Note: This is part two of a four part article which contains major spoilers to not only the games in the Halo series but also the various novels and other media. Proceed at your own discretion. To read part one, please click on the following link: An Obsessive’s Guide to Halo: Part 1
In the last article we covered a few important events in the Halo universe which sets the stage for the events that take place in the original Halo trilogy of games developed by Bungie and also in the Reclaimer Saga currently being developed by 343 Industries. This article will cover the origins of the Covenant and humanity as we see them in the games as well as offering some insight into the early days of the Human-Covenant War.
Previously I planned on making this a three part article but I began to realize there was literally far too much for me to cover in only three articles and I’d be skipping a massive chunk of the lore if I did. When it comes to talking about the Halo universe, I certainly like to claim to know my stuff. Let’s dive right in.
938BC – 2525AD (Formation of the Covenant and humanity’s colonizing of space)
In the year 938BC an alien species known as the San ‘Shyuum (known as “Prophets” to humans) came into contact with another alien race known as the Sangheili (known as “Elites” to humans). Both species were familiar with alien relics and technology that they had found scattered throughout space – these relics were the remnants of Forerunner civilization – and both worshiped them in some way, shape or form.
However, great differences in the use of these artifacts led to a war between the Elites and the Prophets. The Prophets believed Forerunner technology should be adapted for their own use whilst the Elites viewed this as the utmost heresy. The war started out in the Elite’s favour as they were far superior in hand-to-hand and ground combat compared to the fragile Prophets. The tides began to turn however as the Prophets had a distinct technological advantage with adapted Forerunner technology including a fully functioning Forerunner Dreadnought vessel which devastated the Elite’s fleets and worlds.
By the end of the war the Elites were forced into submission by the Prophets who demanded they accept their beliefs in order for their race to survive. The Elites accepted and the two races signed a treaty which set the alien alliance known as the Covenant into motion. Many other species such as Unggoy (Known as “Grunts”), Kig-Yar (Known as “Jackals”) and the ape like Jiralhanae (Known as “Brutes”) were incorporated into the Covenant and all of them held the same belief. That firing the “sacred rings” would send them on a “Great Journey” and ascend them to a god like status like the Forerunners before them. Little did they know, they were so wrong they wouldn’t be able to comprehend it…
As all this was going on, Human history was proceeding as you and I know it today. Conflict after conflict scarred the surface of the Earth with World War I and World War II being the last of the greatest wars the planet had ever witnessed. The atomic bomb became a staple of humanity’s arsenal and its destructive force was multiplied to such a great degree as time went on that the NOVA bomb was commissioned. It was a bomb with so much destructive force it could devastate planets and destroy moons.
Humanity also made leaps and bounds out into the galaxy and colonized many new worlds due to the discovery of faster than light and slipspace travel. Earth became governed by a sole government named the UEG (United Earth Government) and in their endeavours into space, formed the UNSC (United Nations Space Command). A world named Reach became humanity’s second biggest stronghold after Earth and a multitude of other planets became bustling hubs of activity. This wasn’t without conflict though. As humans colonized planets further and further away from their homeworld, many decided they didn’t want to be ruled by the UEG/UNSC anymore and rebelled. The Wars of Insurrection began in 2494 over humanity’s Outer Colonies. In response to this threat the UNSC re-initiated a shelved project named ORION (Later dubbed the SPARTAN I program) to create super soldiers. As time went on this project became a failure and a scientist named Catherine Halsey was put to work to create the ultimate soldiers with the SPARTAN-II program. Children were kidnapped from their homes to be used in the program as their bodies were more accepting of augmentation. Among these children was a boy named John who was given the designation SPARTAN-117. However, the Insurrection was the least of humanity’s worries at this time. On the latest world in the Outer Colonies to be settled – Harvest – first contact with another species was about to be made…
2525 – (First contact and the beginning of the Human-Covenant War – Halo: Contact Harvest)
Harvest was the workhorse of the UNSC, producing much of its food. A Covenant ship comes across an unmanned cargo ship belonging to the UNSC and promptly raids it. The on board computer leads them to Harvest where they are greeted by a small strike force believing they are dealing with Insurrectionists and among them is Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson. They lure the Covenant ship into boarding a freighter ship and a battle breaks out between them ending in a human victory. First contact had been made.
On High Charity – the Covenant planetoid which serves as their capital – two Prophets realize that Harvest is covered in Forerunner relics and begin a plan to overthrow the current High Prophets, and to keep the Sangheili from upsetting the balance of power through the discovery they send a small contingent of Brutes to seize Harvest for themselves. This pact between the Prophets and Brutes would become a cornerstone for the Great Schism many years down the line.
The Brutes land a ship inside the capital of Harvest, the humans attempt to keep the peace with them but the Brutes are fully intent on taking the planet and begin their attack. As a one sided battle commences, the two Prophets and an accomplice – now known as the High Prophets of Truth, Regret and Mercy – usurp power on High Charity after realizing that the “relics” they discovered on Harvest were actually the humans themselves – clearly indicating that they must have some form of relation to the now “extinct” Forerunners. The Covenant declares war on humanity in order to cover up the discovery and keep the ideal of the Great Journey alive, with genocide being the only favourable outcome for them. The Human-Covenant War had begun.
2531 – (Retaking Harvest and discovery of a Shield World/Forerunner fleet – Halo Wars)
After five years of the Covenant systematically destroying the UNSC’s Outer Colonies, Harvest was retaken and liberated. The world was a complete mess and a shell of its former self and many lives had been lost in the campaign to take it back. The Covenant used directed plasma bombardment from orbit to ensure nothing could survive on the surface of a planet. Harvest suffered this fate but the UNSC noticed something peculiar, the Covenant weren’t “glassing” the northern region of the planet. They had to be looking for something. The UNSC Spirit of Fire was sent to investigate and under the command of Sergeant John Forge a force managed to break through to a – as of yet unknown to humanity – Forerunner artefact. A scientist named Ellen Anders used the information on the Forerunner glyphs to decipher a star map which points to yet another human colony on the planet Arcadia. The Spirit of Fire sets off in hot pursuit of the Covenant who are more than likely on their way there.
On arrival at Arcadia many of the ships guarding the planet have either been damaged or destroyed – including a ship named the Pillar of Autumn which would play a key role in the Halo Event 20 years later. After helping to evacuate civilians, the Spirit of Fire crew discover the Covenant at another artefact which is guarded by a partially built Scarab platform which decimates anything in its way. After destroying it, an Elite known as the Arbiter (Not the same one who appears in Halo 2 however) appears and kidnaps Ellen Anders and transports her to an orbiting Covenant ship. Spirit of Fire pursues them to a completely unknown world. After deploying ground forces to look for Anders, the UNSC comes across an unknown alien parasite – this was humanity’s first known contact with the Flood in hundreds of thousands of years. After withdrawing back to the Spirit of Fire the world opens up and pulls the ship inside where they are immediately engaged by a Covenant Destroyer. Unbeknownst to the crew of Spirit of Fire, they are actually inside a Forerunner Shield World.
The Arbiter uses Ellen Anders to activate the Apex site – as humans are able to activate Forerunner tech whilst other can’t – within the Shield World. The Apex is a fleet of hundreds of Forerunner ships that the Covenant want to use to quickly wipe out humanity just as the Prophets had nearly done to the Elites with a single Forerunner Dreadnought. Clear of the imminent danger humanity faces, the Captain of the Spirit of Fire demands that the ships FTL drive be removed and overloaded in the Shield World’s artificial sun in order to make it supernova and destroy the planet, the Forerunner ships and presumably, themselves.
Sergeant John Forge volunteers to go on the one way trip to detonate the FTL drive whilst the rest of the Spirit of Fire crew escape the Shield World. Forge destroys the Shield World and the fleet at the cost of his own life and at the cost of the Spirit of Fire being unable to return to human controlled space without an FTL drive. With this, the knowledge of the Flood threat goes unknown to the rest of the UNSC, but the Spirit of Fire buys them just enough time to fight on for another twenty years. Just enough time for humanity to bring their war with the Covenant to a devastating close.
In the next article I’ll be delving more into the lore of the Halo universe with which many are already accustomed – mainly the part of the timeline which takes place during Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. But I’ll also be exploring some of the areas which some might not be clued up on such as the novels which take place during the same time as the games! We’re only half way there!