The Covenant are a fictional theocratic military alliance of alien races who serve as the main antagonists in the first trilogy of the Halo video game series. They are composed of a variety of diverse species, united under the religious worship of the Forerunners and their belief that Forerunner ringworlds known as Halos will provide a path to salvation. After the Covenant leadership — the High Prophets — declare humanity an affront to their gods, the Covenant prosecute a lengthy genocidal campaign against the technologically inferior human race.
The Covenant were first introduced in the 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved as enemies of the player character, a human supersoldier known as the Master Chief. Not realizing the Halos were meant as weapons of destruction rather than salvation, the Covenant attempt to activate the rings on three separate occasions throughout the series, inadvertently releasing a virulent parasite known as the Flood in the process.
To develop a distinctive look for the various races of the Covenant, Bungie artists drew inspiration from reptilian, ursine, and avian characteristics. A Covenant design scheme of purples and reflective surfaces was made to separate the aliens from human architecture. The Covenant were generally well received by critics who appreciated the challenge they provided to players; several critics lamented the change of the main enemies from Elites to Brutes in Halo 3 and conversely praised their return in the later Halo: Reach.
- 1 Game development
- 2 Appearances
- 3 Reception
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
Like most of the other characters and species in the Halo universe, the Covenant were slowly developed during the initial concept phase and refined as Halo: Combat Evolved progressed. During the course of development of Halo, the designers decided upon three "schools" of architecture, for each of the races represented — the humans, the Covenant, and the Forerunners. For the Covenant, the team decided on "sleek and shiny", with reflective surfaces, organic shapes, and use of purples. According to art director Marcus Lehto, the principal designs for the race came from environmental artist Paul Russell.
Like the character designs, Covenant technology, architecture, and design continually changed throughout development, occasionally for practical reasons as well as aesthetics. According to Eric Arroyo, the Covenant cruiser Truth and Reconciliation, which plays a major role in Halo: Combat Evolved, was to be boarded by the player by a long ramp. However due to technical considerations of having a fully textured ship so close to the player, the designers came up with a "gravity lift", which allowed the ship to be farther away (thus not requiring as much processing power for detail) as well as adding a "visually interesting" component of Covenant technology.
The art team also spent a large amount of time on Covenant weaponry, in order to make them suitably alien yet still recognizable to players. At the same time, the designers wanted all aspects of Covenant technology, especially the vehicles, to act plausibly. Bungie ended up looking at films and other media for inspiration on almost every aspect of the race.
To design the various species of the Covenant, Bungie's artists looked at live animals and films for inspiration; as a result, the species within the Covenant bear simian, reptilian, avian, and ursine characteristics.
One of the strongest and toughest foes of the game, Elites (who are from Sanghelios) are called Sangheili in the fictitious Covenant language. They stand around 8 ft 0 in (2.44 m) and feature recharging personal shields. The Elites initially had simple mouths, which developed into pairs of split mandibles substituting for the lower jaws. Bungie concept artist Shi Kai Wang noted that project lead Jason Jones had, at one point, been insistent on giving the Elites a tail. While Wang thought it made the aliens look too animalistic, the idea was eventually dropped due to practical considerations, including where the tail would go when the Elites were driving vehicles. "At one point, we considered just having the Elites tuck their tails forward, between their legs," Wang noted, "But [we] abandoned that... for obvious reasons." According to Paul Russel, when Bungie was bought by Microsoft and Halo was turned into an Xbox launch title, Microsoft took issue with the design of the Elites, as they felt that the Elites had a resemblance to cats that might alienate Japanese consumers.
Among the other races developed were Grunts, or Unggoy, (from the planet Balaho) are viewed in game's fiction as cannon fodder. Depicted as squat and cowardly fighters, Grunts panic and run if a player or an NPC kills their leaders. In the novels Halo: Fall of Reach and Halo: The Flood, it is told that the Grunts are methane breathers and described as dog-like. They have methane suits that allow them to remove the breathing apparatuses they usually wear to sustain them in a non-methane atmosphere. In Halo Reach, if a player kills a Grunt in a particular way, their methane tank will ignite causing them to fly and bounce around the area out of control, causing damage if they hit the player.
Jackals and Skirmishers (Kig-Yar)
Jackals, or Kig-Yar, (from the planet Eayn) carry energy shields or ranged weaponry. Shield or armor colors denotes the rank of each caste. In some cases, such as with the Jackals, the overall design was honed once the enemy's role was clearly defined. They look like bird-like creatures or raptors. This particular species did not come into the Covenant in the same way as other species. They work as mercenaries, as their culture is based on piracy and do not follow the religious beliefs like the other species. In the Halo book, Halo: Contact Harvest, it was revealed that Jackals were the first species in the Covenant to encounter humanity. The resulting events initiated the start of the Human/Covenant War.
In addition to basic troops, there are Hunters, or Mgalekgolo, (from the planet Te) who according to Bungie's mythology are actually collectives of alien worms singularly known as Lekgolo encased in tough armor. Initial concepts were less humanoid-looking and softer than the final shape, with angular shields and razor-sharp spines.
Floating, serene aliens known as Engineers, or Huragok, were pulled from Combat Evolved, but made later appearances in the Halo novels. They also appeared in Halo Wars, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach. They serve no actual combat role, although in Halo 3: ODST, Halo Wars and Halo Reach they can aid players or enemies.
The Prophets, or San'Shyuum, serve as the royal rulers of the Covenant, and were primarily designed by Shi Kai Wang and Eric Arroyo. Originally, the Prophets were built in a more unified way, with the gravity thrones they used for flotation and movement fused with the Prophet's organic structures. The characters were also designed to be feeble, yet sinister. The three Prophet Hierarchs were each individually designed.
Brutes (from the planet Doisac) are one of the new fighting forces that were added in Halo 2. They were made physically taller and stronger than the Elites, with their society organized around tribal chieftains. Inspired by the animators watching biker films, the Brutes incorporated simian and ursine elements while retaining an alien look. Wang's final concept for the creature, replete with bandoliers and human skulls, was simplified for the game. Brutes were meant to typify the abusive alien menace of the Covenant and in the words of design lead Jaime Griesemer, to serve as "barbarians in Rome".
For the final installment in the Halo trilogy, Halo 3, designers had to refine the Covenant for the move to more powerful Xbox 360 hardware. In Halo 2, the Brutes functioned as "damage sponges", with the only available combat options for players to either pump the Brutes with bullets until they fell or get two headshots in. With the Elites leaving the Covenant in the game's story, the Brutes became the player's main enemy, necessitating radical changes in the character's behavior and design. For the new look of the Brutes, concept artists took inspiration from rhinoceros and gorillas. Instead of being largely uncovered with only a bandoleer as clothing (reminiscent of the Star Wars character Chewbacca), the designers added armor with ancient buckles, gauntlets, and leather straps to differentiate enemy ranks and bring the Brutes more into the Covenant aesthetic fold. The more seasoned the Brute, the more ornate clothing and helmets; the armor was designed to convey a culture and tradition to the species, and emphasize their mass and power. Designs for Halo 3 took cues from ancient Greek Spartans. Character animators recorded intended actions for the new Brutes in a padded room at Bungie. A new addition to the Brute artificial intelligence was a pack mentality; leader Brutes direct large-scale actions simultaneously, such as throwing grenades towards a player.
Another addition to the fighting force appearing in Halo 2 were Drones, or Yanme'e; the animators found the creatures challenging, as they had to be animated to walk, run, crawl, or fly on multiple surfaces. Old concept art from Combat Evolved was re-purposed in influencing the Drone's final shape, which took cues from cockroaches, grasshoppers, and wasps.
Technologically, the Covenant are described in The Flood and First Strike to be imitative rather than innovative—most of the Covenant's sophisticated weaponry and propulsion systems are based on Forerunner artifacts, rather than the Covenant's own research. Covenant weapons are generally based on Forerunner technology and utilize plasma. These weapons are built around a battery that generates plasma and discharges it at a target. Frank O'Connor, Bungie's former public relations head, hinted that there may be something more to the Covenant's weaponry, saying "the actual technology is not plasma as we know it, but something far more dangerous, arcane, and destructive." A few of the Covenant's weapons are not plasma-based, including the Needler, which fires razor-sharp pink needles capable of "homing in" on organic foes and exploding. A weapons expert noted parallels between the Needler and ancient Greek Amazons painting their daggers pink as a psychological weapon in an issue of gaming magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly.
Bungie designed the majority of Covenant technology to mirror the aesthetic of the Elites; the exteriors are sleek and graceful, with a more angular and complex core underneath hinting at the fictional Forerunner origins of the technology. In contrast to the sleek Elite-based designs of the Covenant at large, the Brutes were given their own visual design distinct from the other Covenant. Weaponry was designed to reflect the Brute's "souls" distilled to its purest form—conveyed by dangerous shapes, harsh colors, and objects that looked "dangerous to be around". A UNSC weapon designed for Combat Evolved in 1999 that was discarded at the time was re-purposed as the Brute's "Mauler" weapon.
Covenant society is a caste system composed of many races, some of which were forcibly incorporated. Each race is required to provide a specific number of troops to remain within the Covenant. In the games, the races are identified by their common UNSC designation; their Covenant names are supplied by the "Halo 2" Limited Edition and "Halo 3" Limited Edition manuals and several novels.
The majority of events in the story arc of the Halo series occur during the "Ninth Age of Reclamation." The Covenant's organization of time and dates is not elaborated on in detail in the game or during any of the novelizations; Bungie cinematic director Joseph Staten, in an interview on Halo fansite halo.bungie.org, said that the Covenant's date system is split into seven epochs, split into the following Ages: Abandonment, Conflict, Discovery, Reconciliation, Conversion, Doubt, and Reclamation.
The 2001 and 2007 novels Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: Contact Harvest describe humanity's first contact with the Covenant in the year 2525. In The Fall of Reach, a lone Covenant ship bombards the Harvest colony with plasma, turning the planet's crust into molten glass. The lone ship, broadcasts the Covenant edict, "Your destruction is the will of the gods, and we are their instrument", and destroys several United Nations Space Command (UNSC) ships sent to attack it. Contact Harvest describes a lengthy ground engagement between human militia and Covenant before the total assault on Harvest. The Covenant claim that humans are an offense to their gods, but in reality, three Covenant Prophets have learned from a relic left by their gods, the Forerunners, that humans, who may possibly be genetically related to the Forerunners, have been chosen by the Forerunners as their Reclaimers. Realizing such a revelation would splinter the Covenant, the newly crowned Hierarchs decide to obliterate the humans instead and declare that a new Age of the Covenant has begun.
The Covenant's superior technology allow them to annihilate the outer human colonies within four years; the Covenant begin to destroy the inner colonies soon thereafter. As a defensive measure, the UNSC creates the "Cole Protocol"; human ships are prohibited from directly traveling to human worlds to avoid detection by the Covenant, and destruction of a ship's navigation databases and artificial intelligence if threatened with capture. In 2552, the Covenant track the UNSC ship Iroquois to the world of Reach, Earth's most well-defended colony, by a hidden transmitter. A massive Covenant fleet arrives at Reach and lays waste to much of the planet.
The Covenant's first appearance in the video games is in Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), which picks up towards the end of The Fall of Reach. A detachment of Covenant follow the human vessel Pillar of Autumn from Reach to Halo, a ring-shaped Forerunner relic that the Covenant believe sacred. Wary of accidentally damaging the ring, the Covenant are forced to fight the humans on foot, and accidentally release the Flood. The Flood, a virulent parasite that infests sentient life, attack human and Covenant alike and threaten to capture a Covenant cruiser to escape their prison on Halo. Meanwhile, the human "Spartan" supersoldier Master Chief detonates the Pillar of Autumn's engines, destroying the ring and the Covenant armada. The novelization of the game, Halo: The Flood (2003), describes additional events not seen in the game. In the novel First Strike, The Master Chief, survivors of the Autumn and surviving Spartans from Reach destroy a Covenant fleet they learn is preparing to strike Earth, and race home to warn of the impending attack.
In the video game Halo 2 (2004), a member of the Covenant Prophet triumvirate, Regret, arrives at Earth with a fleet. Most of his fleet is destroyed; Regret's ship flees to another ring, Delta Halo, and is followed by the human ship In Amber Clad and the Master Chief aboard her. The Chief kills Regret before the majority of the Covenant fleet arrives at Delta Halo, along with the Covenant's holy city of High Charity. The death of Regret leads the remaining Prophets to promote the Brutes as their guards, replacing the Elites. The Elites, outraged, threaten to resign from the Covenant high council; in turn the Prophets give the Brutes carte blanche to kill the Elites, sparking a civil war. In the midst of these developments, the Flood are again released; the High Prophet Mercy is killed by the parasite, while the last remaining leader, Truth, flees to Earth in a Forerunner ship, entrusting the activation of Halo to the Brute Tartarus. The Elites ally with the humans of In Amber Clad to stop the firing of the ring, but inadvertently set all the remaining Halo rings on remote activation from a location known as the Ark, which was built as a "shield world" to protect certain species from the firing of the Halo rings, and also as a foundry to forge new rings, should one be destroyed.
By the events of Halo 3 (2007), the Flood intelligence known as the Gravemind infests and captures High Charity, while the Elites assist humans on Earth in defending themselves. Truth's forces excavate a portal to the Ark, located outside the Milky Way. The Elites follow Truth, and the Covenant Arbiter, or holy warrior, kills Truth. After High Charity arrives at the Ark, the Arbiter and Master Chief decide to activate a partially built Halo ring (the replacement for the ring that the Master Chief destroyed in the first game) destroying the Flood and sparing the rest of the galaxy. The remaining humans and Elites escape back through the portal. The Human-Covenant war ends in March 2553, and the Arbiter leads his Elites back to their homeworld.
The Covenant were featured in Halo 4 (2012), in the form of a rogue splinter group led by Sangheili Jul 'Mdama. This faction still follows the ideology of the old Covenant religion and seeks to find a powerful weapon on Requiem, the fictional planet on which the majority of Halo 4 is set.
The reception of the Covenant as enemies in Combat Evolved was generally favorable. The ability to experience the storyline of Halo 2 from the Covenant perspective was described as a "brilliant stroke of game design". Allowing the player to assume the role of an Elite was described as providing an unexpected plot twist, and allowing the player to experience a "newfound complexity to the story". In addition, some reviewers thought that this provided the series with a significant plot element—IGN referred to it as the "intriguing side story of the Arbiter and his Elites"—and its elimination in Halo 3 was pointed to as responsible for reducing the role of the Arbiter within the series plot. In 2010 IGN ranked Covenant 26th in the "Top 100 Videogames Villains".
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