Halo’s Assault Rifle is arguably the staple weapon of the franchise, consistently appearing with the least variation in most games in the series. It’s not undeserved either, as the assault rifle is a fantastic basic weapon for the series – very versatile, good stopping power, great at medium and close ranges and useful enough as a spawn weapon that you sometimes felt you didn’t really need to pick up anything else.
Halo 2 infamously did away with the Assault Rifle and replaced it with the SMG, which was essentially the Halo: Combat Evolved Assault Rifle but with a higher fire rate, twice the recoil, two-thirds damage, and only a fraction as useful. The core philosophy behind the switch was to encourage the new mechanic of dual-wielding in Halo 2. Bungie felt that by starting with a gun that could be dual-wielded, players would be more receptive to using the mechanic instead of sticking to the tried and true shoot, grenade, melee trifecta that Halo is known for.
The problem with this is that the SMG was godawful for most people because it was hard to reign in and was generally useless in most situations unless the SMG player had the drop on their opponent. It was quickly swapped out for a useful two-handed weapon, like a shotgun or Battle Rifle, or players immediately ran to the nearest weapon spawn so they could at least stand a chance against the guy who’s running around with a charged plasma pistol and Battle Rifle.
It also didn’t help matters that dual-wielding in Halo 2 resulted in compounded damage. Weapons were literally twice as powerful in capable hands, despite the longer reload times and lowered accuracy. Combined with the SMG being the spawn weapon, dual-wielding was more than a little popular in Halo 2. That said, dual-SMG’s still sucked unless you were at point blank range.
In creating Halo 3, one of the things Bungie felt was wrong about Halo 2 was that the starting weapon, the SMG, “had a flattening effect on the game.” They also noted that the SMG was useless for dealing lasting damage when spawning right under someone and that players often rushed to get rid of the SMG in favor of better dual-wielding combos such as the Plasma Pistol and Magnum or dual Needlers. Bungie also felt that a starting weapon should not be able to do any kind of specialized damage or have unique properties. It should be simple, useful, and versatile. Something that would work with grenades and melee.
So, basically, the Assault Rifle.
With just some minor tweaks to range, ammo, and accuracy, Halo 3 delivered a starting weapon that fulfilled everyone’s desired. They even kept it, to a certain extent, in Halo: Reach. The addition of bloom changed things up (for the worse, as most Halo players are wont to point out) but the core attributes of the weapon are still in place. Even Halo 4 is keeping it, despite many other changes to the game.
As an endnote, the SMG did actually stick around in games beyond Halo 2. It was spawned by default in only a few maps and still wasn’t used all that much since there were plenty of other, better weapons at players’ disposals. Good riddance to a terrible weapon.