Remember Halo: Reach? Don’t worry if you can’t, as it is ten years old this week.
After the rousing success of Halo 3 to finish off the main trilogy – and also help shift a few million Xbox 360 consoles in the process – Bungie’s attention turned to where next for the franchise. They came up with three ideas, enlisting the help of renowned RTS studio – Ensemble Studios – for a Halo-themed RTS; a new FPS that would bridge the gap between Halo 2 and Halo 3, and a prequel story set before any other games. Those three ideas in turn became Halo Wars, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.
Being a prequel, Halo: Reach had the unusually difficult task of telling a story and keeping players engaged whilst they already know the ending. But it also had to stay in line with another story that happens alongside it, namely the tale told in the 2001 novel Halo: The Fall of Reach. This was the first novel released in the franchise and even then showed that the Halo universe was more than just a one trick pony.
Another issue Halo: Reach faced would be not including the main man himself, Master Chief/John 117 (though, in an Easter egg, he does appear off screen). The Halo lore spans hundreds of years across many planets and galaxies, but there is always trepidation from fans when Master Chief isn’t front and centre of proceedings. It was one of the biggest criticisms thrown the way of Halo 5: Guardians, and arguably one of the reasons why Halo: Infinite is planning to go back to the basics of the franchise. Whenever we get to play that game that is.
Despite the Master Chief omission though, in Halo: Reach you play as a member of a Spartan team known as Noble Six. You and your team – Noble Team – are sent to the planet Reach to investigate what has happened to a communications relay. As one of the last major human colonies away from Earth that also doubles as the UNSC’s main military hub, issues such as this are always treated with the utmost concern.
Not long after landing, Noble Team discover that the Covenant have started an invasion of Reach. Series fans already knew that Reach was doomed, but the story that Bungie told was one hell of an emotional ride. Not just for the player, but for themselves also, in what would be their final game in the franchise before it moved on to 343 Industries.
Noble Team are given several missions to complete whilst on Reach: evacuating civilians, protecting Catherine Halsey, and transporting an artificial intelligence who contains information relating to an ancient artifact on Reach. This AI in turn became Master Chief’s companion, Cortana.
One mission that blew players away when it first released was something that Halo hasn’t really replicated since. Despite being a space sci-fi shooter, Halo has never had much ‘space’. Reach, however, had a mission that featured a dogfight above the planet’s atmosphere. Fans will remember it for two reasons: being completely unlike anything Halo had done before, but also notoriously difficult on Legendary difficulty.
Throughout their journey, members of Noble Team succumb to the Covenant until there is just you, Noble Six, remaining. The ending of Halo: Reach is one of the most gut-punching I have ever experienced in gaming: after ensuring the Pillar of Autumn launches off the planet successfully, a playable post-credits scene appears. This epilogue simply has the objective of ‘Survive’. It is Six’s last stand; there is only ever going to be one outcome as you become overrun with Covenant forces and take more damage. But this ending stuck with me long after I perished – a short cutscene then plays showing Six’s helmet over time as it starts to get buried under the ground as Reach begins a recolonization project was particularly heart-wrenching.
It is an ending that will always stick with me. I knew the basic plot of The Fall of Reach but having the ability to play the very last seconds of my character’s story on Reach tied me to the Halo franchise in a way far more than blasting Grunts and Elites as the Master Chief ever could.
As with any Halo game, Reach came with multiplayer. Having previously been in ODST, Reach came with an improved Firefight mode, with tons of options to create custom game modes. I remember these didn’t lock out any achievements so that meant you could easily unlock achievements based on achieving higher scores. For the first time as well, Firefight matchmaking was included, which meant players didn’t need to rely on their friends lists to fill online slots.
There was also standard PvP matchmaking, and it was quietly one of the best the Halo series had ever seen.
Halo: Reach launched with a number of editions. There was a standard edition, a collector’s edition that came in an unusually shaped box and – annoyingly – a black case for the disc. This stood out like a sore thumb against the slightly translucent green boxes of almost every single other Xbox 360 game. Then there was the legendary edition that I couldn’t afford but my friend had proudly on display whenever I visited. It contained a huge stature of every member of Noble Team, stood on top of a rock formation. I was extremely jealous; my only respite was knowing it must have been a bitch to dust.
Whilst Halo: Reach is available through Xbox Backwards Compatibility, it isn’t the way I would recommend playing it. Last December, Reach was finally added into Halo: The Master Chief Collection and, not only that, Firefight was included – something that was missing when ODST was added in. MCC Firefight contains matchmaking and custom options, similar to the original game.
That, and the campaign is brilliant. I have always maintained that Reach and ODST were the two best Halo campaigns, and after playing through Reach again recently, I still stand by this decision. Who needs Master Chief?
For Xbox Game Pass subscribers, Reach is available through the Master Chief Collection at no extra cost, along with ODST. The Halo franchise is often seen as Xbox’s killer app, so the inclusion of all FPS Halo games in the MCC was an essential move.
But what are your memories of Halo: Reach? Does the ending stick with you too, or was it the feel of the guns that sticks out for you? Certainly, the precision weapons such as the Battle Rifle and DMR felt as good as they had ever felt in the series. But we want your memories as well, and the comments section is the right place to put them.