It’s a rare and gutsy move for a franchise to shift its focus away from an iconic – and more importantly, marketable – protagonist in favor of exploring some tangental element of the gameworld. Before the unique aesthetic or hallmark location that identifies titles like Fallout or BioShock, an identifiable hero can make or break a franchise. Certainly, games such as Halo or God War or Devil May Cry would somehow be made lesser by the absence of Master Chief, Kratos or Dante...Without their familiar brand of blood-letting, the series would inevitably stumble and falter, right?
Or would they?
In addition to the recent announcement that the Devil May Cry reboot will be dumping it’s white-haired, red-cloaked demon slayer for a younger, less identifiable iteration, rumors continue to circulate that future titles in the God of War franchise may do away with the face-painted Kratos altogether…Now, however, these series need only look toward Halo: Reach for the nod of approval that the strategy can work. While Halo Wars did part ways with series’ mainstay, Master Chief, it also ventured into a completely new genre, the RTS. Halo ODST never managed to feel like a fully fleshed title, a brief, self-contained and ultimately insubstantial chapter in the Halo universe that fans would hardly consider an essential part of the canon.
But with Reach, Bungie has told an epic story of tragedy and invasion without the iconic figure that had previously driven the core experience forward. Yet, as we battle through the final, dramatic moments of Reach, alongside our fellow comrades in Noble Team, we’re forced to ask ourselves an important question: Do we even miss Master Chief?
The answer, quite frankly, is no…Oddly, the lack of the green-clad SPARTAN seems to have both clarified and focused the story. Where the Chief’s journey often bordered on the confusing and utterly incomprehensible – virtually requiring the Halopedia to keep the details straight – the shift toward a more grounded, character-driven experience has proven wildly successful. Throughout the course of Reach, you’ll no doubt come to bond with your ill-fated teammates, and the sense of world creation – now rooted in a single, collapsing bastion for humanity – pulls the player into the narrative far more effectively than any scenario set against the dull, purple walls of a Covenant cruiser. Factor into this a vastly improved engine and a number of design choices that make the combat considerably more harrowing, and you’ve got an experience that eclipses lesser titles in the franchise.
While we do miss the singular bond between the Chief and Cortana, the vestiges of Reach’s story, heartbreaking and more tightly told, leave Master Chief at the very fringes of our imagination, floating through space until the inevitable Halo 4 reunites us all…In the meantime, with so many of us here at G4 blasting our way through Reach, we thought we’d pose the question around the office and see what the others thought…
Do you miss Master Chief?
“Didn’t miss him for a second. I like Master Chief, but he’s an invincible cipher at this point. He’s never going to die, he’s a gaming icon, and he’s utterly predictable because once a character reaches that level of commercial recognizability, it’s rare to see his handlers do anything interesting with him ever again. Reach uses unknowns who are by definition doomed, and essentially replicates the blank slate of Master Chief with Noble 6....The placement of Reach in the timeline also allows it to dovetail into the opening scene of Halo 1 and creates a nice self-contained narrative loop for the Bungie era of Halo. Where the series goes from here will inevitably be seen as a separate endeavor, as it should be.” – Matt Keil
“I’ve only played around 10 minutes of Reach so far, but as a fan of ODST, I think not having Master Chief has really widened the whole universe in the best possible way. The story isn’t just about one singular character’s journey, but a refreshing variety of characters, narratives and different personalities. In a way, it’s gotten more human for me, knowing that there are different roles that we can play in the world. That being said, I still miss Master Chief but that’s because I have some sort of weird crush on him.” -- Moye Ishimoto
“I don’t care about no Master Chief! I follow the stories in most video games I play, but not Halo. I’ve completed Halos 1, 2, 3 and I really liked all three games, but I don’t think I’ve watched a single cut-scene all the way through in any of them. I don’t even get why Halo has cut-scenes to be honest. It seems to me the story goes like this: I’m a dude with a lot of guns, and these aliens want to kill me. I murder them. Sometimes, I drive a Warthog. The End. It’s probably because I don’t care for Sci Fi as a genre, or because we never see Master Chief, but I just do not give a rat’s ass about his absence. I mean, I’m a dude in a suit of power armor in Reach, so what’s the difference? (I’m not proud of these views.)” – Stephen Johnson
“As a diehard fan of the Halo series, I am thoroughly enjoying being able to experience the universe through a new set of more developed characters. Bungie has evolved not only as game makers, but also as story tellers and the emotional tale of Reach is proof of that. By breaking away from the Master Chief storyline, which I am still a fan of, they have been able to shake some of the pre-conceived notions gamers have about a Halo game and give fans a new and reenergized experience.” – JP Shub