With the Xbox Games Showcase having come and gone over the last few days, a lot of the dust is beginning to settle and we’ve come out of the event with a much better understanding of what Halo: Infinite, the long-developed follow-up to the somewhat maligned fifth installment Halo: Guardians, actually is.
It was clear by the promotional push that Xbox still considers the Halo brand a mammoth property that they’re prepared to bank on and hope that history repeats as it did almost two decades ago when Combat Evolved became a system seller and turned Master Chief into a household name overnight.
So here’s what we know about Halo: Infinite in the wake of the Xbox Games Showcase and after some time behind closed doors with some of the key developers at 343 Studios.
A BIG OPEN-WORLD FOR HALO
Since its initial reveal, an open-world direction for Halo: Infinite has been rumoured and largely assumed by the industry. It seemed like a natural progression, but it came with concerns that the developer might be tempted to turn the series into a service-platform and try to capture lightning in a bottle just as Bungie did with their Destiny franchise.
We got to see that this isn’t the case, Halo: Infinite still appears to be a single-player, narrative-driven experience, it’s just that it takes place in an open-world playspace that is several times larger than their last two campaigns put together.
THE GAME HAS SIDE QUESTS
Like all open-worlds, Halo: Infinite looks likely to boast a number of side quests that Master Chief can tackle in his pursuit to take the ring back from enemy control.
As seen in a number of screengrabs of the game’s TacMap, a number of objectives appear on-screen briefly but long enough for eagle-eyed fans to begin making some assumptions.
One reads ‘Marine Rescue K’ which could serve as another throwback to the infamous ‘Halo’ mission from Combat Evolved where Chief scours the alien surface for his stranded marines who are under Covenant fire. Another simply reads ‘Okro Vagaduun’ which many are guessing could be a kind of assassination side quest that sees the Chief thinning the Banished ranks one-by-one.
Whatever the case, it looks very likely that there’ll be even more to do for Master Chief in Infinite than originally thought.
THE GAME TAKES PLACE SOLELY ON THE HALO RING
During a brief Q&A with members of the development team, we did ask whether the game would indeed take place entirely on the ring or not.
“Well, we showed you last year that the Pilot found Chief floating in space near the ring,” associate creative director Paul Crocker began, referring of course to the ‘Discover Hope’ teaser that first introduced us to the so-far nameless pilot.
“To be honest, the game is focusing around Chief’s adventures on the ring itself, there are bits in between but it’s mostly on the ring.”
Though this isn’t exactly a huge surprise, Halo: Combat Evolved took place almost entirely on Alpha Halo and given they’re really trying to recapture what made Combat Evolved so special, it’s no surprise to see they’re retreading that familiar ground in a more modern way.
THE PILOT SERVES AS A REPLACEMENT FOR CORTANA
Though he’s still steeped in mystery, the nameless Pilot we’ve seen present in both the Discover Hope trailer, which is said to be the game’s opening, as well as the gameplay demo is said to kind of serve as Cortana’s replacement, Chief’s man-in-the-chair if you will, in Halo: Infinite.
Not only that, but the Pilot is very much an analogue for the player in that he’s just a regular, normal guy who isn’t a universe-conquering war machine like John-117 and watches his galaxy-saving exploits almost through a window, just as we do. It’s clear his is a very human story that gets wrapped up in Chief’s need to save the world time and again, and that’s relatable.
The team described the Pilot as the most human character they’d ever written, which will be a nice change of pace from the military-types Chief is known to keep in company.
ESCHARUM IS ONE OF THE GAME’S BIG BADS
Warchief Escharum is the Brute responsible for the Banished’s annexation of the ring that Master Chief aims to take back. We’re to assume he acts as one of Atriox’s right hands and will act as a villain for at least a portion of Infinite’s campaign and he sure is menacing.
As Chief boards one of the anti-air guns to disarm it, the doors shut as the hologram cuts a hulking figure. During a stirring monologue, complete with tremendous audio cues, Escharum calls out Master Chief, declaring him his last gladiatorial conquest and a worthy challenge.
Unlike Atriox, Escharum is a completely new creation for Halo: Infinite and we’re curious to see the ins and outs of his rise to power.
THE GAME IS A SPIRITUAL REBOOT
A term bandied about a lot by the development team is ‘spiritual reboot’ and it certainly suits the vision of Halo: Infinite which, in a lot of ways, returns the series to its roots, going so far as to recreate that awe-inspiring, head in the clouds feeling of stepping onto the ring for the first time.
That said, the game doesn’t abandon the story founded up to this point. Despite the maligned direction of Guardians, the team are leaning into it whilst tying it to the off-shoot series Halo Wars where we originally witnessed the emergence of Atriox and his Banished.
What it does with existing characters like Cortana, who is likely the ‘Harbinger’ Escharum speaks of in his manifesto and Locke, who’s ill-fate seems hinted at in one of the game’s toy lines, remains to be seen, though it’s clear that they’re not shying away from their missteps and are refocusing Infinite as a Master Chief story.
THE GRAPPLESHOT IS REAL
Another minor detail noticed in the game’s art in the lead-up to the Xbox Games Showcase which served to validify some earlier rumours was the presence of Master Chief’s ‘grappleshot’ tool.
There are purists out there who don’t even like the idea of the Chief sprinting so I can only imagine how they’re responding to him being able to slingshot himself like a tank on a rubber band. That being said, it looks like an exciting and fun way to navigate these open and vast fields of play. Not only that, but it also adds an extra layer to the game’s combat as Chief is able to drag in items, such as fusion coils, and pitch them at the Banished.
So, it’s multipurpose and it’s guaranteed to make getting around in Halo: Infinite a treat, especially when they’re aiming to flank unexpecting bad guys as we saw in the gameplay reveal.
IT’LL RUN AT 60 FPS IN 4K AT LAUNCH
One of the areas that the demo for Halo: Infinite incurred much of the wrath was in its visuals, which seemed to be a bit of a letdown to those expecting a real leap forward for Halo, especially on a console deemed the ‘most powerful’.
We’ve learned since that the Xbox Games Showcase demo is apparently several months old and wasn’t even running on an Xbox Series X, which seems astounding all things considered. That said, despite its failings, it’s apparent from the get-go just how crisp the game’s framerate is.
Digital Foundry has done a pretty informative video that runs down a lot of the issues in the demo from a visual viewpoint, deep-diving the double-edged sword that is dynamic lighting which provides a bit of hope for the game going forward, especially with ray-tracing support coming sometime after launch.
Halo Infinite launches this holiday for Xbox Series X, Xbox One and Windows PC.