Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chronological Halo, 9/52: The Pillar of Autumn

Previously on Chronological Halo: Noble Team's mission to Sword Base was a ruse to get them to Dr. Halsey, who was much less dead than they previously believed. She entrusts Noble Six with the AI she has been using to study the Forerunner artifact buried beneath Sword Base, believing that the knowledge it contains could be what humanity needs to defeat the Covenant.

Mission Title: The Pillar of Autumn (Halo: Reach)
P.O.V. Character: Noble Six
Stage Number: 9/52

If the knowledge locked within Dr. Halsey's AI can save humanity, we need to get it off Reach. That means we need to get it to the Pillar of Autumn, the only off-planet transport on this continent, but the Pelican we're taking there has suffered heavy damage. Carter has taken even worse damage, and as we go to the cockpit to check on him he says the skies are too jammed with Covenant for us to last much longer.

Carter: It's a ground game now.

So we jump off the Pelican with Emile, and Carter draws off the pursuing Banshees. We manage to find transport in the form of a pair of Mongooses, but as we set off down the road orbital insertion pods fall from the sky, delivering more troops.

We can't destroy this thing!
These are followed first by one Scarab, and then a second. Weaving between the enormous walking tanks, we come to another obstacle: the bridge ahead is out!

What good is a bridge if it has no gap in it?
On the other side of the broken bridge, we have to abandon our vehicles. Making our way past a Wraith and Covenant infantry, our road leads into a narrow canyon. Inside the canyon, the way is blocked by a third Scarab. Emile is right: we don't have the firepower to get past it, and neither does Carter's Pelican. But as Carter brings the Pelican around, he tells us that he does have what it takes to destroy the Scarab: he has the mass necessary.

Carter: You're on your own, Noble. Carter out.

Carter flies the Pelican into the Scarab and it's enveloped in a massive fireball and falls off the cliff-side. Afterwards, we emerge from the canyons to a see a massive battle happening between Covenant and UNSC forces amidst the wreckage of the ship-breaking facilities. As we work our way through the battlefield, we're contacted by Captain Keyes of the Pillar of Autumn. He's tracking us and is preparing to receive the package we're bringing: Halsey's AI.

We work our way through the skeleton of a broken frigate, through the factory complex, and toward the drydock where we'll meet Keyes. As we emerge at the docks, a marine tells us that they've rigged the mass driver to cover the Pillar of Autumn; without the covering firepower of the big gun, the Autumn will never make it to orbit. Emile volunteers to man the gun while we clear the landing pad for Keyes's Pelican.

When he arrives, we hand him the package: Halsey's AI. At that moment, Phantoms arrive and destroy one of the Pelicans. Keyes's Pelican is forced away from the platform, and Covenant troops drop onto the mass driver cannon. Emile takes some of them out, but is overwhelmed by a sword-wielding Elite; he tumbles off the gun, bringing the Elite that killed him to its grave.

Keyes's Pelican drifts back toward the landing pad, and a marine beckons for us to jump onboard so we can get out of here. But without someone to man the gun, we know the Pillar of Autumn won't have the cover needed to reach orbit.

Noble Six: Negative. I have the gun. Good luck, sir.
Captain Keyes: ...good luck to you, Spartan.

We're on the last stretch now, as we fight our way up from the landing pad to the mass driver cannon.

Walk softly and carry a Very Large Gun.
Once we reach the mass driver, we charge up the cannon and use it to destroy Phantom dropships as they approach. But there's one last difficulty: a Covenant Cruiser is moving into position, charging its laser, and the mass driver can't crack its shields! As the plasma beam is about to fire, we target the only location on the Cruiser not covered with armor: the plasma port.

There's a huge explosion, and as the Cruiser falls from the sky, the Pillar of Autumn rises against the sky and is soon gone, safely bearing its crew and Dr. Halsey's AI, Cortana, to an unknown future.

The credits for Halo: Reach begin to roll, and the Pillar of Autumn exits slipspace a long, long way from Planet Reach. It's moving slowly toward a large ring-like structure.

Captain Keyes: Cortana, all I need to know is did we lose them?
Cortana: I think we both know the answer to that.


There's a lot of variety in this mission: a Mongoose chase weaving between multiple Scarab tanks, huge battlefield setpieces between vehicles and infantry, and even a short but significant turret sequence in the control seat of a mass driver cannon. It's a long mission, and feels like something of an endurance test.

You can see the module containing Cortana on Noble Six's back during this mission, which is a nice touch.

Carrying Dr. Halsey's AI, Cortana, on our back.
By the end of this mission, we've lost two more members of Noble Team and Noble Six is left in a precarious position. We don't know what happened to Jun, whose mission was to escort Dr. Halsey to Castle base. We're on our own. If you're participating in Chronological Halo without having played the other games, you may be surprised when Noble Six refuses to get onboard Keyes's Pelican and instead chooses to man the mass driver. If you have played the other games, this is the moment you've been expecting the whole time.

Noble Team's final mission was successful in the short-term, because the Pillar of Autumn has escaped Reach with Dr. Halsey's AI, Cortana, onboard. But there's a lot of Chronological Halo left (forty-three levels!) to find out if Noble Team's mission did what Dr. Halsey hoped it would: save humanity from the Covenant.

My biggest complaint about the level is more of a technical design choice I happen to disagree with. If you play this level with Campaign Scoring on, you won't get the credits sequence at the end. This wouldn't be a big deal, but it means you also don't get to see the scene with the Pillar of Autumn approaching the ring-like object and hear the dialogue between Keyes and Cortana. It's pretty significant, but if you're following along for Chronological Halo, you'll hear it again anyway, of course.

This level is something of an endurance test; the sheer distance you have to travel to reach the Pillar of Autumn is pretty staggering. It's Noble Team's last mission, and keeping the Phantoms and Cruiser at bay while the Autumn makes its escape feels sufficiently desperate.

Four Spartan helmets out of five.

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