Cortana, faithful AI companion to Spartan 117 A.K.A. Master Chief, has sparked a lively debate amongst Halo fans in the months since Halo 4’s release. Will she be coming back or won’t she? It seems that Cortana, scantily-clad and full of sass, managed to charm her artificial way into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Now that she’s gone, the five stages of grief are nowhere more apparent than on a Cortana thread of a Halo fan forum.
Denial, Cortana can’t be dead She’s a critical part of the Halo storyline. Master Chief is going to find a way to bring her back. Anger, 343 Studios made a big mistake killing off Cortana. No one is going to want to play future Halo titles without her. Bargaining, Cortana can make fragments of herself, there has to be one hidden around somewhere and if there isn’t, there has to be a way to make another Cortana. Depression, the game won’t be the same without Cortana. Who could ever replace her? Acceptance, it was fun while it lasted. Maybe the developer could give Master Chief a younger, hotter sidekick? While many fans still mourn Cortana’s loss, others are beginning to contemplate a Halo future without Cortana and for 3 good reasons…
Artistic Integrity has become a hot topic since the ending of Mass Effect 3. Many fans of the Mass Effect franchise felt slighted by it’s less than happy ending. Though BioWare was receptive to the fan campaign to get the ending changed going so far as to release DLC which modified and extended the multiple ending options, they stuck to their guns. The argument made by BioWare for Artistic Integrity poses an interesting question, can video games be considered art?
Merriam Webster defines art as “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced”. This can certainly be applied to video games as the gaming industry thrives on technological skill and creativity. If the goal of art is to make the viewer or reader feel something, good or bad, then the anger of fans post-Mass Effect would indicate that video games are steadily forging a place in the art world.
The death of Cortana at the end of Halo 4 did more than elicit an emotional reaction in fans, it performed an essential artistic function, it inspired conversation and more than that, caused fans to ask questions. Her loss caused the player to question the mortality and humanity of Master Chief. Viewing Master Chief’s grief at Cortana’s loss firsthand reminds the gamer that despite all his skills and training, he is not infallible and he will not always save the day. Creating a convoluted storyline about the Master Chief rescuing Cortana or a duplicate of Cortana being found would devalue Cortana’s death and negate all that it accomplished. Gamers would again be lulled into a false sense of security and forget that Master Chief is more than an elite killing machine.
The popularity of Spartan Ops Season 1 has shown that Halo fans have an interest in the world outside Master Chief and Cortana. With a successful series of novels a few movies and a television series in the works, Microsoft clearly has plans for the further development of the Halo franchise. Killing Cortana is a logical solution to prevent the storyline of future titles from becoming stagnant. Yes the gamer could continue killing Covenant aliens and saving the world with Cortana at their side as they’ve done in the last four Halo titles but how will we ever come to know Master Chief better unless we see how he interacts with other characters besides those currently in his UNSC comfort zone?
Cortana’s death leaves room for the introduction of new characters who through their interaction with Master Chief will give players a clearer picture of the man behind the Mjolnir. There are many characters auxiliary to the conflict between the Covenant, the Forerunners and the humans including other AI. Other alien races too have the technological capabilites of UNSC AI like the Huragok/Engineers, lovable methane filled balloon creatures we have yet to see in a Halo game. Yes we could keep the same old but wouldn’t new characters and missions related to those characters be more interesting and provide more room for plot development and character growth?
Bringing Cortana back without a cliched or complicated storyline poses some difficult problems. Creating a new Cortana would require the UNSC to reacquire Dr. Halsey. ONI issued the order to have Halsey executed in Spartan Ops Season 1 making her understandably reluctant to help the UNSC. Even if the UNSC chose to make another clone of Halsey’s brain, as Cortana points out to the Master Chief in Halo 4, a new AI might act and talk like Cortana but it wouldn’t be Cortana. Could Master Chief find a Cortana fragment somewhere? Fragments created by smart AI are left behind to perform specific tasks and are reintegrated by the AI once those tasks are completed. While the fragments may retain the general personality of the core AI, they are nowhere near as capable or intelligent as the core AI. Would fans really want to have Cortana back if she was only a hollow shell of her former self?
Ultimately, Cortana provided an emotional foil to Master Chief’s stoicism and it is probable we have not seen the last of Cortana. Future titles may choose to explore events prior to Cortana’s death but her death also provides fans with an opportunity to become more connected with Master Chief. While John-117 may never become the comrade in arms that other FPS games set their protagonists up to be, he has the potential to become more than the stalwart savior of humanity, he has the potential to become legend and it seems like 343 Studios understands that too.
Are you a Halo fan? What do you think about Cortana’s death and potential appearance in future Halo games? Sound off in the comments section below.