Today’s the day millions of hardcore gaming fans have been waiting for. “Halo: Reach”–the newest installment of the Xbox 360’s multi-billion dollar sci-fi franchise–hits store shelves today. Except for the strategy spin-off “Halo Wars,” the “Halo” games have been exclusively produced by development studio Bungie. Not only does Reach end a three-year wait since Halo 3–the last tentpole Halo game–came out, it also marks the end of Bungie’s relationship with the series they created. Microsoft’s holding onto the rights for the franchise and recently created 343 Industries, a new division of Microsoft Game Studios, to handle any and all things related to “Halo” moving forward. Meanwhile, Bungie will be will be working on an all-new property in partnership with Activision which will appear on multiple platforms, and not just the Xbox 360.
If you’re feeling under-prepared for the latest wave of Halo-mania, here’s what you basically need to know:
Master Chief Isn’t In This One
The emerald-armored and gold-visored hero of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2 and Halo 3 doesn’t show up to say good-bye. Even though he’s essentially become the mascot of all of the Xbox consoles since Microsoft started making them, Bungie opted to bow out with a prequel that takes place on Reach, the planet where the series’ Spartan super soldiers got their start.
This Means War
Each “Halo” title has pitted players against the marauding alien collective known as the Covenant. But, more than any other game in the series, “Reach” feels like you’ve been embedded in a massive conflict. Even after the cutscenes showing the sprawling battles stop rolling, the amount of sheer on-screen chaos during gameplay sequences is enough to make you shellshocked.
“Reach” Offers More Than Just Run-and-Gun Action
Previous “Halo” experiences didn’t do much more than cycle a bunch of awesome weapons through your hands and point you towards an objective. There was some strategy but mostly it involved peeking out from cover and learning enemy engagement patterns. “Reach,” however, features all-new skills called Armor Abilities, which let you turn invisible, drop a holographic decoy or soar through the sky with a jetpack. Combined with levels that sport an openness new to the series, the changes make players feel powerful like never before.
Still, You’re Going to Lose
The Fall of Reach is a monumental but never-before-seen event in the series’ lore. Hardcore fans know that the outcome of the game’s conflict against the Covenant won’t turn out in humanity’s favor. The tone of finality that marches through the game makes the action all the more effective and resonant.
Yet, It’s the Best “Halo” So Far
You play as part of the Noble Team squad in “Reach” and their camaraderie makes the game’s narrative more affecting than the lonely solo journeys of games past. The story-telling’s more assured, the gameplay more varied and the multiplayer more chaotic than anything else Bungie’s ever produced. It’s quicker, leaner and boasts a great ending, too.