Recalling Halo: Reach’s Ambitious Return to the Beginning
It’s hard to imagine exactly what goes into the mindset of an established franchise when it will be their last game before they give that franchise up. The preferred aim is probably to leave everything on the table and go out with the biggest bang possible when closing the book on your legacy, but where does one go after a monumental run like Bungie had with the Halo series? Turns out the answer was back to the beginning, or at least a one of the prequel threads left unaddressed at the time. Today in 2010, Bungie hit the world with the weighty story of Halo: Reach and capped off their legacy with the series.
Work on Halo: Reach began immediately after the release of Halo 3. In fact, Bungie split up into two teams that worked on both Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST simultaneously. The goal with Halo: Reach from a very early concept was to tie up loose ends that had been left untouched in the lore of the game. Reach is mentioned many times throughout the series as the place where the SPARTAN program that gave Master Chief his abilities was established. Exploring this space meant exploring the annihilation of the SPARTAN-IIs and the events that led up to the first Halo.
One of the priorities of Reach was creating a game where the protagonists eventually fall, but giving the actions and journey in which the players embark some meaning. Creative Director Marcus Lehto would claim this was the greatest overall challenge of development process. Decisions about the characters, their design and personalities, set pieces to expand them and invest players in them and the overall pace of the game hinged upon this priority. The ending itself was a particular point of interest that the team debated on regularly.
The story of Halo: Reach recounts the Covenant attack of the titular planet and the use of the SPARTAN-II’s to fight off the Covenant long enough to allow key human personnel to escape. At this point, humanity has lost much already and the situation is bleak. Their hope is the development of the SPARTAN soldiers who will help bring the fight to the Covenant homeworlds. The story follows the escapades of a particular team of SPARTANs known as Noble Team. The player takes on the role of a new addition to the squad known only as Noble Six. On a routine mission to check an offline communication tower, the team finds a Covenant force there. They fight the Covenant back only to find that in addition to cutting communications to Reach, an entire invasion force has arrived to take the planet by force.
Halo: Reach was iconic for a number of reasons outside of the fact that it was Bungie’s last hurrah with the series. Unlike many previous installments in the series, almost all textures and polygons were created entirely from scratch for this game. Weapons, characters, enemies and environments received a far grander level of detail, not only making Halo: Reach the most visually impressive by far in the series at the time, but also the most different looking from the other games. With the much more heavily character-centered story structure, built upon the varied personalities of Noble Team, Halo: Reach also told an arguably greater story the whole way through than had ever been told in the series as well.
Halo: Reach was a spectacular finish for Bungie in the end. It would easily outsell every Halo that came before it and gained numerous accolades and awards for its excellence. Moreover, it captured the hearts of players around the world, topping charts in numerous regions following its release. From the opening cutscenes to the jaw-dropping post credits scene once Noble finished their job, Halo: Reach stands as both a welcome addition to the lore of the Halo universe and an excellent final chapter for the studio that had been with it so long.