If there’s one thing to be certain about in the Halo universe, it’s that there’s no rest for the weary. New threats seem to pop-up overnight and heroes are always called upon to save the day. Being outmanned and outgunned is a way of life for Spartans and usually they pull through. However, that’s not always the case.
In addition to the surprise announcement that early access to Halo Wars: Definitive Edition will begin rolling out on Dec. 20 for anyone who pre-orders the digital version of Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition, a world-exclusive trailer for Halo Wars 2 was revealed at The Game Awards today and with that a deeper insight to the new threat that’s sure to shake the foundation of the Halo universe to its very core. Atriox and the Banished are not simply a new group of bad guys, but an answer to what happens to those who have been molded by the Human-Covenant War that has now left them behind.
“What would happen if the wars keep going, and suddenly the existing power structure falls apart and other people move in? What happens when you stop paying the mercenaries? Sometimes the mercenaries take over,” says Kevin Grace, Narrative Director at 343 Industries.
Citing significant research on historical mercenary groups that would be hired to fight and roam the land, Grace and 343 Industries drew upon real-world events, as well as from heroes of Halo’s past, to creatively inspire this captivating new enemy.
“The Arbiter is a great example that not all Elites are alike,” says Grace. “Not all Elites followed blindly what the Prophets had to say. So that idea of the Arbiter as an outlier is very unique, very individual. What happens if you do that with a Brute? You get a Brute that’s not just that physical, enraged, wants-to-tear-your-arms-off kind of a threat, but a different kind of threat. A very intelligent Brute… why is that scarier for some reason than a Brute rushing at me trying to take my head off?”
In creating Atriox, Grace says that a lot of those inspirational set pieces have been there for quite some time within Halo lore. You take a smart Brute and the Covenant is falling apart, so what was Atriox doing during that time? Then you start asking more questions, like when did he start to break away from the Covenant and why? Then it’s left for Grace and his team make that interesting and fit within the existing lore in a consistent way.
“I’m a big fan of the Halo story, always have been, and spent a lot of time reading the books and playing the games like a lot of people have,” says Grace. “I want all of my stories to work out together – it’s really our job to make them work together – but also make them surprising and new.”
Grace states that Halo can’t just tell the same story over and over, even if the genre might be different this time with Halo Wars 2. If it was just more Brutes who are angry and want to punch you in the face, it might make for a cool and fun story, but it has been done before.
“He’s not a commander. He hasn’t had all that hard-core training in that regard. He’s an underdog, a guy who has the grit and fortitude to claw his way to the top,” explains Jeremy Cook, Art Director for Halo Wars 2. “We drew lots of inspiration from things, like Excalibur, and looking at things where the toughest are in charge and strength determines succession. If you win, you’re in charge now and you become the clan leader.”
Another interesting element about Atriox is that he’s the first enemy in quite some time in the Halo universe that isn’t some omnipresent force trying to destroy everything. It gives Halo Wars 2 a great opportunity to have a new and more grounded villain.
“That was one of the earliest trials for me of Halo,” says Grace. “It’s not hard science-fiction. It’s a little more, especially on the UNSC side of things, it’s a little more modern-day, a little more realistic, a little easier to grab onto in that way.”
Grace says Atriox provides some new contrast in Halo, particularly when compared to Halo’s other big foil – Cortana. Cortana is operating at a galactic level, pulling on the Forerunner legacy strings with her Guardians. Atriox, on the other hand, has a deadly pack killers and the sheer will to get pretty much anything done.
Creatively, when the team had to come together to align on the creation of Atriox, it wasn’t merely as simple as combining “smart” and “brute,” but to align those thoughts and ideas with the rest of the creative talent at 343 Industries, Creative Assembly, and the cinematic team at Blur.
“Atriox is not just some random Brute; he’s got this interesting backstory,” explains Cook. “And once we started to build out more of his ideology, that yes, he’s smart but he’s also got a bigger plan, he’s collecting putting stuff together…that’s when we knew he was going to be awesome.”
Even with Halo Wars 2 launching in just a few months, Grace is already thinking ahead about what might be next for Atriox and the Banished.
“The Ark is massive and it’s a lot of fun to play on, but it’s just one spot in the universe,” says Grace. “And of course, Cortana is knocking around out there too. So what would happen if Atriox and Cortana went up against each other? It could be fun, we’ll see. First thing’s first. Captain James Cutter has got some work cut out for him on the Ark.”