Reach was the end of an era. Bungie had decided it wanted to be an independent studio from Microsoft and was starting to transition away. Microsoft had started building a new studio 343 Industries that would take over the Halo brand which they retained ownership of. Reach was in many ways Bungie's swan song for Halo, and they pulled out a lot of stops but at the same time gracefully folded back on the series legacy. I was particularly excited for it knowing all this. They updated the engine and you can really tell it's a step above Halo 3. Faces and animation took a big leap as did the lighting. Levels were a little more seamless with less obvious loading zones. It also takes a lot of queues from ODST. There's more character drama, and you're almost always fighting with a few invincible buddies. This time though they are proper Spartans.
Reach is a prequel to the trilogy. "Reach" is a human colonized planet that the Pillar of Autumn and Master Chief escape from in the beginning of Halo CE. It's well referenced through-out the series so players know exactly what's going to happen, everybody's gonna die. Since it was a prequel Bungie makes many callbacks to try to merge the worlds back together. The pistol looks like the original and has a scope, the Covenant dropships called "Spirits" are the ones we saw in Halo CE. But there's still Phantoms too, just to make sure it's all consistent. The Covenant do not speak English either. I found this to be a much welcome change over the overly chatty Covenant of 2 and 3. It also gives them a more menacing sense. In Reach they are known entities but somewhat mysterious and it gives a more gritty feel to it.
There's new things too. Skirmishers are a new quick moving enemy that's about as tough as a Jackal. There's a new vehicles, some are just normal vehicles like trucks and forklifts you find around but the Covenant have a new mini Wraith called the Revenant that shoots small scale mortars. The weapon arsenal got an overhaul too. Battle Rifle is out and replaced with the DMR, a single shot rifle similar to the Carbine. The Carbine is also out, replace with the Needle Rifle. This gun is neat as it works similar to a needler. Enough rounds and the target explodes. The Covenant get a Plasma Repeater which is kinda just a bigger Plasma Rifle as well as the Concussion Rifle which is a bit like an Elite version of the brute shot, a bit slower with more ammo capacity. More experimental is the Target Locater which tags an enemy (typically a heavy vehicle) and an airstrike will hit it in a few seconds and the Plasma Launcher which shoots homing plasma grenades.
And then there's armor abilities. These take the place of equipment and aren't disposable. You can continue using them after some cooldown as much as you'd like and you can occasional swap them out. They are:
- Sprint - The default. It let's you lower your weapon but sprint for a short while.
- Armor lock - This one was a bastard in multiplayer. It renders you temporarily invincible but immobile. Good timing means you can survive heavy explosives and vehicles trying to run you over will basically crash and kill the occupant. Grenade sticks fail. All around handy if you get the hang of using it.
- Cloak - Your radar goes haywire but as long as you are relatively still you are invisible.
- Jet-pack - You can fly short distances.
- Drop shield - Same as the Bubble Shield in Halo 3.
- Hologram - A hologram of you runs forward, enemies almost always fall for it, especially Hunters.
To be honest I forgot about a lot of the new features.
You start investigating a bunch of homes in the mountains to figure out what happened. This sets up Reach's wonderful atmosphere. There a bit of almost Tibetan or Russian culture mixed with sci-fi and it's wonderful. The landscapes are beautiful and seamless. Eventually you find surprise! it was the Covenant. Battles are hectic. You can get your buddies to do quite a bit but it's balanced so you still need to do work even if they don't quite die. But if you take down an Elite's shields they are often good at finishing it off. Elites feel faster than before. Ducking a weaving making a grenade stick really hard. They do not stand still. Grunts are still Grunts and Jackals are still Jackals, no change there other than with no Beam Rifle Jackal snipers have the Needle Rifle instead which is not an instant kill. Very nice. Skirmishers are mainly just fast Jackals, they look the same and carry the same weapons but they run around and are put down with a single headshot. The Halo CE dropships are back too! After the initial encounter, you get to drive around with a truck with Jorge being a sort of gunner with his big machine gun. You get into some fights at more houses and then move on to a short defense sequence. In a cool technological twist, the level doesn't end or even cut, you actually get on an aircraft and then fly over the mountains to a base in realtime. Very cool. At the base you play more defense and then go inside to do some stuff, it's not really clear. Taking some upgrades from ODST you have night vision instead of a flashlight (a lot of technology got worse in the year or so after it would seem) that you need in the dark communication building. Fight a few more Elites at close range and the level ends.
This is a great first introduction back to Halo. It's a breath of fresh air versus how the other games start.
Oni: Sword Base
This levels pretty good too. First you touch down in the base and need to fight your way to the other side with lots of boxes for cover. Then we go outside. As we do we get access to a new weapon: the Target Locater. This only has 2 rounds so it's a bit of a waste to carry around but you do need it to remove the Wraiths. Just paint them with the locater and an airstike will hit them. Then you can throw it away. You the get a Warthog and choice of objectives. They are actually the same thing, you just choose if you want to go left or right first. Fighting enemy vehicles is as hard as ever, in fact it's often easier to get out and use your teammates as bait than it is to take a Ghost and fire directly as a driver because you die so quickly. Regardless of which you choose you basically fight a wave of Covenant, press a switch and then battle another dropship worth of them. After you complete both you can go back to base, fight some more Covenant and then a pair of Hunters. Hunters are relatively unchanged but have reverted back to plasma mortars instead of beams. You then go to the ONI office building and kill stuff in there. There's some nasty Fuel-rod Cannon Elites to stop you and then at the top you need to take down a Phantom and many Banshees. You get a Rocket Launcher which now has enhanced tracking. You need to hover the cursor over the vehicle first until the cursor goes red and then you can fire a homing rocket. It's almost exactly like the ODST missile pod. I found it doesn't work as well as you'd hope as the enemy pilots are surprisingly good at dodging.
Hey it's Truth and Reconciliation done right! It's nighttime and you get to stealthily kill some Covenant in the dark. The checkpoints are a lot more generous plus you get the cloaking armor ability. Cloaking is pretty limited, it only works when you are still or moving very slowly so you can't whack enemies from behind like the Arbiter. You can however use it to get a sniper shot or a grenade stick without interruption though. Enemies also tend to be able to see you if they are close enough even if you are still and it also clouds your hearing and jams your radar at the same time so there are drawbacks. You eventually advance to some buildings, take out a few jetpack Elites and continue down a dusty trail. Here there's a neat sequence when the Covenant are ambushed by, whatever those giant things are. At the end you'll find a water treatment plant. You'll get a chance to load up and then you'll have to fight off waves a Covenant coming down in dropships. This part is quite fun as it becomes very dynamic with the various terrain. You can go low into the water or high on the rooftops, up to you. You then follow another narrow path over to a big pylon across a bridge. You need to remove the enemies and then defend it. The defense sequence can be pretty rough as there's lots of invisible Elites and a pair of Hunters at the end. I just used Jun as bait while I kept back and sniped everything. The final stretch is down a path with lots of Shade turrets. These fire a lot faster than their Halo CE counterparts. You have to take this part slow and there's ammo hidden in little nooks if you run out but you have to find it.
On the Top of the Spear
Here's the big vehicle level and it's a lot of fun. The opening cutscene is amusing because why would you send a bunch of Jeeps and ATVs to go destroy an army in the year 2500? Sillyness aside it makes for a good spectacle. There's things going on overhead and off in the distance. You start with a grenade launcher which is utter trash, it's so hard to use, fairly slow and doesn't have enough power to make up for it. Eventually you get a new Warthog, a Missile-hog! This is an upgraded warthog that shoots a salvo of homing missiles kinda like the missile pod but 5 at a time. In single player legendary, you're driving though. The AI is okay at hitting things and you tend to have more survivability than in other Warthogs. First order of business is to destroy a cannon which you do by busting it up from the inside. Then you travel onward, fighting enemies until you get to a warehouse. There's a strange and pointless mission to kill an Elite (like we haven't been killing loads of Ultras already?) and then you get the Revenant. It's like a 2 person Ghost with a mini Wraith mortar. The damage is hilarious low but it does have decent survivability. You probably won't use it for very long as conventional weapons are just faster. Speaking of which you get a new weapon, the Plasma Launcher. This is a fun little weapon that basically shoots out homing plasma grenades. They stick to things, particularly vehicles and explode. You can charge it to shoot up to 4 at a time. This is also good for fighting the Hunters outside the next AA gun you need to explode. After beating it, you'll fly to another part of the map but you get a grenade shooting gallery on the way. This thing is so fast and powerful it makes you wonder why they didn't just equip more soldiers with it. The pilot makes a bad call to go through the energy barrier so of course you crash. You need to fight your way to the Spire on foot or use the jetpack armor ability. This thing lets you hover for a little bit and make some big jumps or climb up cliffs. You're pretty vulnerable while using it though. Once you take the grav-lift up the spire you'll have an intense battle with some Covenant to end the mission.
Long Night of Solace
And we come to the bad level. Actually the two ends of the level are fun but the spaceship stuff in between is awful and there's just a lot to say about it because the gameplay is completely different. You first run up a beach, Silent Cartographer style before you get into the facility and take off into space. The space battle could have been fun, there's a decent foundation but at least on Legendary enemies are so aggressive and there's so little you can do about it it just turns into luck. Wave one is Banshees, no big deal, just machine gun them. Wave 2 is Seriphs. These abominations take a decent amount of machine gun to lower their shields and then you can use homing missiles. The problem is you fight a lot of them and they mostly target you so if one gets a bad angle there's nothing you can do about it, a couple shots will kill you. Wave 2 is still doable, wave 3 is not. Wave 3 has about twice as many Seriphs and some Banshees for backup. I must have tried it about 20+ times, each time you get wasted because there's not enough cover once you're targeted...or is there? The only way I found I was able to do it was to cheese the whole fight. Before the wave starts get behind the space station and you let them wear each other out. The space station cannot be harmed but has a lot of guns so if you just pace back and forth behind it eventually the enemies get whittled away and I'm not even sorry about it. Wave 3 has a bunch of phantoms and some other fighter craft. It's not too bad as the enemy count is manageable and the Phantom guns are ironically far less powerful than the Seriphs. Just missile them all to death. Then on to space battle part 2. Here you're attacking a Covenant ship surrounded by fighters. It's very easy to get unlucky and just destroyed sometimes so it's better to stick close to the frigate so you can have a modicum of cover. Each engine you hit earns you a checkpoint so you need to be very careful. I got a bad checkpoint where an enemy was chasing me and would destroy me in about a second and had to restart the whole level. Make sure you are in the clear and make sure that before you hit the last engine you've cleared all the existing Seriphs otherwise you'll be overwhelmed when the last wave starts. In the last part a few more Seriphs fly in and if you made preparations and cleaned up beforehand it should go smoothly.
Oh but there's more. Now you need to drop into the top of the carrier. The problem is the barrier prevents you from shooting in so you just have to drop into the middle of 7 Elites and not die. It's all luck and I did this part a bunch of times. Once you have done that, you're mostly good. You have to fight through the carrier which isn't too hard if you take it slow. Make it to the bridge, kill the Elite and then hopefully you have enough good ammo to get back to the hanger. At the hander you need to defend against a few waves of enemies. The Elites are just awful as they like to hide on the high ground. You get a sniper but there's too much cover for them for it to be really effective. As soon as you kill the second wave you need to bail out back toward the bridge as fast as possible as an Ultra will come in each side door at the same time armed with a power weapon. If you anticipate it, you can setup shop in the doorway with a sniper and they won't come after you, instead choosing the get distracted by your buddy.
One of the more humorous scenes is when the Savannah, the frigate that helps you in the space battle blows up out the window. You mean to tell me that we destroyed it's engines, destroyed its fighters and are currently killing the crew and you're still so incompetent as to be destroyed by the side guns? You deserve it. Also why are there still so many Ultras onboard? None of this makes sense. In the end you get pushed out the airlock back down to Earth and Jorge blows everything up, except the a giant Covenant armada that teleports in a few seconds later. How inconvinenant.
Things get more dark. You start in a city full of dead bodies to set the mood. You also start by fighting suicide grunts. There's no explanation at all for this. The Covenant are clearly winning and yet these dudes want to just explode? As you come to the first courtyard you find Brutes! These seems to be pre Planet of the Apes Brutes. They are more like Halo 2 brutes in that they go down with a few headshots. The mid-tier ones wear armor and occasionally come with gravity mauls and can take a few more headshots, but even a single sniper round is enough. You'll go into a nice looking lobby and have to fight a few more and then defend it while the elevator comes. Your allies are weak and pretty much do nothing, thankfully the Brutes are easy enough. Next you'll need to make your way across some girders with a jet-pack and you'll start encountering more Fuel-rod Guns so let the soldiers go first while you attack at a range. Then you'll run between two buildings. This can be tricky as you'll get attacked from multiple angles. You'll also meet the new brute Chieftains which are now a rust color and have full armor and shields. They are slower than Elites but much tougher as even if the shields got down you still need to get through the armor. Explosives are a good bet if you have them. After clearing out a landing pad full of Brutes you need to get onto a transport and fire the machine gun. Sadly, you can do nothing for the civilians as you need to prioritize targets that shoot you or you will die. And did I hear her say the city was under siege for 5 days? Why are all the spiffy dressed people with bluetooth headsets still doing here? Anyway you land on a beach and need to take activate 2 AA guns. You can approach this a few ways but most just end up with a mortar to the face or if you approach the building there's 2 chieftains you can't possibly beat. So you need to climb up the side of the first platform to activate the gun and make you way across the bridge to the other. A Wraith sits between and has inhuman aim and a chieftain is on the bridge. I used cloak to ambush the chieftain and used his plasma launcher to kill the Wraith. Just be sure it's distracted. Once you activate gun 2 a dropship with Ghosts lands. They are piloted by grunts so as long as you take it slow you can kill the drivers at a distance. All that's left is to approach the 2 chieftains from a distance. Cloak helps here too as you can approach and get a rocket or grenade stick off.
We have our obligatory flying level. This one isn't so bad though. The Falcon is a pretty decent air vehicle as you have 6 degrees of freedom, a decent main weapon and 2 marines who will man the powerful side turrets. You do need to contend with endless respwaning Banshees so you should make it to your objectives quickly. The first you need to go penthouse or something and disable a jammer. This is where I remembered that React recycles most of its multiplayer maps in single player. It's super obvious here because there's a huge rendered Zen garden type of room and absolutely nothing in it or reason for it to exist. At the back you turn off the jammer and have to run through some Drones. I think they respawn so you do have to run. You can lift off again and go to the next objective. There are optional objectives between each jammer but on Legendary you usually fail because the enemies kill so quickly. Thankfully it doesn't matter because it doesn't count against you. Jammer 2 is at a hospital and you fight going down a circular set of staircase. There's some engineers but I don't feel sorry for them because those shields are nasty and waste ammo. At the back of a corridor you turn off the jammer and then need to fight your way back out against a large pack of jetpack Elites (hope you have DMR ammo). Number 3 is in a nightclub. You need to kill 4(!) Hunters. This is made easier because they are fighting marines and have their backs facing you. At least use the Needle Rifle to blow the armor open before you need to switch to crappier guns. The last is the ONI base. A few turrets appeared around the outside that you need to destroy and then you can land.
Back to ONI Swordbase. You start in a swamp and have to carefully maneuver around to avoid the shade turrets and kill the occupants as well as the Fuel-rod Cannon Grunts. Then you'll find a tank, how nice! You'll have to take out 2 AA guns which is not too hard with the tank just go slow and mind the Banshees. Coming around toward the front of Sword base is a huge pain. There are fuel-rod Shade turrets that are very far away and very hard to see plus a couple Revenants. You basically need to memorize the positions as you cannot move fast enough to avoid them once they start firing especially with the homing on the shots. In Sword base it's just like last time but with 3 Spartans they actually do a fair bit of work (well Jun does anyway). The path to the lobby is an annoying circular set of ramps with lots of snipers and when you get to the main lobby area you'll face several Elites including a commander with a Fuel-rod Gun. You'll take a secret passage to an elevator to the artifact. Here is a very well lit underground snow level for some reason. Lots of Phantoms will drop troops down at several locations (how did they get in here anyway!?). You can setup some turrets but on Legendary it doesn't matter, they'll be disabled almost immediately. What I found helped was to stay to the right side of the door (looking at it) while the team took the middle. Since most enemies come up through the middle they'll get distracted and you can DMR them. You should keep a plasma pistol on hand though as at some point you'll get Elites that come to your side. Ammo will slowly run out, so make sure you grab stuff as you can and take shots you know you can make. Just ignore the rest and ignore the vehicles. The final wave will have many Elites rushing the door but as long as you use the team to distract them and have a bit of Plasma Pistol leftover you can win.
The Pillar of Autumn
It's a real shame. Reach kinda faceplants on its way out. The last level is long and a slog. Lots of long-range battles but you don't get a sniper rifle and Emile brought a shotgun so he's entirely useless except as bait. Even from the first fight you need to take down 2 Elites with an ... Assault Rifle. Good luck! What I did is get Emile to distract them and come up behind the blue one. If you can't kill him with a back melee you should be able machine gun him as his health isn't too high. The Ultra I'd just leave alone until everyone else is mopped up. He'll continually fall back and once you've crossed the bridge you'll probably have a Plasma Pistol so you just need to find an opening. Then you get a Mongoose. This is mostly just a set-piece as you ride through some plains with pods and Scarabs dropping and there's no reason to stop. Jump the gap and you'll face a Wraith and lots of Brutes. It's DMR time and there's some ammo in the shed. I held on to the rocket launcher from the starting area so I could take down the Wraith but if you didn't that's probably going to be more difficult. Then you make your way through so caves filled with Drones, bleh. Apparently Carter wasn't dead, but he is now! I'm not sure what point that cutscene served, seems to cheapen this a little because all deaths have to happen on-screen I guess. Anyway you get an annoying battle with a Fuel-rod Gun Elite and another Ultra but it's long enough range that Plasma Pistoling is hard. There's more battles like this as you make your way into the shipyard. Then you find the final 2 Hunters. This took me forever. Emile got punted into the canyon so he's no help but I did find a new appreciation for the hologram ability. You can distract Hunters with it but I still kept running out of ammo and Assault Rifling a Hunter is super tedious. In the last arena you'll have Phantoms dropping troops down at various locations, often 2 at a time. You'll fight all sorts of enemies, including some chieftains in wave 2 which are really annoying. There's a Sniper Rifle which you should absolutely save for capital enemies and nothing else. There's no DRM ammo either save for 30 bullets on a corpse at one end. Make those shots count! In the end I was using the Assault Rifle while cover-cheesing the Brutes. Not fun.
There's a final battle with some Elites, hopefully you left some of the pistol ammo around because you need to take down the Ultra that comes out of the warehouse. Inside there are multiple Elites but you can find DMR ammo. Just take it slow and it's not too bad. The final Elite it apparently powerful enough to take full plasma pistol shot but if you can put a couple DMR shots in before he kills you with the Fuel-rod Fun you'll win. The last segment is literally the stupidest segment in all of Reach. You have a MAC gun and need to kill flying enemies. The MAC gun is slow and Banshees will bomb you. It seems no matter how much you anticipate the targets you cannot shoot fast enough to not die. Mercifully, you can cheese it. Jump out and hide behind the gun and just let the enemies accumulate. After some time the corvette reactor is exposed and Keyes will tell you to shoot. Jump in, and just quickly target it and you should get the cutscene before you die. Now you can brush your teeth and get rid of that bad taste.
This isn't a real level but it's how the game should end. Remember, everybody dies. So it's just you versus ever harder waves of Elites until you die. On Legendary with just a DMR you probably won't beat the first Ultra but eitherway it's cool. Great ending, wish the level in front didn't suck so much.
Going in I thought Reach would be my favorite as a I spent a lot of time with it on release. I think that it's still true. There's only a couple of bad parts in Reach, nearly everything else is good or better. You can tell Bungie tried to expand things particularly in the setting department. The lofty penthouses and lush mountains really have a nice feel to them. Although remembering the copy-paste reuse of the multiplayer maps was amusing. It's interesting that they could place them but it's so obvious that you have an extra large area that seems out of place. The weapons are nicely balanced and have a well defined set of niches, perhaps the best the series ever had and the numerous callbacks to Halo CE were appreciated. But the two gameplay change areas, space ships and the MAC gun were not given any care, I don't even know how they would be possible on legendary without using a breaking strategy. I don't think I'd ever want to replay those parts again.Back to Home