Halo: Reach is Halo like I remember it. Halo 2 and 3 were an attempt to continue what Bungie set off with the 2001 Xbox original, a decade ago. It is the first console game I really loved and the sequels couldn’t hope to reach that title’s emotional highs and originality. With their last Halo, Bungie have found that same place they went to when putting together the first game. Seeing off the series feels very much like starting the series. As their swansong, Reach is a prologue that adds to the already legendary weight of that first Halo.
The writing is accomplished. I was initially wary of running around with a team of spartans, but Noble Team very quickly grew on me. Every time they hurt, I hurt, and every sacrifice was meaningful. Not least my own. It is impossible for me to say how the story would hang together if you didn’t know all that would be to come. It riffs off your expectations, memories and knowledge expertly. It is grand science fiction, a war story, yet ultimately about people. I was moved.
Halo has changed a lot, too. The combat is very close to what it always was, except more refined, but the way Halo is played these days is completely different – the Reach campaign, which I’m commenting here as I was never into Halo online, is very much the side offering. Now it’s all about the multiplayer, and the campaign’s design reflects that. It is more about multiplayer spaces, not linear progression, but then Halo always was like that. It’s just more confident, more pronounced, now. Quite a few times you’re a single soldier on vast battlegrounds fit for a squad of Spartans running around, as everything has been designed with co-op play in mind. This is no critique, though, as that merely adds to the accomplished scale.
The variety is something I didn’t see coming. Bungie finds time to include a best-of of Halo moments, with driving, sniping, huge arenas, furious melees, beach landings, sieges and assaults, and still adds several new set pieces. The air support mission in burning Alexandra is unforgettable.
Done with Heroic on solo, I think it’s time for Legendary co-op. Like it was ten years ago.