up with you and join your side against the other species. Your lance fights its way up a rocky path to the next area, a second Forerunner structure.

Analysis: This area is small and short, but it does a great job at establishing the feeling of pressing your advantage. The Brutes underestimated the resolve of the Elites, and because of that, they are now the ones being ambushed and slaughtered. This moment in the level marks the transition from being on the back-foot to being on the deadly offensive.

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Time for some house cleaning.

As the lance navigates through the structure, linking up with more reinforcements and assaults the Brutes – one barely has time to say “Not all dead? Raise the alarms!” before being cut down – the Elites discover more piles of bodies. Several of the Elites in the lance will pay their respects to their fallen comrades – they will often say phrases such as “He is no more…” or “Start the journey…be at peace.”

Uprising 5
Several more dead Elites are found, clearly victims of the Brutes’ betrayal.
Uprising 6
An Elite Minor pays tribute to a fallen comrade.

Analysis: This part of the level really hammers home the feeling that the Elites are snowballing the fight in their favor. As the lance swells in numbers and moves forward, killing Brutes and Jackals at every opportunity, you really start to feel like you’re part of a serious uprising that’s out for blood. On top of this, the sense of brotherhood is strengthened even further here by the way the Elites physically kneel down and honor their fallen Elite/Grunt allies with a few words.

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Let’s take this fight outside.

After clearing the rest of the structure of any remaining Brutes or Jackals, you and the coalition of Elites and Grunts make your way to the door to the next area. On the ground, we find dead Elites and Grunts with heavy weaponry. After saddling up with fresh weapons (including some Fuel Rod Guns) the lance heads through the door and back into the foliage, ambushing the nearby Brute outpost, slaying them in open combat. Following this, we steal their Ghosts and begin a full on vehicular assault against various Brute defensive outposts in the thick of the lush jungle while a badass action-themed rendition of the Halo theme played in your ears.

Fun Fact: Your Zealot ally will never enter any form of vehicle, instead opting to charge the Brute lines with nothing but his Energy Sword in hand. This is because they choose to fight enemies in honorable hand-to-hand combat.

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This area adds a fast-paced, vehicular element to the level.

As you clear each subsequent Brute checkpoint throughout the forest, you free more Grunts from their Jackal captors, and they assist you in battle via commanding Plasma Turrets or unoccupied Ghosts. Eventually, a Spectre moves in to engage the lance, and you can either kill its occupants and steal it for yourself, or just destroy the vehicle outright. Personally, I always chose the former. Following this, you drive down a canyon and discover a creek. The allied convoy heads down the creek, killing a few small camps of Jackals along the way, until you reach the final area – a Brute-controlled Forerunner outpost.

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Forming this little convoy with the Elites and Grunts as you traverse the length of this creek added even more to the feeling of being part of a band of brothers.

Analysis: This part of the level marks the height of the rebellion. We’ve gone from having almost nothing to defend ourselves with to challenging the Brutes face-to-face in open ground – and winning. The message this part of the level highlights is clear – The Elites will not go quietly.

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This Forerunner complex is presumably the center of Brute operations in the entirety of the area surrounding Delta Halo’s control room.

Striking At The Heart

After driving their vehicles down into the complex grounds, the Elite forces abandon their transports and begin taking out the Brutes and Jackals nearby, moving up the path to the complex’s catwalks and into relative safety from the nearby Wraith tanks. A few more Elite Drop Pods land to reinforce the lance, and after engaging some snipers and crossing a narrow bridge into an indoor area of the base, the group discover a makeshift armory room, brimming with Covenant and UNSC weapons.

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This cache of weapons likely were recovered from fallen Elites, Grunts and Marines.

One of your allied Elites views the human weapons in disgust and comments, “What vulgar taste! Even as trophies, these weapons are useless!”

After taking the opportunity to gear up with the wealth of weaponry in the room, the lance continues through the room and back out into the outside of the complex, using their newly acquired heavy weapons to destroy the Wraith tanks and mop up any remaining Brutes. Reaching a dead-end, the lance investigates the left side of the complex wall to find a small cave – filled with the last remaining Brutes and Jackals. After a bloody, fierce final battle, the Elites emerge victorious. Arbiter then heads outside of the final door, and the ending cutscene begins to play.

Analysis: This final area of the level does an excellent job of symbolizing the deliverance of the final blow to the Brutes in “comeback kid” fashion. While this section is short, it is sweet in the sense that we actually manage to completely clear the Brutes out of the elevated areas surrounding Delta Halo’s Control Room.

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Nope – I wasn’t scared at all…

The End Of The Level…Or The Arbiter?

The final cutscene shows Arbiter sprinting from the complex door down to the nearby open field that leads to the Control Room. However, a Wraith slowly pulls up in front of him. Arbiter, not knowing that Rtas is inside, solemnly readies his Carbine, knowing that this is a fight he can’t win, not in this position, and not without his allies that stayed behind to hold a defensive position around the base.

Thankfully, the Shipmaster reveals himself to be the pilot, and the two Elites share a moment of unified anger towards the Brutes’ betrayal. Rtas then offers to accompany Arbiter on the pathway to the Control Room, vowing to help him stop Tartarus, who we then see – with the Index – force Miranda into the Control Room, before the doors close.

And that’s it.

Analysis: This cutscene is a beautiful closer to the mission, for both the Arbiter and the player. After leading an epic rebellion against the Brutes, we are once again left alone, with nothing but our rifle to aid us, against insurmountable odds (the Wraith). The Arbiter, like so many other times in this story, is once again defeated and alone – no matter how hard he tries, and no matter how much he accomplishes, he yet again gets the short end of the stick, for what seems like the final, tragic time. But this time is different. Rtas ‘Vadum reveals himself to be the Wraith pilot. The same Rtas that once told us that our life was not important to him. The same Rtas that once regarded us with distaste and distrust. Now, he regards us with the loyalty and companionship seen only in brotherhood – a theme this level has conveyed strongly ever since the uprising began. The bonds these two and all Elites share are ones forged in the heat of battle, side by side. It is at this moment that Halo 2 characterizes the Elites the strongest – as a race of brothers united against the injustices that the traitorous Brutes and Prophets have committed.

So there you have it. “Uprising” is a level that tells us a completely self-contained story of revenge and brotherhood. A story that not only characterizes the Elites as resilient, but also as an honorable, loyal, and united people. And it does this while also contributing to the main plot, in that “Uprising” (as well as “The Great Journey”) tells how Arbiter and the Elites beat back the Brutes and fought their way to the Control Room.

What I find interesting, though, is that in many ways, “Uprising” mirrors the entirety of the Great Schism in that the Elites across the entire conflict ended up making a comeback and defeating the Brutes on most fronts. In this regard, both the Schism and “Uprising” characterize the Elites in the same way. But that’s a different analysis for another time…

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Anyway, that’s all I have for you today. But thank you so much for reading as always! And remember – piss me off, and it’ll be your ass, and my size-24 hoof.

Love,

Lor

 

 

 

 

 

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