Ever since its release back in 2015, Halo: Bad Blood has been subject to on-and-off criticism from the Halo community.
Something that most fans who don’t like it hate about the story is that The Rookie, the ODST that we played through for the majority of Halo 3: ODST’s runtime, was killed in the novel.
The Rookie was shot in the head by an Insurrectionist captain, and then tumbled over a railing to his conclusive demise.
People are upset about this because, in essence, they believed that his character had potential to be used in further pieces of Halo media.
I can understand people being disappointed with the way that he was killed, even if I personally disagree; after reading this article, make sure to read this one that a friend of mine wrote to see why (and also why the death had meaning and wasn’t a “waste”). But I don’t really understand the dislike surrounding the actual death itself occurring due to supposed “untapped character potential.”
Here’s why — and also, how many of the people who make this criticism have already contradicted themselves.
Fill Your Frame
It’s important that I establish what kind of a character The Rookie is in this article, or perhaps put more accurately, the reasons why he is less of a character, and more of a canvas.
Halo 3: ODST was designed to offer a unique take on the Halo universe in that your character, The Rookie, is a normal human trooper. Unlike other times in the series where you filled the shoes of the heroic super-soldier Master Chief, or The Arbiter, an incredibly skilled alien combatant, you’re playing as the “everyman.” As such, you have to contend with that disadvantage.
This can be felt through everything within the game, from the violent recoil of the sub-machine gun to your lack of energy shielding and your lower, non-regenerating health. Enemies appear taller, which is because you are shorter than a Spartan-II, and though you can throw grenades the same distance as Master Chief or The Arbiter could in Halo 3, the animation shows just how much of a huge arc The Rookie has to throw them at in order to achieve the same distance that the more “overpowered” protagonists can with a simple toss. The game even equips you with silenced weapons by default, encouraging you to adopt a stealthier approach to combat since you aren’t as durable as a man in MJOLNIR.
What I’m getting at here is that Bungie’s goal was to show you a new perspective with The Rookie. Though the game has a solid plot with more traditional characters, the core of the experience is immersing you in the dark, Covenant-infested streets of New Mombasa and showing you what it’s like to be an Average Joe in the face of the alien threat.
The focus of the game wasn’t on The Rookie as a character. The Rookie is simply a frame for the player, a lens with which they viewed the Halo universe in a grittier, darker light. His purpose was to be a “vessel” for the player in Halo 3: ODST, and nothing more.
If you don’t believe me, here are the game’s creators saying it themselves:
“The ODSTs are the guys who are in between the Master Chief level and the regular marine level. They don’t have the augmentation of a Spartan or the super-reflexes and armor.”
— Brian Jarrard, “Halo 3: Recon”
“And a big part of it is the character. He’s not as big, so his perspective of the world is a little bit different. He’s not as fast, he can’t jump as high. So even beyond just the health and things like that, it plays very much like Halo but plays a lot more human I guess.”
— Ryan Crosby, “Behind the Scenes of Halo 3: ODST“
Some will argue that The Rookie’s lines and internal thoughts in the Dirt short story from Halo: Evolutions show that he was a character ripe with potential for exploration, but I disagree. His lines of dialogue in that tale are few and far between, and the ones that do exist are neutral in nature, betraying nothing about the man under the armor other then the fact that he cares about his fellow troopers, which, frankly, is a character trait that pretty much every soldier character shares.
The only bit of the story that offers even a hint of any serious “potential” is this one:
The rookie looked out at the land under the clouds as they climbed for orbit, stunned. Soon all the ground would be glass, once the Covenant ships started in on it.
All dirt, he thought.
From there, they would throw everything they had at the Covenant if they were found. Even if he had to throw the last rock himself. He‘d made a promise.
They would make the Covenant pay for every inch of dirt, the rookie thought to himself.
— Tobias Buckell, Dirt, Halo: Evolutions
Here, we see that The Rookie felt…a desire to protect humanity with all of his might.
Which is something you can say for more Halo characters than I can count.
So…yeah. I stand by what I said about The Rookie. He’s not a “character,” and the only bit of his background that offers any kind of characterization is so small and standard in the Halo universe that it’s barely even worth mentioning. Nothing seen in this story or Halo 3: ODST indicates that he has “untapped character potential.”
That being said…
I can understand the desire to add character direction to a “vessel” character like The Rookie who didn’t have it previously.
There’s just one problem, though.
Halo has done that before with another “vessel” character, and coincidentally, most of the people who are mad about The Rookie dying were mad that this character got a deeper character focus, and was no longer written with being a “vessel” in mind…
Take Your Pick
“We left out details to increase immersion; the less players knew about the Chief, we believed, the more they would feel like the Chief. When it came to the Halo novels and other products of the expanded universe, immersion wasn’t as important as deepening understanding.”
— Joseph Staten, “Bungie Talks Developing Halo’s Master Chief”
One of the primary reasons that a lot of people prefer Classic™ Master Chief (Halo: CE-3) over New™ Master Chief (Halo 4-5) is that they love the fact he’s a “vessel” character designed with immersion in mind. They wanted him to be a character, but only in the novels (this is a long-running gripe that I have with the way the Master Chief has been handled over the years, and I’m going to eventually write about why); whenever Chief was on your screen, Bungie wanted him to be an empty slate, ready and waiting for you to project yourself onto him and pretend that you were a Spartan-II. In the same way that Halo 3: ODST wanted you to pretend that you were just a regular guy in ODST battle armor.
Halo 4, 343 Industries’ first title in the franchise, made an effort to close the gap between “game Chief” and “book Chief,” an attempt to weave these two extremes into one cohesive portrayal that used the theme of embracing our humanity in order to explain why Chief used to be so “empty” in the older games.
In essence, they took a “vessel” character, used the characterization from the books to flesh him out effectively for the first time in a game (tapping into character potential, if you will…).
And yet, the common truth is that the same people who hated the fact that The Rookie died without having his character explored were the people who were angry that Chief was no longer a “vessel” character, and had his character explored.
I mean, really. Just…
I just don’t get what these people want.
Do you want your vessel-style characters to be characterized, or not? The mixed signals are only going to make it more difficult for whoever is in charge of the Halo franchise to decipher how to design their protagonists, and how to structure the lore around that.
If you want vessel characters to eventually become characterized, say so. If you want vessel characters to remain that way permanently, then say so.
But say so without going back on what you said later on.
Don’t see-saw back-and-forth indecisively.
You have to choose.