Halo Infinite Review — Breaking Expectations

Nearly 20 years ago today, Microsoft and junior developer Bungie Studios teamed up for one of the most ambitious, multi-media launch titles in existence. Crafting an entire Sci-Fi universe from space dust, the result was an unmitigated success — catapulting Microsoft as a major player in the industry and Halo as one of the gaming greats. Well outside of the launch window of both Xbox Series X and S, can Halo Infinite meet those sky-high expectations?

Thankfully, I feel like I don’t have to make such a massive determination on my own. Weeks ahead of the official launch of Halo Infinite, developer 343 Industries through the multiplayer into Open Beta, reigniting the team-based multiplayer shooter scene that hasn’t been overly rocked by other competitors like Battlefield or Call of Duty. Even better, while the broader gaming community has been sharpening their knives for months following missed release dates, underwhelming trailers, and a fundamental rethinking of the game, 343 blows away expectations.

I’ll go as far as to say it is actually incredible the amount of meditation and reconsideration that 343 Industries has put into Halo Infinite since the launch of Halo 5. Some of the deepest feedback about core developments in the series — whether we are talking about the soundtrack, art design, color scheme — have been overhauled to match the sky-high expectations of a new console generation.

The most resonating concern with the community writ large is an underwhelming progression system that locks out cosmetics. While Bungie has stated repeatedly that they are on the path to addressing the Battle Pass situation, it’s hard to not view it as a broader problem with the state of games as a whole. And yes, it’s a bit more painful when it is being implemented and adopted by a series that in many ways pioneered the online multiplayer shooting scene.

But if you want an impression of the multiplayer, you don’t need this review — it’s been available for weeks as a free-to-play option to wet the palate for the full experience. After investing a couple of dozen hours across in the campaign across a few difficulty levels, I can easily say that Halo Infinite is what the Xbox Series X has been waiting for.

Taking place shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, Master Chief and players are opened up to a mystery of their own — what happened over the last few months, how was Cortana defeated, and why is the Weapon (a pseudo-Cortana AI) still around? Master Chief keeps catching glimpses from the past and dreamy messages from his AI companion from beyond the grave… but with little explanation other than it being remnant data. With the entire playground of Zeta Halo at your disposal (with some of its pieces already fragmented), you start off with more questions than answers.

Not diving into the story spoilers, but Halo Infinite feels like a true return to form for the game’s story. Thanks to a central focus on Master Chief and a lot of blanket uncertainty about… well… most of the story at this point, there is an air of mystery that I haven’t truly felt since Combat Evolved. If you had been concerned that Guardians was ushering in a post-Master Chief shift in the universe, Halo Infinite immediately puts those fears to rest.

While the series as a whole has gotten more accessible thanks to the one-two punch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Xbox Game Pass, Halo Infinite still does a lackluster job of engaging new joiners into the broader universe. While it provides a rich story for those who’ve been following and an excellent playground for those who care more about the action, it expects a certain degree of familiarity with the saga so far. To some degree, it rob’s the game from being such an easy recommendation to anyone looking to get into the series — despite being the best of the bunch.

Speaking of best of the bunch, it would be a crime to not mention how much 343 Industries has refined both the open world and flow of the game thanks to Zeta Halo’s dynamic structure. Namely, the introduction of collectibles, bounties, and smaller side quests break the game away from more on-rails experience. Even better, it works — I spent more time than I want to admit grappling up clips to get cosmetic armor pieces or tracking down a minor upgrade point. While it never overshadowed the set pieces and story of the main missions, being able to divert and save fellow UNSC members added a layer to gameplay to Halo Infinite that the series was sorely missing.

Some other minor points worth noting about my time with Master Chief:

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, it feels almost poetic that Halo Infinite is its biggest, boldest, and most creative launch since the series released. Bringing a return to form for both the campaign and multiplayer, the entire experience is a Halo tour de force for the Xbox brand. With the promise that Halo Infinite will be a launching ground for future Halo experiences, Master Chief is looking at a bright future ahead.

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