For decades, Xbox owners have waged war against the Covenant in the Halo franchise. While the community has been divided on the series since 343 Industries took over, there's still a decadent past of stellar Halo games on the Xbox. With Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to PC and Halo Infinite on the horizon there's renewed interest in the franchise, with players hungering to step back into the shoes of Master Chief. But, nine years after it initially released, Halo: Reach still stands out as a masterpiece, even though it barely mentions everyone's favorite big green soldier.
There's a lot that separates Halo: Reach from the rest of the franchise. From the beginning, players will know how the story ends. The opening shots of the game depict Reach as a scorched planet, the Covenant having defeated one of humanity's strongest bastions of resistance. From the onset, players understand that the story will be a death march, with valiant Spartans fighting to defend their home only to be defeated in the end. This grim reality overshadows every moment of hope an triumph - a feeling that not many other games are capable of eliciting.
There are few better teams in gaming history than Noble Squad. Halo: Reach puts a much heavier emphasis on character development than the other games do, making for a more emotional story all around. One by one, characters in Reach slowly start dropping like flies, leading to exceptional storytelling moments that actually make players feel as though they've lost a comrade. While Halo Reach characters being added to Gears 5 may dampen that feeling somewhat, as seeing Kat and Emile get ripped apart by Lancers is an entirely different feeling, there's little worse than building a bond with a character and watching them have an Energy Sword driven through their gut.
Then, there's Noble 6 - the player character. In Reach, the main character isn't just some super-soldier, it's a character that players actually customize themselves. It doesn't have much of an effect on the actual gameplay, but it does give cutscenes more of an impact. Players have a stronger connection to characters they've created, and it makes the realities of war seem much grimmer when those horrors are inflicted on a character that players are invested in.
Finally, there's the planet itself. Reach is filled with some of the most beautiful backdrops to ever be rendered on an Xbox 360. There are gorgeous vistas, star-lit skies, and ever-present Covenant cruisers looming overhead. Reach feels like a planet worth defending, simply for how gorgeous it is if not for the characters that call the planet home. Not many other games have managed to make players so invested in the main narrative, and seeing it be destroyed is a tragedy in itself.
Halo: Reach also managed to strike an exceptional balance between traditional Halo gameplay and what modern FPS games were doing at the time. This was largely thanks to armor mods, which gave players different abilities like active came and sprint. Though the addition of dedicated sprinting in Halo 4 did, ultimately, make the game feel more modern, fans were torn over whether or not it actually had a place in the franchise. The armor mod method is brilliant in a way. It adds the feature for those that want it but allows other players the slower-paced gameplay they wanted. It also adds more variety to the game in general, offering players more ways to actually play.
If it weren't for these reasons, Reach may not have the online community that it has behind it to this day. Sure, it doesn't have the player base of more recent online games, but logging into Reach will reveal a pleasant surprise. There are still a few thousand players logging into the game's online mode every day, making it fairly easy to hop into a match and take a trip down memory lane. Hopefully, this dedicated player base will migrate to the PC version when it releases. So far, the PC port has only received a few beta playtest, but 343 has released a first look of Halo: Reach on PC for those that are curious about it.