The position of Arbiter is a fictional ceremonial and political rank bestowed upon special Covenant Elites in the Halo video game universe. In Halo 2, the rank is bestowed upon a disgraced Elite commander, as a way to atone for his failures. Although the Arbiter is intended to die serving the High Prophets, he survives both his missions and subsequent betrayal by the Covenant leadership. Learning the Prophets' plans would doom all life in the galaxy to extinction, the Arbiter allies with the Covenant's enemies—humanity—and stops the ringworld Halo from being activated. The character is one of the main protagonists of the Halo universe and a playable character in Halo 2 and its 2007 sequel Halo 3.
The appearance of the Arbiter in Halo 2 and the change in perspective from the main human protagonist Master Chief to a former enemy was a plot twist developer Bungie kept highly secret. The name of the character was changed from "Dervish" after concerns about reinforcing a perceived U.S. versus Islam allegory in the game's plot. Award-winning actor Keith David lends his voice to the character in both games.
The Arbiter has appeared in three series of action figures and other collectibles and marketing in addition to appearances in the games. Bungie intended the sudden point of view switch to a member of the Covenant as plot twist that no one would have seen coming, but the character in particular and the humanization of the Covenant in general was not evenly received by critics and fans. Computer and Video Games derided the Arbiter's missions as "crap bits" in Halo 2. Conversely, IGN lamented the loss of the Arbiter's story in Halo 3 and missed the added dimension the character provided to the story.
The Arbiter is voiced by Keith David, a New York voice actor. David noted that he enjoys voicing complicated characters who have a past. To make an impact with voice acting, he says, is difficult; you are "either a good actor or a bad actor." David is not a frequent video game player, but stated that he has become more known for his work as the Arbiter than for his film and other voice roles.
The Arbiter changed very little during development, with the Covenant Elite models already designed and developed for Halo: Combat Evolved. The only substantial differentiation between the Arbiter and other Elites is ceremonial armor seen in early concept sketches and which appeared in the final design. During Halo 2's early developmental stages the character's name was "Dervish", a name from the Sufi sect of Islam. Out of context, Microsoft Game Studios' "geocultural review" consultants found nothing wrong with the name. However, as Tom Edwards, a consultant who worked with Microsoft during the review noted, "within the game’s context this Islamic-related name of 'Dervish' set up a potentially problematic allegory related to Halo 2's plot -- the U.S.-like forces (Master Chief/Sarge) versus Islam (the religious Covenant, which already had a "Prophet of Truth" which is one synonym for Mohammed). Since this incident was not long after the September 11, 2001 attacks, sensitivity to the name remained high, and the character's name was changed to the "Arbiter".
In an interview with MTV, Bungie's content manager, Frank O'Connor, noted that the inclusion of the Arbiter as a playable character in Halo 2 was supposed to be a "secret on the scale of a Shyamalan plot twist" and explains that Bungie was able to keep the public uninformed about this until the game's release, to the point that O'Connor never even considered including it on the weekly development updates posted at Bungie's webpage. O'Connor also stated that Bungie "had some other things that were secrets within secrets" and claimed that there was material related to the Arbiter that was kept secret during the development of Halo 3 because "There is an aspect of the Arbiter's character that is still secret to this day and will remain so for a good reason."
Presented in Halo 2, the rank of "Arbiter" is bestowed upon a Covenant Elite by the Covenant leadership—the High Prophets—during a time of "extraordinary crisis". The Arbiter acts as the "Blade of the Prophets", undertaking highly dangerous missions to preserve the Covenant. According to one High Prophet in Halo 2, every Arbiter created has been killed in their completion of these tasks. A shrine to these warriors lies in the Mausoleum of the Arbiter, located on the Covenant's capital ship High Charity. A different Arbiter appears in promotional materials for Ensemble Studios's Halo Wars, which takes place decades before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved.
See also: Halo 2
The Arbiter in the Halo trilogy was previously a Supreme Commander, having commanded the fleet which destroys the human world of Reach and follows the ship Pillar of Autumn to Alpha Halo during Halo: Combat Evolved. A Prophet orders the Autumn not to be destroyed outright, lest the sacred ring be damaged; this hesitance allows the humans to land on the ring, coordinate a resistance, and ultimately destroy the ring to stop the spread of the parasitic Flood. In Halo: First Strike, the 2003 novel by Eric Nylund, it is revealed the Commander is also the one who loses the Covenant ship Ascendant Justice to the Master Chief, which in turn leads to the annihilation of a Covenant attack force. The High Prophet of Truth decides to bring the Commander to trial.
In Halo 2, still reeling from the destruction of the sacred Forerunner ring, the Covenant High Council turns on the Supreme Commander, declaring him a heretic, stripping him of his rank, and branding him with the "Mark of Shame" in front of a large crowd. Though his public execution is soon to follow, he is spared by the High Prophets; ealizing he is no heretic, the Hierarchs give the disgraced Commander a chance to lead troops once again and regain his lost honor by becoming the Arbiter. Like the Arbiters before him, the Prophets expect the Arbiter to die early in his tour of duty, completing his death sentence, but instead the Arbiter manages to destroy a nest of rebel Covenant forces, retrieving a Forerunner "Oracle" in the process. The Arbiter is then sent to retrieve the "Sacred Icon" from the library on Delta Halo, in order to activate the ring and bring about what the Covenant religion calls the Great Journey. Though he retrieves the Icon, the Arbiter is betrayed by the Chieftain of the Brutes, Tartarus; Tartarus reveals that the Prophets have given him and his race carte blanche to massacre and replace the Elites in the Covenant caste system. Though the Arbiter is believed dead, he is rescued—along with his nemesis, the Master Chief—by the Flood intelligence Gravemind. Gravemind convinces the Arbiter that the Great Journey in fact spells doom for his race, and sends him to stop Tartarus from activating the ring. In the process of stopping the Brute, the Arbiter and his Elites forge an alliance with the humans Miranda Keyes and Avery Johnson, and the Arbiter slays Tartarus, halting the firing of the ring. The unexpected shutdown of Halo triggers a standby sequence, which the Arbiter learns has made all the Halo installations ready to fire remotely from the Ark.
See also: Halo 3
While the Arbiter remains a playable character in Halo 3 during co-op (the second player in a game lobby will control him), the game's story never switches the point of view to the Arbiter, as was done in Halo 2. For much of Halo 3, the Arbiter assists human forces in their fight against both the hostile Covenant forces and the Flood, including multiple instances of humans who are being tortured and killed by the Brutes. He makes a number of bitter remarks concerning the Prophets and the Covenant during gameplay. After the Flood arrive on Earth, he is the one that advises Ship Master Rtas 'Vadum not to glass the entire planet, but rather only the local area of infestation. Following Truth through a portal to the Ark, he kills the Prophet. Shortly thereafter, he comes to the assistance of the Master Chief during his rescue of Cortana from the Gravemind. During the escape from the new Halo, the frigate he and the Chief are in is damaged, with his portion of it crashing on Earth. He attends a ceremony on Earth afterwards, honoring the dead. After the memorial the Arbiter leaves Earth with the rest of the Elites for their own home planet, free from the influence of both the Covenant and the Flood.
Following the release of Halo 2, Joyride Studios released an Arbiter action figure. This particular model was reviewed as a "great translation of the source material into plastic". The figure's dimensions were in proportion with other figures released by the studio, and the level of detail in the armor and weapons was described positively, but reviewers found fault with the neck articulation and design. Other aspects mentioned were its compatibility with the Master Chief's action figure and its durability. Several models of the Arbiter are featured in the Halo ActionClix collectible game, produced as promotional material prior to the release of Halo 3. McFarlane Toys was given the task of developing a Halo 3 line of action figures, and a sculpt of the Arbiter was released in the second series of figures after the game's release. A large-scale, non-articulated Arbiter figure is also being produced by McFarlane as part of the "Legendary Collection".
The reception of the Arbiter as a playable character in Halo 2 was mixed; former Bungie content manager Frank O'Conner described the Arbiter as the most controversial character Bungie had ever created. The character was described as a "brilliant stroke of a game design" because it provided an unexpected story line but also offered the player new options by allowing stealth gameplay. Several publications enjoyed the added dimension added to the Covenant by having the Arbiter as a playable character.<
Alternatively, publications like Gamespot thought that while the Arbiter and Covenant side added "newfound complexity to the story", it distracted the player from Earth's fate; a panel of Halo 2 reviewers argued that though the decision to humanize the Covenant by the introduction of the Arbiter was welcome, the execution in-game was lacking. The missions where the player controls the Arbiter were described as "anything but easy" and occasionally "boring", due to the lack of human weapons to balance the gameplay. A review performed by Computer and Video Games described the time that the player controls the character as "[those] crap bits when you play as an alien Arbiter" and listed this as one of Halo 2's flaws. Reviewer Jarno Kokko said that while he did not personally dislike playing as the character, the idea of "people disliking the concept of playing on the other side in a game that is supposed to be the 'Master Chief blows up some alien scum' show" was a plausible complaint.
The reception of the Arbiter's elimination as a main playable character in Halo 3 was similarly mixed. Hilary Goldstein of IGN decided the change took away the "intriguing side-story of the Arbiter and his Elites", in the process reducing the character's role to that of "a dude with a weird mandible and a cool sword". Likewise, Steve West of Cinemablend.com stated that the one important event in the game for the Arbiter would be lost on anyone for whom Halo 3 was their first game in the series. On the opposite end of the spectrum were reviewers like G4tv, who argued that the Arbiter was more likeable, not to mention more useful, as an AI sidekick instead of the main player. In a list of the top alien characters in video games, MSNBC placed the Arbiter at the number two ranking.