Review : Halo Infinite : Coming Full Circle

Halo is one of the largest franchises in gaming. Led by the iconic Master Chief, Halo has spanned 20 years of content including games, books, movies, and comics. It revolutionized FPS titles on console, led the early MLG and competitive gaming days, and broke entertainment revenue records. It has sold over 80 million copies as a franchise and is an IP valued at several billion dollars.

Because of this, it is game series that has a massive, vocal fanbase. When a new, mainline Halo game releases, it is an event, and it’s one that has a world of expectations placed atop it. Originally revealed in 2018, Halo Infinite was set to release alongside the Xbox Series consoles in November of 2020. But after an initial campaign showing that was greeted with a less than stellar response from fans, the game was delayed an entire year.

So after several years of development, a massive investment in resources, a new game-engine built from the ground up, and a year delay from the planned release, does Halo Infinite rise to the occasion? As someone who cherishes Halo, I will do my best to break down the entire package below, including the campaign and multiplayer. Let’s get to it.


Campaign

“This is Chief’s story.” As I sit and reflect on the story I just experienced, I’m reminded of just how much this hero means to me and so many others. After a heartfelt Chief-focused narrative in Halo 4, 343 Industries took a different narrative direction in Halo 5: Guardians. I think it’s fair to say that the overall consensus was one of disappointment, particularly with the fact that the Master Chief featured so little in it. With Halo Infinite, then, 343i understood it needed to be Chief’s story, wholly, and promised fans exactly that. So the obvious question then is: did they deliver on their promise?

Introduction

Taking place after the events of Halo 5 and Halo Wars 2, Halo Infinite opens with introductions that will feel familiar. After losing the war with the Banished, the UNSC is left decimated and in a state of disarray, and our hero, Master Chief, is left adrift in space. A simple, surviving pilot, desperately trying to get home to his wife and daughter, then discovers Chief and rescues him. Once becoming fully functional again thanks to said pilot, Chief gathers basic intel and begins the hunt for a new A.I. simply named, The Weapon. These first couple of missions act not only as an introduction to the gameplay, but they also provide some backstory as to what happened to the UNSC, why the Banished are on the Zeta Halo ring, and on their ruthless leader, Escharum.

Immediately, Halo fans will feel at home as, from the outset, Infinite feels like an homage to past games in the best possible ways. Movement and animations are extremely fluid, allowing you to intuitively traverse the environment, and the gunplay, as I’ll touch on more deeply in the multiplayer section, is very likely the best I’ve ever encountered in a shooter. This makes engaging your first enemies akin to putting on a pair of your favorite slippers as you nail your first headshot on a Grunt or knock the shield out of a Jackal’s hand.

The initial enemy encounters are filled with nostalgia as you battle Covenant and Brutes (not seen in a Halo game since Halo Reach), which will strike a chord with veterans. Enemies feel more alive than ever as well, with excellent animations and a much larger range of dialog than in past games. Nearly every type of enemy seems to be vocal, and of course Grunts chatter near endlessly with hilarious quips. And prepare to be taunted should you die near an enemy.

Upon recovering The Weapon, you get the immediate sense that this will evolve into a meaningful relationship. Even with pieces of the story missing at the start, she is endearing and charming, echoing in ways your first interactions with Cortana in Halo C.E.  With a wealth of mystery to uncover and intriguing new companions, Halo Infinite wastes no time investing the player in the great journey to come.

Setting

As the first Halo game with an open-world environment, walking onto the surface of Zeta Halo for the first time is rather striking. The running themes of nostalgia and homages struck again as I was met with senses of wonder and curiosity, again akin to first experiencing Halo C.E.

The world itself is beautiful, with sprawling landscapes littered with remnants of the war between the UNSC and Banished. A day and night cycle further compliments the beauty, with excellent lighting and an array of effects on a sixty-minute cycle. Being that you are on a broken ring floating in space, it’s also a rather unique effect that objects, enemies, and players can be knocked right off of the ring and into the endless beyond. It’s a small effect, but further adds to the setting. If I have one complaint, it’s that I would have liked to have seen more diversity in the biomes as, save for some mountains, lakes, and the structures themselves, much of the ring looks rather similar. While 343i has mentioned adding weather systems in the future, there are none at this point in time.

While Halo Infinite presents players with more choice and freedom than ever before, it maintains its focus on being a Halo game. This was a large concern for me going into the game, so I was relieved to see the world wasn’t filled with side-missions or meaningless fodder. Instead, there are a few core objective types.

Forward Operating Bases (FOBs in-game) are small installations you can take back from the Banished, which will then act as fast-travel locations and armories. As you take back more of Zeta Halo, you’ll earn Valor, which unlocks more extensive weaponry and vehicles at your disposal at each FOB. These bases are indispensable on higher difficulties, where you’ll want to be well-prepared before engaging some of the larger enemy groups. Given the size of Zeta Halo, unlocking the Wasp becomes extremely valuable late in the game as well.

There are fifteen high-value targets spread throughout the map that are unique, named enemies, who also carry unique weapons. Should you take them and their accompaniment down, you’ll unlock that weapon for future use at your FOBs. These are fun, varied encounters, and they’re very worthwhile given the more powerful weapon variants you can unlock. I highly recommend the Volatile Skewer. Take my word for it.

The largest installations on the map are Banished strongholds. These are larger complexes with a wealth of enemies, more challenging combat scenarios, and a specific objective for you to accomplish. The strongholds provided some of the most fun battles in the game as you are free to engage in any way you see fit. From using different vehicles and weaponry to approaching from all sorts of different angles, these are large, sandbox battles which illustrate the beauty of Halo combat. They also provide a large amount of Valor, thus providing the player with greater resources at their FOBs.

The remaining items spread around the map are simply distress calls from UNSC Marines, Spartan Cores to upgrade your equipment, small items like skulls and cosmetics, and, of course, some Easter eggs. It is a focused, purposeful, open-world design, and Halo Infinite is better off for it. It’s also worth noting that you are in no-way required to tackle the bases or high-value targets. There are no arbitrary requirements to meet to advance the campaign. Thus, if you’re simply looking to push through the narrative and experience the main story, you are free to do so.

Using Spartan Cores to upgrade the Master Chief is new to Halo Infinite and will be familiar to anyone who’s been enjoying the multiplayer suite. While you’ll likely use the grappling hook more than anything else, you can also unlock and upgrade the drop shield, pulse sensor, and thruster, along with a passive upgrade to your shield core. Given the wide range of enemy encounters you’ll face, these can come in very handy in certain situations. The final upgrade to the grappling hook allows you to slingshot melee enemies while stunning all others in close vicinity. It’s easily one of my favorite attacks in the game and should be a priority when upgrading.

Narrative

Ahh yes, the story. Without steering into hyperbole, the tale that 343i chose to tell in Halo Infinite was going to make or break the game and, perhaps, their reputation as the curators of Halo. It was not only exceedingly important that Halo Infinite contain an excellent narrative, but 343 Industries also had the almost impossible task of developing a campaign that met expectations of long-time Halo lore nuts and brand-new players in parallel. By my account, they accomplished it and then some. And it begins with the Master Chief.

In many ways, Master Chief is the embodiment of hope. He represents the purest form of good, focusing on the mission, no matter the cost and no matter the opposition. In Halo 4, Chief was humanized, and thus, to some degree, vulnerable. This created a much more personal relationship with Chief for players, and in doing-so, it deepened the connection with the character. But it’s a very fine line to walk with such a stoic character.

With Halo Infinite, 343i demonstrates their mastery again, which takes that connection to a new level. The exploration of his psyche is once again on display, creating a personal connection between the player and the 1,000lb Mjolnir equipped, super-soldier they become through their controller. He is entirely the focal point of the player’s journey, with a large emphasis on highlighting him through stunning cinematics, relationship building, and an expanded performance by the one and only Steve Downes.

The Weapon plays the largest accompanying role, and by the end becomes one of the most memorable characters in the Halo Universe. She is, quite frankly, brilliant. She leads many of the main story elements with an almost indescribable charm thanks to indelible writing and a spectacular vocal performance by the legendary Jen Taylor. There’s an arc to the relationship development between her and Chief over the course of Infinite. It is a masterwork in character narrative and contains some of my favorite moments in any Halo game to date.

The Pilot, who’s name is revealed late in the game and thus I won’t spoil, also plays a large role over the course of the game. There are themes intertwined in Infinite that take the idea of Master Chief to a deeper level, and, to a degree, the pilot represents one of those threads. He is not a soldier, and he can’t combat the Banished. He simply wants to find a way to return to his family. In ways, he is exactly what Chief was constructed to protect. In that vein, he grounds Chief and challenges Chief’s mental programming. This, too, is aided by an excellent performance by Nicolas Roye.

Chief’s journey to battle the Banished and uncover the secrets of Zeta Halo is a finely crafted experience, and it is one that will feel right at home to Halo veterans. At its core, Halo Infinite still contains a linear campaign with large set-piece battles and explosive cinematics. It captures the essence of the best Halo campaigns not only with its level design, but also with the sense of mysticism weaved into the world around the player. Over the course of the campaign, you’ll navigate through many Forerunner installations and Banished compounds. Each of these is intimately developed with some of the best gameplay elements of any Halo game.

I want to particularly call out the Forerunner architecture and design throughout Infinite, as it is astonishing. Besides being hauntingly beautiful, it captures the essence of the Forerunners more completely than any prior game and adds to the aura of mysticism I mentioned earlier.

Given the timeline of events in the universe, there are some deeply embedded lore elements within the game, and Infinite walks a fine line of keeping players engaged, even if they don’t have background knowledge of every detail. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey from beginning to end, and, as I’ve taken time to further consume the narrative (I waited four days to write this review after completing the game), I’ve come to appreciate it even further. Though as with nearly all of the mainline Halo games, I can see some players being confused about the finer details.

To further expand on the story elements, audio logs are spread throughout the world for the player to uncover. There are logs relating to the UNSC and Banished perspectives, along with Spartan-specific logs. As with the rest of the game, these are well scripted and cover a lot of backstory elements that Infinite can’t cover in the main gameplay. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the story elements, hunting all of these down should be a top priority, and you’ll be happy to hear the voices of some important figures that didn’t make it into the core gameplay.

At the heart of your battle is Escharum, the leader of the Banished. He is an imposing, intimidating, and prominent figure throughout. He taunts and tests Chief whenever possible, and cut-scenes with Escharum keep the player up to speed on what he’s experiencing from the Banished perspective through the course of the game. He’s easily one of the best antagonists in a Halo game yet, and his arc culminates with more meaning to the player than I was anticipating.

Alongside Escharum is the Blademaster, Jega ‘Rdomnai, otherwise known as “The Spartan Killer.” Jega is yet another high-level adversary who played a prominent role in Halo canon leading up to Halo Infinite. In-game, he represents Escharum’s right-hand man and has silently been killing other Spartans on Zeta Halo.

The Harbinger, the mysterious being introduced in recent campaign trailers, also plays a notable role, and it’s one that impacts future Halo games. But let’s leave that shrouded in mystery for you to discover, shall we?

They are not the only major foes you’ll face, however, as Halo Infinite contains several boss battles, with each testing you in different ways. Each one has you facing off against a unique, named enemy in a boss arena, and each can be exceedingly challenging, particularly on the higher difficulties. I really enjoyed these battles as I felt they added more depth and variety to the campaign while providing more personality to the larger adversaries.

Presentation

All of this action takes place in an absolutely stunning world, with the highest quality presentation that’s ever been in a Halo game. I’ve mentioned the cinematics multiple times now and for good reason: they are staggeringly impressive. Cut-scenes are almost entirely real-time, and they typically involve a single camera shot that leads directly into gameplay. They represent the top-tier level of quality that should be expected out of a franchise as large as Halo, and, in that vein, they don’t disappoint.

I played on the Series X, and fidelity in all aspects was exceedingly high. The game offers a choice of quality or performance modes, and while I typically play on performance mode in every game and do so in multiplayer for the 120fps, in campaign I found that quality mode is excellent. It not only significantly increases texture resolution and reduces pop-in, but I believe it still aims for 60fps and is, therefore, still very smooth for the most part.

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It’s impossible to discuss Halo without mentioning the soundtrack, as Halo music sits atop the highest pedestals in gaming. Halo Infinite’s soundtrack, composed by Gareth Coker, Curtis Schweitzer, and Joel Corelitz, immediately escalates itself alongside its peers as it pays homage to classic tracks, and captures the essence of Halo campaigns beautifully. It’s also well-implemented with various tracks accompanying you when simply exploring, while others are timed to perfectly capture impactful moments. At times, the combination of an important scene and a few simple classic Halo notes was enough to floor me completely.

Thankfully, the production quality of the soundtrack holds true to the overall sound design as well. We already knew the weaponry sounded incredible thanks to the multiplayer suite, and I can confirm that the campaign is even more impressive. 3D sound is supported, and I highly recommend it given some of the elements that are introduced. With the vocals, reflective sound, and open-world elements, the 3D sound is impressive, and it will make full use of a quality surround sound setup or headset.

Summary

Halo Infinite’s campaign is phenomenal. The running joke in the Halo community is that the worst Halo game is always the last one. This is due to the fact that they are often only appreciated in hindsight, with Halo 2 and Halo Reach being prime examples. With Halo Infinite I’m going to be the killjoy to this trend before it repeats and say definitively: Halo Infinite is the best Halo campaign. When all factors are taken into account and the nostalgia goggles are removed, Halo Infinite has the broadest gameplay, a well-paced, well-written narrative, several moving moments, excellent new additions to the formula, a fantastic antagonist, and a stunning presentation. It is the best of both old and new Halo, and understands completely what makes Halo special. Knowing it is only the beginning of what’s to come for Infinite has a Halo die-hard like me invigorated.

I spent a little under 20 hours in my campaign playthrough, and the save game menu shows there’s plenty left to discover. While I have a few qualms that I’ll cover in more detail when it won’t spoil it for anyone else, in the grand scope of what was achieved, they are minor. And with regard to the challenge, Infinite has it in spades. Playing on Heroic, there were several moments that had me sweating in the palms. So for those of us who love to conquer Legendary solo, we’ll have our work cut out for us.

343 Industries had a monumental task in front of them. While they will never be able to please all of the fans of a franchise as big as Halo, they should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished with Infinite. As a spiritual reboot that maintains the current Halo timeline, it’s everything I had hoped for and more. It’s an emotional and heartfelt journey that sat with me for days after finishing it, and I’m already excited to experience it again. So, with that, I’m going back in. I have a job to do.

Oh and one last note. Do not skip the ending credits…

Final Verdict (Campaign): 9.5

Fun Factor: 9
Technical Prowess: 9.5
Time Investment: 15-30 hours
Replayability: 7

You can also find our video review here:


Multiplayer

My original goal was to review Halo Infinite as a total package, in honor of the Halo games that have come before. But the reality is, we live in a very different gaming industry today than even just a few years ago. And with the Halo Infinite multiplayer being free to play, and having soft-launched a few weeks ago while still being labeled as a “beta”, that makes it a little more challenging.

With that in mind, I will update this review to a “full” review of Halo Infinite in the coming weeks after 343i provides their latest updates to the multiplayer suite. Now that we know further progression updates alongside new playlists are arriving in the next week or two, there will be more to cover immediately post-launch.

For now, I highly recommend my prior write-up on the core of Halo Infinite multiplayer, along with the multiplayer roundtable we held after the flights.

Final Verdict (Multiplayer): TBD

Fun Factor: TBD
Technical Prowess: TBD
Time Investment: N/A
Replayability: TBD

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By Ainsley Bowden (Porshapwr)

Founder of SeasonedGaming.com, avid game collector and enthusiast since the Atari 2600 era. You can find me online or on Twitter as Porshapwr as well. Thanks for checking out Seasoned Gaming!

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