The Covenant is a fictional theocratic military alliance of alien races who serve as one of the main antagonists in the Halo science fiction series. The Covenant are composed of a variety of diverse species, united under the religious worship of the enigmatic 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 race.
The Covenant were first introduced in the 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved as enemies hunting the player character, a human supersoldier known as 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.
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, Covenant, and 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 principle 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. The strongest and toughest foes of the game, Elites (called Sangheili in the fictitious Covenant language) stand at nearly 8'6(2.6 m) and feature recharging personal shields. The Elites initially had simple mouths, who 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, who are viewed in game's fiction as cannon fodder. Depicted as squat and cowardly fighters, Grunts panic and run if players kill their leaders. Jackals or Kig-Yar carry energy shields or ranged weaponry. Armor color 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.
In addition to basic troops, there are Hunters or Mgalekgolo, 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. These alien worms also control the Covenant Scarab-tanks as one being. 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 and Halo 3: ODST. Slow-moving, unarmored, and unarmed, they serve no actual combat role, although in Halo 3: ODST, they can offer extra shielding to players or enemies within a certain radius.
With the release of Halo 2, new races were designed and old ones refined as Covenant society was detailed further; the Jackals, for instance, lost their helmets and were detailed to make them scarier; the Hunters were made larger and more imposing. The Prophets or San 'Shyuum serve as the supreme 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. Two new fighting forces were added to the Covenant. The first, dubbed Brutes or Jiralhanae, 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". Another addition to the fighting force were Drones or Yanme'e, insectoid Covenant; 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.
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 option for players to pump the Brutes with bullets until they fell. 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 bandolier 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.
Technologically, the Covenant are described in Halo: 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 at organic foes. 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 eventually discarded was repurposed 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 battle-ready troops in order 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 manual 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.bungie.org, stated that the Covenant's date system is split into seven epochs, split into the following Ages: Abandonment, Conflict, Discovery, Reconciliation, Conversion, Doubt, and Reclamation.
Humanity and the Covenant first meet at the remote human colony Harvest, as described in the 2001 novel Halo: The Fall of Reach and the 2007 book the Halo: Contact Harvest. The novel's account of first contact differ; in The Fall of Reach, a lone Covenant ship bombards the colony's surface 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. Three Covenant Prophets learn from a relic left by their gods, the Forerunners, that humans are the descendants of the Forerunners. Realizing such a revelation would splinter the Covenant, the newly-crowned Hierarchs decide to obliterate the humans instead, declaring that a new Age of the Covenant has begun.
The Covenant's superior technology allow them to annihilate the human Outer Colonies within four years; the Covenant begin to destroy the Inner Colonies in short order as well. However their efforts are stymied by the Cole Protocol, which stops UNSC ships from directly or indirectly traveling to inhabited human worlds (forcing them to make several random trips before actually returning to a human colony) and upon imminent risk of capture, the ship's AI is erased with the rest of the navigational database, and the ship self-destructs. In 2552, the Covenant assault the human colony Sigma Octanus IV in an effort to recover an ancient artifact with Forerunner glyphs on it, but are repelled by a UNSC battlegroup. Victorious, the Iroquois departs the system; unbeknownst to its crew or the UNSC, a Covenant transmitter attaches to the Iroquois and reveals the location of Reach, Earth's best defended colony, to the Covenant. 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 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved, which picks up towards the end of The Fall of Reach. A sizable detachment of Covenant follow the human vessel Pillar of Autumn from Reach to Installation 04, a relic of the Forerunner that the Covenant view as sacred. Wary of accidentally damaging the ring, the Covenant are forced to fight the humans on foot. At some point, the Covenant accidentally release the Flood, a virulent parasite, from stasis; the Flood infect many human and Covenant, and even take control of Covenant vessels in attempts to escape the ring. The Covenant know of the Flood from their religious texts, and recognize the threat of the parasite. They send in a strike team to retake the damaged cruiser Truth and Reconciliation and divert their attention to stopping the Flood. Meanwhile, the Master Chief detonates the Pillar of Autumn's engines, destroying the ring and most of the Covenant armada, the Fleet of Particular Justice, led by the soon-to-be Arbiter. Most of what transpired in the game was written in the book Halo: The Flood, in which certain details not in the game were also added, such as the ODSTs and what happened with the damaged Covenant Cruiser.
Halo: First Strike describes the Battle of Reach from the Spartan team's perspective, and also of the immediate events following the destruction of the first Halo. Later, the Master Chief and his fellow SPARTAN-IIs, recovered from the remains of Reach, destroyed the Unyielding Heirophant and a Covenant Armada estimated at over 500 ships strong  that was to attack Earth.
The Covenant return as both antagonists and allies in 2004's Halo 2. At the start of the game, the Covenant High Prophet Regret arrives at Earth with a small escort fleet. Not knowing Earth was the human homeworld, the Covenant are obliterated. With his fleet gone, Regret jumps to Delta Halo, inadvertently carrying the human ship In Amber Clad. The Master Chief, also known as "The Demon" by the Covenant, assassinates Regret.
At the same time, the Covenant is experiencing stress. The death of Regret leads to the remaining Prophets transferring the Brutes into the position of their Honor Guards, a job the Elites had held since the founding of the Covenant, claiming that Elites could no longer guarantee their safety. The Elites are outraged and threaten to resign from the High Council; the Prophets give the Brutes carte blanche to murder the Elites, sparking a civil war. The Elites join their former enemies, humanity, in stopping the firing of Delta Halo; Truth, the last High Prophet left after Mercy is killed by a Flood infection form, leaves High Charity for Earth.
In Halo 2, the central component of the Covenant's beliefs is revealed to be the "Great Journey", a spiritual equivalent of the rapture and the ultimate goal of the Covenant. The Covenant believe that their forebears, the Forerunners, used the Sacred Rings to cleanse the universe of all that was unworthy, and led them to salvation. The Covenant wish to wipe out humanity and the Flood, and follow the Forerunners to their mysterious destination. The Covenant's execution of the Great Journey consists of the activation of at least one Halo installation, the "divine wind" of which will sweep all those who are worthy on the path to the beyond.
By the events of Halo 3, the Elites have split completely from the Covenant, though some of the Grunts and Hunters have folded back into the Covenant, driven by fear of the Brutes. High Charity is taken over by the Flood, while Truth and what little remains of the Covenant empire excavate the artifact believed to be the Ark on Earth. Truth activates the artifact, creating a slipspace portal to the real Ark; the Elites' ships arrive on Earth in time to stop the Flood from infesting the planet. The Elites decide that their fight with Truth lies through the slipspace portal, and together with human marines the Elites engage the Prophet's ships and stop Truth from firing the Halo network. At the conclusion of the game, humanity's war with the Covenant ends; the Arbiter leads his Elites to their homeworld after paying respects to the dead.
Microsoft has commissioned several sets of action figures and merchandise featuring Covenant characters for each video game. The Halo 3 action figure sets have been made by McFarlane Toys, and include Brutes and Jackals. The Covenant's weaponry has also been adapted into large-scale replicas.
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.
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- ↑ Mercy: Halo. Its divine wind will rush through the stars, propelling all who are worthy along the path to salvation. - Bungie Studios. Halo 2. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Sacred Icon. (2004)
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