Halo Infinite: A Home Run, a Bunt, and a Strike All at Once

Yep, it’s a gaming piece.

I don’t feel too bad about this because I don’t often talk about my other hobbies on this site, so I figure breaking the mold every once in a while is fine. Maybe some of you aren’t interested, but that’s fine.

Plus, this post is a little late. Halo Infinite has been out for over two months now (between the campaign and the “free” multiplayer). Granted, the post didn’t come up before now because by the time I’d gathered these thoughts, I was on vacation, and I was not breaking that to post my musings on Halo Infinite.

But hey, the vacation is over now, and while this post might be a bit late rather than near launch, at the same time there’s a single advantage to that. See, the first few weeks after Infinite came out it was hard to find anything negative being said about it that wasn’t immediately dogpiled by ravenous fans who were just happy to have a Halo game again. But now that the honeymoon is over, more and more leeway is being to express discontent with some of the frankly baffling decisions from the newest Halo title.

Of which there are many. Personally, I find Halo Infinite to be almost exasperating in its competent, yet insane execution. I say insane because there’s almost no other word for it. It’s hard to otherwise articulate the amount of failure packed inside this package alongside spot-on success, bundled together with elements that have been fully omitted in favor of a “We’ll get to that later, we promise” note from the devs that frankly, no is certain we’ll ever get.

Comparatively then, Halo Infinite is akin to a car from a manufacturer like Lamborghini, only upon receipt of the car we find that while the engine is a work of art, the transmission is from an old 1940s Chevy, the tires are from Wal-mart, and half the instrument panel doesn’t work, but we’ve got an IOU from the manufacturer that promises it will be along before long and maybe even for a low price!

It’s a home run, a bunt, and strike, all at the same time. Let’s talk about it.


Home Run

Okay first? Let’s talk about what Infinite does get right, because when it gets something right, boy does it ever. When Infinite is gold, it is shiny, worked, resplendent gold. Gold so fine it is Halo at it’s peak. When you’re locked in combat with a bunch of brutes, or watching a cutscene that shows far more focus on detail and camera movement than we’ve ever had before, or bombing around the game world through trees and hills with a warthog, it feels fantastic. The moment to moment gameplay in the campaign is, at its peak, everything you could want.

Which is good, because as we’ll get to later, there are flaws beneath that surface. But we’re talking about the home runs here, so let’s talk about those.

First up: Combat. Combat in Infinite is some of the best it’s ever been (campaign-wise, at least), matching the combat from Halo 5 for fun, fantastic firefights. New to the series is a grapple-hook, joining thrusters from Halo 5 and a few new twists on old “equipment” from prior Halo titles to give the player a bunch of choices in combat. Combined with a large-scale open world, this gives players a ton of flexibility in combat. Start an encounter by throwing down some temporary cover and sniping away the biggest, baddest targets, then mark any targets left alive with a sensor and close with the grapple hook to duel with thrusters. Steal weapons out of the air with a grapple shot when your current gun runs dry (and it will once those reinforcements show up).

There’s no way around it. It’s fun, frantic, pure Halo, whether it’s running in a panic from incredibly deadly hunters or thrusting/grappling around like a one-man maelstrom striking down grunts and jackals. Every tool, even the less-used sensor, has a place in the toolbox that gives it some worth, giving the player cause to jump around and use every method at their disposal to fight brutes, elites, sentinels, grunts, and more in frantic, fun firefights. The combat is sastisfying, and there’s no other way to put it.

Another home run is the setting itself (kind of, but we’ll get to that in a bit). Infinite is the first Halo title on the new Slipspace engine, which allows, among other things, a full day-night cycle, real-time with all the shadows and lighting that entails, as well as a truly large (for the series) open world setting, divided into “islands” of broken ring fragments that the player can (sometimes) freely travel between.

And it is gorgeous. Playing on a Series X with Ray-tracing, the environment was spectacular. It really is one of those games where you can just pause for a bit and look at the amazing scenery on display around you, watching shadows shift and slide over things as the ring rotates.

Oh, and I mentioned the open world? Well, remember that oft-mocked Destiny trailer of ‘if you see it, you can go there?’ Well, someone at 343 took that as a challenge. You can go there. You will.

For the most part, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Until you reach the endgame and start looking at the distant horizon (which is rendered and thus applies proper shadows and lighting) anytime you see something off in the distance on the ring … yes, you can go there! It might take you a bit, and some creative use of the grapple hook, but you can go there! Get moving! What are you waiting for? Go!

Along the way, you can enjoy the ambient sound experience that’s been put together for you. This is another spot where Infinite has a pure home run. The sound design is fantastic, so real that you can hear the sounds of distant gunfire echoing from nearby and piece together exactly where they’re coming from and what sort of surfaces they’re echoing from. It’s great. Simply stunning. From firing a gun in your hands to enemies letting out yells that they think you’re around, every bit of the sound in Infinite is on point.

Oh, and shall we talk about something that’s usually a dud in Halo titles but here is not? I’m speaking of the boss fights. Yes, there are boss fights in this game, and yes, with one exception, they are great. They’re well designed, keep the player on their toes, and require careful use of resources. Sands, I’d go as far as to say the next-to-last boss fight is better than the final boss itself and the best of the entire series to date, requiring the player to use all the tools at their disposal in order to survive.

When Infinite hits the mark, oh, does it hit the mark in near-perfect fashion. Not a world-record home run, but definitely at least a solid hit with two bases occupied (that’s … kind of a sports analogy, right?). The setting is beautiful, the sound sublime, and the combat a beautiful kinetic chaos.

Which is both good and bad, honestly, because it makes the flaws that much easier to ignore … but also that much more jarring when they’re shoved in your face.


Bunts

Okay, now let’s talk about the bunts. Bunts being a sort of “Well, hey, we did all right, and we’ll improve it later, okay? Because if we’re honest, there’s a lot of missing content that’s of the sort of “Hey, isn’t this the standard?” when it comes to Infinite.

For example, as beautiful as the setting is … it’s the only setting. I hope you like trees and grass, because you’re going to see a lot of both. Oh, and banished black and red. And forerunner blue.

Not that what we see isn’t gorgeous. It’s just that it’s all that there is. Barring one minor element at the very end of the game when you get forerunner gold, and it was such a welcome shift I took a screenshot.

I mean, that is a pretty door.

Look, I’m not saying that what’s in the game isn’t wonderfully beautiful to look at: It is! It’s just … it’s all the same. Every level, every step of the story, is all the same environment, with almost no effort given to “change it up.”

Let’s look at other open-world games, for example, that avert this. Fallout 4, for example, is “one” ecosystem: Wrecked Boston, Mass. Yet somehow, there’s far more variance on display in Fallout 4‘s world despite being one ecosystem, than there is on display in Infinite.

Which is a real shame! Prior Halo titles took full advantage of the series’ artificial world setting to give us varying environments of different styles over the same familiar architecture to mix things up. Sand and snow, northwest forest, etc. Infinite just delivers the one. That’s it. Here you go. Don’t tire of it, because it’s all you have.

Weirder still, you can see other environments on the horizon, and even play in a few of them in the multiplayer maps. So what happened that we didn’t get anything but the one samey setting for the campaign?

Speaking of campaign bunts, be prepared for 1/3rd of a story. Yes, I’m sorry, but it really is. While it’s not a bad story per-se … it does feel like setup to selling the player a bunch of overpriced DLC rather than something that’s fully-realized. I’d call it 1/3rd of a story stretched into 2/3rds of a standard campaign, and that’s for a full 3/3rds asking price. Ouch.

That, and not much really happens over the course of Infinite‘s story either. At least, not anything that developer 343 can be counted on to deliver at the current time. See, 343 kind of has a track record of reacting like a newly-born fanfic writer to criticism: Anytime anyone such as a fan finds a flaw, rather than commit to what was in progress, 343 dumps everything and just starts over. Something that Infinite immediately does again by spending most of its story run explaining how the big bad as set up by Halo 5 is basically beaten … while at the same time caging those terms very carefully so that they can bring them back at full power later if they feel they can get away with it.

Yeah, that is a bunt and nothing else. This “maybe kinda” attitude is on display everywhere in Infinite, from the story to the gameplay. For example, one of the biggest encouragements fans were given before the game came out was that the primary advertised foe was going to be the Banished, a post-war faction in the lore introduced with Halo Wars 2, and arguably one of the series’ best factions. Fans were excited to see many of the Banished elements appear in Infinite, and when the game finally came out?

Well … we kind of do. The colors are on display, yes. And some of the visual designs. But a lot of the Banished arsenals and most importantly character is … oddly absent. A lot of folks have begun referring to the Banished as “Covenant 2.0” in a reference to the original’s game’s enemies, and they’re not wrong to do so. Much of what made the Banished a fun, unique faction in HW2 simply isn’t present in Infinite, and it’s frankly boggling. That isn’t to say what did make it isn’t good—for the most part it is—but I feel that the experience can only be compared to those who walked into the recent Dune film only to react with pure confusion when they saw ‘Part 1’ beneath the title in the opening credits.

That’s Halo Infinite. So much of what is here is good … but it’s so light in its touch I almost wonder if as with the story, 343 had no confidence that people would actually like it, and so “bunted” in order to save effort and make the base so that someone else could make the home run. “Oh, you do like the Banished! Well here’s a DLC with all the stuff we were too risk averse to put in the game. Now things are complete.”

It’s just … strange, really. A lot of Infinite, from the story to the setting, feels great … but also feels like a partial effort, like the team was bunting to get the bare minimum done with a future reliance on “Well, we can add that later if people like it.”

Let’s look at the loadout, which is the same way. The new weapons are fine and even fun. It’s a shame that along the way, 343 removed almost every gun ever seen in Halo to make up for the inclusion of a few new weapons. Dataminers have even found old guns in the game, just not active. So why the bunt? Why cut Halo’s weapon toolbox down from almost 50 weapons, not counting variants, all with different behavior, to a bare-bones 22, most of which you’ll never even use (like the Ravager) because they’ve been designed around a new weapon balance policy that is best described as “what if almost every weapon was a loadout weapon?” Worse still, some of the returning weapons, like the Plasma Pistol, have been gutted to be nigh-worthless in every respect. About the only gun that “feels” right is the base AR.

Again, I call this a bunt because balance problems aside, some of these new weapons are pretty fun. The bulldog is a weaker shotgun with longer range, sort of a halfway point between the prior game’s classic shotty and the hardlight-scattershot. It’s neat … but it’s not a power weapon, since barring a perfect hit with all the pellets the average TTK is about equal with the AR. It’s not bad … but it’s certainly not a “power weapon” either (meanwhile the scattershot’s replacement, the heatwave, is so situational and underpowered that like the ravager you’re better off using literally almost any other weapon including one with no bullets).

Co-op is gone, but will “arrive” at some point in the future. That one 343 has explained as being down to unforeseen difficulties with making open-world co-op work. But it’s still a bunt. Same with game modes in MP (one of the few times I’ll mention MP in this write-up). Warzone is gone, despite some of the new guns being literally introduced as “loadout guns,” presumably for the mode, by the devs. Firefight is nowhere to be seen. Most of the classic modes and gametypes were, at launch, locked behind events or just shoved together into a single playlist, if they were there at all.

Again, bunting. Why? Who knows. And it’s on display everywhere.

Even the open world has elements of this. Sometimes you’ll be able to grapple from one island to another. Other times? You’ll smack an invisible wall and fall to your doom. Sometimes these points will be several feet apart. Why? No idea. Just … roll with it. Bunt! There are other issues, but these are best saved for the last bit.


Strike!

And now we come to the last bit. The parts where Halo Infinite completely whiffs. Strikes out. Maybe goes for it … but then falls flat on its face.

And you know what? I’m counting the multiplayer in this part. It’s the second—and last—time I’ll talk about it. Sure, it’s free to play … and that comes with everything awful you’d worry about. FOMO and MTX everywhere you look? Check. Game designed to show off that FOMO and MTX to get players to buy buy buy? Check! Rotating store elements, timed exclusive deals, limited challenges, and roadblock after roadblock put in the player’s way urging them to just spend a little money to speed things up or get that new $50 bundle in the store? Check, check, check, check.

Oh, and the worst of all this? A good chunk of the MP is, at the time of writing this article, so broken it’s almost unplayable. Big Team Battle hasn’t worked in weeks, with disconnects and desyncs so bad that teams that should be 12v12 are more often 3v1. But you know what always works, has never had a problem, and gets new updates like clockwork?

That’s right. The store where the game begs you spend money. No problems there!

This is, in my opinion, a titan of a strike against the game. The number one thing the devs prioritize most is not the play, but the spending.

That’s all I’ll say on it. Let’s talk about some of the other strikes. Starting with the open world.

When it works? It’s golden. However … when it doesn’t … Well … things break down hard.

For starters, the AI clearly doesn’t know how to handle an open world. Their encounter range has been cranked up—no more will enemies a few dozen feet away in plain sight ignore you casually murdering their fellows. But the world itself is also really static.

Sure, it’s fun to come across a stationary spawn of brutes in a spot on the world and fight them, the firefight drawing in more nearby enemies. But then you’re left with a very empty spot on the world, until those same locations respawn. At the same spot, doing the same thing.

Infinite‘s open world is static, unchanging. You “free” and unlock forward operating bases across the map, but never do you feel that they do anything save give you a spot to fast-travel to and access to more weapon unlocks. There are no roving patrols of Banished forces wandering across the ring or fighting with patrols of UNSC marines. There are detachments of Banished vehicles, but they sit in one place, waiting for you to enter their engagement range, rather than following paths across the map. There are no random encounters, outside of, as near as I could tell, the game spawning a troop transport with reinforcements any time you aggro an existing AI clutch.

The weirdness of this and other elements of Infinite‘s open world wrinkles—of which there are many—is that they aren’t wrinkles for anyone else these days. The stuff Infinite has issues with is simply standard in other games, IE, they don’t have the same weakness or issue, because the standard is to do X or Y, while Infinite has settled for doing neither. For example, other open world games give the players resources to spend, whether its scrap for power cores or needing to pick up new weapons. Infinite instead just goes for an unlock system: You either have it, your don’t. Meaning … once you get a gun … infinite ammo forever as long as you swing by a FOB or use a reload station. In the endgame, then, all that’s left to do is unlock things, with no other progression or limit. Ergo, strike.

You can’t replay campaign missions. 343 has bunted now, and said this is coming, but they seemed surprised that such a standard feature was in fact, expected to be standard. There are collectibles, like audio logs … but no map markers to help you find said logs. In fact, the waypoints themselves often don’t seem to get that they’re in an open world, and do things like stick an objective marker atop a mountain with no hint that the actual location (which you were given, mind) is 300 meters down and accessed by a cave system 500 meters east.

There are whole zones of the open world you can’t get to without fast traveling. Inexplicably, you cannot fly there. Why? Again … no real reason is given, even if you have an air unit. Sands, you can’t even open world the whole last third of the game. It’s on the map … but you can’t go there or fast travel there. There are still collectibles there … but since you can’t replay missions or fast travel there or fly there … tough luck, I guess?

It’s all so strange. There’s a weapon drill feature … but no lore or information given to the player to work out what you’re expected to do other than shoot targets. Nothing on how some of the more esoteric weapons work, save going to Youtube and watching videos there summing them up. There aren’t even explanations about how some of the variant weapons work … though we can read a few paragraphs in a database about the guy who used said weapon. What?

It’s all so strange, like a bunch of weird elements blended together, but no effort was spent smoothing the edges or even asking what other open-world games did to blend those same edges.

Another strike is the bare-bones level of gear the game contains. From 50+ weapons to 22. Enemies have the same problem: I hope you liked the enemies in the first level of the game … because they’re pretty much, with two exceptions, the entirety of the enemy catalogue on display. Again, coming back to Halo Wars 2 and its portrayal of the Banished, or sands, even Halo 5 with its variety. Where did all of that go? Where’s the Mantis? The Goblin?

Also, even what is on display in Infinite is oddly … neutered. Take the Banished Wraith, for example. What set it apart in HW2 was that it was more armored than the traditional wraith, had spikes for ramming, and had a calibrated munition that set the ground ablaze when it fired. Very cool, and a nice alternative to the traditional wraith.

Here? 343 slapped the Banished colors on it … and that was it. It’s weaker (as are all the vehicles in this installment), but in addition bears none of the cool hallmarks that differentiated it in HW2.

“Why not?” I want to scream. “The wraith was awesome in HW2. Why not give us both, like in 5, where there were variants alongside the classic wraith that had different functionality like a cluster munition? Why tease us with the Banished and then … not give us the Banished?”

Strike. Through and through.

But there’s one last strike I want to talk about. A constant challenge of open-world games is properly setting up the “setpiece” moments. When you give a player freedom to go anywhere, the player can often “avoid” a lot of the classic moments of level design if you’re not careful, so care must be taken to design the open world to “funnel” players into these setpieces. Breath of the Wild, for example, limits the player to a single location early on to drive narrative. Later, there’s a moment of the game where the player is funneled through some tight, dangerous encounters by virtue of rain that prevents them from simply climbing around or out of the encounter and pushes them toward enemies spawned for the event.

Halo Infinite fails to do this. You can just skip whole fights that are supposed to be part of the story. For example, at one point in the game, rather than fight my way over the ground to the base of a large structure, I just grappled up atop it, walked along the top until I was near the entrance, then dropped down and killed the guards with fresh power weapons I’d spawned at a base. Cue cutscene and win. Was it funny? Well, yeah. But I was left with the acknowledgement that I’d missed whatever was supposed to take place in that time, from dialogue to fights.

The open world is nice, but players do need to be funneled. Strike.


So there you have it. My thoughts on Halo Infinite. It’s good. It’s great. And it’s a dud. All at once. Will it ever settle into a single, conclusive identity? Well … maybe. If some of those bunts are followed by home runs, and new “hits” make up for the “strikes.” As is, however?

I kind of find myself going back to Halo 5 for a better Halo experience now that the open world is tapped out (and I didn’t even 100% it). Or playing other games.

What is a home run is really good. But the rest … Infinite is a genuinely mixed bag, and that’s to its detriment, rather than success.

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