It’s finally time. Halo Infinite has been released and the Master Chief’s story can continue once again. I can’t deny that I have been more than a little nervous about the release of this game.
Through all the turbulent news that has been trickling out from insiders, the rocky gameplay reveal, and the developers’ own frustrations, there was a lot to speculate over. I didn’t want the six-year wait to end in disappointment.
Luckily, I can say that 343’s struggles have given us a true Halo game. While Infinite isn’t the perfect Halo, it’s definitely a return to form that begins to push the franchise in a new direction.
There is a lot to cover from the good, bad, and unfortunate but all of it comes from a place of overwhelming appreciation that the game is fun. And that’s all I initially could ask for.
Redirecting the Story
When 343 first took over the franchise, they promised to examine the Master Chief as a character from his tragic origins to his continued manipulation by the UNSC. Halo 4 was a decent start to this but that story focused more on Cortana’s rampancy, and Halo 5 didn’t have much of a story at all.
Halo 5’s lack of cohesive narrative and bombshell ending left many fans with questions and potential frustrations with how a follow-up game might look fighting Cortana’s army of Created.
To solve this issue, we skip the entire fight with Cortana. We instead pick up after the UNSC has been beaten to a pulp by the Banished who are a group that left the Covenant once they realized their ideologies were lies.
In a first in the series, we see Master Chief conclusively lose a fight. He is absolutely destroyed by Atriox and sent into the void of space to perish. Somehow, Chief lives for six months in space until Echo-216, a pelican pilot, finds him and brings him back to the fight.
I loved this. It was simple and left me with reasonable questions that would be answered shortly. I never felt out of the loop in this game for long because Infinite answers the questions it poses. It doesn’t rely too heavily on other media to tell its story.
You will learn about some of the atrocities that Cortana committed, you will learn about the Banished fight, and you’ll learn Cortana’s ultimate fate.
Everything made sense and was simple enough that it all felt reasonable. The writing is the best that I have ever seen from 343 and potentially in the series. The dynamic between Chief, the Weapon, and Echo-216 made me realize what the other 343 games were missing: lighthearted banter.
Both the Weapon and Echo-216 bring enough character and personality on their own that it helps to draw some personality out of the stone-cold Chief. I chuckled throughout this game from the one-liners and quips from Chief and the Weapon. I haven’t done that since Halo 3: ODST.
These interactions force real character development out of all three of these characters, and you can see how Chief is struggling with the events of not only the recent games but his entire life. He’s just been pushing because that’s all he knows, and events from all the way back in his initial training are referenced during this story. We see a greater distrust in Chief in his allies and clear signs of respect for those who fell in the line of duty.
We are even given new enemies that feel worth fighting (for the most part). Escharum is the current leader of the Banished because Atriox is presumably dead somehow. He taunts the Chief throughout the game, sends assassins after him, and gives Chief a scene that might go down in Halo’s all-time best. He is one of my favorite Halo villains so far.
And yet, 343 also introduced the Harbinger. We don’t get enough information about who this character actually is, but she is obsessed with awakening the Endless, who are supposedly worse than the Flood.
The middle section of this game centers around working around some obstacles that the Harbinger sets up for Chief so she can acquire the Weapon supposedly.
That doesn’t work, and she kind of falls to the back of the line until the very end, where we get one of the worst boss fights in the game as well. The Harbinger felt very much like traditional 343 character inclusion with little information or reason for her existence.
Despite that, Halo Infinite does a great job delivering a story that not only wraps up previous story threads but also expands character personalities, and begins to show where Halo could go next. The lack of next is part of my problem. I wish we could have trimmed the middle a bit and expanded on the Endless but I guess that will fall within 343’s 10-year plan for Infinite.
Combat Evolved, Again
Infinite acts as a soft reboot for the series and make Halo feel like Halo again. I already knew I was happy with the combat based on the tech preview, but the unlimited use of the equipment and unlockable upgrades help to make Chief a much more versatile force than he has ever been.
The grapple shot is so useful for scaling mountains, hijacking vehicles, or simply getting around the levels faster. I can’t wait to see what the speed runs for this game will look like with people flying around the map.
The open world of Zeta Halo is about everything I expected. It feels very similar to how Ubisoft tackles its open worlds but with a Halo spin which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I loved capturing FOBs, rescuing marines, and charging into Banished facilities, causing havoc like I was playing Just Cause instead of Halo.
I do have to say that I found it annoying switching grenades and equipment due to the navigational menus. It felt really unintuitive, and often I would throw a drop shield when I had wanted to use a threat sensor instead. However, I eventually just memorized my favorite two pieces of equipment, so it became tolerable.
Speaking of, the game will encourage you to use all of the sandbox to your advantage, from equipment and weapons to the fusion coil three rooms back that you carried just in case. I have never played a Halo where one or two weapons weren’t sufficient, at least not since the first game.
I played on Legendary, so every encounter felt like I either had to be super prepared or ready to improvise, especially when dealing with the contracts. I do have to say that while the current sandbox feels useful, it does feel barebones compared to other entries, which is unfortunate. However, I do prefer having a useful sandbox to a bloated and useless one.
My favorite over-world side missions were the ones where you had to take out a target and then acquire their special weapon to use whenever you want. These weapons can range from a close-range Stalker rifle to a Rocket Launcher that homes in on enemies.
These will challenge you to either charge in with your biggest guns or to scout the area sufficiently so you don’t get sniped the second you melee the enemy leader in the back.
Many of these side missions or objectives can earn you valor which is a way to unlock new weapons and vehicles that can be ordered at FOBs for use at any time. There are also a number of collectibles like spartan cores which allow you to unlock equipment upgrades and audio logs that talk about what has happened so far on Zeta Halo.
I was expecting logs that were on par with the cohesive story in ODST but what we got was something a lot more scattered and repetitive. I feel like I heard the same log about the Infinity crashing on three or four different accounts.
I almost have all of them at this point, and I really am not enjoying how tedious they are. It’s possible that story changes and the work from home directive caused some logs to be removed or other takes to be used as well. I’m not sure, but that’s how it feels sometimes.
Running around Zeta halo is a lot of fun, and I enjoy exploring the different sections as my marine army slowly begins to spread out from the FOBs. Seeing the downed UNSC frigates is creepy and disheartening while the mysterious rings and forerunner structures have me wondering what else might be waiting, but that’s part of the problem too.
As an open world, I feel like the world isn’t utilized to its potential. I have almost done everything in the game already after only a few days, and the open-world just feels empty with marine squads and FOBs padding out the experience. There is A LOT that can be expanded which is good but compared to other open-ish world games, it feels empty.
I am getting more playtime out of this Halo campaign on a single playthrough than any other, but I’m not sure it’s adding to my overall experience as much as it should. Even the levels that take place in the open world don’t feel memorable (for the most part).
Most of the memorable levels happen in linear sections of the game, which makes me feel like the open world is really just tacked on filler in the grand scheme of things.
For instance, there are back-to-back missions that have us take out 3 of the same objectives and then complete 4 of the same objectives and then 2 of the same objectives.
These sections were designed to pad the time and make some use of the open-world nature. However, I felt they were drawn out and repetitive, reminding me distinctly of some of 343’s level design in Halo 4. I think in time, 343 will learn to use Zeta Halo to its fullest potential, but right now, they are only scratching the surface of the possibilities.
New, Potentially Dangerous
The linear levels are a mixed bag as well. While they have some of my favorite Halo narrative deliveries, they are often the same room repasted room after room. I enjoyed most of them as standard Halo levels, though, because of the constant dialogue that is happening in my ear.
I didn’t mind fighting through the same rooms against the same enemies as long as the Weapon was being quirky and Chief was saying cool stuff. It really made me feel like I was playing the first game again, and that was nice to me.
Infinite also brings back boss fights in a big way. While Halo 5: Guardians was an example of how not to do bosses, Infinite shows how to do them in ways that matter both to gameplay and narrative direction. At best, these fights felt like they were personal, and at worst, they felt like a unique obstacle that needed to be overcome.
On Legendary, I was forced to revise my playstyle and figure out the best tactic to take down these baddies effectively. Some of them were chumps, while others had me scratching my head on how best to stay alive long enough to whittle away their shields. My favorite level in the game felt like a gauntlet where Chief was being tested by Escharum.
This level presented a conflict was personal because other Spartans had met their end here, and an objective with a personal value required Chief to survive. He wasn’t just surviving for himself here but fighting for people who had died already and those still struggling.
There is something that I want to cover because I haven’t heard anyone talk about it yet. Going forward, there will be spoilers, so you’ve been warned.
Halo Infinite wraps of Cortana’s saga and explains what happened in the UNSC’s fight with her. She convinced AI to blow up entire stations, obliterated an entire city and potentially a continent on Earth, and blew up a planet.
That’s just what we know. At the very end, she realizes that she is truly trapped and that the only way she could prevent Humanity, the universe, and the Chief from all dying from the hands of the Banished was by killing herself and leaving clues for Chief and the Weapon.
I loved the idea of Cortana planting little echoes of her final thoughts, and how they were displayed in game was beautiful. I think all of this was really good, and it paints her as a bad person that did one final good thing before dying. However, I feel like it might have been a little too sympathetic for someone who killed thousands and tried to control the universe.
We probably won’t have an idea of what Cortana’s legacy will be until the next story update, but if the Weapon takes her name as she is hinted to at the end of the game, I feel like that’s in bad taste. I like that all the characters were challenged in their beliefs in this game but let’s not forgive Cortana. She’s a tragic character, but that doesn’t mean we build a monument for her.
There is also the possibility that time travel is going to be used more frequently in Halo going forward, which, as a concept, I am not a huge fan of. The narrative has been reset in a way with plenty of directions Halo can go from here, but we will have to wait and see just where the story intends to go.
I just hope that 343 can continue to write fun dialogue and keep the story moving in new and interesting directions. We will just have to wait and see, though.
Halo Infinite reminded me why I enjoy Halo as a series. The sandbox is a heck of a lot of fun to play around with, and the story has me invested in Chief’s story for the first time in nearly a decade. While there are a number of things that can be improved upon, I haven’t stopped thinking about my experience with Infinite. Even if I stop playing the multiplayer tomorrow, I can see myself playing the campaign for years to come. 9/10