Very interesting for me to listen to this as compared to my particular experience with the PS2cular episode. I pretty much became aware of the wider world of games in 2007 (before then games were just a library of entertainment I could check out at the video store (also forgot entirely about Bullet Witch, which until recently existed only inside that video store dimension)), so was aware of more surrounding context for the choices you guys made composing this list than with the PS2 one (though I loved listening to that a lot).
exodus Halo spiel:
I prefer 3 as a single-player experience over Reach, but the important thing as far as what distinguished it as an Xbox 360 experience for me was certainly the multiplayer. You mentioned that 3’s innovations were really all achieved by Halo 2, which I think is mostly true, even talking about most of the multiplayer modes Halo became popular for, but 3’s introduction of Forge (combined with custom game mode features carried over from 2) seemed (from my limited point of view, again I was a youngster) to really inspire a lot of player creativity, especially once the Sandbox and Foundry levels were released in later map packs.
Garry’s Mod did this all first, and Reach arguably let you do even more with the Forge tools (and provided larger build spaces), but in my experience browsing custom levels when those games were new I felt a sharp decline in creativity and general weirdness in the transition to Reach. For my friends and me, the online repository of Halo 3 custom map/mode combinations were basically wonderland, you could find all kinds of bizarre stuff (bizarre as far as those tools let you go, which is not very, but this is all relative). Platforming, melee fighters, sports, racing, survival, puzzles—players stressed Halo 3’s mapmaking toolset to its limits, and you could tweak game mode parameters in a more precise/granular way than in 2. Again, Reach still had all these features, but it felt like the community making interesting stuff with it lost motivation, somehow.
I’m sure this is all particular to my experience (and my lack of experience playing more games at the time Halo 3 came out). Despite all of the above I wouldn’t even really call myself a Halo fan—I don’t have much more than nostalgic fondness for the series as a whole, and largely stopped caring about it when Reach came out. But I love Halo 3. When my friends and I reflect back on the stuff we would play on Xbox Live when we all actually had Xboxes, we don’t say “Halo,” we say “Halo 3 custom games,” like that was its own game entirely. It kind of was!
All that said I also think 3 as a single-player game has cooler levels, more fun weapons, better enemies, BETTER GRAPHICS, more memorable set pieces, and a cooler finale. I played Reach’s campaign with three friends about two years ago and remember shockingly little about it after the first level.