It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since we first stepped into the Mjolnir armor of Master Chief in Halo: Combat Evolved. With a total of 17 games over 20 years (including offshoots like Halo Wars and Halo: Fireteam Raven), a ton of incredible toys, some feature-length films, and an upcoming TV series at Paramount+, it’s clear that the expanded world of Halo is just getting started. The latest installment, Halo Infinite, has taken a new angle for the series, separating their stellar multiplayer components into a free-to-play game, with the campaign being released as an add-on. If that sentence gave you a great deal of concern, you aren’t alone. After a delay of an entire year, and breaking the game in half, could Halo Infinite live up to the lofty expectations players would bring to the table? It’s finally time to find out.
As the multiplayer is free-to-play, we’ll be focused almost entirely on the campaign — put simply, you can try out multi for yourself and make your own judgments. The campaign, on the other hand, is $59.99 (though it’s yours for free on day one if you have Microsoft Game Pass). Our own Editor Anthony Shelton has had a lot to say about the progress of the multiplayer on our YouTube channel, and I highly encourage you to follow his weekly broadcasts for all the details. As usual, I’ll do my best to be as light a touch as I can with spoilers — I’m not here to ruin the game for you. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
There are plenty of excellent backstory catch-up videos out on the net, so I won’t drop several thousand words on it here. Suffice it to say, humanity has faced significant threats in the Flood, Covenant, Banished, and with the help of Forerunner technology, those threats have all but destroyed us. We fought, and we lost. The Master Chief isn’t one to take defeat lying down, so naturally he fights until the bitter end, ultimately facing the Banished before being knocked cold and left to die in the icy cold of space. But fate had other plans.
Halo Infinite is squarely focused on Master Chief and what can only be described as his deepest regret — not stopping Cortana before her Rampancy caused her to go entirely rogue. Landing on Zeta Ring, a Halo Ring that was damaged in the fight against the Covenant and Banished, Master Chief sets off to find a new AI with the ability to stop Cortana, codenamed “The Weapon”. With her assistance, the Master Chief can halt Cortana’s plan, destroy the ring, and hopefully stop the threats against humanity for good.
Let’s get the biggest thing out of the way; no matter what else I have to say about Halo Infinite, there is one thing that is absolutely 100/100 — the gunplay. The team at 343 Industries have managed to recapture the moment-to-moment gameplay that made us all fall in love with Halo so long ago. New tools and progression elements have an additive effect, giving us an excellent balance of the familiar and the new. Again, the multiplayer is free and has the same bones used in the campaign, so you don’t have to take my word for it — try it for yourself.
There are some fairly large changes to the normal flow of a Halo game in Infinite. The game starts off very linear, just like its predecessors, but soon enough you’ll be set free in the semi-open world. Landing on a series of archipelagos, the Chief and his new AI companion are free to explore the entire space, tackling 14 main missions and a metric ton of side missions in essentially any order you’d like. This new open structure links seamlessly with the new progression system for the game.
Halo isn’t an RPG, so there hasn’t been a progression mechanic until this point. Instead, the game doles out weapons and vehicles as part of a linear path when the time is right. The Chief starts off with his iconic M6G PDWS pistol / MA5B Battle Rifle, though you can still pick up any weapon you “acquire” in the field and use it. As you encounter and retake strongholds and waypoints from the enemy, you’ll create a safe space for the remaining Marines to muster, as well as the chance to spawn weapons and vehicles. As you discover and recapture weapons, you’ll then be able to spawn these to take out on missions. Better still, you’ll find some new toys to play with.
The way tools and weapons are presented to the player almost makes the campaign a tutorial of sorts for multiplayer. You’ll start off with the all-new (and insanely useful) grapple shot, but as you progress you’ll pick up boosters, shields, and the other various pickups you’ll find scattered around the map in multi, but as part of Master Chief “building up” for the fight in the campaign. It helps new players or returning ones acclimate to how those weapons and tools are used, instead of throwing them into the deep end.
There is a secondary progression mechanic in the form of Spartan Cores. These recovered caches let you apply them to your Mjolnir armor, upgrading aspects of it. Put a point into the shield upgrade and it’ll grow 15% additional capacity. Putting an additional two points in bumps it another 15%, and so on. A point in the grapple shot makes it electrify smaller targets as you zip in towards them to smash them with a melee strike. There are five categories of upgrades — just enough to provide some growth, but not so much that it feels “gamified”.
As you progress, you’ll encounter variants to your favorite vehicles and weapons. These variants are often small but significant tweaks to the weapon’s function, giving you a bit of variety in the well-established list. For example, the Convergence Bulldog takes the standard CQS48 7-shot drum-fed tight-choke shotgun and mods it to a 12-round magazine-fed model, albeit with a wider pellet spread. These variants extend to the vehicles as well, giving you access to things like a Warthog that seats six and is covered with a metric ton of armor plating. You won’t have access to all of these new toys right out of the gate, though the choice of what to have dropped at these liberated outposts is entirely up to you. It scratches a familiar itch as you honk your horn and your Marines bellow out their enthusiastic voice lines right before you fling the Warthog off a cliff. They are nothing if not excited.
Accessing these upgrades comes courtesy of Valor Points. By completing objectives around the map you’ll earn these points which allow you to select gear like the Warthog, Mongoose, or other tools. These also act as fast travel points so you can zip around the map to return to areas that might have been too difficult to tackle earlier on. There is no resource gathering, no microtransactions, or even spending the Valor Points — they are merely gates to unlock the next available piece of equipment at your Forward Operating Bases.
If you found the little hairs on the back of your neck standing up as you imagine icon-vomit on your screen of samey-fetch-garbage side quests infesting your Halo game, or some version of what we saw in Destiny, rest assured — that’s not what’s on tap here. Games like The Witcher III: Wild Hunt are a more apt comparison in that the side missions feel like they could easily be main missions. Sure, there are fetch quests or just run and gun missions, but those were in every game prior to now as well. What I was surprised to see, however, were boss fights.
Every so often, and not always at the end of a mission so watch yourself at all times, you’ll run into a named boss. These beasts are tougher, with better armor, often have shields, and always carry superior weapons. They occasionally drive vehicles as well. Better still, the game isn’t prescriptive about how they are dispatched, meaning you won’t have to resort to the Quicktime events and punching of which the Master Chief is so fond. Instead, these fights are often a full exercise of the paper-rock-scissors mechanics of using the right weapons to bust shields, and then switching to something with more punch to chip off their health. Given that they often have a remarkable amount of both, you might need to stray away from your favorites to get the job done.
I only encountered one fight that I felt needed balance — a fight with a massive Banished warrior with a power hammer in a confined space. I won that fight with little more than luck, and having the Brute suddenly go blind for a moment being unable to see me despite being directly in front of him. I hate winning by bug, but when a fight needs to be rebalanced, you take the win rather than restarting it for the 20th time.
I wish I could say that this blindness bug was the only AI hiccup I had, but unfortunately there are a handful of bugs marring an otherwise phenomenal outing. The AI driving could really use some work, and that doesn’t matter if it’s Marines or otherwise doing the work. Enemies will occasionally forget which end is forward, driving their vehicles into the side of objects and rendering themselves vulnerable to incoming fire as they bump into the walls repeatedly. Similarly, I’ve watched a chopper fling itself off a cliff while its rider growled taunts at me — so long, dummy. The worst of it, however, is the graphical glitches.
Running the most current GeForce drivers (497.09) which are aimed to improve performance for Halo Infinite, I ran into bizarre graphical artifacting that was as visually jarring as it was immersion breaking. If I had to venture a guess, rounded surfaces are being interpreted as straight edges, causing their textures to warp and stretch across the map. These completely obscure your vision, rendering the game unplayable as you can’t see your enemies through these streaky images. Thankfully, these are often remedied by closing the game and re-launching it, but that doesn’t solve the framerate hitches.
Running an RTX 3080 Ti, I’m seeing framerates reliably in the 70-80fps range at 4K, and easily in the 200s for 1080p, with 1440p sitting at around 140fps. It’s all a little moot as the game is capped at 60fps at any resolution to ensure PC players don’t dominate the console players any more than they already do (shots fired!). While I haven’t experienced framerate wobbles in multiplayer, I have somewhat frequently in the campaign. Framerate will suddenly and inexplicably drop into the 20s and then shoot back up to the maximum without an obvious reason as to why. It happens when the firefight is at its thickest, and it happens when nothing is going on. My temperatures are relatively low at load, and I’ve got RAM, CPU, and GPU to spare, so smarter folks than I will need to figure out why. Thankfully it’s over as fast as it starts, but it’s an unfortunate first impression.
I was surprised to see just how well the game runs on a 2080 Super. With everything on my Predator Triton 500 set to Ultra, I was able to easily hit 100fps at 1080p. Laptops aren’t known for being the most capable of hardware, but Infinite does a great job of optimization, though the same framerate wobbles exist here as well.
There is one thing that is absolutely certain — Halo Infinite does not belong on a spinning disk. I don’t know how well the game is going to function on the original Xbox One, but you really do need an m.2 drive to experience this game properly. Whether that’s on a PC or on an Xbox Series X or S, you’ll want next gen hardware to experience this game. When running the game on a hard drive I saw frequent and punctuated pauses for autosaving and loading of the next area chunk — things that were eliminated entirely with faster storage. Prepare some space on your fastest drive.
Technical hiccups aside, Halo Infinite’s year long disappearance from the public eye did it a whole lot of good. The lighting is fantastic, shadows are realistic and move smoothly, and simply put the game has never looked better. Even Craig, the poster child of the E3 reveal last year, would smile at the results. He has his own appearance of sorts in the campaign, but I’ll leave that to you to discover. Horizons seem to stretch on forever, which is bad news for the enemy when you are behind the scope of the SRS99 Sniper Rifle, but great for seeing your way to the next objective. The world feels well balanced without being overpacked, and it’s clear the team is pushing the hardware as hard as possible. I can only imagine how good it’ll look when we shake loose Gen 8 hardware dependency.
I’d be completely remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the absolutely outstanding music and voice work in Halo Infinite. Gareth Coker, Curtis Schweitzer, and Joel Corelitz team up to create an amazing soundtrack that, like the gameplay, evokes the sweet nostalgia of the past while exploring some new sound for this fresh installment. Squaring off against a massive brute brings bass-heavy thundering music that emphasizes the size and magnificence of threat before you, where high speed escape moments are more driving and urgent. It’s dynamic so you don’t hear the loop streams on extended sequences, coming in at just the right moments. This is a soundtrack worth picking up.
While everyone in the game turns in an amazing voice performance, whoever wrote the dialogue for the Grunts deserves a raise, a bonus, and a fistful of awards. On more than one occasion I found myself laughing out loud at the hilarious dialogue coming from these confidence-challenged peons. There is a bit of voice repetition across the board, but the brilliant writing of the Grunts makes it all worthwhile.
The campaign for Halo Infinite is quite extensive. I spent over 20 hours to complete it on the “normal” difficulty (there’s 4 to choose from, as always). I left a LOT of side content untouched, so there’s still plenty more to discover. It is worth noting that there is an Achievement for beating the game in under 8 hours, though, so I suppose it is possible to shotgun those 14 main missions, skipping all of the rest, and using a lot of fast travel. I can’t imagine what fun could be had by doing that, but if you are an Achievement hunter, it’s there for you.
There is one big gaping hole in the campaign that will be patched at some point next year — cooperative play. Unfortunately the campaign will launch without co-op play, and it shows when the game prompts you about party size and counts down before starting, clear vestiges of a missing feature. Most of the time you don’t feel the effects of running solo, but on more than one occasion I spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between the driver’s seat and the minigun on the back of a Warthog. Those moments would be far more exciting if I was pulling off a crazy articulated slide while my partner unleashed a torrent of bullets on our enemies. Still, the campaign is worth experiencing more than once, so I’m sure I’ll dive in again once the game sees this feature finally folded in.
Put simply, Halo Infinite is a return to form. 343 Industries has managed to deliver a campaign with a compelling storyline, fresh ideas, and familiar gunplay that takes the series in a brand new direction without breaking the formula. It was well worth the wait, even if there are a few bugs remaining to hammer out.