How Reach's Story Would've Fit the Canon

By: Archilen
Date: 9/26/10 9:10 am Updated: 10/24/10 1:16 pm


In case it's unclear to anyone: I love Halo. I love almost every aspect of Halo: Reach. I have no problem with the game's campaign from a gameplay standpoint, as evidenced by how I always keep coming back to play it over and over again. Where the problem lies for me is not the gameplay, pacing, or level design. Or at least that's something I'm not going to discuss here. What I am disappointed with however, is the game's story and the inconsistencies that arise with it. The latter is what I am going to elaborate on, while leaving the former for others. This is not to whine or complain about anything, but to present something that could have been; an opportunity missed, if you will. What baffles me is how most of the inconsistencies in the game are of the avoidable variety; easily solved by a couple of hours' work.

The purpose of this post is not to rewrite Reach's story or make the narrative more engaging. Indeed, my intent was to keep the story as intact as possible while removing the most glaring inconsistencies. I'm not going to touch on the problems in the game's narrative, such as disjointed overall story or shallow characters, although some of the changes do lead in minor changes in the some story details. This is to make a point that Bungie could have done with far less retcons while delivering almost the exact same story as we see in the game.

Also, the title of this post is not strictly true. It is impossible to perfectly fit all of Reach's story into the canon as presented by The Fall of Reach. Doing that would require us to discard major elements of the game's story and level structure, mainly the presence of the Pillar of Autumn on Reach. In this hypothetical synopsis, I'm going to focus on some of the other major inconsistencies, namely Halsey being where she's not supposed to be and the timeframe the Covenant invasion, particularly its beginning. In addition, while I've been inclined to change some details in the game's narrative, I've kept it as similar to the original as possible for the purposes of this post. The Pillar of Autumn being drydocked is one of those details; it is, by all intents and purposes, impossible to have the Autumn be in space during the final mission without changing the structure and plot of the final level. I've been toying with the idea of a more climactic finale set in space, but as said, I'm going to keep this as close to the game as possible. Some changes to details would be needed, such as the events going on in the background, dialogue changes, etc. but nothing that would seriously impact the game's story itself.

Another thing: Most of the the time stamps in my timeline are approximates, and minor changes to them would not matter. I simply picked ones that made the most sense considering the transitions between each level. Also, while the date and time stamps seen in Halo: Reach seem to follow the Reach calendar, those in my timeline follow the basic UNSC military calendar. This is for two things: For the sake of clarity. It's easier to see the events in the context of the story presented in TFoR and FS, and by using the non-local calendar, the time of day is a non-issue, thus allowing us to have similar time of day as in the game regardless of what the time stamp shows. Quite frankly, I'm not sure why the time stamps are even needed in the game at all.

The Timeline

• August 29, 09:00 hours - Winter Contingency. Everything happens the same way as it does in the game. Now, the presence of Covenant forces of Reach on the day before the invasion conflicts with the book, but the general populace doesn't need to know about it until the invasion itself begins. The Covenant force itself can be significantly smaller than in the game, consisting of only one ship (a stealth corvette we see in the next mission). The UNSC doesn't choose to alert the entire planet just yet, possibly hoping to stop the Covenant in their tracks or simply to gather information on what they are looking for. ONI may be involved in the cover-up.
• August 29, 16:00 hours - ONI: Sword Base. A Corvette assaults the base, and it becomes clear that the Covenant are looking for something. Everything in the level itself happens as it does in the game. Here, we might learn from ONI that the Covenant being on Reach should be kept secret until more intel can be gathered due to the Covenant presence relating to top-secret things like artifact hunting. Halsey is seen in the end, but it may be mentioned that she's on her way to CASTLE base, where Red Team meets up with her the next day.
• August 29, 00:00 hours - Nightfall. We discover a Covenant encampment set up by the forces from the stealth Corvette we saw in ONI: Sword Base. The invasion force is a lot smaller than what we see in the game, small enough for the cloaking to be somewhat plausible. We might also learn how they managed to get past undetected, perhaps by exiting slipspace far outside the system and traveling to Reach at sublight speeds while in cloak. In fact, it would make more sense to have a briefing sequence in the opening of Nightfall, possibly set in Sword Base, explaining the whole "dark zone" and why isn't the UNSC able to detect the Covenant ground forces. I think the game seriously lacked exposition in this regard. But that's just the narrative-improving stuff I wasn't supposed to be discussing here.
• August 30, 09:00 hours - Tip of the Spear. In the opening, we learn that a massive Covenant fleet entered the system some four hours ago and laid waste to the most of the UNSC fleet, something that was elaborated on in the novel. As the players make their way to the Covenant spire - something they observed in Nightfall - it is revealed to be a slipspace navigation beacon that allowed the Covenant ships to make pinpoint jumps below the orbital defenses. By the time of the mission, they have managed to land massive amounts of ground forces to the spot, explaining the large amounts of ground forces in the area. Otherwise, the level's narrative and ending remains unchanged.
• August 30, 13:00 hours - The cutscene with Kat planning the op to destroy the super carrier takes place. At this point, most of the UNSC fleet and orbital defenses have been all but obliterated by the Covenant fleet, so the UNSC is indeed short on ordnance capable of destroying a supercarrier. This did not make as much sense in the game, as we had no idea that all of the UNSC's nuke-carrying ships had been destroyed in the first place.
• August 30, 17:00 hours - Long Night of Solace begins. The level doesn't require any changes at all.
• August 31, 05:00 hours - Exodus begins. The level is largely similar to the one in the game, with minor changes in dialogue, namely "this city's been under siege for the last five days".
• August 31, 10:00 hours - New Alexandria takes place. Not a whole lot different, except Noble Team may be evacuated by a dropship in the end instead of going into a bunker, because them being in a bunker for three days is largely trivial to the overall narrative, and them being extracted in the end allows for a smoother transition to the next level.
• August 31, 15:00 hours - The Package. The mission happens in the same way, except Halsey isn't physically present because she's in the Forerunner caves under Castle Base at this point. Instead, she appears in holographic recordings, or even live communiques to get her message across to Noble Team. Jun has to be gotten rid of some other way since he can't escort Halsey to Castle Base. Maybe he dies defending the data (which doesn't need to be Cortana or her fragment) or he has to stay behind to detonate the nuke. Still, something like that is a relatively minor detail that can be figured out.
• August 31, 20:00 hours - The Pillar of Autumn. Since I'm sticking to the game's level design, the PoA is on the drydock like in the game. However, this has to be explained one way or the other, since in TFoR, the ship had jumped out of the system over a day earlier. Maybe the PoA sustained damage in the battle, preventing it from jumping away, forcing it to land for repairs. Or maybe it set down to receive the data package from Noble Team. Either way,
• August 31, 23:00 hours - Lone Wolf. Nothing changed here.

So, here we are, left with far less canon inconsistencies than in the game itself. The ones that remain are the following:

1. The Pillar of Autumn being on Reach after 06:47 on August 30th, when it jumps away in TFoR. However, this can be justified by explaining the PoA's first jump wasn't successful and it had to exit immediately after due to slipspace drive/reactor malfunction or something. Not exactly an elegant way to solve it, but it's better than flat out ignoring the issue.

2. The PoA being able to fly in atmosphere. This one is unexplainable, and something we'll just have to cope with if we follow the events in the game. It could, however, be justified by having the tugboat rockets attached up until the ship has broken atmosphere, unlike in the game where they detach right after liftoff.

In the end, it all boils down to the question: Why did Bungie make all the changes, when there was no need for anything that drastic?