Also On: Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
I have had an incredible relationship with Halo over the past 15 years. I missed the hype around the original Halo but fell in love with Halo 2. Once Halo 3 came around, I was hooked. I put more hours into Halo 3 than most other games throughout my entire life. I loved Halo and was happy with how the series seemed to end with Halo 3. Then came ODST, which was a fun addition, and Halo Reach was an incredible prequel, but I did not feel a great need to continue the story. Then come Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, which unfortunately did not resonate with me much. I played both but never got invested in them the same way I used to be invested in Halo games. When Halo Infinite was announced, my reaction was pretty mild at first but grew over time as they showed off more of what was to come. After playing the campaign and spending almost 40 hours with the multiplayer, I came away disappointed by the campaign but completely hooked on the multiplayer, which left me feeling conflicted on the overall Halo Infinite experience.
The release details for Halo Infinite are unique, to say the least. The multiplayer component of the game was given a surprise release on November 15, ahead of the planned December 8 release date. The multiplayer is also entirely free to play on PC via Steam and the Windows Store and on the Xbox Series consoles. The campaign is scheduled to be released on the original date, December 8, and it will cost players $60 (or can be played for free if you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass). In an age where companies are dropping their first-person shooter campaigns entirely in favor of the multiplayer aspect, while still charging full price for their game, Halo is taking the reverse approach. To fund this new business model though, the Halo Infinite multiplayer is following the trend of using a paid, seasonal Battle Pass and offering paid cosmetic items within the online store.
At the risk of becoming the stereotypical ?old man yelling at clouds?, I had no interest in a free-to-play Halo game filled with microtransactions and absurd cosmetic items like Fortnite. I have never been one to go for that kind of game, and it was frustrating to think that the series I grew up loving was becoming something I have such disdain for. After my many hours in-game, however, I am happy to say that my fears were mostly unfounded. Shortly after launch, players began lamenting the incredibly slow rate at which the Battle Pass progressed, as well as limited game modes, and the inability to choose which mode you wanted to play.
343i responded quickly and increased the daily experience able to be earned through playing and made progression feel a bit better, and they announced that many fan-favorite modes like Fiesta and my personal favorite, SWAT, would be making a return near the end of December. They listened to the community and addressed the concerns, so I have faith that the game will continue to grow and improve. As for the cosmetics, there is still work to be done. Shoulder pads should be *one* item, not two separate unlocks. Armor dye should not be locked to specific armor cores. There are other issues, but so far, Halo Infinite seems to be taking their cosmetics seriously, and the items offered are all either steeped in Halo lore or something that looks like it belongs on your character. The cosmetic bundles in the store are rather expensive, but luckily they are just cosmetics, and if you choose not to bother with purchasing any, you still have access to the same full multiplayer experience as anyone else.
The choice to make the multiplayer free-to-play does not seem to have cheapened the experience at all, which I know was a big concern prior to release. Free-to-play carries a stigma, and I was very happy to discover that Halo Infinite still feels like a fully-fledged Halo multiplayer experience, and not an early access game (although prior to the official launch on December 8, it is still technically in ?Beta?). I have had an enormous amount of fun with Halo Infinite since getting started with it, and cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
The minute-to-minute gunplay in Infinite feels like the absolute best it has ever been. It is some of the best gunplay in any game period and is easily the best it has ever been in Halo. All of the movement and combat feels familiar to older Halo games but still modern. They have taken the best aspects of the previous games and streamlined them for the current market. The guns feel fantastic, the time to kill feels balanced, there is a counter for every weapon/power/playstyle and every strategy can be a valid one. I have had a ton of fun both in full parties and in solo queues. The current playlist offerings are ?Quick Play?, ?Big Team Battle?, ?Ranked? and ?Bot Bootcamp?. Quick Play is a standard 4v4 game mode with Slayer, Oddball, Capture the Flag, and Stronghold. Big Team Battle is a 12v12 mode that hosts Slayer, Total Control, and Stockpile. Ranked is another 4v4 with the same modes as Quick Play, but you are matched with players of similar rank and your games count towards your rank that season. You also start with a Battle Rifle as your sole weapon and have no radar on your HUD. Bot Bootcamp is basically a place for new players to hone their skills and practice playing alongside other live players in a 4v4 game, but only against the computer. The AI is decent enough, but won?t prove to be a challenge to any newcomers past their first game or two.
As I pointed out earlier, this relatively limited number of game modes and maps is set to be expanded upon in the coming weeks and months, so only time will tell how far Halo Infinite will grow from here, but I feel like they are working with a solid base and have the ability to continue rising. This has been the most fun I have had with a first-person shooter in a long time, and I have spent many late nights losing track of the time and playing game after game with some of the same guys I used to play Halo 3 with in High School.
Now, I have had less time with the Halo Infinite campaign, but have had more than enough to see all that it has to offer, which manages to be both too much and not enough. Halo Infinite ditches the entirely linear gameplay and storylines of the previous games to create an open world Halo campaign, complete with outposts to capture, assassinations to complete, prisoners to rescue, propaganda towers to destroy, etc. Halo Infinite feels almost like a Far Cry game with a Halo skin on it. Driving from waypoint to waypoint in the world and pulling up a topographical mini-map to find your next side quest just feels *off*, and it never clicked for me in my time with the campaign. Finding the same cookie-cutter outposts and fighting waves of enemies while raising fuel silos to destroy all feels decidedly not-Halo, and I could never shake the feeling that it was mostly padding out the rest of the game. The direct story missions can be completed extremely fast, and the game expects you to explore the world and complete the optional objectives, but once you have seen one, you have seen them all. There is very little information or meaningful dialogue/interaction to tie the open-world content to the main story, and that leaves it all feeling a bit like busywork.
In addition to the side content feeling empty and mostly meaningless in the grand scheme of the game, your time exploring the open world is spent mostly with the new AI replacement for Cortana, who is insufferable most of the time. Her ?witty? dialogue lands poorly at the best times, and downright incorrectly at the worst. It sometimes feels like they were trying to fill a ?joke per hour? quota with her, and it all just felt? off. Having your AI companion crack-wise less than a minute after an emotional story moment (that I won?t spoil) took me out of the game completely, and it happened much more frequently than it was probably intended to.
I appreciate the shift back to a smaller scale story, mostly contained to one Halo ring and mostly fighting against familiar, covenant-type enemies. One of my big complaints with Halo 4 and Halo 5 was the shift in enemy types and the reliance on the Forerunner-focused story. While that is all present here as well, Infinite finds a good balance between the storylines of the original trilogy and the storylines in 4 and 5. The Banished are a solid and varied enemy faction, and I enjoyed a lot of the antagonists in this game.
Halo Infinite really shines when you are doing the linear story missions. The missions and locations on Zeta Halo are very reminiscent of Halo 2 and Halo 3, and they all play very well. The opening two missions are examples of fantastic level design and combat interactions coming together in exactly the right way. The various suit abilities and powers you gain throughout the game help a lot as well, and bring new levels of movement and strategy to your combat encounters in the world.
The gunplay in the campaign is just as great as it is in the multiplayer, and I enjoyed the combat immensely. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the full release and playing the game again on Legendary. I was also looking forward to playing the campaign with friends, but with the delay of the coop aspects of the campaign until May of 2022 or later, that is something I will have to wait for.
While the open world and some of the characters did not really mesh with me, the main story is better than it has been in years. I would put it head and shoulders above Halo 4 and Halo 5, and as always, Steve Downes finds more and more character to bring out of Master Chief. I can?t imagine anyone else voicing Chief, and Infinite is his most personal outing yet. The story really goes above and beyond in places, and the score holds its own every step of the way. There were several times I felt my heart racing as the Halo theme music kicked in and Master Chief pulled off some impossible feat to save the day.
With all of the content on the table though, I am still baffled by the decision to split the campaign and the multiplayer up, and then charge for just the campaign. The inclusion of the campaign on Game Pass too makes it all feel like yet another piece of the puzzle to sell Game Pass to new folks. Everyone that I talked to would have happily paid $60 for the complete Halo Infinite package, but with the release of the standalone multiplayer for free, every single one of them passed on buying the campaign and just signed up for Game Pass instead. They will use Game Pass to play through the campaign, then either drop it and continue to play the free multiplayer, or they will keep Game Pass and play the other games the service has to offer (which I am sure is the intention).
All in all, Halo Infinite is a bit of a mixed bag. The multiplayer is on track to be the best it has ever been, but a lot of the campaign feels like an afterthought. There is a great, focused story there but it is sidetracked and bogged down in the attempts to bring it to the open world. A cluttered map and boring open-world missions fill the empty time in between the outstanding main missions, but the quality of those missions only serves to further highlight the disparity between the two. Those complaints, coupled with the fact that the campaign is the *only* part of the game that you have to pay for, make suggesting the purchase a bit difficult. Ultimately, what I will tell people is ?check it out on Game Pass?, and I think that is maybe what Microsoft wanted all along.
Note: Microsoft provided us with a Halo Infinite PC code for review purposes