The Banished were introduced in 2017’s Halo Wars 2 and have been revealed as the main antagonists of 343’s upcoming epic Halo Infinite. Just who are these red-loving mercenaries, and how are they such an imposing enemy to the UNSC and Master Chief? Let’s go through their history and find out.
Full spoiler warnings if you have not played Halo Wars 2, its expansion Awakening the Nightmare, or read the recent novel Halo: Shadows of Reach.
Myths vs. Reality
The first mission of Halo Wars 2 introduces us to the massive hulking Brute known as Atriox. The game quickly builds up the legend of who he is versus the reality we learn throughout the campaign. This comes mostly through “Phoenix Logs”, which are in-game lore dump text files. These logs paint a fascinating and complex picture of who Atriox and the Banished are versus how they present themselves. Let us start at the beginning of the five-issue comic series, “The Rise of Atriox”.
In the first mission of the game and the first issue of the comic, we are shown Atriox’s history. We see a battle in which the covenant has complete control of the situation, but instead of ending things with an aerial bombardment, they send waves of 40 “Brutes”, which is the name given to the Jiralhanae. As countless humans and brutes die, only one on each side is left with the Brute winning the last fight decisively: this is Atriox, and his clan is repeatedly being used as cannon fodder by the Covenant. He slowly begins to build a legend among his people as the one who always survives in these suicide missions.
Atriox fights with a fellow Brute who believes in the Covenant’s “Great Journey” and after killing him, he is sentenced to death at the hands of an Elite (a.k.a. a Sangheili). After quickly dispatching with his would-be executioner, his fellow Brutes kill the rest of the Elite Guard and the group is henceforth banished from The Covenant. The legend of this time for these “Banished” is greatly inflated in the initial telling—and through the aforementioned in-game Phoenix Logs, you learn the truth about how the Banished started. This is thanks in large part to the Covenant being too busy to ever deal with them directly. The war against humanity and eventually the flood took up much of their focus, and Atriox took advantage of this.
Small Time Mercenaries with Big Time Ambitions
Slowly but surely, Atriox and his right-hand monkey, Decimus, would lead the Banished on raids of Covenant and Human facilities to add to their growing army. Through a mix of hired mercenaries and those loyal to him, Atriox would spend 10 years building the Banished into a formidable force as the Covenant fell into disarray. One major difference between Atriox’s leadership of the Banished and the Prophet’s leadership of the Covenant was that he was willing to forgive and recruit those he felt were worthy of joining his ranks. Using these hit-and-run tactics and sticking to the fringes of Covenant space, the Banished were able to not only stay alive but quickly build a reputation as a mercenary group worthy of their asking price on jobs. Atriox was terrifying, but his men always honored their word.
It is never explained how exactly the Banished were able to reach the Ark in Halo Wars 2, but they quickly killed every UNSC member there leaving only the AI, Isabel. Through a series of skirmishes, the UNSC activates an emergency Halo ring in an effort to try and get help as their ship had lost its slipspace drive in the conclusion of Halo Wars 1. The Banished’s supercruiser is destroyed during the campaign, leaving them stranded as well. Next, we have the “Awakening the Nightmare” DLC for Halo Wars 2 which allows you to play as the Banished this time. A pair of Brute brothers named Pavium and Voridus accidentally release the dormant Flood from the remnants of the Covenant ship, High Charity. The brothers had been directly ordered by Atriox to leave the city-ship alone, but Voridus’s ambitions blinded him to the danger. After an excellent series of campaign missions, you are able to stop the Flood for the time being—which leads to the Banished’s next appearance in the recent book, “Halo: Shadows of Reach”.
A Decent Book with Some Big Story Implications
Written by Troy Denning, Shadows of Reach helps to expand how the Banished operate and just how Atriox returns from the Ark without a ship. Starting off we meet three factions that operate within the Banished: these are the religious zealots, The Keepers of One Freedom, the brute-led Legion of the Corpse-Moon, and the similar Ravaged Tusks. These three factions have been tasked by Escharum—who we have met in a cutscene at the end of Xbox’s 2020 Halo Infinite gameplay demo—with finding a forerunner portal that connects to the Ark that Atriox and his men are stuck on. The forerunners are a previous race of beings who ruled the galaxy, fought with ancient humans, and oh so much more great stuff you can find out by reading the incredible novels that make up “The Forerunner Trilogy”.
Back to the Banished, though. After constant fights with Master Chief’s Blue Team, local humans, and eventually the UNSC, the Banished activate the portal and Atriox is finally back in the galaxy proper. As Cortana is still in control of the galaxy and her Guardians are dominant, the Banished and UNSC quickly vacate the area after achieving their goals (the UNSC is looking for “something”).
This leads us up to that 2020 gameplay trailer and what we can guess about the story of Halo Infinite. The banished have occupied Halo Installation 07, which is a huge part of the end of the Forerunner Trilogy of books. This is an ancient and massively damaged facility that housed places such as the “Palace of Pain”: an area of experimental torture on ancient humans as the Forerunners attempted to understand why they weren’t being infected by the flood for… reasons (you should read the books, they’re great). Just why are the Banished on this ring? It’s clear through the trailers we’ve been shown so far that the UNSC forces there—including Chief himself—have been thoroughly defeated at the start of the game. Escharum stating how easily his men defeated the UNSC there and that he looked forward to the Chief providing him with an actual challenge for once.
During his speech Escharum mentions that his men and “The Harbinger” are looking to fulfill the “Will of Atriox”—but who is this Harbinger? Nothing official has been revealed yet and there are dozens of different fan theories online. Hopefully, after this year’s E3 (it’s back!) we’ll have more of an idea. That’s it for now, though. The Banished started out small but are now powerful enough to seemingly destroy the mightiest ship in the UNSC and leave Master Chief to float in space until a handsome devil of a pilot finds him by luck. It’s been a quick rise in power for them, and with Escharum and not Atriox set up as the initial main villain of the campaign, it seems they’ll be around for a while to come.