"This is John's story," creative director Josh Holmes said, noting that Cortana will also play a major role in the upcoming trilogy. Dubbed the "Reclaimer Trilogy," Halo 4 will focus its attention on the Forerunners, the ancient race of enlightened beings behind the creation of the Halo Array.
In the Halo Universe, "reclaimer" is the term 343 Guilty Spark uses to refer to a human individual seen as the inheritor of Forerunner civilization.
In terms of gameplay, 343 isn't making any drastic changes. "It will play like Halo," Holmes said, sending the theater into a frenzy of laughter and cheers. "It sounds simple but that was really important to us," he added.
Halo 4 will take place immediately after the events of Halo 3. In the game's Legendary difficulty ending, Master Chief is seen hurling toward a planet-like structure in space. In the Halo 4 teaser trailer, Chief is awoken by Cortana to investigate the structure. As Chief looks on, a gate opens shining a bright beam on Chief and Cortana's ride, the severed UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn.
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According to 343 Industries' Frank O'Connor, humanity is no longer being pushed back on its heels from constant attack from the Covenant. It is during this time that a volatile political struggle begins between both sides. The upcoming novel Halo: Glasslands connects some of these elements to Halo 4's story, and features characters familiar to fans of the franchise, including the Arbiter.
Humanity also has time to research and investigate new technologies, including those left behind from the Forerunners, O'Connor noted in response to questions about new weapons and vehicles in Halo 4. ""You're going to see things in this game that are both familiar and new," Holmes said.
"Karen Traviss' novel Glasslands is going to touch on how the human race, when it's not being rocked back on its heels, is actually a fairly formidable force. Given time and given the scientific curiosity we have as a species, all of this stuff is going to be really interesting in terms of how we can advance our technology. But the UNSC stuff will still be gritty and war-like and very human. But there's lots more to come." This certainly sounds like Forerunner technology will help push human advancement as Covenant tech did before it.
The panel mentioned Halo 4 would help fans delve deeper and "gain insight" into John's mind, but don't expect the "man of few words" to suddenly start jabbering on and on. 343 is keen on making all of the pieces fit into what is considered "right" for the Halo franchise.
This story is about the "fate of John and Cortana," the audience was told. Halo 4 will look at the relationship between the two characters in a way the series has yet to tackle in video games.
"There's a lot of speculation about Cortana's mind state. There's a lot of relationship between those two characters. Character is something we're focusing on very strongly this time," O'Connor said.
The panel did also mention the importance of Halo staples such as co-op play and the franchise's Forge Mode, which was introduced in Halo 3. "Forge has been an engine for the community to create and share amazing creations, and it's something as a studio we believe very, very strongly in. We are continuing to invest and developing that toolset. Definitely that's going to be something that's a big part of what we do in Halo 4."