*Spoiler Alert* There are major spoilers in this article concerning the Halo storyline.
As a quick recap, here’s what we’ve discussed so far. Humans are extending their reach far into space and are colonizing other planets. Eventually, some aliens find them and learn that humans seem to be descendents of the ancient civilization they worship. Because of some conflicting information regarding their own religion, the Covenant leaders believe it would be in their best interest to completely exterminate the entire human population, and their mass genocide begins on the planet Harvest. This is where we left off last, and that’s where we’ll pick up today.
In 2525, the Covenant attack Harvest, and the humans fight back. It’s a long and bloody fight, and in 2526, the humans seem to come out on top. However, it’s one of those victories that really isn’t a victory, as humans face severe losses. Fighting continues on Harvest until 2531, so the fight really isn’t over for quite a while; when it is, the humans are the victors, but again, it’s not much of a victory.
There were several issues that did not play in the humans’ favor on Harvest, and this really affected the entire first portion of the Human-Covenant war. First of all, the humans were outgunned. The Covenant weapons and technology were based on weapons designed by the Forerunners themselves, to an extent. This made their weapons more powerful against humans than human weapons were against Covenant. In one Halo book, it is pointed out to the reader (through the thoughts of a Covenant member) that our ballistic based weapons were primitive and far inferior to the Covenant plasma weapons that simply melted away anything they needed. Here are some examples of humanoid weapons on the left and Covenant ones on the right.
Secondly, Harvest, and other colonies involved in the initial fights, was an extreme distance from Earth and the Inner Colonies. Let me break this down quickly. The colonies within a “close” proximity to Earth are the Inner Colonies; these included worlds in nearby solar systems, and because they were colonized first, they are usually the most developed economically. The Outer Colonies are farther away from Earth and aren’t as developed. Think of it as grouping the planets like you may have been taught in school. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are the “inner planets” relative to the sun, and the planets from Jupiter to Pluto (if you still count it) are the “outer planets.” For Halo, envision this on a multi-solar system level, rather than a multi-planetary level in one solar system. That may help you understand the relation of inner and outer colony worlds to Earth.
In any case, it’s tough to get military support to these Outer Colonies because of their sheer distance from Earth. By the time reinforcements got to Harvest, the Covenant attack was far underway. Another issue involved the humans’ slipspace drives. These engines could rip apart the fabric of space to make a sort of portal that would transport them much faster than the speed of light; similar to a black hole, in a sense. The only problem was that the ship’s reentry would be a few hundred thousand kilometers off target. When we’re talking a trip over multiple light years, this isn’t as insane of an amount as you would think. It might equate to being maybe a50 miles off course when taking your family on a roadtrip in 2013 terms; it would take a little while extra to get where you needed, but it would still be weeks, months, or years quicker than without the slipspace drives (or walking, using today’s analogy).
However, the Covenant cruisers could jump through slipspace and reenter within a kilometer’s accuracy. They never miss their target, and when they pop out in front of your planet, you just can’t mobilize your forces fast enough. The humans learned this the hard way. From 2525 to about 2535, the Covenant roll through the Outer Colonies like tanks, “glassing” each one as they went. (Glassing refers to the Covenant custom of using superheated plasma weapons to sweep the entire planet’s surface form orbit after victory, thus melting anything on the surface and turning it into a sort of glass. This made it nearly impossible to recolonize the world, and that solidified a victory for the Covenant; humans could never return to that world.) The humans can’t beat them to their next target, and when they get there, the human weapons are inferior anyhow. (Below is a Covenant ship reentering normal space after a jump.)
Their was one giant issue that plagued the humans worse than their weapons’ inadequacy. It was their lack of intelligence on the Covenant culture. What do I mean? Well, think about human wars over the past few centuries here on Earth; most followed some sort of pattern. For the American Revolution, soldiers lined up in rows and basically shot each other out in the open; it had been done this way for centuries. How would one counter this? Hide in the woods and use guerrilla tactics. How did armies fight in the Middle Ages? They used arrows, cannons, and catapults to thin out the crowd before they mobbed the city’s defenses. This was basically the only tactic that would work, and until a new invention would come along (gunpowder) to shake things up, that was how wars were fought.
The humans had no idea how to counter the Covenant, however, because they had never fought a war in this fashion; there was no template to learn from and use for adapting a tactic. As it turns out, the Elites were the species in charge of issuing commands on the battlefield; their mission orders came from the Prophets, but they decided how to accomplish the task. The Elite’s mindset concerning war is most closely comparable to the Japanese Samurai culture. It was dishonorable for them to run away from a battle, lose, or do anything to disgrace their family name. They would rather commit suicide than disgrace their family. Humans figured out how to use this mindset against the Elites… eventually. However, they didn’t figure it out soon enough.
Around 2535, however, the tide started to turn. Pretty much all of the Outer Colonies had been glassed, and their populations had been wiped out. As the Covenant advanced on the Inner Colonies, it became easier for humans to defend them since it was closer to the main military bases and production centers (Earth and Reach) and travel time was much shorter. By this time, some Covenant technology had been integrated into the human military, such as the addition of Jackal energy shield technology into the Spartans’ MJOLNIR armor. This made the Spartans’ armor more resilient, and the Spartans became even more unstoppable. With the new technology and the better resources thanks to the fact that battles were now being fought in closer proximity to Earth, it would seem that the humans would now stand a pretty fair chance, right?
Not yet. Going into 2536, the Covenant are moving into the Inner Colonies, and they’re still winning the majority of the battles. The Inner Colonies are starting to fall, and the humans’ time is running out; they must find a way to defeat the Covenant before they reach Earth. It’s interesting to note that at this point, the Covenant don’t actually know where Earth is; they’re searching madly for it, but the humans have enacted great protocols that have made it nearly impossible for the Covenant to get the coordinates they need.
Well, there really isn’t anything notable that happens in the next few years; it’s the same stuff until about 2547. The Covenant advance, taking out more Inner Colonies as they go. Dozens fall, and the UNSC realizes that their civilians and soldiers are losing hope. They realize they’re losing badly, so the UNSC does something to boost morale: they unveil the SPARTAN-II project. Why is this notable? Until this point, the Spartans had been a secret group; unless you needed to know about the Spartans, you didn’t. Only the high ranking officials knew about the program because of its ethics (i.e. kidnapping and augmenting children.)
However, in 2547, the UNSC gives part of the truth about the Spartans, and it works like propaganda for the wartime effort. They give the claim that the Spartans up to this point have killed thousands of Covenant warrior apiece. It’s a great morale booster, as the other soldiers (aside from some ODSTs) see the Spartans as heroes. The UNSC also make sure that any killed Spartan is listed as Missing In Action as opposed to Killed In Action; this prevented people from realizing that even Spartans, their heroes, could die. This gives rise to the phrase “Spartans Never Die,” that is encountered quite a few times in the canon. They wanted the public to believe that Spartans were invincible, or near invincible, and they would lead Earth to victory.
Now, the year is 2552; look, we’ve gone through 27 years of canon in this article! This is when things get really crappy for the UNSC. As I mentioned before, Earth and Reach are the two planets the UNSC was protecting the most; they knew that if the Covenant took Reach, the military’s largest naval base would be lost (naval in reference to spaceships rather than ocean vessels). If the Covenant took Earth, then all would be lost; Earth was the location of humanity’s largest population, government centers, many bases and factories, etc. For these reasons, they kept the location of Earth and Reach hidden.
In mid 2552, Captain Jacob Keyes helps win a battle against the Covenant at Sigma Octanus IV. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that the Covenant managed to stick a tracker to his ship sometime during or after the battle. Keyes naturally heads to Reach, as he’s supposed to, not realizing that the Covenant are tracking him there. They deduce the importance of Reach and decide to attack it next, and this is finally where the events of Halo: Reach come into play.
During this time, a team of Spartans called “Noble Team” investigates an attack on Reach, and they are suspecting the attack is due to insurrectionists; it isn’t. They try to hold off the Covenant, but they know it’s pretty hopeless. Eventually, Noble Team stumbles across Dr. Halsey, who is researching on Reach. She has information concerning the Forerunners that is quite vital; it needs to get off the planet, and Noble Team is tasked with getting it there. Their mission is to get the data chip to the Pillar of Autumn, a UNSC ship that is stationed on Reach. The Covenant are in the final stages of their victory, so Noble Team is in a rush to get the chip there on time so that the Pillar of Autumn can leave Reach and head for safety. (Below is a picture of Noble Team.)
Noble Team succeeds, they get the data to the Pillar of Autumn, but in the end, the Covenant glass Reach; it’s all gone, and they start advancing toward their next target. It’s a terrible loss for the UNSC because this was a huge naval installation; luckily, the all important Pillar of Autumn survives the battle.
What happens to the Pillar of Autumn? Well, there’s an important story behind PoA. This ship, along with Captain Jacob Keyes and the artificial intelligence Cortana, was chosen to undertake a vital mission; possible the most important in human history. The UNSC realized there was absolutely no way they could defeat the Covenant with the way they were fighting at the moment; something drastic had to happen. This drastic measure was to take PoA into Covenant territory, attack a Covenant ship without destroying it, hijack it, then head back to the Covenant homeworld (which they hoped to locate during the mission) in the damaged ship “for repairs” in an attempt to dupe the Covenant into not realizing humans were aboard the ship. Then, when they reached the homeworld, the humans would find the Covenant’s leaders and use them as hostages in a “let’s make peace, and we’ll give back your leaders” kind of deal.
Sound crazy? That’s because it was, but the humans pretty much had no other choice. This plan didn’t quite go into action as it was supposed to, however. PoA was docked at Reach when the Covenant struck, and it was an unexpected attack. They were docking at Reach for last minute supplies and modifications before heading on their near suicide mission into Covenant territory, but the attack on Reach changed the plans. After PoA received the data chip, the AI, Cortana, made a slipspace jump off the planet. Cortana had been studying a Forerunner artifact found during the battle at Sigma Octanus IV, and she had a hunch there was something out there, wherever “there” was, that she needed to find. So, she made a slipspace jump to that location even though it was against protocol, and lo and behold, there was something there!
What did she find? Tune in next time to find out, as we move into the events of the next game in the series.
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