Halo Online was a free-to-play first-person shooter developed by 343 Industries and Saber Interactive, and published by Microsoft Studios and Russian publisher Innova Systems. The game is based on a heavily modified version of Halo 3, optimized to be run on lower-end PCs. A closed beta for the game took place in Russia in spring 2015, but the game was later cancelled with no plans to launch it in other countries.
Later, a fan-made mod called ElDewrito revived the game and allowed it to be played worldwide. It gained increased popularity upon the release of Version 0.6, which included many added features that increased its stability and accessibility, but saw a subsequent legal threat from Microsoft. Despite this, ElDewrito's playerbase remained active, and its popularity hastened Microsoft's plans to release a Windows version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Halo Online takes place on Anvil, a secret UNSC space installation where both the Spartan-IV soldiers and the Sangheli (Elites) train for combat in simulated wargames with experimental weapons and armors.
Halo Online is multiplayer-only and does not have a single-player campaign. However, through the installation of fan-made mod known as ElDewrito, it also contains a Forge mode where players can create custom maps. The gameplay is heavily based on the multiplayer mode of Halo 3.
Halo Online's official servers were taken offline in December 2015, and the game was originally scheduled to launch sometime in 2016, but was cancelled after a long hiatus, with the game's developers citing delays from Microsoft, who "failed to make decisions on the future of the project". Microsoft stated that data from the cancelled game would be applied to any future Halo games on PC, but did not specify further details.
Soon after the game's beta release, modders enabled a leaked build of the game to work both offline and over LAN, [Improper synthesis?] Over several years, the mod ElDewrito was developed by fans to allow the game to be played worldwide and without microtransactions, keeping it alive after its cancellation in 2016.
While modders had initially planned to make the last "major update" of the game Version 0.5, which released in 2016, development of the mod continued, and Version 0.6 of the mod was released on April 20, 2018, featuring a functional server browser, player customization, stat tracking, and ranked and social servers, as well as dedicated server and player host options, and map and gametype voting. Upon release of Version 0.6, the game's active player count exploded well into the thousands.
Microsoft issued a DMCA takedown to GitHub notice on April 1, 2015 for the repository for the ElDewrito mod. This happened following an accidental upload of a file from the official Halo Online game itself. After removing the offending file, the ElDewrito repository resurfaced on the internet.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun stated that it was "unlikely" the mod would receive another cease-and-desist, given how long it has been active and due to Microsoft's newfound accepting stance on Halo fangames such as Installation 01. However, on April 25, 2018, Microsoft threatened the ElDewrito team with legal action if they did not remove any Halo Online game files that they were distributing alongside the mod and halt its development, clarifying that the game was not in fact abandonware despite the common belief among fans that it was, and was actually on "indefinite hold", making it "not optional" for the company to protect its trademarks. Microsoft's Phil Spencer stated on Twitter that the company wanted to partner with the ElDewrito team and broader community in releasing an "official classic Halo experience" on PC.
Shortly after the removal of game files, Microsoft issued DMCA takedowns resulting in one-day bans for numerous popular Twitch streamers who had played ElDewrito, resulting in backlash from the streamers, who were given no warning about streaming the mod. Microsoft later stated the bans were unintentional, although the action led to further fan "turmoil". The mod remains fully playable, since the files required to play have already been distributed.
Dominic Tarason of Rock, Paper, Shotgun described Version 0.6 of ElDewrito as "the best PvP Halo experience you can find on PC today", though mentioning that the current build had "rough edges" such as the server browser (which was later patched), being able to click through the UI too fast and accidentally joining a game as well as the lack of some of the canvas maps from previous Halo games. 343 Industries said in a statement that the studio was "humbled and inspired" by the mod.
Julie Muncy of Wired stated that she was amazed at how many people were playing ElDewrito, calling the Halo scene "small but active", and calling the mod an "incredible feat of engineering" that was driven by the inaccessibility of Halo on PC for fans of the series, as well as "a testament to the power that Halo holds on the gaming imagination, even after all this time".
In 2019, Microsoft announced that Halo: The Master Chief Collection would receive a Windows version. The development team behind ElDewrito claimed that they hastened its development by giving Microsoft a "kick in the pants", due to its success and high player numbers. They also announced that they would be working with 343 Industries to help implement mod support. Despite this, they stated that ElDewrito would not be shutting down or ceasing development.
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