I'm assuming that both of these works are canon, but there are a few plot conflicts that I'm having trouble resolving. Is there anything that explains these differences in plot? Does the game completely retcon the book? Do the book and game conflict or is there some way to convincingly explain the differences to ourselves?

In the book:

The UNSC forces prepare for their mission with Cortana and Master Chief participating in various drills while Reach is seemingly not under attack. The plan is for them to go on a mission to capture a Covenant prophet. Before the mission can begin, the Covenant pull a complete surprise attack. There's some action involving attempting to disable the orbital defensive MAC cannons. Ultimately the planet is very quickly destroyed. The Pillar of Autumn barely escapes.

But in the game:

There's drawn out military campaigns and land battles over what seem to be days and weeks. The spartan "Red Team" (Master Chief's team) is alluded to be taking part in civilian evacuations. The Pillar of Autumn is sitting in dock waiting for you at the end of the game. Presumably they leave right away for Halo with a covenant fleet in pursuit.

This difference is particularly glaring, from the Halopedia article.

Captain Keyes orders the Pillar of Autumn back towards Reach, but the Master Chief convinces him to allow the Spartans to continue their mission by finding a damaged Covenant ship to capture and take to Covenant space.

It seemed at the end of the game that Reach was written off and done for. They were escaping a covenant attack to initiate their important mission. Given that why turn around or be at all surprised that another Covenant fleet shows up to attack Reach?

8 Answers 8


There was a re-release of the book in August 2010 with some more text that helps reconcile some of the differences. You can read about some of the changes here along with the discussion on the associated Talk page. Essentially the games are higher priority canon than the books, so they changed the book.

  • 1
    can you summarize the changes that help reconcile the plot lines?
    – Doug T.
    Mar 21, 2011 at 19:19
  • I'm not qualified, as I don't own the book. I recall hearing about this back when the game (which I did play) was released.
    – user1027
    Mar 21, 2011 at 20:06
  • I have the 2001 version, and the difference is rather pronounced. I had played the game and read it on the wiki, so after reading the book, it was kind of confusing. An easy answer is that the novel gets to do what's interesting from a literary perspective, while the game has to be fast-paced. Mar 21, 2011 at 21:52
  • @Teknophilia, maybe you could summarize the differences in an answer?
    – Doug T.
    Mar 22, 2011 at 20:51
  • @Doug, sure, I'll skim over the book some more and try to give an answer. Mar 26, 2011 at 0:16

To put it simply yes, the game does retcon the book. Not nearly as much as you may think though, in fact the only change (other than some things other media had already retconned which I won't go into here) is that at some point during the space battle described in The Fall of Reach the Pillar of Autumn lands in Aszod rather than making an immediate slipspace jump. The other apparent conflicts are resolved through secrecy.

I'll go through things in detail but you may prefer to just look at the Halopedia timeline: http://www.halopedia.org/2552#August

There is some ambiguity as to when exactly certain events take place in relation to each other since the game timestamps in Eposz Local Time (Reach has a 27 hour day) while the book timestamps in Universal Standard Time. I think it's safe to assume that the calendar dates themselves match though.

The game starts on July 24, 2552 and the actual Fall of Reach and end of the game occurs on August 30, 2552. The events in the game prior to August 30 are unknown to any of the point-of-view characters aside from Halsey and possibly Cortana (she wouldn't necessarily know what her fragment at Sword Base knows). Covenant military actions prior to the Fleet of Particular Justice arriving (the massive surprise attack from the novel) were highly focused. Their goal was to recover Forerunner artifacts, as Halsey states at the end of the ONI: Sword Base mission. Attempting to access the Forerunner ruins is the only reason for the Covenant attacking Sword Base. Later we see them clearing out population centers, the reason for this is not explicitly stated. However Halo: Contact Harvest reveals that the Covenant have devices called Luminaries to detect Forerunner artifacts. Luminaries also detect humans as Forerunner artifacts, possibly they're just trying to cut down signal noise.

The point is that the fighting was quite localized, even the Covenant fleet that shows after the Long Night of Solace is destroyed just continues to operate exclusively in Eposz where all the planet's Forerunner sites are. Localized events can be covered up, no matter how devastating. In fact with major communication relays being knocked out the game's events practically cover themselves up.

One of your specific objections is Red Team being deployed on civilian evac ops. Jun mentions this at the end of the New Alexandria mission which takes place on August 23. All the Spartan-IIs (including Red Team) are not gathered to be given their mission to capture a Covenant ship until August 27.

Another objection you might have after looking at the timeline is that Halsey outfits the Spartan-IIs with MJOLNIR Mark V on August 29 and is then extracted from Sword Base by Noble Team on the same day. Jun does remark on August 23 (end of New Alexandria mission) that the Covenant own Sword Base. However I don't think it's unreasonable for such a facility to have secret entrances that Halsey may use to stealthily return to the Forerunner site and complete data extraction. Considering how vitally important Halsey regards the information she would certainly think it worth the risk.

Then that brings us to August 30, 2552. The Fleet of Particular Justice shows up and events play out just as they do in the book while Carter, Emile, and Noble 6 head to Aszod. The only retcon is that the Pillar of Autumn lands in Aszod at some point to recover the Cortana fragment.


I believe it was just the dev team for Halo: Reach not doing their homework. They wanted to tie in Noble Team's existence to Master Chief to please fans that didn't get their MC fix in ODST.

In the 2001 copy, it says Cortana is on-board Pillar of Autumn at 0400 on August 30, 2552 performing shake-down of all systems. Halo: Reach has Cortana stowed away on Noble Six's armor at day-break. I'm not sure about the details of Reach's rotational characteristics, but in the level Nightfall in Halo: Reach, it's night time at 26:30 (don't ask me how a standard Military calendar has more than 24 hours) so I don't think mid-morning sun would be out at 0400. (I only say this because in the 2001 novel, it has daybreak at 0630 on page 45 when John and other S-II are doing a training exercise).

A minor discrepancy I can look past, but it doesn't end there. According to the 2001 novel, first contact with Covenant forces happens at 0447 hours on August 30, 2552 with a detection of slipspace movement made by station Fermion. The game has first contact being some time before July 24, 2552. This would mean that John and Spartan-II's would be being briefed on their upcoming special mission to capture a Prophet nearly a month into the Battle of Reach (August 27,2552 [p.239])

ANOTHER conflict is Dr. Halsey being at SWORD base on August 29th while also being present at the MJOLNIR Mk. V test on the same day. Again, I think it was just the dev team completely ignoring the novel which I think is a slap in the face to fans that appreciate the mythos of the series.

The game also has the Pillar of Autumn docked in the shipyards in Aszod at 16:52, over 11 hours after the cruiser has been engaged with the enemy in-orbit around Reach. 16:52 is also nearly 10 hours after Pillar of Autumn had jumped out-system according to the novel.

A side note, Pillar of Autumn arrives at Halo at 0647 hours on August 30, 2552 in The Fall of Reach while in The Flood its not in the Threshold system until at least September 19, 2552. Leaving the crew on the Pillar of Autumn in canon-limbo for nearly 20 days.


In the book, Cortana and John are on the Pillar of Autumn as it is leaving the atmosphere of planet Reach and is off-world when the planet comes under attack by the Covenant fleet. The UNSC is swiftly beaten and the Pillar of Autumn barely escapes. A Spartan team is sent back to the planet to defend a generator there, the Pillar of Autumn never returns to the planet.

In the game, Reach is attacked and fighting on the planet goes on for days (at least). At the end of the game Noble Six (you) delivers Cortana and the location of Halo to the Pillar Autumm, which promptly leaves you behind to die on the planet.

One or the other can be right; not both. The game takes priority, plus I like that story better.


The book states that Captain Keyes used the Pillar of Autumn with assistance from Cortana to engage several covenant contacts in orbit while Spartans were on board, however it never tells of how in the game Halo Reach, that the Pillar of Autumn had taken off when Cortana had not even been initialized into the ship yet.

Bungie had made some quirky errors in designing their Pillar of Autumn level.

  • 1
    I believe the explanation there was that Cortana was already on-board, the AI they were carrying was another fragment of Cortana that was going to be re-initialized into the main AI with vital information
    – The Fallen
    Nov 2, 2012 at 19:50

The answer Bungie gave for the discrepancies reflected that they didn't want to sacrifice the story of the game to serve canon.


Even if you'd played as every Spartan involved in the operation as set out in Fall of Reach, it wouldn't be a fun game. There were only two Spartan missions in the Battle of Reach, out of which you could probably squeeze four missions if you tried hard enough.

You could play the Pelican drop, but there wouldn't have been a space component, not really. As originally told, the naval engagement was a slaughter, not a battle per se. The Pillar of Autumn was the only ship of the line that survived long enough to confirm its own kills, so you couldn't have squeezed the space combat in.

As it stands, you have, in canonical order,

  1. [Red (Ground) Team] Pelican Reentry
  2. [Blue (Space) Team] Zero-G mission to destroy the Nav data
  3. [Red Team] Base defense
  4. [Red Team] Assault on the Covenant Carrier
  5. [Red Team] Base defense and CASTLE fighting retreat

Which is really only about half a game. You could add in the events from after the events of Halo (Halo: First Strike for those of you who are paying attention), which really only adds two missions

  1. Assault on the Covenant Carrier
  2. Assault on the Covenant asteroid ship

Even then you come up short. You could reach waaaay back to the Eridanus missions for some shieldless encounters, eking out one more mission

  1. Eridanus Infiltration

But on the balance, there isn't enough content to make a full game. Since they already have to invent extra-canonical material, it's not a far jump to tweaking the existing canon to fit the game.

Plus, who really wants to play a game in which you've already read the best possible outcome, and all you can do is fail to measure up to that standard?


They could've made the games with spartan III's. Some hypothetical group used by Col. Ackerson and make the game with that. There was ground action on the entire planet. Plenty of source material and you could've made it fit into the already established canon.

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