Halo is a universe many love, with games and books depicting humanity’s war for survival across the stars. It’s brought to life a fantastic cast of characters and villains, primarily centered around Master Chief, Doctor Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, and the Covenant. One of the most iconic tales told in Halo lore is how the Covenant destroyed the planet Reach, the United Nations Space Command’s fortress world, and humanity’s desperation to defend it.
The Fall of Reach – in books and games
Eric Nylund first told the story in the 2001 novel ‘Halo: The Fall of Reach’. In 2010, Bungie adapted the story for the video game ‘Halo: Reach’. The trailer for season two of the Halo TV show suggests Paramount will bring this iconic story to the silver screen (and the Silver timeline) when it releases on February 8. Now is a perfect time to look back on the two current adaptations and how Paramount might change it for a wider audience.
It’s important to make clear right away that Bungie’s take on the Fall of Reach storyline is completely different from Nylund’s story. The players follow a new team of Spartans, the Noble Team, and control Noble Six, as they attempt to hold the planet on the ground (apart from one mission) from the invading Covenant force. The 2001 novel takes the audience to the very start of the Master Chief’s journey, telling his origin and showcasing the Fall of Reach through the perspective of the space battle. Taken together, they create a complete story of The Fall of Reach.
The book starts with Master Chief’s journey and how he becomes an elite killing machine, showing the harsh upbringing and training. One of the best parts is when he meets Cortana for the first time, and the two work in unison to survive a harsh gauntlet fielded by ONI Agent James Ackerson (who hates Spartan IIs). It also shows the beginning of the Covenant War, though at this point there’s no explanation about why they’re fighting humanity. And, it sets the stage for what the games and future books would follow, and that’s the Covenant’s overwhelming superior technology and glassing strategy.
It did feature some excellent space combat, two awesome space battles with Captain Keyes, and one where the Chief and members of Blue Team infiltrate a Covenant warship. The infiltration mission allowed some of the Covenant technology to be explored but demonstrated why the Covenant was so deadly, as they managed to kill one of the Spartans. This scene might be replicated in the show as the trailer hints at it, which would allow for an in-depth look at a Covenant warship, which the games have done a handful of times.
Something else that will seemingly be replicated is the space battle above Reach. While the battle at Sigma Octanus IV is unlikely to make an appearance, the Battle of Reach will likely be adapted, as hinted by the trailer. Hopefully, Captain Keyes will take command of the Pillar of Autumn and demonstrate the Keyes Loop. The final sequence of the series of MAC stations and UNSC ships forming a battle line against the Covenant while Chief raced to enact the Cole Protocol was gripping, especially as a final section of the book.
On the ground, the story is told from Noble Team’s perspective, but throughout the game players will also interact with several civilians, showing the impact of the brutal invasion. This allows players to connect to Reach in a more human, way. As a super soldier with several guns and a suit of armor at their disposal, Noble Team is never scared, but the civilians are. It helps connect the player to the effects of the invasion at large.
This game put the focus on a group of Spartans, rather than just one. And throughout they banter with each other just as any squad would, thumbing their nose up to authority in badass moments but getting on with the job. All but one perish in ways that either demonstrate the helplessness of the situation or sacrifice themselves to aid in humanity’s eventual triumph.
The helplessness of humanity’s fight was captured perfectly as the Covenant glassed the surface in a visceral experience, causing destruction all around. The work they’ve just done to save New Alexandria was pointless for example. That’s immediately followed up with a more personal tragedy, and that’s the loss of Kat. It’s a gut punch that comes out of nowhere, hammering home the devastation everyone is feeling. This intensity and tragedy are conveyed perfectly in the score at key moments, composed by legends Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori.
One of the best things ‘Halo: Reach’ nails is the feeling of being overwhelmed. Not just in its narrative – though after the main Covenant fleet arrives this is certainly the case – but through gameplay too. Enemies will overwhelm the play with a lot of them present, and because all of them are happy to move about, it means the player can’t just rely on cover. The nature of being overwhelmed and the tragedy of the story are combined to a tee in the final mission, “Lone Wolf.”
With the ‘Halo’ TV show adapting the Fall of Reach, there are three critical aspects that the show must get right. Several changes will likely be made to accommodate the Silver Timeline, but there must be these constants present across the story, or else the adaptation will fall flat, disappointing many fans.
The first critical part the show must absolutely nail is the tone. Reach was a devastating campaign, a key human world full of not just military infrastructure but civilians too, none of which were given any mercy from the Covenant. It was brutal. Humanity suffered an overwhelming loss, and this must be replicated here too. There should be no tight loss or unlucky element. Humanity was outclassed on Reach, and it wasn’t even close.
It’s not just about the brutal loss. Another, harder, part to get right is to allow for the demonstration of the tenacity that let humanity win the war, that no matter the odds no one ever gave up or surrendered. There should also be some small wins here and there, as this will make the loss hit harder, but also prevent the overwhelming tone from becoming too dower, and tiring. It requires threading a needle to balance.
The show is unlikely to be a straight adaptation, so while Noble Team might have a small appearance, the focus won’t be on them. Instead, the team dynamic rests with Silver Team, and the chemistry between all of them showing a sense of camaraderie. And this is the final bit the writers and actors have to nail because the audiences have to feel invested in these characters. Obviously, that’s important on its own, but it’s especially key when adapting this storyline because it resulted in the deaths of a majority of the Spartans. Audiences need to feel their loss.
Depending on where Paramount sees the show going, the season could set the stage for further adaptations. A Halo Ring will be in the show, but how much it will play into season two is unclear. The mystical Forerunner structures don’t feature in either version of the Fall of Reach story. Paramount might take cues from ‘Halo: Combat Evolved’ and introduce the Flood in a hypothetical season three, ending as Master Chief finds the eponymous Halo. Parmount’s plans beyond season two are unclear, making speculation difficult.