Looking back on Halo Infinite, history reveals troubling trends but glimpses of hope.
Infinite is one-third of what the team initially imagined.
Season 3: Echoes Within brings sorely needed additions.
Halo Infinite’s history is a turning point in the franchise. Its story softly retracts what Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians did while retaining Master Chief’s depth. Beyond that, however, it feels more like a true sequel to Halo 3. It has a sandbox with equipment pickups, a sprint mechanic that quelled the staunchest of critics, and an art style that blends Halo: Reach’s grittier armor attachments and the original trilogy’s quieter and charming armor designs.
That, however, isn’t the entire story. At one point in Halo Infinite's history, the development and launch cycle seemed cursed. At best, it was off course and heading for the rocks.
Shadow of Intent: A Loose
Timeline of Infinite’s Development
What presumably began as the development of a Halo 6 morphed into a unique flavor of development hell that makes even Halo 2’s crunch cycle blush. Although Infinite has finally achieved seasonality and plays better than ever, its rough edges will take years to buff out. Pierre Hintze, the project lead on The Master Chief Collectioncomeback, is now the head of the studio and bolsters this idea.
In September 2015, just weeks before the October Halo 5: Guardians release date, the franchise’s development director Frank O’Connor confirmed that development on the next game was underway.
“We do kind of know what’s going to happen in the next game pretty well at this point,” O’Connor explained to GamesRadar. "We’re doing serious real planning and even some writing on the next game already, and that’s a luxury — we’ve never been in that position before. So we both know at a very high level what’s going to happen in, say, ten years from now. But at that very granular level knowing what’s going to happen in the next game and that’s just been a great feeling for me."
However, 343 Industries didn’t anticipate the backlash toward Halo 5’s story, at least to the extent that it escalated. Just one example is The Act Man, a YouTuber with nearly 2 million subscribers and easily one of the most prominent Halo commentators, who skyrocketed to full-time content creation with a scathing review of Halo 5’s campaign. The mostly positive reviews of the game’s multiplayer features and movement innovations could not rescue the worst story in a Halo game.
Around Halo 5: Guardians' release, 343 ramped up production on their in-house graphic engine known as Slipspace. This engine retained much of what made the Blam! engine from all previous mainline titles special, particularly Bungie’s titles. 343 planned for Slipspace to drive the next decade of Halo.
A skeptical lens might reveal 343 Industries’ ultimate intent as shaping the franchise into solely their image, without having to stand in Bungie’s shadow. While likely, it isn't the whole picture.
February 2017 brought news of split-screen co-op as a guaranteed feature for every future mainline Halo campaign. Promises of focusing solely on Master Chief after middling responses to Halo 5’s Spartan Locke followed shortly after in April of the same year. Rumors began to swirl of Halo 6 forming as a spiritual reboot. In June, 343 clarified in a blog post, in very direct language, that fans should not expect any updates on the next game anytime soon.
One year later at E3 2018, Microsoft revealed Halo Infinite and a Slipspace engine demo. Above all, the Master Chief’s helmet resembled his look in Halo 3. The live audience reaction tells you everything you need to know. Hope had returned, and it was a lean, mean killing machine astride a Warthog exploring an ancient Forerunner ring. The next Halo game looked to be a return to form, bringing old fans back and creating new ones.
Behind the scenes, however, the battle ensued for what Halo Infinite was supposed to be. The scope of the title and Microsoft’s hiring policies hampered development; nearly half of the staff reportedly were contract workers, the terms of their agreements preventing them from staying beyond 18 months.
Dina Bass and Jason Schrierer, via Bloomberg, spoke with developers who described the work in the studio in 2019 as “four to five games being developed simultaneously.” At one point, the team considered an Overwatch-styled hero shooter. Pair this with uncertain leadership that kept turning over — Halo Infinite had three different project leads — and a lack of focus seemed to be paving the road toward disaster.
Scaling Down: Two-Thirds Missing
Bass and Schriber reported that 343 Industries elected to chop the game down by a whopping 60 percent in 2019 after years stuck in an aimless and conflicted development cycle. 343 couldn’t grapple with the scope of their original plan and asked employees to come into the office but do nothing until the studio heads figured out their next move.
A year later, after several high-level personnel vacated their positions, the infamous demo happened.
Infinite’s first gameplay reveal left fans without an exact idea of what to expect from the game, its rough edges and technological mediocrity sticking out like a sore thumb and stirring skepticism at the November 2020 release date. The game clearly wasn’t close to being finished, and barely a week later, 343 blogged again, trying to get ahead of their loudest critics.
The build seen in the demo “was work-in-progress from several weeks ago,” and the game and its systems were “still being finished and polished.” Once again, 343’s critics were the loudest; this developer couldn’t get it right, even with nearly five years to make the game. In August 2020, Microsoft delayed the game beyond the November deadline, eventually setting it to a year later, in November 2021. Breaking the game into separate multiplayer and campaign portions was an option directly considered by the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer.
The announcement of head creative on the original Halo trilogy Joseph Staten's return to 343 as project lead to right the ship restored some hope. “I’m thrilled to join @Halo to help them ship Halo Infinite,” Staten tweeted. “As the project lead for the Infinite Campaign, I will be supporting the team’s existing, great leaders and empowering them to do their best work.”
Bonnie Ross’ Interview with CNET
There's no better look into the mentality surrounding Halo Infinite’s inevitable December 2021 launch than when Bonnie Ross, former studio head and founder of 343 Industries who had the final say over every franchise game since Halo 4, gave an interview to CNET. On the six-year-long development cycle, she says:
“I'll be transparent: I think you could probably see it was not intended to be quite as long. We needed time to overhaul the engine, figure out free-to-play and figure out how to have a more expansive world. And so, just that tech infrastructure just took a lot more time than we had planned. I think that there's a lot of learnings on doing both, as they were both new things for us to do. So I would just say that those just took longer than we had planned to do that. And then you can add COVID in there to make it even harder to do anything.”
Ross describes how COVID restrictions and safety hampered the development and collaboration of developers, especially given the fact that 343's headquarters are in Seattle, which became an early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Lockdowns lasted for most of the year and coincided perfectly with the last year of planned development, and only after Staten joined the project did Xbox delay the launch.
Bare Your Fangs, Spartan…for the Sequel?
Halo Infinite is the franchise’s first step into the open-world arena. Naturally, it looked to games like the astounding The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for inspiration. It’s clear that Link’s paraglider is comparable to Master Chief’s movement system; the Grappleshot flows better than any other grapple in a first-person shooter and is designed to traverse Zeta Halo. It’s clear as you play the campaign, however, that something feels missing.
The world resembles the United States Pacific Northwest, but only the Pacific Northwest. No other biomes, like the deserts of the Ark in Halo 3 or the gas giants and snowy catacombs of Halo 2,are featured.You walkthrough the woods and the mountains of Washington until you decide to raid the blue steel Forerunner hallways or the jagged red metal of the Banished outposts. It’s nice visually but lacks variety and makes even less of an impression.
The story is passable, but too many reveals come through exposition. Halo 5: Guardians ended on a cliffhanger as the Created, led by Cortana, threatened the galaxy with the Forerunner Guardians. The game explains away that ending through a time jump and lines of dialogue. Cortana attacked and then perished shortly after on Zeta Halo by the Banished. If you’ve forgotten some of those details because you didn’t see them firsthand, no one blames you.
It’s impossible to shake the feeling that the cliffhanger ending with Atriox — who was teased the entire game like a Thanos setup in a Marvel movie — is a writer’s rework to stretch the first 30 percent of the story over the course of a whole game.
This isn’t necessarily a negative, but it shows signs of wear and ultimately holds the campaign back from its full potential. Coupled with the recent Microsoft layoffs that gutted the single-player experience at 343, the likelihood of a Halo 7 or a Halo Infinite 2 anytime soon is about as high as an Arbiter-centered story. (Don’t hold your breath on that one even though it’s a no-brainer.)
What story is there suffices. It's safe but ultimately plays well, especially in a co-op session. However, the fact that split-screen multiplayer, which Bonnie Ross herself promised for years after it didn't appear in Halo 5, isn’t coming irks many players. To some, split-screen's absence is unforgivable.
Launch, Tortoise Shells, and a New Engine
“Slow and steady wins the race” is an old-school idea, but in free-to-play multiplayer games, it’s a quick ticket to snuffing out your playerbase.
Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, Halo Infinite's content releases have been inconsistent, sparse, and game-breaking. The cosmetics system is frustrating to veteran players, despite undergoing many updates, and remains a point of contention a year and a half after the game’s launch.
Both Halo Infinite’s first two seasons lasted six months with very little in terms of updated playlists and new maps. Plus, neither season added new weapons. As a free-to-play game, that's how you establish yourself as a mediocre title, even to the staunchest of Halo fans who still log in every couple of weeks. The game is a proverbial tortoise against the market's hare except the finish line remains far out of sight.
After 343 Industries extended Season 2 from six months to 10 and outlined their plan for the Winter Update and Season 3, a severe backlash ensued. #Fire343 started to trend online, born out of frustration with broken promises and disappointment after disappointment. The cancellation of split-screen co-op to focus on multiplayer spent the remaining players' patience.
This behavior coincides with a terminally online toxicity that Halo fans are known for, but this latest wave caused a seismic shift; Bonnie Ross stepped down. Three execs took on the responsibilities of her role: Pierre Hintz as studio head and Bryan Koski and Elizabeth Van Wyck as General Managers of the franchise.
Joseph Staten helped get the game back on track and is now back with Xbox Game Studios Publishing, much to the dismay of fans. As layoffs at 343 Industries commenced in January 2023, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier not only broke the news of Staten’s departure but also that all future Halo titles will be made on Unreal Engine. Slipspace gummed up development for too long and yielded too few results.
343 Industries has entered a new era with a new studio head. Hintze has experience getting a wayward and seemingly cursed launch back on track and viable for passionate Halo players to enjoy and to draw new players in.
However, with fewer developers than before and a game built on an unruly engine, Halo Infinite’s future trajectory is anything but certain.
What Makes the Halo Series Special
It’s tough to be a Halo fan. If you are, you’ve given Infinite a shot and have either stuck around, come back a few times, or haven’t returned at all.
A lot of Infinite’s issues were avoidable with more time in the proverbial oven and a clear vision from the offset, but the game is what it is now. The studio outsourced giant chunks of the game and relied heavily on short-term contractors as a response to Microsoft's cost-cutting policies. When ex-senior developers take shots at upper management while working on games like Apex Legends and the latest Star Wars titles, something isn't working.
An overreliance on independent contractors for tax breaks is a ripe source for criticism, but 343’s hands are tied as Microsoft ultimately calls the shots. When you’ve had more than enough time to get something out the door, it’s time to ship the game as complete as is acceptable. This reasoning is likely why Infinite shipped in the condition it did.
Some argue that Halo initially got as big as it did because of its importance in a time and place that has long since passed. The series built Xbox, console shooters, and console esports, but those are just the results of the passion that went into creating it.
Nothing plays like Halo. The controls are tight, the music is interactive and immersive on a scale only a few series have, the story and lore are easy to understand but enriched by passionate writers if you want to learn more, and the overall experience and polish stand the test of time. The Master Chief Collection and interest in Infinite, after everything, prove this.
The shield system provides a safety net and grounds the game's pace to avoid overwhelming inexperienced players. Shields also help experienced players get their bearings in a fight and have comeback potential not seen in something like Call of Duty, where if someone sees you first, you’re dead.
The sandbox is fictional, meaning weapons have unique properties compared to other shooters. The Needler, the Energy Sword, and the Shock Rifles play at different ranges, and players must strategize around them much differently than the plethora of automatic and semi-auto rifles in more militaristic shooters.
Every player starts with the same weapons (unless you’re playing Fiesta), referred to as “even starts.” Equipment pickups on the map give players the chance to cause some mayhem without needing to rack up a bunch of kills first. It’s a party game disguised as a shooter, no matter how sick the plays are in the Halo Championship Series.
The armor design and customization remain unmatched, especially given that most other games resort to a select number of outfits for avatars and crossovers with major IPs. The closest comparison is 2016’s heavily underrated Titanfall 2, which not enough people played. As great and lucrative as Fortnite’s skins are, Halo has always granted players the ability to express themselves through its iconic armor, more so than any other multiplayer shooter.
“Okay, So Infinite Has Been a Total Mess. Is It Even Worth Playing?”
It's fair to ask whether or not Infinite is even worth playing.
The player count has suffered since the game launched but has seen an uptick since Season 3’s launch in early March 2023. Why do players play beyond the fact that they love Halo? A couple of reasons.
Halo’s gameplay loop is unique. Even starts lets players scavenge for resources and have a shot for power weapons. Infinite’s power weapons and equipment especially feel great. Above all, it’s loads of fun. Play with friends and learn how to make more.
Its dynamic, open-world exploration and the Grappleshot are extraordinary. For what it’s worth, Infinite’s campaign is a whole lot of fun, especially with friends in a network co-op game. The only downside is that more biomes don't exist.
2023’s content updates are actually excellent. Forge is better than ever. Season 3: Echoes Within features the best multiplayer story event yet, and cosmetics have never been more open for returning and concurrent players. New maps, new modes, new weapons, new armor, and more fun!
November 2022’s Winter Update and March 2023’s Season 3: Echoes Within are considered a “soft relaunch” of the game, and the changes are excellent. Forge and the Custom Game Browser are functional right away (which is asking a lot of 343), skill-based matchmaking has improved in ranked modes, and you get a whole lot more bang for your buck when you buy the battle pass.
You also receive a whole lot more free armor and colors just for logging in. Infinite has never been more fun to play than it is right now.
Halo Infinite’s history has been bumpy, but 343 Industries deserves some credit for getting solid content updates out the door on time.
It would have been much better if it launched in a complete state, but the game is still an enjoyable Halo experience. It’s not unreasonable to believe that, with time, it can see a comeback as The Master Chief Collection did.
Whether it roars back or not, learn about ithere on HaloHype. Subscribe for all things Halo, including lore, characters, guides, and gear.
Was this article helpful?
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.