What's the biggest change being made for Bungie's final Halo game? Some would argue that the visuals, powered by a brand new graphics engine, make the greatest impact. Sure, Halo: Reach looks better than any Halo before it -- but that's not what I was taken aback by. Others would argue the lack of Master Chief makes Reach feel different from its predecessors. Yes, the Spartan-III jumps a bit differently, but that doesn't define Reach's new emotional direction. No, the biggest game-changer is this: the Covenant don't speak English.

Before you angrily hit the "Back" button on your browser, hear me out. In the previous Halo games, the Covenant were like movie villains; they could even quip one-liners at you. Some would even squeal, comically, as they ran away from an overpowered Master Chief. However, because Halo Reach isn't a story about a triumphant victory -- rather, a tragedy against an overwhelming alien force -- Bungie was left with a challenge: how do you reinvent the Covenant -- familiar to a generation of Halo gamers -- and make them threatening again? You make them truly alien.

While it may seem like a rather cosmetic change, this creative decision represents a maturity in Bungie's storytelling abilities. The developer wants you to take the story seriously -- so much so that the flaming helmet included in the $150 Legendary Edition can't be used in the campaign. (Apparently, having someone's head on fire in cutscenes drastically reduces its gravitas.)

So, what about the gameplay? It's immediately, recognizably Halo. The arcade-style pacing and feel seems fully retained in Reach, with players able to jump, throw grenades and quickly switch between weapons. For fans, it should be comforting to know that the formula doesn't seem to have been changed much. There are a few nice flourishes, like executions -- sneaking up behind an enemy and hitting the melee button (now RB) starts a quick third-person death animation. The armor lock ability, which effectively creates a quick impenetrable shield, is awesome -- and it's great to see the computer AI use it on their own, as well. (The campaign can also be played cooperatively, with two players on a single system.)
The addition of space combat is much-welcomed, giving Reach a greater sense of scale than the previous Halo games. The battles look ripped from a Star Fox, especially when you do a barrel-roll. Waves of enemies will jump into the field, and an objective marker on the HUD will show what you're supposed to defend. Health works identically to the main game: once your armor is depleted, the hull will start deteriorating. Stay out of fire, and your armor will replenish. While conceptually very exciting, the gameplay showcased here seemed relatively straightforward -- we didn't see much in terms of enemy variety, for example. The final game may hold more depth, but Space Combat Evolved this is not.

I've only seen a small portion of the Halo: Reach campaign, but I'm definitely eager to see more. Halo fans are probably already sold on the game, even those that skipped ODST. It may not reinvent the wheel like the first Halo, but Reach's refined gameplay and story should provide reason enough for even non-fans to be excited.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.