The first Halo was an extensive game changer for console first-person shooters and the sci-fi genre that particular one inhabited. It brought about an era of studios attempting to make games to compete specifically with the entertainment standard packaged in Bungie’s fantastic product. With so much praise garnered, it was only a matter of time before Microsoft itself commissioned Bungie to return to the series and continue to deliver on the smash hit IP. It was on this day in 2004 that Bungie attempted to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with the release of Halo 2.

The creation of Halo 2 is most definitely attributed to the immense success of Halo: Combat Evolved. Microsoft wanted to continue to cash in on that fervent attention while it was still hot. That said, conception of Halo 2 actually came as a result of missed opportunities with Halo: Combat Evolved. Due to the constraints of time and resources, the team at Bungie left a lot of content out of the original game that they had wanted to explore. This made returning to the series easier for much of the team, who now had the opportunities to put these ideas into practice.

Microsoft Studios

The biggest innovation for Halo 2 was always meant to be multiplayer from the beginning. Multiplayer in the original Halo was a late addition and beyond four-player split-screen, could only be accomplished via system link. Bungie took notice of the fantastic time that players had when four Xboxes were linked and the 16-player capacity was filled. They wanted to find a way to make this available more easily to all players. To this end, the development of an online matchmaking system via Xbox Live was built from the ground up. Players would join lobbies and engage in playlists that would keep various maps and game modes going on a steady flow. At a time when online multiplayer was still very young and local area networks were still king, this new construct of multiplayer was incredibly ambitious.

Another grand addition to the Halo formula included a playable Covenant protagonist in the campaign. Players could take up the role of the Covenant Elite Arbiter and carry out missions from the perspective inside the zealot religious army opposing the humans, using all their tools such as the newly equipable Covenant energy sword as a weapon. Moreover, players could dual wield weapons in any part of the game, trading the accuracy and grenade options for the brute force firepower of two mixed and matched weapons. Finally, a new hijack option was created to allow players to overtake slow moving vehicles and forcibly remove the drivers before taking control of the vehicle for their own use. Dual-wielding, vehicle hijacking and playable covenant were all features that made their way across every aspect of the game between single player and multiplayer.

Microsoft Studios

Despite its ambitious additions, Halo 2 still taxed its team to the limit in order to meet the release date. The team crunched to finish and still ended up having to cut several parts of the game in order to meet deadlines. This resulted in a multiplayer short of their overall ambitions and a campaign left on a cliffhanger that stood as one of the most disappointing of the Halo series. Halo 2 still pushed the limit of a sci-fi shooter in its time, but the constraints imposed on finishing it resulted in an ultimately lacking product in certain aspects.

Halo 2 may have lacked certain aspects, but it was still just as immensely successful and even more so than the original. The single player was criticized for its ending, but the multiplayer was almost universally beloved for its accessibility by both critics and fans alike. Halo 2 became the bestselling original Xbox game ever released and the most played Xbox Live game until it was eventually dethroned by Gears of War on the Xbox 360 over two years after. Halo 2 may have fallen short of the ambitions of its creators, but it was still innovative in many ways unprecedented at the time, offering some fantastic groundwork to all modern online first-person shooters and multiplayer experiences.