Warning: This post contains minor spoilers for Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.
Master Chief is the hero of the universe, the ultimate bad-ass, capable of wiping out an entire armada of Covenant all on his own. He has already achieved legendary status by the time he comes out of cryo in the first Halo game. Regularly UNSC soldiers are awed and inspired by his very presence, and Covenant grunts fear him as a “demon.” Master Chief is so painfully awesome that he literally rides a broken chunk of spaceship through Earth’s atmosphere and lives to fight again. Bungie seems to deify Master Chief throughout the first three Halo titles. Yet Halo: Reach, along with ODST, manages to place Master Chief into a historical context that humanizes him while minimizing his role in the salvation of the galaxy.
Anyone with the faintest knowledge of Halo lore knows the fate of Reach (if not and you are spoiler sensitive, skip the next sentence). No Spartan soldier escapes Reach alive but Master Chief. The sacrifices made by the cast of Reach all contribute to, and are mostly necessary, for Master Chief’s later success. Similarly, the Chief is reliant on the success of the crew from Halo: ODST. If Vergil, the AI infused Huragok, had not been safely escorted by Sergeant Buck back to the UNSC, Seargeant Major Johnson would not have as much information to give to Master Chief regarding the Covenant’s plans for New Mombassa and information stored on their BattleNet.
Sergeant Buck also owes his survival to Noble Six and the Spartan soldiers of Reach, who escort him safely to his crew. Master Chief’s success is due indirectly to the work of his fellow Spartans. This is more directly the case concerning Noble Six’s mission to deliver Cortana to the Pillar of Autumn in Reach, the in which Master Chief is frozen in stasis. During a cut scene, Dr. Halsey emphasizes to Noble Six that Cortana chose her for the mission. This line inentionally mirrors Cortana’s statement to Master Chief in Halo 3: “They let me pick. Did I ever tell you that? Choose whichever Spartan I wanted.” In one way then, Cortana has actually picked two Spartans to carry the fate of mankind. Master Chief might not be so special after all.
The salvation of the galaxy absolutely relied upon Master Chief and Cortana working together. Once again, if it were not for Noble Six in Reach, Master Chief could never have defeated the Covenant and the Flood. Master Chief’s success depended on everyone who has sacrificed for him before the events of Halo 3. Arguably this has always been made clear in the earliest Halo titles - Master Chief is fighting a war after all. Yet it lacked the personal appeal. Halo: Reach forced me to reassess my perceptions of Master Chief. I now see him as one historically bound part, albeit a crucial part, of a far more expansive war. His success is not a validation of his godly abilities, but the completion of a moral duty he owed his fellow Spartans, making their deaths meaningful.
In many ways, Halo: reach retroactively makes Master Chief a more interesting and compelling character. I cannot help imagining what sort of camaraderie he may have had with Noble Six and other Spartan soldiers on Reach. With Reach, Bungie finishes off a piece of world building that perhaps should have been there from the beginning. It is a well executed adjustment of the franchise and hints at the narrative potential Bungie may draw upon when crafting their next series.