Though Microsoft’s output of first party games and franchises has always been something they’ve received a lot of flak for, there is one property under their belt that has single-handedly kept much of that criticism at bay. Halo, the series that proved that first person shooters on consoles could work, the series that popularized competitive online multiplayer in console FPS titles, the series that has a legacy more impressive and more enduring than manny could ever hope to have.
But while Halo was, is, and always will be, one of the biggest entertainment franchises of all time, there’s no doubting that the past few years haven’t been kind to it. Ever since Bungie left Microsoft and handed the series’ reigns to 343 Industries, Halo has seen a bit of a downturn. 343 Industries’ management has been competent, to be sure, and no one would say that any of the games they’ve made have been anything short of solid products- but the lustre and aura that was once associated with Halo has been, thanks to a series of missteps both big and small, largely missing.
Soon, Halo will be returning with its next mainline instalment, and Microsoft and 343 Industries have been making big and bold claims about how it’s going to reinvent the franchise. It’s exciting, to say the least- Halo is a series in need of a reinvention along the lines of something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it feels like 343 Industries are headed in the right direction, and have, most importantly, learned from their past mistakes. For the first time in years, Halo feels like it could be… Halo once again.
But while that is all true, there have been a couple of developments in recent days and weeks that have cast a little bit of a shadow on that bright ball of optimism. Taken individually, none of these factors mean much, but viewed together, they could potentially be worrisome… or could they? A closer examination would suggest otherwise.
The first of these happened just a few days ago, when it was announced that Halo Infinite’s creative director, Tim Longo, had left 343 Industries. In isolated terms, as I mentioned, that’s not too shocking a development. People move around and change jobs all the time, especially in this industry, while it’s also worth noting that though Longo is – or was – the creative director on Infinite, he was still playing second fiddle to Chris Lee, studio head of Halo Infinite, who was – and remains – the person overseeing the the entire project and its creative vision.
So why is it that some might find it concerning that Longo has left 343? Well, for one, there’s the timing of his departure. Halo Infinite is out in a little over a year now, and usually when creative leads leave projects when they’re so close to completion, it can spell bad things. None of us have any idea what this means for Halo- maybe Longo had different ideas for where he wanted Infinite to go, and departed because of creative differences.
Or maybe that isn’t true at all- it is conjecture, after all. There’s also the argument to be made that this far into the game’s development, it’s now at a stage where Longo’s departure won’t affect the path that the game is decidedly set on, especially since Chris Lee is still in charge of the project and holds the reigns. Having to change directions so close to release would, frankly, be disastrous for Halo Infinite, and hopefully, that’s exactly what Lee is there to prevent.
Yet another recent development that has got some people worried is, to sum it up succinctly, the threat of microtransactions. Recently, job ads from 343 Industries were spotted that mentioned “various business models found in both mobile and AAA games”. Even more concerning is the fact that, as per the job ad, 343 are looking to design “a AAA player investment experience that focuses on our fans and their desire to express their passion for our franchise (including but not limited to microtransactions).”
The wording of those statements immediately throws up a red flag as it is, but when you look at the context from a Halo fan’s perspective, you can’t help but feel even more apprehensive. Halo 5: Guardians was a game that had microtransactions, and it had microtransactions in their worst possible form- as loot boxes. And these weren’t restricted to cosmetic purchases either. It was an absolutely horrible monetization method that, honestly, was lucky to escape the unbridled fury of the playerbase, even if it was restricted only to a particular section of the multiplayer experience.
It’s easy, then, to see why people might be concerned about monetization in Halo Infinite too. That said, it’s also worth noting that, blessedly enough, the industry’s landscape has changed since 2015. Pay-to-win microtransactions in games just don’t fly anymore, so it’s likely that Infinite will only have cosmetic microtransactions – or at least so I hope. There’s also the fact that Microsoft themselves have recently been at the forefront of the charge against the exploitative nature of loot boxes, so even if Infinite does end up having cosmetic loot boxes – which might not even happen – they’d be far less aggravating and exploitative than what we fear.
There are some more things that might not hint at anything negative per se, but might be making fans uneasy. There’s the fact that Halo Infinite is going to be a cross-gen title, which raises some questions about how 343 Industries are handling its development. The Xbox Scarlett is going to be several times more powerful than the Xbox One X, and even more so than the base Xbox One, and Halo Infinite has to make sure that it plays and runs well on both ends of that spectrum.
Being the tentpole big-budget launch title for the Scarlett, you’d expect Microsoft would want the game to be able to show off just what it is that their new hardware is capable of- and judging by their words, it seems like that’s certainly what they’re looking to do (thanks in no small part to the new SplipSpace Engine, one would assume). So does this mean that those on the Xbox One will get a pared back, downgraded version? That would be foolish, seeing as the Xbox One has an established, respectably large fanbase. And sure enough, 343 Industries have been giving assurances that that’s not going to be the case.
So how do they strike that balance? Well, it doesn’t have to be a balance from a technological viewpoint. They can just make the game the best it can possibly be on current gen hardware, and then upgrade it to take advantage of next gen hardware as well, like a regular cross-gen release. All they really need to do to make both console players happy is make a stellar game. Just look at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild– released for both the Wii U and the significantly more powerful Switch, and yet a similar experience – in most respects – on both, which managed to win people over not because of its technical prowess, but its sheer mechanical brilliance.
There is one final concern regarding Halo Infinite that I want to bring up- how little of it we’ve seen so far. Microsoft announced the game back at E3 2018, and confirmed at E3 this year that the game will be out in Holiday 2020, and all this time, all we’ve gotten is two trailers. One of those was more of an engine demonstration, while the other was a cutscene from the game, essentially. As far as gameplay is concerned, we don’t know much (if anything). Infinite is supposed to be a “spiritual reboot” of Halo, sure- but how? Should we expect open world elements? Should we expect reinvented mechanics? Should we expect a complete rewriting of ideas from the series’ past? There’s no telling right now.
With a little over a year left for the game’s release, you’d expect that Microsoft would start showing things off. Maybe at X019 this November? Perhaps at The Game Awards the month after that? For some reason, it seems both those events are going to be notably lacking in new Halo information – especially the former – or else we might have heard something about it, from official channels or otherwise. It goes without saying, but more concrete details and perhaps a little bit of gameplay footage will go a long way in convincing people that this is indeed the Halo reinvention they’ve been waiting for.
At the end of the day though, things are – for the most part – looking positive. 343 Industries seem to be learning from their mistakes, and they’re saying all the right things (though again, it would be much better if we actually had concrete details to go along with that). Recent developments can seem worrisome, sure, but there really doesn’t seem like there’s any real reason to panic right now. In the here and now, all we can hope for is that 343 lives up to the lofty promises it’s been making and successfully delivers the long-overdue generation-defining Halo title we’ve all been waiting for.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.