Halo fans are fickle. The Halo franchise, approaching its 20th anniversary, has had a tremendous impact on the gaming industry. It also means a great deal to millions of people. But unlike other long running franchises that solely debate character development and story direction, Halo has an incredibly rich, competitive multiplayer component. And, as it has evolved greatly over the past two decades, fans have debated every nuance. From kill times, to weapon handling, loadouts, equipment, and yes…sprint (please let this end), fans have shouted from every rooftop, and crowded every online space, to let their opinions ring out.
Of course, this usually brings into question the experience of the one doing the shouting. What is their experience with Halo? Are they a good player? How long have they been playing and how often do they play? Are they a competitive player or someone who just plays socially? What is their favorite Halo? All of these questions and more and thrown around in an attempt to offer some sort of validation to opinions, and as you can imagine, the debate usually rages on from there. Now that said, context is important to understand where a player’s opinions are coming from.
But at the end of the day, the simple fact is this. All of us love Halo for different reasons, and we all want it to be the “best” it can be. And regardless of what you personally believe about any of the Halo games, so do the talented people developing them. This brings us to Halo Infinite. The latest entry in the franchise we adore, the first in six years, and one with immeasurable expectations on its shoulders. I played the technical preview extensively, and below I will offer my full breakdown. As is customary for a Halo fan as I described above, I will offer a quick resume.
I first played Halo CE on the original Xbox kiosk the day of launch (November 15, 2001). I’ve told this story many times. I was in Electronics Boutique paying off my Gamecube which was set to launch three days later on November 18th. I had no intention of buying an Xbox. On my way out, I saw the Xbox kiosk and this new game “Halo” that looked interesting. I picked up the now infamous Duke (the original Xbox controller) and played the start of “Arriving on Halo”, the second mission. If you’re too young to appreciate the gravity of what Halo CE brought to the FPS genre on console, I’ll just say it was revolutionary. I was enthralled, and couldn’t put the controller down. I eventually left, but couldn’t get the game off of my mind. Telling my girlfriend at the time about it, we went back that night and she bought me an Xbox with Halo CE as an early Christmas present. Let’s just say the Gamecube became the housing community for the dust bunnies in my apartment.
Since that moment, I became a local tournament level player in Halo CE and Halo 2, hosted LAN parties, have been a community champion, amassed a wealth of Halo collectibles, and logged thousands upon thousands of hours into all of the games. From the original Halo CE demo disc that I still have sealed, to partaking in every single Halo beta/tech test, and every midnight launch, I’ve been there every step of the way. It is bar none my favorite franchise in gaming and it will always hold a special place in my heart. So going into this weekend’s first Halo Infinite technical preview, I cleared as much off of my schedule as possible, loaded the fridge with Red Bull, and settled in. I have a lot of thoughts. Let’s get to it.
Menus and UI
While not the most important aspect to a Halo game, as it’s the first thing you experience when logging on, I’ll begin with the menus and UI. The main menu is rather simplistic and straight-forward. Given this being a multiplayer suite, that’s a good thing as it allows you to quickly party up and see who’s actively in your fireteam. The addition of showing each Spartan individually on the home screen is a nice touch as well. Keep in mind, as the multiplayer component of Halo Infinite is free to play, it will likely be separated from the campaign and thus have its own menu.
Customization of your Spartan and weapons is both beautiful and efficient. I really like the presentation in these areas which allows you to see weaponry and armor components in high detail. I would like to see some expansion to the camera angles as they relate to your armor however. For instance, when equipping different shoulder components, your spartan couldn’t be moved or rotated. I hope they add the ability to zoom in on specific pieces, and always allow full rotation. Another example of these current limitations is while equipping armor coatings, where the lower half of your Spartan is essentially blocked from view.
In some of the menus, there also seems to be quite a bit of wasted space. This is typically done in UI design to ensure all important information can fit on any screen. As a game that will be played on a wide variety of platforms, including mobile with xCloud, I’d imagine that’s the reasoning. But I figured I’d mention it anyway.
The post-game menu is probably one of my least favorite aspects so far. While you get a quick glance at your core statistics and medals which is solid, overall it’s a chore to see the true detail of how you and your teammates performed. As something that is both important to competitive players, teams, and even just friends who enjoy a good dose of multiplayer banter, this needs to be updated. It’s especially confusing as traditionally, these have usually been very clean in prior Halo games.
It’s also worth noting that the medal design may have become a little too basic. It would be nice for them to be enhanced and more notable prior to release. Though, I did love seeing some of the new medals such as “Yard Sale”, awarded when you kill a player who was holding both a power weapon and equipment.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music in the menus which was celebrated throughout. Music has always played a big role in Halo games and it’s clear that Halo Infinite will continue that legacy. The few tracks presented in the preview were in fact so good, that we saw many posts in the community saying they left the game running at the main menu just to listen to it. Bravo.
Look and Feel
There are many parts that add up to the sum in Halo multiplayer, but the look and feel of the Spartans, maps, and particularly the weaponry, are likely the largest. There’s a lot to break down here, so let’s begin with the overall design methodology.
Halo 5 was criticized by some fans for over-complicating design elements. Personally, I agree with this though it wasn’t high on my list of complaints. As we’ve seen since Infinite’s introduction, 343 Industries is treating Infinite as a sort of reset in this area, and I think it’s fair to say most fans have responded positively. Design elements are clean, somehow feeling modern and updated, while simultaneously paying homage to classic Halo. This is not an easy task, but one that 343 seems to have conquered without question.
Making a Halo game “feel” like Halo is almost an impossible task. No matter what 343 or Bungie did in the past with a new title, there were fans who were not happy. While a game like Halo Reach may be fondly remembered today, the Bungie forums were a literal warzone after that game’s release. If you know, then you know.
Thankfully I can yet again report that Infinite has somehow done the impossible. When I set out on my first match, it felt like slipping on an old glove (or any similar cliche you’d like to insert here). While it took me many matches to stop trying to thrust like in Halo 5, overall, Infinite feels like Halo in the best ways possible. Everything, from clambering, to slide jumping, to target acquisition, feels smooth and polished with a fine sheen.
The player view has also been updated. All in all, I didn’t find anything too notable here. The scoreboard is now bottom center and while useful, I would like an option to turn it off of my HUD completely (which may already be there, honestly I forgot to look). As the teams now receive audio cues at halfway to victory, and when within ten kills of the match ending, this is even less important. One of the largest changes is having your kill and medal information pop up just left of center. I thought this would be more intrusive than it was in reality. My only suggestion would be to modify the medal awards. As something iconic to Halo, I personally don’t care for their current state. It may make more sense to separate kill information from medal awards.
The radar in Infinite covers 20 meters but has a few notable changes as of this writing. First, you only show on the radar when sprinting or shooting which is a very large change. The ability to maintain movement speed, which is faster than prior Halos, without showing on the radar is a curious decision. While I don’t think it will make a big difference in casual play, I can imagine pros having some thoughts (positive or negative) on it. The other aspect is that there is no height indicator. Whereas prior you could tell if someone was above or below you, the radar in Infinite was always just a solid red circle for enemies. Given the increased verticality of the maps, this proved problematic at times. Again, I’m not sure if this is by design or not.
So how does this look and feel translate to the weaponry? Very well I’m happy to say. There are notable changes to existing weapons, and some impressive new weapons to boot. When combined with the new equipment, it results in some extraordinary opportunities for high-level play. I can only imagine what the Halo pros will show off when the Halo Championship Series begins anew. For now, I’ll do my best to offer a breakdown of each weapon and piece of equipment that was presented in the preview.
The tech preview featured some returning classics as well as some impressive new weapons. Player starts were assault rifle and pistols (the new Sidekick) and two frag grenades. Below, I’ll detail my thoughts on each weapon and its place in the sandbox.
Note, where possible I’ve used screencaps from my own play. These are obviously compressed and captured from videos so the quality isn’t the highest.
The assault rifle is about as standard fare as it got in the preview. It feels just as you would have expected, with similar kill times and damage drop-off at range. You can still ADS with it, but it doesn’t seem to have the “smart scope” type tracking that it did in Halo 5.
The Sidekick is the new starting pistol, and when I say 343 nailed this one, I mean it wholeheartedly. It has a higher rate of fire than prior pistols, with very quick action and a short reload time. It takes more shots overall to finish a target, but still offers the single shot headshot kill once an enemy’s shield is broken. This gives players the option of rapid firing or taking a little more time to be more precise. ADS is also a shortened view so while the weapon is still viable at range, and even cross-map, accuracy is a greater challenge.
The Sidekick is a perfect addition to Halo Infinite in my opinion. It’s a viable starting weapon that provides all players with a precision/headshot weapon, while still encouraging players to seek out weapons with a higher ceiling of effectiveness. That brings me to the legendary battle rifle.
If you’re reading this then it should go without saying that the BR is one of the most iconic weapons in Halo and critical to the competitive side of multiplayer. Thankfully I’ve seen nothing but praise for its design in Infinite and I concur with all of it. It feels fantastic to fire, the 3-round burst hits just as you expect, and the sound of the burst is amazing. I’ll touch more on the sound of the weapons shortly.
A sharp update to the design is pretty to look at and its firing mechanics have been slightly changed as well. It fires very quickly, and tracks well (though not too aggressively). In short to mid-range it’s essentially a power weapon, with the ability to chain double and even triple kills together rapidly. Ammo is limited to just beyond the three kill amount however, and at longer ranges the damage trails off extensively. Thus it becomes much more rare to accomplish the supercombine at those distances. But as a compliment to a precision weapon, I adored using it in Infinite.
A new addition to the sandbox and one that brings its own playstyle. The Bulldog is a shotgun capable of semi-auto firing, and quick short range damage as you would imagine. At semi-close range you can kill in two shots and slightly further out you can kill in three if you’re accurate (there is a spread over distance). It’s very effective and again, just feels great to use with a chunky (yes I said chunky) action and hefty sound behind each shot.
Another new addition is the Skewer, which is one of the new power weapons. This will spawn in similar locations to the rockets and sniper, and brings a new flavor to the sandbox. In Arena play what’s most unique is that it’s a single shot, precision kill. Meaning, you must hit your target directly (no AOE), but if you do it’s a one-shot kill. It also features a rather long distance scope that’s more similar to the sniper than a simple ADS. You are only afforded three shots, and the reload time is long so should you miss during an engagement, it’s best to have a secondary on hand. But given its capability to kill enemies in a single shot, when used accurately, it’s very powerful.
As we’ve seen from the multiplayer trailer, it also has the ability to damage vehicles. I can’t wait to experiment with it in that regard.
Ahh yes the Plasma Pistol, or as a friend affectionately named it over a decade ago, the “green gun”. The plasma pistol always holds a unique spot in the sandbox and that is no different here. What I noticed right away is that tracking has been reduced substantially. You have to be far more accurate with your charged shot to hit the shield break. However, individual shots have a greater impact than in some past games thus making the weapon more useful in more situations.
One of my favorite additions is the new Commando. I had assumed this was a DMR-like weapon from the previews but was surprised to learn it’s a full automatic. This fills a nice spot in the sandbox by being a powerful automatic that has effectiveness at range. However, using it as a full-auto brings on substantial recoil which can be challenging to control. Thus to be more accurate you are required to feather the trigger and find a balance between auto and semi-auto. It’s very versatile and I think will find a lot of use in core play.
SPNKR (Rocket Launcher)
The legend is back and just as great as ever. There’s not a lot to add here as out of all the weapons, the SPNKR perhaps felt the most familiar. I couldn’t get a good read on just how wide the AOE was, but it felt exactly as I expected. If anything it might require slightly more accuracy when hitting the ground next to an enemy. It also felt like projectile travel time might have been faster than prior iterations. But otherwise, it’s just as you remember.
Another vital weapon to the sandbox that has gone through many iterations, the sniper is back and keeping with theme, it’s a cleaner design than Halo 5. It’s just as you remember, containing four shots per clip, and requiring two body shots or a single headshot for a kill. Aim assist is noticeably lower than Halo 5, thus the skill gap between mid and high-level sniper players will probably be more apparent. And the sound it makes? Oh my…
GRAND SLAM! My goodness. Never has the hammer felt so destructive. The gravity hammer has definitely undergone a few adjustments. Primarily, swing time is now extended as it quite literally feels as though you’re swinging a building. But once it hits, the impact is incredible and anything caught in it’s AOE is not going to survive. As per usual, it does require you to be rather close to your target, but it works wonderfully. I amassed many a double kill during the preview with it (which now awards the Grand Slam medal).
Another new weapon to the sandbox, the Heatwave is one of the few weapons I simply didn’t enjoy using. Its visual design is excellent, and the ability to switch between vertical or horizontal shots is unique, but its effectiveness felt minimal. At any sort of range, the particles are easy to avoid for enemies and if you choose to go with the spread, it takes too many shots to kill. I was often killed by an enemy with the Sidekick before I could do any real damage with the Heatwave at medium range or more. At close range and in corridors it felt viable given its spread and ricochet effect, but that can be a rather small use case depending on the map. This is one I need more time with and may not have understood its potential.
The final new weapon in the tech preview. Representing the Banished who will play a key role in the campaign, the Ravager is another one that seems situational. Its normal fire is a straight 3-fire burst but the projectiles are larger, slower, have more arch compared to say the BR. It also has an alternate fire should you charge the weapon that will not only damage enemies massively if you hit them directly, but also creates a continually damaging AOE of fire on the ground. It feels as though it could be useful in objective matches or even in situations where you need to flush opponents out of an area. Again, more time is needed with this to understand its true viability.
Spike grenades are back and function exactly as they always have. The only thing a few of us noticed is that when the explosion occurs very near you, there seems to be an AOE effect that acts like a flashbang. Your entire screen goes white for a second or two. Whether or not this is by design I’m unsure at this moment.
Finally, just to wrap up on weaponry, a few comments on frags, plasma grenades, and melee combat. Frags felt quite powerful, especially considering the bots were MLB level pitchers with them. I’m not sure the specifics on the AOE, but it feels pretty wide. Plasmas didn’t feel any different to me in any notable way. Their AOE felt as it should and sticking enemies is as fun as ever. And finally melee combat. As usual it takes two melee hits to kill someone from full health or a single hit from behind. You can single melee kill an enemy before their shield is fully broken, but I’m not sure what the percentage is currently tuned at. Likely my largest competitive complaint is that the melee lunge has too long of a range. It almost feels like you are holding a sword at times. I have to imagine this will be tuned down prior to release.
I’ve mentioned the sound of the weapons a few times now and for good reason. The weapon sounds in Infinite are glorious. Each is distinct, and most are memorable. From the rapid thunk of the Commando firing off rounds in succession, to the booming echo of the sniper, or the distinguished three-round burst of the BR that booms with bass, the work done by 343 here is fabulous. Additionally, the nuances to the sounds as they echo outside on Live Fire versus a corridor on Recharge are notable. <slow clap>
Equipment is back and I believe in a really good place. It has an important impact on matches, creates the opportunity for unique plays, and seems fairly well balanced to boot. As 343 explained previously, you can only carry a single piece of equipment at a time, and should you be killed holding it, it will drop for other players. Here are a few specific details from the preview.
The one everyone was curious about. Upon picking up the Grappleshot, you are granted 3 uses. You can acquire more should you stay alive long enough, though I’m not sure what the cap is (I had 5 at one point). While there is a cap on the distance at which you can use the hook, it can rapidly change an engagement as you move very quickly through the air, and can reach areas with ease that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. It also allows the player to “swing” to a degree which provides players with opportunities to launch themselves in nearly any direction. And yes, you can grapple weapons to yourself, or launch yourself towards enemies.
This will be fascinating to watch in high-level competitive play and I can only imagine the clips we’ll see shared as time goes on.
The energy shield is another new piece of equipment and very situational. You are granted 3 uses and there is slight delay from when you throw it down, to when it’s fully deployed. There is also a small cooldown between each use. The shield itself can be walked through, but will block fire and grenades from both directions. However, it is broken into 15 individual squares and each can be shot through rather quickly as well. Also, should you be able to shoot the base, you can destroy the entire thing.
While I’m sure this will have its uses in certain situations, I didn’t witness it being used too effectively during the preview.
The pulse sensor is pretty self-explanatory. You are able to fire a sensor which attaches at any point on the map, and will mark enemies that enter its area of effect. This is great for identifying enemies who are controlling specific areas, and also provides a point bonus for every marked enemy that is killed.
Returning favorites such as Active Camo and the Overshield return and are just as you remember them. Though the Overshield is now yellow instead of green, and seems to be a little weaker than it was in Halo 5.
The first map in the preview was titled Live Fire and it’s one that’s been shown quite extensively. It’s a rather compact map with little verticality and a single power weapon spawn. It features both a mix of long sightlines and corridor play, and allows players to quickly navigate from one side to the other thanks to a few different pathways. I really enjoyed this map despite its simplicity. It offers a good mix of close and ranged combat, and no matter where you are on the map, you will likely find an engagement. This creates a wide mix of scenarios and makes the entire map useful in one way or another.
Recharge was the second map introduced and my personal favorite of the three. Not only is it a gorgeous map with striking lighting, but it has a fantastic mix of verticality, skill jumps, and engagement areas. Again, the majority of the map feels to be truly used during matches, and there are ample opportunities to outplay opponents simply through navigation. I have a feeling this will be an on-going favorite for some time.
The final map introduced in the preview was Bazaar. It was my least favorite map of the three despite being gorgeous and once again offering some fantastic skill jumps and ways in which to traverse the map. My largest issue with Bazaar is that despite the traversal design, much of it is unused in actual play due to the central square being the focal point for the vast majority of combat. As both the power weapon and equipment spawn in the middle, and there are multiple sightlines from advantageous heights on both sides, it becomes a near constant battle of the balconies which is neither fun nor interesting.
I have to imagine the heatmap will show overwhelmingly that deaths are concentrated in a single area, and I hope 343 does some tuning to spread out the play more. It certainly has the capability to be an excellent map.
Halo never really left, but Halo is back. In a big way. There’s a quality to certain multiplayer games that is almost undefinable, but keeps players coming back for more. Halo Infinite has that in spades already, and we’ve only scratched the surface. When you think about the total package at launch, for both competitive and social players, there will be a lot to consume. Combine that with opportunities to show off highlights through social media, streaming, and YouTube, and you have a recipe for broad success. And that’s before even commenting on the new Halo Championship Series (HCS) and future additions/expansions.
The multiplayer suite launching on Xbox and PC simultaneously for free will bring more players in, and the capability of the Academy and bots to teach new players the nuances of Halo will help to retain a larger percentage of those players. While I’m not sure Halo will ever reach the player count highs of games like COD that are easier to pick up and do well immediately, I am confident that Halo Infinite will be the biggest Halo game yet. And it’s truly amazing to see the Halo community buzzing with excitement again.
So 343…..when’s the next flight?