Note: MAJOR SPOILERS await you. If you do not know what the Arbiter is and you do not want to spoil a major plot twist, please stop reading now. Everyone else read on and enjoy.
We first meet the Arbiter in a sort of trial room before the Covenant prophets Truth, Mercy, and Regret. He is then known to us as the Heretic, and is, in fact, accused of heresy during the proceedings. The Covenant lost Halo during the events of the first game, Halo®: Combat Evolved, and the responsibility for its safety had been laid on this Heretic's shoulders. He is a fierce warrior, a commander of legions, and a proud Elite. During his inquisition he stands up for his honor, accepts the blame for his disastrous loss, and vows to seek vengeance on the demon (that's what they call Master Chief).
Alas, his shame is too great for him to be reinstated into the Covenant military. Moreover, the prophets have a more devious use for him in mind anyway. Throughout Covenant history, a shining hero, known only as the Arbiter, has delivered the Covenant from evil at the cost of his life. Time and again, a new hero rises up to take the mantle of the Arbiter, to serve at the pleasure of the prophets. Our discarded Heretic is that hero. The prophets press him into service as the Arbiter, and, with the ceremonial armor donned, he sets off in search of the true heretic, a rebel causing civil unrest within the Covenant. It is the chance to make amends for his prior shameful defeat, and he takes it gladly.
The cinematic scenes that play out this drama are captivating. This look into the culture and ideology of the Covenant is truly fascinating, but it isn't until the next mission begins that you understand the full scope of what you have seen. It isn't just that a new Arbiter has been born, it's that you will play that Arbiter.
That hand doesn't look familiar.
From here on out, Halo 2 puts you into the roles of both Master Chief and Arbiter. You'll see and experience both sides of this galactic conflict. It’s a twist no one saw coming, and it's one that will have folks chatting about for some time to come.
Not only will this change the way you perceive the story, but it will also change the way you play the game. The Arbiter is controlled exactly the same way as Master Chief, but there are two elements that alter the way you will play him.
Like any good Elite leader, the Arbiter is capable of using active camouflage. With a simple press of the White button, the Arbiter will enter into stealth mode, unseen and unheard by his enemy. It's a good thing too, since the Arbiter missions are anything but easy. Armed with this ability and an energy sword (plus whatever else you pick up along the way), the Arbiter is a lethal assassin. However, the active camouflage isn't a permanent ability. It only lasts for a few seconds, and then needs to be recharged before being used again. It's best to put this ability to work when first entering a new room. You can take a moment to find the biggest and baddest enemy (usually a Brute), sneak up behind them, and take them out with the energy sword (melee attacks used on an unaware opponent are instant kills).
The Arbiter armor.
Human Marines are skilled and useful allies for the Master Chief, but they are still grunt soldiers. While they are more powerful and better trained than the Covenant Grunts, they are hardly a match for the Elites, with their shields, swords, and plasma rifles. The Arbiter, on the other hand, marches against his enemy with a platoon of Elites at his side. They can take a whole lot of damage and deal it out at the same time. There will be less going-it-alone as the Arbiter, and this makes combat more tactical, as you can note what your comrades are doing and act accordingly.
Introducing the Arbiter as a playable character is a brilliant stroke of game design by the folks at Bungie Studios. Not only is it a huge story twist, but it alters the way you play the game by offering you a stealth component, and even just a different mindset. Playing the Arbiter, while similar to the Master Chief, just has a different feel to it. Now do everyone a favor, and let people figure out this surprise for themselves.
By Alex McLain