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Jackals, otherwise known as the Kig-yar, are a more specialized group of foot soldiers. This group regularly carries a shield over their arm which they use to ward off enemy fire. They are also trained as snipers, but are generally weak when left out in the open. They are smarter than Grunts, but still not on par with the Elites.
In Halo 2, there were a few select Jackal snipers in certain areas armed with Beam Rifles. In Halo 3, Jackals on lower difficulties were armed with Carbines, but had Beam Rifles on Heroic and Legendary.Halo Wars, they make up the majority of Covenant forces, after Grunts, and their superior senses make them ideal scouts and snipers.
In Halo 1, Jackals were always lower level fighter. They were always found in groups with Grunts or Elites, fighting along side them and rarely in packs of their own. It was only when playing on Heroic or Legendary difficulties that the Jackals were bumped up in difficulty and turned into an enemy that you should actually tread carefully around. On the harder difficulties, they professionally wielded the Plasma Pistol to the best of it's ability, and, nine times out of ten, you would find yourself with a depleted shield faster than you knew where the fire was coming from.
In Halo 2, Jackals were slightly upgraded. On occasion they would be the sniper of the groups, regardless of what difficulty you were playing on. It seems with the addition of Brutes in the game, Jackals somehow ended up being a more believable enemy as there were more rungs on the hierarchy ladder of enemies.
Then, In Halo 3, it seems Jackals finally came into their own as a defined enemy. They used to be sort of all-rounders, but now they had a specific role. They were the bird like enemies that had superior senses of vision and dexterity, making them the perfect sniper and long range enemy. In Halo 3, you would only find jackals in groups, with Carbines or playing the Sniper role in support of a group of Grunts and Brutes. Never underestimate your enemy, especially not Jackals.