The Electronic Entertainment Expo came and went last weekend, and while there are veritable boatloads of game reveals I could break down, it seems more prudent to discuss a game shown in a nearly complete state. Originally set to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X|S consoles last year, “Halo Infinite” was delayed a full year, and it’s looking like it’ll be worth the wait.
After a long silence, on Monday developers 343 Industries unveiled a comprehensive video detailing the multiplayer game modes of “Halo Infinite.” I play online first-person shooters almost daily now, but before being introduced to “Halo,” I had no interest in the genre.
In my eyes, the franchise peaked between 2007-2010 with “Halo 3,” “Halo 3: ODST” and “Halo: Reach,” largely falling away from glory with “Halo 4” and “Halo 5: Guardians.” Despite my loss of faith in new entries in the series, this first look at “Halo Infinite” filled me with hope and even a dash of confidence.
Clocking in at nearly 13 minutes, the multiplayer overview trailer showcased exactly the kind of scrappy but skill-based arena fights for which the series is famous. The vehicle combat looks more bombastic than ever, and new equipment such as the grappling hook looks to give gamers more ways to strategize and outplay their opponents.
The old fundamentals are still present, and the new features look to augment that foundation rather than derail it. The Redmond-based studio also offered a brief cinematic trailer hinting at the plot of the game’s campaign.
Despite ending the threat of aliens destroying galaxies in “Halo 3,” Master Chief’s story continued in “Halo 4” and “Halo 5: Guardians” with him attempting to save or extend the limited lifespan of his rapidly corrupting AI companion, Cortana. “Halo Infinite” looks to expand upon that story, with a new AI taking Cortana’s place as the “voice in your head” as you play.
“Halo” has always been in a unique position because there are gamers who play only for the single-player story and others who play primarily for the online multiplayer component. I enjoy playing through each game’s campaign once or twice, but from then on, it’s all multiplayer for me.
This time around, 343 Industries is making the divorce all the more obvious by offering the multiplayer as a standalone, free-to-play experience while the campaign will still retail as a standard game.
As always, free-to-play offers certain advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, far more gamers will have access to “Halo Infinite” multiplayer, and people can try it out without any commitment aside from their own time and hard drive space. “Halo” will almost certainly amass even more fans by subscribing to this model.
The downside is that there has to be some sort of monetary incentive for the development team to continue working on the game. Like many other popular free-to-play games such as “Rocket League” and “Fortnite,” 343 Industries has decided to adopt the “battle pass” feature for increased cashflow.
For those unfamiliar, it’s essentially a one-time purchase that unlocks a track of cosmetic items for putting in time playing the game. Play well, and you’ll unlock every item even sooner. Cosmetics don’t affect gameplay in any meaningful way, so gamers are free to ignore that side of the game with no disadvantage or penalty.
While other games keep a given battle pass around for a month or two before closing off access and offering up another, “Halo Infinite” is mixing things up with battle passes that never expire. Players will also be able to purchase older passes if they find the older content more enticing.
This gives the studio the opportunity to make more money while also giving gamers more agency to pick out what they want – a win-win scenario. With 343 Industries seeking to break new ground and create a new generation of “Halo” fans, their introduction of the academy into “Halo Infinite” may prove pivotal.
In the words of developer Sara Stern, “the academy is a place to onboard into the experience. It’s great for newer players who are still picking up the controls and also people who want to warm up before they head into matchmaking.”
The video showed off a tutorial, weapon drills and a full-fledged training mode with sophisticated AI opponents. First-person shooters have always struggled to integrate intelligent AI opponents, so the academy could potentially differentiate “Halo” from its dozens of contemporaries. Of course, only time will tell how sophisticated these bots really are.
With millions of gamers like myself who have been playing competitive first-person shooters religiously for more than a decade, getting into them has become an unfair uphill battle for potential newcomers.
Many diehard fans were introduced to the genre with the original “Halo: Combat Evolved” in 2001, so it seems appropriate that “Halo Infinite” will roll out the red carpet for newer gamers 20 years later when it releases “Holiday 2021” for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Windows PC.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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