Halo is abound with many interesting and varied species. And recently we had the honour of delving into the mysterious and powerful realm of the Forerunners through Halo Cryptum. But my interest in the species’ of Halo lies in another area as well, the Sangheili, the mainstay of the Covenant war machine.
For years, the Sangheili – or Elites when first introduced in Combat Evolved – provided the main fighting arm of the Covenant military, and I immediately took to them. They were an interesting foe: powerful, intelligent, fearless and determined. So you can imagine my disappointment when Halo 2 came along and we were put up against the bumbling idiocy of the Brutes. The skill and subtlety of the Elites was suddenly and rudely replaced by the unthinking bull charges of our not-so-friendly rhino-faced ape people. But as I was occasionally in the shoes of the Arbiter during Halo 2, I took great delight in filling their faces with white-hot plasma. But it’s the history and background to the Sangheili that I have always found most interesting and for this Halo 2 opened the door to one of the most interesting enemies in Science Fiction.
As many of us already know, the Sangheili are a proud warrior species with traditions and styles that mirror the Bushido code of ancient Japan. They hold Honour above all else and any action that threatens this is dealt with swiftly and without question. But sometimes this isn’t always the case.
The Sangheili culture is often violent, and despite the overwhelming presence of a strong and sturdy code of honour, betrayal and deceit often work their way in. In fact, Thel Vadum – the current Arbiter – was the target of an attempt to seize power by assassination when he was Kaidon of his home state of Vadum. But this attempt failed and Thel was swift with retribution, killing the orchestrator of the assassination, a disgruntled elder named Koida. These are all interesting examples of a complicated and interesting race, and though other species’ in other Science Fiction titles can be equally bloodthirsty and driven by nothing more than honour, like the Klingon’s in Star Trek, the Sangheili deviate from the mindless drunken violence of the Klingon Warrior by demonstrating a truly alien approach that somehow echoes fragments of the human psyche. But above all else they seem intelligent and extremely capable.
One example of this intelligence and different style of thinking within the honourable mindset of the Sangheili warrior is greatly portrayed in ‘Conversations from the Halo universe’, in particular a conversation between two Elites. In this conversation, two Elites are discussing humanity and why they had not been accepted into or even offered a place within the Covenant. They clearly state their reasons for this, which are obviously based upon previous observations. They see humans as tenacious and tactically astute and a clear improvement on the likes of their fellow Covenant client races. This is one of the most satisfying pieces of fiction I’ve read within the confines of the Halo universe as it portrays the Sangheili as a thinking enemy, and one that is capable of looking beyond the simple air of xenophobic hatred initially spread about by the Prophets.
This individuality and style of thinking is a breath of fresh air. And it’s why I admire the Sangheili. Even when it came to Halo: Reach I was always looking forward to facing my old advisories, and I was not disappointed.
So what of the future? What does it hold for both sides?
If there was one race within the Covenant that had any chance of forming a lasting relationship with humanity it was the Sangheili. They alone have demonstrated an aptitude to adapt and change, even going as far as to looking at the future and what may be in their best interests. But as with all interesting and well developed species they have not lost sight of what is important to them.
I suspect the Arbiter’s work is far from over.