NOTE: While this review briefly discusses Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer component, it is focused primarily on the game’s single player campaign. For our detailed impressions on the former, make sure to check out our Halo Infinite multiplayer review.
Halo’s track record has been a turbulent one, to say the very least, since 343 Industries took charge of the series, but their messaging with Halo Infinite has been very clear right from the get go. Described as a spiritual reboot, Infinite’s primary purpose is to bring the franchise back on track and capture the essence of the incredible first half of its life so far, which is something that the last few games in the series have failed to do. At the same time, the newest entry in Microsoft’s legendary series also shoulders the responsibility of expanding and evolving a formula that has been in place since 2001.
Striking that balance is easier said than done, and Halo Infinite chooses to do so the way many other franchises have done in recent years- by adopting an open world formula. And it fits perfectly. While Halo has never been an open world experience in the past, it’s always been defined by its emergent combat sandbox, and fans of the series have always felt that translating to a wide open area with the freedom to explore would be a perfect fit. It very much is a perfect fit, and 343 Industries deserves a lot of credit for how well it’s implemented in Infinite.
"Halo Infinite tries to toe the line between being a satisfactory sequel that addresses questions raised in previous games, especially Halo 5, while also serving as a reset that is welcoming in its simplicity to newcomers. For the most part, it does so quite well."
Set several months after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, Infinite’s story kicks off in devastating fashion. The Banished – a splinter faction of alien soldiers who broke off from the Covenant and were first introduced in Halo Wars 2 – have decimated the UNSC Infinity crew, who were already reeling from the overwhelming defeat they suffered at the hands of Cortana and her Created in the previous game. Master Chief is defeated and sent within an inch of his death in this fight, and wakes up several months later to find that The Banished have all but won, and now control a Halo installation known as Zeta Halo. And once again, it falls to him to ensure that a Halo ring isn’t used for nefarious purposes by an enemy faction.
Halo Infinite tries to toe the line between being a satisfactory sequel that addresses questions raised in previous games, especially Halo 5, while also serving as a reset that is welcoming in its simplicity to newcomers. For the most part, it does so quite well. The front half of the campaign is defined by questions and mysteries, with the Chief being as much in the dark about ongoing events as players are, and watching that mystery unfold bit by bit is quite satisfying. Some fans will be upset about the time skip that separates Halo 5 and Infinite, especially since a number of momentous events take place in that period, but I think it’s a necessary compromise. It’s no secret that Halo’s story had become a bit too convoluted for its own good after Halo 5: Guardians, and while Infinite’s solution to that problem is, in essence, still a band-aid, it does allow the game to stand on its own legs while also ensuring that it doesn’t ignore past events.
Where Halo Infinite’s story really shines is in its characters. Focusing on a much smaller cast of just three core characters, the story here feels much more intimate and personal. Master Chief is a broken man who is coming to grips with devastating losses, and watching him deal with the overwhelming guilt that brings is fascinating. It brings out a side of his character that has rarely been seen in Halo games in the past. Then there’s The Weapon, a new AI – a Cortana clone, no less – who brings something new to the table with her naivety and her much more optimistic and curious personality. As someone who doesn’t know the Chief or understand the context of everything that’s happened in the past, she acts as the perfect foil to a plot that carries the baggage of multiple preceding games.
"The three characters play off each other in consistently fascinating ways, and their individual personalities and growing relationships with each other are brought to life by excellent performances from Steve Downes as Chief, Jen Taylor as The Weapon, and Nicolas Roye as The Pilot."
Finally, there’s The Pilot, who is the biggest surprise, and maybe even the highlight of the experience. While Chief and The Weapon are laser-focused on beating The Banished and taking Zeta Halo back from their control, The Pilot is just a regular man who, more than anything else, wants to get far away from the Ring and go back home. Halo Infinite’s story has a lot of heart, at times almost surprisingly so, and The Pilot is responsible for a lot of that. Each of the three characters play off each other in consistently fascinating ways, and their individual personalities and growing relationships with each other are brought to life by excellent performances from Steve Downes as Chief, Jen Taylor as The Weapon, and Nicolas Roye as The Pilot.
Let’s get back to the defining element of Halo Infinite’s campaign though- the open world. The game’s introductory sequence, lasting anywhere between an hour and two hours, is classic linear Halo, but eventually, the game opens up. Master Chief arrives on Zeta Halo, and from there, Infinite truly comes into its own. Large and freely explorable areas of Zeta Halo become accessible bit by bit as you progress through the story, and each area has its own set of activities and side missions for you to take on. The main driver for that are the Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs, which you’re tasked with freeing from Banished control. Once freed, the UNSC takes control of them, with each base becoming a fast travel point, and a home base for marines, as well as a place to summon weapons and call in vehicles.
Not all weapons and vehicles are available from the get go, however. These are unlocked by earning Valor Points, which, in turn, are earned by completing various optional activities scattered throughout the open world, from rescuing marines or destroying propaganda towers to destroying Banished bases and strongholds or tracking down and killing high value Banished targets, and more. As you earn more Valor, you gain access to more powerful weapons (which can also be accrued by killing the aforementioned targets) and vehicles such as Warthogs, Razorbacks, Scorpions, Wasps, and more.
"Halo Infinite succeeds in encouraging players to go out and explore the expanses of Zeta Halo. Best of all, thanks to the restrained nature of its open world both in terms of size and how many activities there are available at any given time, the game smartly avoids feeling bloated or too big for its own good, which is an issue that open world games are weighed down by all too often these days."
It’s a smartly crafted loop, because the further you progress into the game, the more challenging many of its optional activities will be, and being able to tackle them with more powerful weaponry and vehicles not only makes them easier to take on, but also opens up different options for the player. With that as motivation, and the fact that exploring yields other results such as audio logs that uncover more of the lore and backstory, Halo Infinite succeeds in encouraging players to go out and explore the expanses of Zeta Halo. Best of all, thanks to the restrained nature of its open world both in terms of size and how many activities there are available at any given time, the game smartly avoids feeling bloated or too big for its own good, which is an issue that open world games are weighed down by all too often these days.
Another one of Halo Infinite’s best new elements – standing toe-to-toe with the open world – is the Grappleshot. Master Chief has access to this tool right from the get go, and it’s a permanent part of your arsenal, as opposed to the multiplayer, where it’s a pickup with limited uses. The Grappleshot completely changes both combat and movement, and radically improves both aspects of the game. Snatching weapons from a distance, hijacking vehicles, quickly traversing long distances, climbing up steep hills, pulling yourself into an enemy for a hard-hitting melee attack- with all of this and more, the Grappleshot is an incredibly useful tool with surprising utility, and becomes an integral part of the core gameplay loop.
There are other pieces of equipment in the game as well, which the Chief picks up bit by bit as the story progresses- the Drop Wall, the Thruster, and the Threat Sensor. By and large, neither of them are as universally useful or as fun to use as the Grappleshot is, but they each have their uses in unique situations. One FOB, for instance, is guarded only by two invisible Elites wielding Energy Swords, and taking them down can be quite tricky, as you might imagine. Throw a charge of the Threat Sensor right into the heart of the FOB though, and things become much easier, allowing you to, say, snipe both of them from a distance as soon as their positions are revealed to you. The UI is a bit of a headache here, because switching between different equipment items requires two presses of d-pad buttons, just as it does with grenades- which can get pretty confusing and feel a little clunky when you’re in the heat of battle.
"Another one of Halo Infinite’s best new elements – standing toe-to-toe with the open world – is the Grappleshot. Master Chief has access to this tool right from the get go, and it’s a permanent part of your arsenal, as opposed to the multiplayer, where it’s a pickup with limited uses. The Grappleshot completely changes both combat and movement, and radically improves both aspects of the game."
All of this equipment can be upgraded as well. Throughout Halo Infinite’s story missions and its open world, you’ll be able to find Spartan Cores, which are essentially the currency that’s used for leveling up your equipment. It’s not a terribly deep or robust progression system, but it does a great job of allowing you to assert your ownership on Master Chief. If you’re finding it hard to cope with enemy onslaughts, you can upgrade your shields; if you use your Grappleshot frequently in combat, you can reduce its cooldown and even add a stun effect to it; if you use the Threat Sensor often, you can expand its range and radius. The upgrades are all quite useful, and the fact that the game actually makes you stop and think about how you want to spend your Spartan Cores lends a lot of weight to its progression system, and makes you that much more invested in it.
Of course, it has to be said that Halo Infinite’s combat is simply exquisite. Combat has obviously been the series’ biggest strength bar none since its inception, and that has been true even when Halo has been at its worst. Infinite’s combat is the best this series has ever had. Movement is slick and fluid, there’s an excellent variety of weapons, those weapons all feel incredible to shoot, and enemies are varied and have typically excellent AI. Smartly using your grenades and equipment, managing your weapons and picking up more of them from the battlefield as you run out of ammo, and knowing when to risk charging ahead and when to take cover to allow your shields to regenerate makes for a compelling loop that never gets boring. Every activity in Halo Infinite, whether its the story missions or the open world side objectives, boils down to combat, and the combat’s perfection ensures that repetition or boredom never, ever settle in.
If there’s one area where Halo Infinite disappoints, it’s the visuals. First and foremost, the open world of Zeta Halo is desperately lacking in visual variety. It’s all green hills, sparse forests, and Forerunner structures, and there’s very little to separate one part of the open world from another. Sure, looking out at vistas from vantage points or watching the Ring curve up and over you as you look at the horizon can strike a sense of wonder just as it did when you first stepped out from your crashed escape pod in Halo: Combat Evolved– but Infinite never really does anything beyond that.
"The open world of Zeta Halo is desperately lacking in visual variety. It’s all green hills, sparse forests, and Forerunner structures, and there’s very little to separate one part of the open world from another."
Technically, too, the game could have been much better. Its performance deserves all the praise in the world, seeing as I rarely ever noticed any frame rate dips in all my time with it, but other areas are less consistent. There’s frequent pop-in, especially for distant objects and assets, and draw distances are far from acceptable. I also ran into random freezes a couple of times, where the game would simply freeze up for a few seconds for no discernible reason, though thankfully these didn’t lead to crashes. I’ve also had several issues with Achievements that don’t track progress or don’t unlock when they should.
These issues are easy to ignore in the grand scheme of things though, because where it counts, Halo Infinite’s campaign is excellent. It tells an engaging story, drives that story with compelling characters, implements an open world that is the perfect size, and litters that real estate with consistently enjoyable and addictive activities. All of that, of course, is built on the foundation of predictably stellar combat, which manages to touch new heights not only thanks to smart refinements and iterations, but also the game-changing addition of permanent equipment- with the Grappleshot in particular being the star of the show. After all of its stumbles in recent memory, it feels great to say that with Halo Infinite, this series has delivered a spectacular campaign that may very well rival the likes of Halo: Reach and Halo 3 as one of its very best offerings to date.
That stands true for Halo Infinite’s multiplayer as well. I have previously discussed that side of the experience in great detail in my Halo Infinite multiplayer review, and I encourage you to go check that out for my detailed impressions on that front, but in a nutshell, there’s plenty of reasons to be impressed there as well, from excellent combat and movement, to smart implementation of equipment and mechanics such as power weapons, to a solid selection of modes and excellently crafted maps.
"Simultaneously recapturing a legendary series’ essence and moving it forward in significant and meaningful ways is a pretty tall order, to say the very least, but Halo Infinite pulls it off with great aplomb. And now, at long last, Halo is back to its best."
Multiplayer is not without its issues, of course, but even though its still early days, 343 Industries has been quite proactive when it comes to listening to feedback and making needed changes and improvements. Battle Pass progression is already significantly better than it was when the multiplayer first launched, and new playlists are arriving imminently as well. Even in the state that it launched in, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer was one of the series’ best offerings to date, but with 343 Industries’ willingness to make quick improvements, the future is looking even brighter.
Taken as a whole, Halo Infinite is an amazing package. This series has been down in the dumps where its mainline offerings are concerned for some time now, and even in the lead-up to Halo Infinite’s launch, things were looking pretty dire until not that long ago. 343 Industries has made an excellent recovery though, for which the studio deserves all the praise in the world. Simultaneously recapturing a legendary series’ essence and moving it forward in significant and meaningful ways is a pretty tall order, to say the very least, but Halo Infinite pulls it off with great aplomb. And now, at long last, Halo is back to its best.
We’ve missed you, Halo. It’s good to have you back.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Excellent implementation of an open world setting, thanks to a number of consistently addictive and enjoyable activities; Valor Points and audio logs, among other things, encourage players to explore the open world and take on side activities; Quite possibly the best combat ever in a Halo game; The Grappleshot is an excellent addition that completely changes and radically improves both the movement and the combat; Permanent equipment unlocks add even more nuance and strategy to combat; Solid progression mechanics; An engaging narrative that successfully strikes a balance between following up on Halo 5 and standing on its own legs as a spiritual series reboot; The trio of Master Chief, The Weapon, and The Pilot makes for a much more hard-hitting story that's much easier to get invested in; Insanely addictive multiplayer component that shows all the signs of getting even better as time goes on; Steady performance.
Equipment-switching UI can be a bit cumbersome; Open world lacks visual diversity; Some technical issues.