When it comes to Halo, one thing has stayed true over the course of the series’ 14 year reign among the top first-person shooter franchises: people come for the story, but they stay for the multiplayer. As Microsoft’s flagship Xbox franchise, Halo and its deep multiplayer component has been enjoyed by millions of players worldwide and is almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the lights on in the early days of Xbox Live. While the main draw of Halo multiplayer is arguably the balanced gun-melee-grenade trifecta that has been imitated many times since the 2001 original, online shooters live and die on the strength of their maps and fortunately, the Halo series has some of the best. With six mainline games released across three different console generations, there is a gigantic pool of maps to choose from at this point, making the act of actually trying to highlight only ten practically a fool’s errand. . . which is why we’re doing it anyway. Here are the ten best maps in Halo history.
Honorable Mention: Chiron TL-34
For some reason, it’s really hard to find people who appreciate the unique design of Halo CE’s Chiron TL-34. While it may not be liked by the Halo community at large, Chiron remains one of Halo’s most unique maps thanks to its multi-room design, with each room separated by teleporters. While it definitely takes a while to get a handle on the layout, Chiron takes on another level of strategy once you grasp it, as the teleporters turn into cat and mouse games between players as they wait for the other team to make their move. You haven’t lived until you’ve gone through one of Chiron’s teleporters with a fireteam, knowing full well that an ambush is waiting on the other side.
10. Turf (Halo 2)
Released post-release as additional content for Halo 2, Turf is one of the best infusions of Halo‘s story universe and multiplayer design. Set in the streets of New Mombasa, Turf feels like it was ripped right out of Halo 2‘s campaign, as you can actually see references to the “Metropolis” single player level, such as the downed Covenant Scarab. While Turf could get by on its visual aesthetic alone, it also happens to be a fantastic medium-sized arena with tight corridors and a ton of verticality. Urban warfare is not something that happens often in the Halo universe, which helps Turf stand out from many other skirmish-focused Halo maps.
9. Ascension (Halo 2)
Recognized primarily for its giant spire that takes up its middle section, Ascension is a memorable map that plays to many different game types and play styles. It’s a bit of a strange map, with a tower base on one end, an elevated sloped platform at the other, and a bunch of walkways around its perimeter, but somehow it all works. Who can forget the leap of faith to get the rocket launcher or the singular banshee that can control the entire battle from the air? A great fit for Team Slayer, Capture the Flag, and SWAT alike, Ascension is a true classic.
8. Sidewinder (Halo: CE)
Halo maps are generally split between tighter, more enclosed designs suited for small player counts and large, sprawling arenas best suited for large team games and vehicles. Halo: CE’s Sidewinder is definitely the latter and remains a favorite among fans of large team game types. Featuring two bases connected by a large half circle, Sidewinder has such a distinctive design that it’s likely to conjure fond memories in Halo diehards. Perfect for 8 on 8 CTF and Assault game types, Sidewinder was so popular that it received a highly-detailed remake in Halo 3 called Avalanche. While Avalanche is arguably the definitive version of the map thanks to its many modernizations, it just can’t best the original in terms of feel or fun. Plus, it had teleporters and those will always win out over jump pads.
7. Hang ‘Em High (Halo: CE)
Probably the most fondly remembered map to come out of the first Halo, Hang ‘Em High is all pistols, all the time. A symmetrical map with a giant open area in the middle and a series of tunnels and walkways around the perimeter, Hang ‘Em High is the rare Halo map that is just as fun with a small player pool as it is in chaotic 16 player shootouts. A definite Team Slayer favorite, Hang ‘Em High arguably shined the most with objective game types, particularly CTF, as each team’s flag is positioned on top of hard-to-reach towers, making every push to grab it feel like a mountain climb. Like Sidewinder, Hang ‘Em High was also redone for Halo 3 with the spiritual successor Longshore.
6. Sword Base (Halo: Reach)
While Halo: Reach‘s multiplayer isn’t looked back on as fondly as earlier titles in the series, it still gave us at least one all-time best map in Sword Base. Set completely indoors, Sword Base has a rather unique level design, with a narrow, multi-leveled arena. The standout game type (and arguably the only one you really need to play on Sword Base) is SWAT, as teams constantly battle for control over the top levels. Featuring a number of nooks, crannies, and access routes, Sword Base is definitely the best level in all of Halo: Reach and should be a top candidate for the remake treatment as part of a future update for Halo 5: Guardians.
5. Battle Creek (Halo: CE)
The quintessential base map for smaller scale games, Battle Creek (or Beaver Creek as it is known in Halo 2) is easily one of the best small maps in Halo history. Well-balanced and surprisingly deep for being such a small arena, Battle Creek works just as well for Slayer variants as it does for objective games. While the overall design looks a little pedestrian by modern standards, it’s a classic for a reason and that’s because it offers one of the best ways to experience pure Halo adversarial combat, thanks to its smart weapon placement and symmetrical design. It may not be flashy but Battle Creek continues to stand out as one of Halo‘s best map offerings.
4. The Pit (Halo 3)
The best original map introduced in Halo 3, The Pit is simply a fantastically well-designed map focused on corridor shooting above all. A largely symmetrical map housed in a Spartan training facility, The Pit excels at offering an even playing field for players with smart weapon placements and a good balance of vertacality. For a level housed in what’s essentially a big warehouse, it also feels surprisingly spacious, allowing snipers to do their thing at one end while others battle it out for the rocket launcher and active camo power-up on the other. There also may be no better map for grenade use, as explosives really control the flow of battle thanks to the many corridors and open sight lines.
3. Zanzibar (Halo 2)
The map that introduced the world to Halo 2 multiplayer thanks to a memorable preview video, Zanzibar is simply a delightful map that not only looks beautiful thanks to its bright, coastal location, but also houses one of the best map designs for objective gametypes in the series. Zanzibar (or Last Resort as it’s called in Halo 3) is the perfect attack and defend map, with one team starting on the beaches and the other defending an objective in the complex’s multi-tiered base. Zanzibar is also one of the most interactive maps in the series, most notably the giant wheel at the map’s center that can be ridden and manipulated to access the Energy Sword and Rocket Launcher, the ultimate Halo power weapons. Zanzibar is easily one of Halo‘s most versatile maps and is one that you’ll never be unhappy to see in the rotation.
2. Lockout (Halo 2)
The greatest non-vehicle map ever to grace a Halo game, Lockout is beloved by the Halo community at large and it’s easy to see why. Lockout is a very small map but it’s also extremely versatile, lending itself well to practically any game type (Swords-only Slayer is an absolute riot). As far as this writer is concerned, Lockout should be featured in every Halo game, as it’s about as close to map design perfection you’re going to get in Halo or any first person shooter for that matter. This is Halo‘s version of Call of Duty’s Nuketown, in other words, and would take the top spot if it wasn’t for one map that does Halo multiplayer just a little bit better (depending on your tastes, of course).
1. Valhalla/Blood Gulch (Every Halo Ever)
We’re cheating a bit with this one, as you can consider Valhalla’s placement at the top of this list as a vote for Blood Gulch as well, a map that needs to be included on any “Best Halo Maps” list lest you want to incur the wrath of the Halo community. While Blood Gulch and it’s Halo 2 variant Coagulation are absolute beasts of multiplayer design, Halo 3′s Valhalla is the best realization of the concept. With bases at opposite ends of the map, a variety of caves and bypasses, and a giant hill smack dab in the middle that’s played host to many a kinetic fray, Valhalla arguably offers the best “pure” Halo multiplayer experience of any map in the series. Every game type works on Valhalla and pretty much every type of vehicle is suited for its wide-open design. While every Halo player will have their own personal preference, Valhalla and Blood Gulch are probably the two maps that spring to mind when one thinks of Halo multiplayer and for that reason, it has to take the top spot.