As of tonight I'm three for three in my contiguous days of writing goal.
My overall feeling toward Halo by the time I was finished playing was that it felt like work. It did have some good things about it, but I doubt I'll ever pick it up again. Once I was finished with that, it was time to move on to Halo 2.
My first reaction to Halo 2 was that the graphics were MUCH better than the original. I've always found it fascinating that when a new console comes out, the graphics on the first generation of games for that system often don't look much better than the latest offerings on the previous console. However, if you jump ahead a few years and see how the games are looking, you'll see that there is an enormous leap in quality and overall graphical shininess. Developers just need the time to figure out how to unlock all that power. Halo 2 proved this handily.
The biggest difference I noticed right away was the introduction of dual wielding. One handed weapons could now be held in both hands, instantly doubling your firepower. The trade off is that you're unable to use grenades. I had trouble adjusting to using both triggers on the controller to fire, so after a short time i gave up using it and switch to the tried and true weapon and grenade formula from the first game. I was forced to switch back to dual wielding at the first boss battle. An enemy on a jetpack flits around a large room while two holographic copies do the same. The problem with the copies is that they do just as much damage as the real one. After several tries I realized that I simply wasn't doing enough damage in the time I had. Plus, the enemies were also dual wielding and were doing too much damage to me in a short time. After deciding to dual wield myself, it took a few more tries before I was successful. Once a new race of enemies called the Brutes were introduced I found myself using dual wielding again much more often. The Brutes soaked up bullets like a sponge and there weren't enough grenades to go around for everyone, so dual plasma rifles became my preferred method of exterminating them once i ran out of explosives.
The second, and biggest, change from the first game is that the story switch perspectives between the Master Chief and a character known as the Arbiter. The Arbiter is a member of one of the Covenant races that you spent the first game slaughtering. The story of Halo 2 is more complex than in the first game, and much of this is accomplished by the fact that you now see the enemy Covenant from their own point of view. The Arbiter and his race are eventually betrayed by the Covenant's leaders and end up joining human forces. While this made the story of Halo 2 more interesting to me than Halo's, the story broke down near the end. The perspective switched suddenly back and forth between the characters and I had trouble knowing where exactly I was. The Arbiter levels were actually easier to follow than the Master Chief's. In the last third of the game I thought that the Master Chief and the Arbiter were on different parts of the Halo ring world. Later, through Wikipedia, I found that the Master Chief was actually on a Covenant city-ship. The levels at the end finished abruptly and felt like there was more to do than I got to play. Then there was the sudden end to the game itself. This didn't bother me much because Halo 3 was of course coming out the next week, but I can see why people playing it when it came out would be upset. The game didn't end, so much as just stop.
Playing the Arbiter was fun at first, but I soon came to dread the levels played as him because they usually involved fighting the Flood. It was obvious that they weren't as hard as the first game, but they were still a downright annoying enemy to have to deal with. It wasn't until late in the game that Master Chief had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with the Flood. The one good thing about these levels is that the Arbiter had a kick ass energy sword that dispatched swift death to the Flood, and all other enemies as well. It almost made up for the frustration of dealing with them in the first game.
The first level of the game was surprisingly tough, but overall the game felt easier than the first. I was playing on Normal difficulty, and it brought back the satisfaction that I had been missing while playing Halo on Easy. The challenge was there, and there were parts where I got stuck, but it once again felt fair. There WAS a way to get through the tough battles as long as you had the skill and didn't mess up. It wasn't just luck that was propelling you through the tough parts. There were new weapons to master and each had their tradeoffs. I often found myself returning to old favorites from the first game, but I found uses for just about all of them.
There was much less copy/paste level design in this game than in the first one, though it was still there in spots. It had few open areas for the kind of open ended "arena" type battles that the first game had. Hallways leading to rooms leading to hallways seemed to be the more prevalent level design choice in this game. There was more variety to the levels though, and for the most part I didn't find myself getting bored with each level like in the first game.
Overall I had more fun in Halo 2 than Halo. I'm apparently in the minority, but the improved graphics, variety in levels, switch in perspectives, new weapons, and tweaked difficulty level all combined to make Halo 2 an overall better experience for me. Except for the storytelling, just about every aspect of the game was an improvement on its predecessor.
I think I've decided to hold off on talking about Halo 3 until I actually finish it. So.. until next time.....