It’s the end of an era. On Thursday, Microsoft and 343 Industries turned off all the matchmaking servers for classic games Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo Reach, and Halo 4. And while you can still play versions of these games online via the fantastic Master Chief Collection, many players took time in the final days before January 13 to log on and mourn the end of the original games’ online multiplayer. Some helped other players get last-minute achievements, while others orchestrated cease-fires, and some just played one last match before it all ended.
The shutdown of Xbox 360-era Halo servers, while sad for many, wasn’t a surprise. 343 and Microsoft first announced the news all the way back in December 2020, but the date ended up shifting to January 13, 2022. Now that the date is here, over the last week or so, many players have dusted off their Xbox 360s and hopped back onto Halo 3 and Halo Reach, to join others in saying goodbye to some of the best multiplayer games ever made.
A popular activity in the final days involved players helping others unlock multiplayer-only achievements. A lot of players helped others earn the “Two For One” achievement in Halo 3, considered one of the hardest in the game. To get it you have to kill two players in one shot using the Spartan Laser. Other players helped folks unlock the “Maybe Next Time, Buddy” award which is unlocked after you steal a vehicle back from someone in less than 10 seconds, which can be tricky to get normally. But in the final days of Halo 3, people were open to helping each other grab these last-minute awards and communicated their plans via the game’s voice chat.
Another common occurrence in the final hours for the old-school Halo games was players stopping matches to hang out and chat. Some fired their guns into the air, simulating 21-gun salutes. Others just sat around and chatted about Halo 3, their favorite memories, and what made the game so special to them. It reminded me of the Christmas Day Truce that happened in the early days of WW1, where soldiers from both sides left their trenches to stop fighting in the name of the holidays.
I also saw another player who, during a CTF match, took a moment to eulogize Halo 3 right before capping the flag for the last time.
“Everyone, it has been some of the greatest moments of my life,” said Halo 3 player Xxminiman15xX. “I’m very, very sad to see this end. But, it’s not an end, because we will always have our memories. We’ll always have our moments. And… we can still play on the Master Chief Collection.”
After that they capped the flag, the match ended and shortly after that, the servers began shutting down. Players across Reddit and YouTube shared videos of the moments right as the servers gave up the ghost. Other players took screenshots of the matchmaking screen from Halo 3. Normally the globe seen in the bottom left-hand corner of the map would be lit up representing the various players around the world. But with the servers officially dead, for the first time since Halo 3 was released in 2007, all the lights were gone. The world was covered in darkness. It was over.
Watching players come together to celebrate the end of Halo 3’s servers has been oddly touching. It might have just been a multiplayer shooter, but it was also a game that brought people together. Folks shared stories of meeting friends and even husbands and wives through Halo 3 and Reach.
For me, Halo 3 was probably the last Halo game that I truly, completely loved. I spent so much time in Halo Reach and older games, but none of them (not even the recent and very good Infinite) ever captured the same feeling of Halo 3. Part of that was because I was younger, of course, but also because it was one of the first online video games I really sank weeks of my life into.
Booting up Halo 3 was special, as if I was connecting to a wild and beautiful community. Servers were full of community-created modes and maps—like the wild and crazy “Speed Halo” in Reach or custom parkour and race map in Halo 3. Partaking in that creativity made the games feel like a thing that was actually alive and evolving. I celebrated birthdays in this game. Escaped to its online action when high school got too shitty. It was a place of refuge and a place where I met cool people. (And some racist and assholes.) It also helped that Halo 3 was a damn fine shooter, too.
And while it is true that you can still play Halo 3 online via the excellent Master Chief Collection, it isn’t the same. That era is now gone. The fight is finished. And like a good Spartan, Halo 3 didn’t go quietly.