My experience mirrors yours, it seems. I went in expecting a fun relatively brainless military scifi romp and Reach sort of fails at that.
I mean the gameplay is ok-ish. Enemies are certainly on the bullet spongey side of things, but you are quite bullet spongey too, so it sort of evens out (at least it avoids the Call of Duty campaign syndrome of being basically a cover shooter but without an actual cover mechanic, shields mean you can run around much more) but that was in normal…given that I need about 3 mags of the base human rifle to take down an Elite in normal difficulty, I can’t even begin to imagine how tedious it must be on higher difficulties. There’s also some frankly bullshit enemies that seem to be there for the sole reason of making you grab that rocket launcher that’s conviniently lying there and blast them with it, which is at best lazy level design. I don’t want to give Reach too much criticism for that because most late 2000s and early 2010s linear shooters had bullet spongey enemies (it was one of the rare things that made CoD campaigns stand out, enemies that went down with three or four bullets) but it’s still fairly meh. I sort of like the enemy variety, but guns seriously lack any semblance of impact, the only ones that do feel good are also the most boring ones (the human shotgun and the anti-material rifle). Armor abilities are either mostly useless in singleplayer (still don’t get how camo is supposed to be useful) or tedious to use.
But the real problem is on a narrative level. Halo has never been a highlight of video game writing, but it’s sort of competent at what it does, usually, but Reach is just devoid of any kind of narrative stakes or interest. Even as a non-Halo fan I know what is going to happen, I know that Reach will fall no matter what and the last mission objective has been memed enough times for me to know that I’m not gonna make it either. There’s no stake. There’s not even a feeling of tragedy or impending doom : the Covenant win the Reach campaign by…just having more people on the field and spamming ships in orbit, there’s nothing else around it.
John-117 and Cortana aren’t exactly paragons of interesting writing but the pair works quite well narratively while Noble Team lacks any semblance of cohesion or interest. You are a nameless goon, and the game plays its military scifi tropes extremely straight (the commander is a tough-but-caring guy, the tech specialist is an even-tougher-and-calm girl, the heavy weapons guys is a brute-with-a-heart-of-gold, the sniper guy is MYSTERIOUS and EDGY and the close combat guy is basically Ghost from CoD, so an empty shell with a skull on it), so straight that you can tell everything coming a mile away, from deaths to level designs. The only remotely interesting character is Jorge, who could have been an interesting figure with his personal relationship to the planet itself, but for some unfathomable reason he’s the first Noble member to die (while it would have made a lot of sense to have him make a last stand with you, it’s HIS world after all.)
Kat’s death is sort of interesting for how abrupt and unexplained it is, but then it’s back to business.
Seriously I feel like the only reason why this game is remembered that way by Halo fans is the same reason why some Halo books are considered as good scifi by the fans, i.e it ends on a massive fan service note and sort of ties the overall plot together (though it kind of falls flat when you play the games in order, because I was like "yeah that’s the AI and ship from Halo 1…so? I already know the plot of Reach and I know Noble 6 ain’t gonna make it because she ain’t in Halo 1…) but there’s little of substance behind it. It’s efficient, but it’s very bland.
Phew. That’s a lot of words for a decade old game.