Halo Infinite is nearing the horizon, and it carries a heavy burden on its shoulders. The sixth core installment in Xbox’s long-running franchise incorporates new gameplay and design elements to elevate the series and expand our perceptions of what Halo can be. It’s no easy task. Halo has had such an impact on the FPS genre on console over the generations, and all eyes have been on 343 Industries to see if Halo Infinite could live up to such high expectations.
2021 marks the 20-year anniversary of Xbox and the Halo series. This makes the launch of Halo Infinite so important as it not only serves as a bookend to the legacy formed over two decades but shapes the future of the franchise. Halo and Master Chief are iconic and stand as the face of Xbox. To compete with other successful tentpole games in the genre, Halo Infinite couldn’t pull any punches.
As a long-time Halo fan, I’ve seen the franchise go through its hills and valleys over the last 20 years. After the middling Halo 5: Guardians, I felt Halo Infinite needed a surge of innovation to bring myself and other franchise fans back into the fold. Much to my delight, Halo Infinite blends nostalgia with modern gameplay conventions in both its campaign and multiplayer suite. With a narrative solely dedicated to Master Chief exploring the open sandbox of Zeta Halo, the Halo Infinite campaign largely delivers an experience I’ve been craving.
Over on the multiplayer side, Halo Infinite supports a foundation that’s undeniably Halo through and through – even with its oddly structured Battle Pass and progression system. Halo Infinite has reminded me of why the Halo franchise is so special and unique: it provides a level of fun and creativity that can’t be found elsewhere.
A mean, green, Banished-fighting machine
Halo Infinite picks up the story 18 months after Halo 5. Master Chief, the battle-hardened beacon of humanity, is directly within the crosshairs of splintered Covenant faction known as The Banished. Master Chief makes his way to a new ring known as Zeta Halo in search of Cortana and to stop Banished War Chief Escharum from firing Installation 09. Our hero is joined by a reluctant UNSC pilot codenamed Echo 216 and the assistance of a new AI companion known as Weapon.
The entire focus of Halo Infinite is placed on the relationship Master Chief has with Cortana and the war that’s boiling over with The Banished. Halo Infinite is more than a sequel, it’s a central point where the progression of the core Halo story meets with the Halo Wars spinoff.
We see Master Chief at his most vulnerable in Halo Infinite. He is isolated away from those he’s trusted the most. There’s no Cortana or Blue Team supporting him in battle. This ragtag group of Echo 216 and Weapon are all Master Chief has and there’s clear trepidation from Spartan 117.
Echo 216 brings a very human perspective to the story. He’s not a high-ranking, brave military figure. All he wants is to go home and get away with the war. He constantly questions Master Chief, asking when enough is enough. How much war can humanity take before we must accept defeat? This dynamic opens up some of the best moments from Master Chief.
The VO and score of Infinite are responsible for many of the game’s dramatic strong points. Steve Downes delivers compelling lines as Chief that certainly resonated with me. These are then coupled by the beautiful score that helps make a scene stand out to the level unseen since Halo Reach.
Bare you fangs
Opposing Master Chief and co. are The Banished. This faction is led by Escharum, who steps in during the absence of Jiralhanae Warmaster Atriox. Whereas the Covenant feared Master Chief, dubbing him Demon, Escharum romanticizes the inevitable fight between Master Chief and himself. He takes great privilege in hunting our hero down and relishes the thought of dismantling the perfect soldier.
The Banished play an interesting role in Halo Infinite as the central antagonist. Without the Covenant, the Flood, or Prometheans, Escharum and The Banished stand firm as the central enemy force against Master Chief. This is the first major intersection that sees threads of the core Halo series cross with Halo Wars. The Banished were first introduced in Halo Wars 2. However, the game does enough to establish the chess pieces so their involvement isn’t confusing for anyone who missed out on playing.
The events that unfold are gripping and layered. There’s no shortage of lore and backstory of The Banished and UNSC to sink your teeth into. Anyone invested in the Halo story will find a lot of compelling content in Halo Infinite. However, 343 Industries has been transparent about Halo Infinite being a game that continues to grow and expand.
With that in mind, Infinite does end with multiple threads left wide open. Although the central narrative on Zeta Halo is actualized with a beginning, middle, and end, the story is far from over. Without a clear roadmap, I am left wondering how story-based content will be delivered over the next year. As far as the package available on day one stands, I did want a bit more of a conclusive end cap rather than an overt setup for future content.
A nice ring to it
Taking my first steps on the gorgeous Zeta Halo, I was immediately transported back to 2001. So much of Halo Infinite’s open-world is drawn extensively from Halo: Combat Evolved’s Halo and The Silent Cartographer levels. Only this time, we’re seeing a fully realized version of the sprawling environments and Forerunner architecture with a day and night cycle. While Halo Infinite does feature a linear core narrative, the map of Zeta Halo is chock-full of side content to take part in.
You’ll find Forward Operation Bases occupying areas of the map, opening fast travel. These will unlock the locations of High Value Targets, captured UNSC soldiers to rescue, and other activities. Additionally, you’ll be able to accumulate Valor by completing activities. Valor can be used to unlock new weapons and vehicles to use on your next mission. Audio logs, skulls, and multiplayer cosmetics can also be found. The integration of multiplayer content is an interesting addition. It’s a compelling mix of content to seek out in this open sandbox.
For the first time ever, Master Chief has a skill tree with upgradeable equipment. Through the campaign, you’ll unlock access to the Grappleshot, Thrusters, Drop Wall, Threat Sensor, and Repulsor. Players of the multiplayer beta already know what to expect. In the campaign, each piece of equipment can be upgraded to unlock new perks, like a stun perk for the Grappleshot.
Though, with how much love and attention there is put into the open sandbox, linear interior locations left me wanting more. Some Forerunner structures feature the same layouts as others. It does become a bit repetitive to go from one monster closet to the next while being asked to unlock the next door by finding a Power Cell elsewhere.
I need a weapon
Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer beta is available to all Xbox and PC players. However, I believe it’s important to touch on this as the complete package is now arriving. The multiplayer has been available to play since Nov 15 and has already seen a few substantial updates and its first major event.
Halo Infinite’s multiplayer offering is as compelling as one could hope for from a competitive viewpoint. The gunplay is smooth and just weighty enough to feel like traditional Halo. The incorporation of a sprint mechanic is easy to adopt and doesn’t deter from the arcade-shooter stylings fan hoped to gain. Even the arrangement of power weapons and equipment adds a lot of dynamicity to each mode. This includes the Grappleshot, which even in the campaign is a gamechanger. Whether pulling a nearby power weapon towards you or grabbing onto an enemy vehicle, the Grappleshot is the best new feature in Halo.
At launch, there is a current catalogue of 10 maps across the Quick Play and Big Team Battle playlists. Most feature impressive layouts and thoughtful designs. Plus, the multiplayer mode includes standard Halo game modes like Slayer, Oddball, and Capture the Flag. Despite the small assortment, I am still enjoying myself playing on each map and game mode after dozens of hours.
The thing I’m constantly reminded of is that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is pure gaming fun. It’s taken me back to my highschool days of running home and jumping on my original Xbox to play Halo 2 with friends. This is the return to form that the competitive Halo community has been asking for.
Changes beyond launch
Halo Infinite has been positioned to be the biggest Halo yet in both its campaign and multiplayer. With that, there’s plenty of room for the game to grow. On the campaign side, more content, both supplementary and core, can be added to continue Chief’s story. Though, how that rollout may shape out remains to be seen.
Halo Infinite’s multiplayer has faced criticism on its the Battle Pass and progression system. Gaining levels, unlocking cosmetics, XP Boosts, and more are all gained through Challenges versus performance. Challenges take away player agency, dictating which game modes need to be played and how. Challenges such as Kill 5 Spartans with the Gungoose’s Grenade Launcher in PVP are counter-intuitive to the rest of the game. Historically, Halo has always focused on enabling players to be as creative as possible. The progression system needs to better reflect that, rather than confining players. Halo Infinite’s first event, Fracture Tenrai, can also be improved. Pacing and the spaced-out six-week rollout is far too strenuous for a player base to dedicate to new cosmetics.
All this is to say that Halo Infinite has a very strong foundation. 343 has already proven to be listening and have acted and improved the ways players gain progression online. It’s a start but the overall stickiness of the multiplayer will be dedicated by meaningful changes and the continuous addition of modes, weapons, and maps.
Halo Infinite is like a celebration 20 years in the making. The core gameplay is deeply rooted in the DNA first spawned by Halo: Combat Evolved and improved across generations. 343 Industries has shown a firm understanding of what makes Halo unique against other games in the genre. Master Chief is back in a prominent way and the Xbox ecosystem is stronger because of it.
Modernizing Halo with an open-world sandbox and bringing live service elements to the campaign and multiplayer is new for the franchise. Both the studio and fanbase are travelling down uncharted territories, meaning not everything is going to fire on all cylinders. Progression and Battle Pass advancements can be improved over time. What’s important is that Halo Infinite’s core foundation hits in a way that’s riveting. It’s reminded me of Halo’s importance of games and the fun it can bring to an online community.
Halo Infinite’s campaign is available on Dec. 8 on PC, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One.
A review copy of Halo Infinite was provided by the publisher for review purposes.