ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE OLD HALO ARCHIVE, NOVEMBER 2015
Reposted without edits.
It’s through Locke’s visor, watching Locke’s feet, by which I first land on Sanghelios’ soil. The water of the river rises past our calves and suddenly everything is familiar. I’m reminded of a creek that runs through Chester Bowl in Duluth, Minnesota, a short walk from my childhood house. The sounds of Locke and Osiris making their way through the river echoes memories of family. Brothers finding new ways to traverse rocks from one bank to another, a mother pulling back portions of the creek bed to discover something new, and a father standing at a waterfall’s edge to take in the view downstream. Immediately, Sanghelios feels like home.
Halo games have always excelled at atmosphere. The mystery of Alpha Halo, the loneliness of New Mombasa’s streets, the fear of encroaching Flood, the wonder of Forerunner installations. Halo 5: Guardians follows suit and brings something a little more. It brought warmth. Other games in the franchise have their soft moments, certainly, but the comfort of home has never been so set in the atmosphere as it was on Sanghelios.
I admittedly was predisposed to love the setting and the related missions; as the characters of Harry Potter were companions that others my age watched grow and mature as they did, so was Arbiter Thel ‘Vadam to me. Yet there is more to the game than the exploitation of my pre-developed love for Sangheili culture. There is an encompassing collection of sights and sounds and experiences that speak plainly to say, “Welcome home.”
Sanghelios’ colors are in sharp contrast to every other location in the game. Meridian and Kamchatka are cold and distant, greys and unwelcoming blues. Genesis is far brighter, with a rainbow of colors lighting every corner, but it’s an unfamiliar beauty. Sanghelios is warm and soft, gentle hues of brown and red broken by equally gentle greens. Shapes likewise play a role, with the broken edges of Meridian and the Forerunner angles of Genesis making the curves of Sanghelios’ lands and architecture stand out all the more. Alongside sounds of birds and insects, not unlike those of Earth, Sanghelios has a welcoming serenity to its landscape.
Buck: “I thought Sanghelios would be… different.”
Vale: “You’d be surprised how much we have in common with the Sangheili. For instance, they place huge importance on family and honor. What could be more human than that?”
Of course, it’s difficult to call a place home without some form of family. Have you ever or sat to the side of a group of people who knew each other and just listened? There’s a spark to the air that comes alive in hearing them interact and speak. And a similar spark is found when you stand in the Arbiter’s camp and just listen.
Reports, conversations, disagreements, and affirmations. They echo into the air next to the humming of the insects and flow along the ground next to the skittering critters. I leave Locke next to an Unggoy on a ledge, as I clear my sink to do dishes. After a few moments, the small alien begins to sing, and I join in – Where sun and moon and planets roll, and stars that glow from pole to pole.
Through the audio logs, I am the confident of Vari ‘Damat, the Honor Guard desiring the Arbiter’s approval, of Cham ‘Lokeema, the medic who defies deep-rooted cultural norms for the sake of compassion, and of Rhu ‘Vrath who has doubts about his loyalties to the Covenant. I am the nosey little sister who reads Vel ‘Trokaik’s aborted love poem. I am privy to the tragedy of the brothers ‘Arach, locked on opposing sides of the war. Throughout the five missions, I have listened to the hopes, dreams, and sorrows of Sangheili and Unggoy alike and listened to the air come alive.
Of course, in the midst of a civil war, Sanghelios is not without its hostility, even from allies. Yet the origin and the presentation of the hostility is different from all other locations. Aggression is a given, the norm, on Kamchatka and Meridian, and on Genesis as well, though hidden it may be under a smiling face. On Sanghelios, the sense of family is immediate, and established as a norm from the first level. Mahkee greets and encourages Osiris with “honor to clan and kin.” Upon discovering a slaughtered squad of the Swords of Sanghelios, Vale utters a prayer as Buck and Tanaka swear for payback, claiming the fallen as “brothers.” The hostility that does exist from the allies is treated as a moment that will pass. No matter how frequently the sentries tell you to watch your step, by the next mission you will have each other’s backs. And as the missions continue, the dialogue evolves. Mahkee is greeted by Locke with a friendly, “Hello again,” a warrior wishes you luck on your next task, and Thel’s initial greeting of distrust is replaced by a personal farewell.
The very last scene of Halo 5: Guardians only solidifies this atmosphere. As the game ends with chaos and betrayal, we see our heroes return to one last place of refuge and rest. We see them land on familiar soil to be greeted by familiar faces. And it feels like home.
See you on Sanghelios.