Ever since 343 Industries took control of the franchise from Bungie, Halo has had a rough go of it. With the three releases that 343 Industries have managed, things have gone from bad to worse from them. Halo 4 was by no means a bad start for the 343 Industries era of the series, though it didn’t touch the heights of its predecessors. Following that, Halo: The Master Chief Collection suffered from an infamously bad launch, and though 343 have over time managed to turn things around for it, the poor state it released in is hard to forget. Then came Halo 5: Guardians, which is perhaps the most underwhelming and disappointing game in the series to date at launch.
Halo Infinite is a make or break moment for them, for the series, and for Microsoft. This is a chance for them to get this legendary franchise back on track, to go back to what endeared it to millions in the first place, to recapture the magic that it so effortlessly captured during the years of the Xbox and Xbox 360. And certainly, that’s what it’s being billed as- a spiritual reboot, an ambitious step forward for the series, a game that hearkens back to the days of Combat Evolved. Massive properties like The Legend of Zelda, Resident Evil, and God of War have all reinvented and revitalized themselves this generation, and with Infinite, Halo is supposed to be doing the same thing.
But things haven’t gone smoothly for it- not at all. First revealed at E3 2018 with an impressive but ultimately vague trailer, Halo Infinite then went dark for a long stretch. It reappeared very briefly a year later, but after a story trailer that did little to sell audiences on the game’s promise at E3 2019, it was nothing but radio silence for another year after that. Its gameplay reveal this July was supposed to be its big moment, and that, of course, didn’t exactly go as well as planned either.
We don’t need to go over exactly why that was the case- many (ourselves included) have talked about that at length already. Worryingly enough though, that’s far from the only stumbling block 343 Industries and Halo Infinite have hit of late. Just recently it got delayed into 2021– I’ll speak about that in more detail in a bit, but even before that, there were things that seemed worrying. In August 2019, for instance, Halo Infinite’s creative director Tom Longo left the studio, and there were many who suspected that that wasn’t a particularly encouraging sign for how development was going.
And sure, that’s purely speculative, so it might not be entirely fair to the game or to 343 Industries to worry about the game based purely on that, but recent months have only given us more cause for concern. For instance, Halo Infinite is supposed to be this “spiritual reboot” of the series – which is a phrase that 343 themselves keep on using – and yet its gameplay reveal didn’t feel like that at all. It felt like more Halo, but in a larger space- but that’s it. Is that because 343 Industries are perhaps overstating how different and changed Halo Infinite is going to be? Or is it because the parts that they feel merit that “spiritual reboot” descriptor aren’t ready to be shown yet? Neither possibility is very encouraging.
There’s also the visuals, of course, which so many people have said so much about these past few weeks, so rather than flogging a dead horse here, I’ll just state the obvious – seeing the next big Halo game, which was supposed to be the flagship launch title of the Xbox Series X – in that visual state set off plenty of alarm bells. And rightfully so- even if that was supposedly an earlier build of the game.
It’s also become clear over these last few weeks that 343 Industries were hit hard by COVID-19. Of course, most (if not all) developers in the industry were impacted by the pandemic, but 343 Industries in particular have been refreshingly open about the struggles they’ve had to face.
Back in March of this year, for instance, when 343 Industries confirmed that they had shifted to remote work, the wording of their message made it very clear that they were prepared for challenges that might very well throw a wrench into whatever they had planned for the game’s development, saying, “We’re removing all the obstacles in our path and tracking well, but need to be mindful of our current limitations and understand that the coronavirus situation may get worse before it gets better.”
Similarly, immediately after the game’s reveal a couple of weeks ago, the developers made it clear that their plans for a beta were not going to pan out. After E3 2019, 343 Industries had made it very clear that Halo Infinite would indeed be receiving several betas, which wasn’t surprising, considering the series’ focus on multiplayer, and the fact that beta testing has usually been an important milestone for it, especially under 343 Industries.
So when, a year later, they came out and said that “the unprecedented challenges of this year” – namely the pandemic – meant that they weren’t where they wanted to be with the game and its beta, it was no longer a stretch to assume that the game had obviously been going through several issues in development. As such, though the recent delay was definitely huge new, and definitely disappointing, it wasn’t really out of the blue, especially given how the developers specifically noted the pandemic as one of the reasons for the delay.
Ultimately – and this goes without saying – the delay is a good thing. It’s great news for Halo Infinite, its great news for Halo fans, and if the delay means the developers and 343’s staff won’t have to crunch too bad and won’t have as much pressure on them as they would have for a November launch – which hopefully they won’t – then it’s even better news for 343 Industries.
More importantly, it shows that Microsoft understands the importance of this game, and of getting it right. Halo has been stumbling from one error from the late, and it cannot afford another high profile error, especially not with a game that is being billed as it’s big return to form, a spiritual reboot of the franchise. Halo Infinite no longer being an Xbox Series X launch title is surely a big blow for the console, and for Microsoft- this was surely the biggest reason to get the console at launch, after all. Which is why Microsoft’s decision to allow this delay feels that much more significant- they understand that a rushed launch for the game is going to be devastating for their biggest franchise, and thankfully, that’s not a sacrifice they’re willing to make to sell more Xbox consoles this Holiday.
343 Industries have been saying all the right things about Halo Infinite. Free-to-play multiplayer, a larger, more open-ended campaign, atmosphere and gameplay that calls back to the series’ roots, a story that feels less convoluted than Halo 4 and 5- all of that sounds excellent, of course. The only problem so far has been that none of what we’ve seen of the game so far has done a great job of highlighting those selling points very well. Now though, more than anything else, people will be hoping that with the extra time they have on their hands, 343 Industries will be able to ensure that Halo Infinite lives up to their lofty promises.