The Halo franchise stands as the most important and most influential IP under the Xbox brand. The 20th anniversary of both Xbox and Halo this fall also marks the release of Halo Infinite. Developers 343 Industries have a lot riding on Halo Infinite nailing its landing, as this is one of the most important games for Microsoft.
Just as Nintendo has Mario and PlayStation has Kratos, Master Chief is the face of Xbox, and has been since the console’s inception. For 20 years, Halo has influenced the FPS genre. It became Microsoft’s big swing into esports, and has been the ubiquitous mascot for the brand.
However, over time the luster of the Halo franchise has waned. Halo Infinite is Microsoft’s chance to rekindle the fire the IP once had, and capture a new audience. With the likes of Apex Legends, Fortnite, Call of Duty, and other giants dominating today’s multiplayer shooter landscape, 343 Industries must ensure Halo sticks its landing if they want the game to be part of the conversation once more.
The legacy of an IP
In 2020, we got a look at our first gameplay of Halo Infinite during Microsoft’s Xbox Games Showcase, the eight-minute trailer showcasing the narrative and gameplay. The developers have been vocal in wanting Halo Infinite to strike a chord with long time fans and feel nostalgic in many ways.
This is only natural. Halo has been integral to Xbox since its launch in 2001. Players were introduced to the now-iconic Master Chief and his green suit. The sci-fi epic had a visual aesthetic and in-depth narrative not commonly seen in shooters of the time. Halo: Combat Evolved also pushed a control scheme that reverberated through time and is still used to this day.
Although many were eager to see Halo Infinite gameplay last year, fans were left wanting more. The gameplay shown was unequivocally Halo. The developers were poised to show off the much more open and non-linear campaign the game offered. However, even seeing the Halo ring in all its might, something felt off. Concerns over graphical fidelity were also brought up. Players were hoping Halo Infinite would whisk them back to the earlier days of the series.
During the advent of Halo, the series was in the hands of Bungie, who went on to develop sequels, a spin-off, and even a prequel all in the span of a decade. Fans adored the narrative and universe building that was unfolding in front of them. This tale between a super soldier and his AI companion sucked players in.
Halo 2 became Microsoft’s tentpole title when Xbox Live launched and console players really dove in and adopted the online multiplayer functionality. In hindsight, Halo 2 set the standard of online matchmaking on console, with ranking, proximity chat, and other core features.
Filling very big shoes
Ultimately, Halo Infinite was delayed out of its initial 2020 release window. Microsoft and 343 Industries quickly recognized how important it was to have it be the best game possible. This was especially true since the reception to Halo has been tumultuous since 343 Industries took over.
Following the launch of Halo Reach, the series was handed to 343 Industries after Bungie and Microsoft parted ways. Since that time, the pressure has been mounting for the studio to deliver a title on par with the Bungie games. That didn’t happen right away.
Halo 4 was released with a lukewarm reception. Though, players have come around to it over time. Halo: Master Chief Collection had a rocky launch and was critically panned at first. To 343’s credit, the collection is much more stable and offers a lot to the community by way of legacy content. That said, Halo 5: Guardians missed the mark for many, and never truly recovered.
Halo and Master Chief have continued to hold relevance for players. Though, over time, we’ve seen other major titles in the shooter realm take over. Call of Duty has dominated sales and the install base year over year. Fortnite, while not an FPS, is still a noteworthy competitor for Halo. Apex Legends, Battlefield, and others are also crowding the space. Halo Infinite is 343 Industries’ chance to kick those doors back down and make Halo relevant to a new audience.
Getting back on track
Fresh off the heels of Microsoft’s Xbox + Bethesda E3 2021 Showcase, Halo Infinite left a positive impression on the community. Between the trailers shown during the showcase and the multiplayer overview 343 Industries hosted, the reception has been good. Halo Infinite has a more polished look than other recent offerings in the series. It’s also been reassuring to see series figure Joseph Staten return to Halo as Head of Creative at 343 Industries.
The real standout thus far is Halo Infinite’s treatment of multiplayer. In the overview, the studio discussed some of the more in-depth details players can expect from the game’s multiplayer. Seeing as though the competitive side of Halo has always been a draw, it is important for Infinite to deliver a tantalizing experience for players.
The footage showed frenetic gameplay, comparable to those early Halo days. The arena-based mayhem is being expanded with Big Team Battle, a promising spectacle with the incorporation of the Grapple Hook, new weapons, and vehicles. A major boon for the Halo community is the fact that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer will be free to play. The game’s seasonal Battle Passes won’t expire, so even fairweather players can return and continue to progress without losing anything. There will also be a multiplayer beta held this summer to gain feedback, and test services.
Adding to this, Halo Infinite will be launching day and date on Xbox Game Pass on both console and PC. The PC community will play a big part in the success of Halo Infinite, and having them integrated at launch is a significant deal. This holiday, Halo Infinite will be the most accessible Halo game ever as it will be available across console generations, PC, and where Xbox Game Pass is available.
The moment of truth
Although the E3 2021 showing of Halo Infinite was received with positivity, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Halo Infinite has a big hill to climb to not only speak to die-hard fans who would install the game anyways, but keep them around for the long haul.
The game also has to invite a brand new audience. Thankfully, the free-to-play model, which has worked for Warzone, Fortnite, and Apex Legends, could pull plenty of newcomers as the cost of entry is non-existent.
Halo is an important franchise. Its legacy can’t be understated. It’s helped shape the FPS genre and how competitive console games treat an online community. Though, that legacy might be lost on a younger audience. Halo Infinite must become relevant to that younger generation if it wants to keep the series going in the future. Halo meant so much to so many players in their adolescent and young adult years; that feeling of importance is key, and Halo Infinite is the chance for the studio and the IP to bring it back.
Halo Infinite is currently scheduled to release this holiday season. Nov. 15 also marks the 20th anniversary of the first Xbox console and Halo: Combat Evolved. If Microsoft wants to make the biggest splash this year, a release based around that date will be their shot.
The stars are beginning to align. When it comes to 343 Industries showing more of the game and building confidence before launch, I think Master Chief said it best: “I think we’re just getting started.”