Mission Title: The Pillar of Autumn (Halo: Combat Evolved)
P.O.V. Character: Master Chief
Stage Number: 11/52
The UNSC halcyon-class cruiser Pillar of Autumn drifts toward a strange ring-like object orbiting the planet Threshold. Captain Keyes stands on the bridge, talking to Cortana about the situation.
Captain Keyes: Cortana, all I need to know is did we lose them?
Cortana: I think we both know the answer to that.
The answer is 'no,' as a dozen Covenant ships arrive, having tracked the Pillar of Autumn all the way from Reach. Keyes wants to know how it's possible, since the ship took a 'blind jump,' and Cortana essentially responds by saying Covenant ships are faster, the Autumn wasn't exactly subtle, Cortana couldn't change course very much at lightspeed, not her fault, etc. etc.
|Captain Keyes on the Bridge of the Pillar of Autumn.|
And that's where we come in! For the first time in Chronological Halo, we're playing a new character, Master Chief John-117. He's a Spartan-II, like Jorge of Noble Team, and he's been in cryosleep on the Autumn presumably since Reach.
After we're woken up and shake off some of the rust with minor training exercises, the Covenant break onto the Cryo Control Room and we rush, weaponless, to the Bridge. Once there, Keyes initiates the Cole Protocol, which states that anything that might lead the Covenant to Earth must be destroyed; in this case, that means Cortana can't fall into enemy hands. Keyes takes Cortana out of the ship computers and hands her data chip to us. We need to get her off the ship and keep her safe from the Covenant. Meanwhile, once the escape pods are away, Keyes is going to try and land the Autumn directly onto the giant ring.
We fight our way through the ship alongside UNSC marines, fighting off Covenant boarders. The Covenant ships are attempting to destroy escape pods as they leave the Autumn.
Cortana: The Covenant are destroying the lifepods. They really don't want us on that ring.
We finally manage to make it to a Bumblebee escape pod and shoot away from the Pillar of Autumn as Keyes prepares to take the ship down to the ring.
The title of the mission up there might look familiar, but it's not a mistake. If you play the Halo games in the order of release, that means that the first level is called 'The Pillar of Autumn' and the second-to-last level (because of 'Lone Wolf') is also called 'The Pillar of Autumn.' They're like bookends, but for Chronological Halo you lose that effect.
There are also a few things that feel like inconsistencies, though there's probably some explanation in the books and other Expanded Universe materials to make everything line up. Here are a few of the issues you see by playing both 'Pillar of Autumn' levels in such close succession:
1) Cortana is treated like the ship-board AI of the Pillar of Autumn, an integral part of the ship, and doesn't feel like the recent arrival she really is. Didn't Noble Six just drop her off? It's been twenty days since the Autumn left Reach, but Cortana is already fully-integrated with the ship?
2) Keyes says the Autumn made a blind jump, but given Dr. Halsey's narration at the end of 'Lone Wolf,' the implication has to be that Cortana's random coordinates weren't actually random at all, but were instead culled from the Forerunner artifact Dr. Halsey was studying. That way the discovery of Halo is directly tied in with the data Cortana acquired before the escape from Reach.
Obviously these are minor things, the result of making the games out of sequence and expanding the storylines after the fact, but they do make you raise an eyebrow slightly when playing Chronological Halo.
But the best thing about the transition is that we already hate the Covenant. We've seen what they did to Noble Team and to Reach, so they're not just faceless invaders when they attack the Pillar of Autumn. We've seen what they're capable of, so the stakes are already much higher. This isn't the first level of Halo anymore; it's the eleventh, and feels like it from a story perspective. The tutorial sections don't feel as out-of-place as I was expecting, since we're playing a new character. It makes sense for Master Chief to need to shake off some of the rust.
It's good to get inside the Pillar of Autumn after seeing everything Noble Six went through to help it escape Reach, but it's a pretty standard 'escape the ship' level. In fact it's easy to get turned around and run the wrong way, causing it to be more frustrating than it was supposed to be.
Three Spartan helmets out of five.