The Covenant are a fictional theocratic hegemony of alien races who serve as the main antagonists in the first trilogy of the Halo video game series. They are composed of a diverse array of species united under the religious worship of the extinct Forerunners and their belief that the Forerunner ring worlds known as Halos will provide a path to salvation, known as the "Great Journey". After the high Covenant leadership—the 3 High Prophets—discover that the existence of the human species directly contradicts their ancient religion, they declare a genocidal campaign against humanity to preserve their own political power, knowing if they revealed this information to the rest of the Covenant it would mean the hegemony would fall into chaos. The High Prophets claimed the extermination of humanity is the "will of the gods and we [the Covenant] are their [the gods'] instrument." Over the next 27 years of war, the Covenant would repeatedly overpower the technologically inferior human race and its United Nations Space Command, devastating hundreds of human colonies throughout the Orion Arm, killing billions in their campaign. The Covenant are ultimately defeated during the final battle of the war set on the Ark, a Forerunner world, in Halo 3. With the Covenant destroyed, its former members create new factions with differing ideologies.
The Covenant were first introduced in the 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved as enemies of the playable character, a human SPARTAN-II super-soldier known as the Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. The game takes place late in the war, and not realizing that the Halos were actually weapons designed by the Forerunners for galaxy-scale destruction against the virulent parasitic Flood, the Covenant attempt to activate the rings on two separate occasions throughout the series, inadvertently and catastrophically releasing the Flood in the process.
To develop a distinctive look for the various species of the Covenant, Bungie artists drew inspiration from reptilian, ursine, and avian characteristics. A Covenant design scheme employing various shades of purple and reflective surfaces was used to visually distinguish alien from human architecture. The Covenant were generally well received by game critics, who appreciated the challenge they provided to players and often compared them to the series' other primary antagonist, the Flood. Several critics lamented the change of the main Covenant enemies from Elites to Brutes in Halo 3 and conversely praised their return in Halo: Reach.
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 first game's development, the designers decided upon three "schools" of architecture, one for each of the primary 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 heavy use of blues and purples.
Like the character designs, Covenant technology, architecture, and appearance continually changed throughout development, occasionally for practical reasons as well as for 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 move and act in plausibly realistic ways. 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 toughest foes (and eventually allies) of the game series, Elites are a highly intelligent, deeply spiritual species, equally competent as warriors and as communicators, and a core constituent of the Covenant alliance. Known as Sangheili in the fictitious Covenant language, they originate from the planet Sanghelios. They are approximately 8 ft 0 in (2.44 m) tall, long-limbed, and muscular, generally with deep blue or purple skin and large, dorsoventrally lengthened heads. The Elites initially had simple mouths, which later 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.
A primary and important race in the Covenant hierarchy, Elites often fill positions of leadership or authority, such as unit commanders, bodyguards, and generals. They are enormously strong, fast, and agile as well as gifted battlefield tacticians, easily matching or surpassing the Master Chief in these respects. Like the Master Chief, they employ recharging personal shields and can make use of invisibility cloaks. They are capable users of a huge variety of weapons, including human weapons, and are the species most frequently encountered operating vehicles, particularly Ghosts, Wraiths, and Banshees. Their occupations in the Covenant military are often explicitly ranked; they are commonly specialists such as pilots, long-range snipers, grenadiers, or assassins, and their rank or unit may be distinguished by the color or appearance of their body armor, headgear, or weaponry.
Elites are extremely intelligent, communicating frequently in their own language as well as in human languages. They appear to show great cunning and instinct and are expressive of many emotions including surprise, laughter, grief, frustration, and rage. Owing to their superior intellect, they initially act as the leading military and political arm for exercising the will of the Prophets and the ultimate mission of the Covenant, but later in the series are systematically replaced in this capacity by the Brutes. Elites are deeply religious and initially totally devoted to the Covenant creed, but it is subsequently revealed that Elite society is itself composed of quarrelsome factions; in Halo 2, a high-ranking Elite general known as The Arbiter becomes a playable protagonist and leads a separatist movement against the rest of the Covenant. The Arbiter's heretics soon join forces with the humans to prevent the firing of the Halo array.
Grunts, known to the Covenant as Unggoy, are a species of small, gnomish creatures that are viewed in the game's fiction as cannon fodder. Depicted as squat and cowardly fighters, Grunts are low-ranking front-line soldiers usually encountered in numbers and often in units presided over by an Elite or Brute commander. They are usually lightly armed with relatively low-power weapons, but may throw grenades as well. Grunts tend to break formation, panicking and fleeing in terror, if the player or an NPC kills their commanding officer. However, they are also notable for attempting suicide runs against enemies on higher difficulties, charging at their foe with a plasma grenade in each hand.
Though mostly encountered in subordinate positions within the Covenant hierarchy, Unggoy are intelligent, having been industrialized before their induction into the Covenant. The novels Halo: Fall of Reach and Halo: The Flood describe the Unggoy as dog-like methane-breathers. They are stocky, possessing both an arthropod-like exoskeleton and a spinal-based nervous system. Their powerful forearms evolved for climbing vertical terrain. Unggoy have methane suits that allow them to remove the breathing apparatuses they usually wear to sustain them in non-methane atmospheres. In Halo: Reach, it is possible for the player to kill Unggoy in a way that ignites the methane tank, causing them to fly and bounce around the area out of control, and causing damage if they hit the player.
Jackals, or Kig-Yar, are a species originating from the moon of Eayn, orbiting Chu'ot. They have a short stature and a reptilian or bird-like appearance similar to that of raptors, and frequently carry energy shields or long-range weaponry. Jackals are generally encountered as front-line soldiers in roles similar to Grunts but may also be employed as snipers. Shield or armor colors denote the rank of each caste.
The overall design of Jackals was honed only after their role was clearly defined. Unlike the other species comprising the Covenant, Jackals work as mercenaries; their culture is based on piracy and they do not adhere to Covenant religious beliefs. In the novel 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.
There are also a subspecies of jackal known as skirmishers. Skirmishers appear as looking very similar to the main species of jackal, but are gray and have more feathers. They look much like how the Dilophosaurus appears in the film Jurassic Park. Skirmishers are also faster than jackals and are known for rushing enemy positions and lacking the energy shield worn by Jackals. Skirmishers are only seen in Halo Reach and may be extinct but is not confirmed yet.
Hunters, or Mgalekgolo, are, according to Bungie's mythology, collectives of worm-like aliens, singularly known as Lekgolo, encased in tough armor. They originate from the planet Te. Hunters are always armed with a heavy fuel-rod cannon and a massive shield. Though their movements are slow and cumbersome, Hunters make up in sheer size and strength what they lack in agility: a single melee attack from a Hunter is usually powerful enough to kill the Master Chief at close range. Initial design concepts for Hunters were less humanoid-looking and softer than the final shape, with angular shields and razor-sharp spines.
The Prophets, or San'Shyuum, serve as the theocratic rulers of the Covenant, as such they are treated by other Covenant species with extreme deference and piety. Originally from the planet Janjur Qom, three notable individuals of this species–the Prophet of Truth, Prophet of Regret, and Prophet of Mercy–are the Covenant's revered hierarchs. Primarily designed by Shi Kai Wang and Eric Arroyo, the Prophets were originally built in a more unified way, with the hovering thrones they use for flotation and movement fused with their organic structures. The characters were also designed to be feeble, yet sinister. Each of the three Prophet hierarchs were designed individually.
Brutes, or Jiralhanae, originating from the planet Doisac, are a species of physically large, ape-like warriors who made their first appearance in Halo 2. They are taller, stronger, and hairier than the Elites, who are their primary rivals for rank and office within the Covenant hierarchy. Like Elites, Brutes are often encountered in positions of command; they frequently lead squads of Grunts and Jackals in battle. Brute society is tribal and governed by chieftains. They appear to be very intelligent and are skilled users of all kinds of weapons and vehicles, including their own unique class of weapons, which rely primarily on conventional explosives and close-range melee damage rather than plasma energy.
Inspired by Bungie animators watching biker films, Brutes incorporate 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 the more powerful Xbox 360 hardware. Bungie was dissatisfied with the Brutes in Halo 2; they were added late in development, resulting in the Brutes functioning merely as "damage sponges" and "not interesting to fight". Their design was also limited, being little more than hairy apes with bandoliers (reminiscent of the Star Wars character Chewbacca). 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 rhinoceroses and gorillas. The designers added armor with buckles, gauntlets, and leather straps to bring them more in line with the Covenant aesthetic. The more seasoned the Brute, the more ornate its clothing and helmet; 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 Covenant military debuting in Halo 2 were the Drones, or Yanme'e, a flying, insectoid species from the planet Palamok. 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 repurposed in influencing the Drone's final shape, which took cues from cockroaches, grasshoppers, and wasps. Drones serve primarily in reconnaissance and skirmisher units, and are most commonly armed with simple, low-power weapons.
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. Though Engineers possess no actual combat abilities, they can sometimes aid players or enemies. They are actually artificial lifeforms created by the long vanished and technologically superior race known as the Forerunners. The sole purpose of Engineers is to maintain, repair, and upgrade technology. Although they were originally created to maintain ancient Forerunner technology, they were eventually enslaved by the Covenant to build and maintain their technology. Engineers "reproduce" by assembling progeny out of stock materials and sharing their collective knowledge with the offspring.
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 and Halo: 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 High 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, the High Prophet of 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 to be remotely activated from a location known as the Ark, placed outside the range of the Halo Array to protect certain species from the firing of the Halo rings, built as a foundry for the rings including replacing any that get 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. The High Prophet of Truth's forces excavate a portal to the Ark, located outside the Milky Way. The Elites chase Truth, and the Arbiter (an Elite holy warrior) kills Truth ultimately destroying the Covenant. After the Flood controlled 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 December of 2552, and the Arbiter leads his Elites back to their homeworld. From this point onward, the Covenant ceased to exist.
The Covenant serve as the only antagonists of Halo: Reach (2010), set before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and during the height of Human-Covenant war. Noble Team, a composition of Spartan super soldiers, defend the human planet of Reach against the Covenant's military invasion in a losing battle. The Covenant onslaught ultimately results in many deaths and the destruction of Reach, although Noble Team successfully evacuate a number of civilians and a fragment of Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn at the cost of their lives.
A newly formed faction that splintered off from the Elites were featured in Halo 4 (2012), led by Jul 'Mdama. Following the destruction of the Covenant in Halo 3, this smaller faction self-proclaimed to be a new “Covenant” and worships the Forerunners as gods, seeking to awaken the Didact (a dormant Forerunner commander) on the Forerunner shield world Requiem. After the Didact's awakening, they ally with him and his mechanical forces known as Prometheans. In Spartan Ops, Jul 'Mdama's faction battles the forces of the UNSC Infinity for control of Requiem, ultimately destroying the planet after getting one half of the Janus Key and escaping with Doctor Catherine Halsey. The continuing battle with this faction and a few other factions is featured in the Halo: Escalation comic series.
Halo: Spartan Assault (2013) features a different organization that also claimed to be a new "Covenant", led by an Elite named Merg Vol. In 2554, this small faction breaches the peace treaty by attacking the colony world of Draetheus V with Spartan Sarah Palmer, later the commander of the Spartans on board Infinity, and Spartan Edward Davis leading a defense of the colony. Merg Vol is killed by Palmer resulting in the destruction of his faction, though Spartan Davis is killed in the battle.
Jul 'Mdama's faction later returns in Halo 5: Guardians (2015), although they are not the game's main antagonists. Spartan Locke assassinates Jul 'Mdama during the opening mission. Blue Team later fights some of Jul's forces onboard the space station Argent Moon. The rest of the faction was later defeated during a battle on the Elite homeworld against its governing body, the Swords of Sanghelios, backed by the Spartans of Fireteam Osiris. Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris also faced the scattered remnants of Jul's faction on the Forerunner planet of Genesis who were accidentally transported there by Guardians.
The Covenant will appear in the upcoming live-action Halo: The Television Series set during the Human-Covenant war.
The reception of the Covenant as enemies in Combat Evolved was generally favorable. The ability to experience the story line of Halo 2 from the Covenant perspective was described as a "brilliant stroke of game design"; having the player assume the role of an Elite was described as providing an unexpected plot twist, which allowed the player to experience a "newfound complexity to the story". Some reviewers thought that this provided the series with a significant plot element—with IGN referring 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 the Covenant 26th in the "Top 100 Videogame Villains".
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DISSOLUTION: 2552 CE
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