Halo Reach-ing: Searching For Answers in Halo’s Scrambled Canon
Around the release of the first Halo game, sci-fi author Eric Nylund worked with Bungie to write Halo: The Fall of Reach – at the time, the official, authorized prequel to the first game. I found it an enjoyable read, and think it’s worth checking out.
That said, Microsoft appears to have been fine with letting someone else author the events surrounding the destruction of Reach as long as they weren’t trying to make money off it themselves. The result is a vast, obvious difference between some events in Halo: Reach and Nylund’s novel. There are plenty of contradictions I personally noticed from finishing the game and the book, but I want to avoid any that would also be obvious spoilers. So here’s a brief highlight:
- In the game, Reach falls over an extended week-long ground campaign. In the book, Reach is glassed in less than a day, following a lopsided space fleet battle.
- In the book, the Covenant discovers Reach following a previous battle, and promptly attacks. In the game, a significant Covenant force has secretly been on the planet for up to weeks prior to the first level.
- In the book, the Master Chief and his squad represent the last remaining Spartan soldiers. In the game, Noble Team is either an unaccounted addition, or from an entirely separate program altogether.
- In the book, the Pillar of Autumn aborts its secret mission and returns to fight in the space battle around Reach. In the game, the ship hasn’t even left drydock yet.
- In the book, Master Chief is fighting aboard a space station before the Autumn escapes. In the game, he’s cargo awaiting his introduction in the first Halo.
The lads at Halopedia and similar fan sites are naturally having a shit-fit trying to make all these loose threads tie together. Thing is, the games’ collective continuity makes sense if they are the only point of reference used. It’s when you add tie-in media, like Nylund’s book, that things get confused.
So the simplest solution is that Eric Nylund’s novel is suddenly no longer a part of the official Halo story. But that’s throwing out three books worth of previously official backstory on a whim, not to mention the time and effort he personally invested in writing it. And if true, then why reprint his contradictory novel for the upcoming game release? And also hire him to write the journal for the Limited Edition?
The simplest answer to every question or contradiction here is money. Reach needed to become a major engagement, not only in importance but also in scope, to accommodate levels of a video game. Nylund’s book is getting a reprint because it’s additional revenue capitalizing on hype already generated for the game release. There are more Spartans than there were originally, or additional programs to include more, because Microsoft now intends to exploit Halo as a powerhouse franchise. You might as well ask why Spartan soldiers at the beginning of the Halo story (in Reach) can use armor abilities that Master Chief never saw later (Halo 1-3), or why the Chief suddenly can dual-wield guns in Halo 2 but never had the thought in Halo 1. They’re new additions to freshen up gameplay for a new game release. The answer is still money.
Furthermore, it’s not like this is new practice for Bungie. Marathon ends with the player having fended off the Pfor invasion and watching Durandal escape in a stolen alien vessel. Marathon 2 suggests that sometime after Leela informs you that Durandal’s ship left “20 minutes ago,” he turns that thing around, kidnaps you without your knowledge, and wakes you from stasis seventeen years later at the exact point that the first game’s ending screen left off. And the colony you successfully defended at the end of Marathon is now destroyed at the beginning of Marathon 2. The comic scene calls this “retconning.” I call it “The George Lucas Maneuver.”
I think this poses a serious question as games make the transition into franchises and consistent narrative universes. Is it the company’s responsibility to guard and respect the story as established in previous games, or are they free to do whatever the hell they like with it? Legally, creatively, the answer is the latter. But is that fair? Is it right to take Nylund’s work and say it no longer applies? Is it right to redesign Dante after four games, or give Samus a personality that might not fit the previous games, especially if so many people have identified with and invested in the character or the world? For example, would you be as excited for Half Life 2: Episode 3 if it was a major departure from, and didn’t conclude the story of, the previous Half Life games?
Or is “canon” just the realm of nerds who just like connecting dots that may or may not have ever been intentionally linked? There’s certainly a strong precedent for successful game series that don’t follow a linear, or even connected, timeline (see Prince of Persia, Call of Duty, Mario, Zelda, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy). Is a continuous story really necessary in the games industry?
Is a franchise the sole property of its creator (like Lucas treats Star Wars) to do with however he or she sees fit, or once enough people care about and invest in that creative world, does it become something more communal?