Naturally, there's been some trepidation surrounding the Halo Infinite campaign. For those of you that have been following this franchise for a while now, I'd imagine this statement won't come as much of a surprise. The community-at-large has approached every one of 343 Industries' efforts in this universe with caution, ever since 2012's Halo 4 failed to reinvigorate the series in the same way that Halos Combat Evolved through Reach seemed to, and the divisive Halo Infinite campaign reveal last summer certainly didn't help calm the nerves of anxious players.
But after over a year of radio silence, Master Chief has finally made contact – and with it, the battle 343 has been waging against surmounting expectations may be about to turn. In the Halo Infinite campaign overview, we received our best look at the upcoming first-person shooter's single-player portion ahead of its release on November 8 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, and it looks like the delay has done the game the world of good. 15 months ago, I took you inside 343's attempt to build "the most ambitious Halo game ever made" and it finally feels like the studio is in a good place to make good on that promise.
Combat has evolved
Halo is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary. If you've been with the series since the beginning, you might recall the second chapter of the first campaign – 'Halo'. John-117 emerges as the lone survivor from a Bumblebee escape pod and begins to explore Installation 04, a strange alien world whose strange composition immediately ignites the imagination. You fight to establish a foothold against the Covenant and support UNSC soldiers that survived the Pillar of Autumn, until Echo 419 drops a Warthog at your feet and invites you to explore a world that is slowly widening in front of you. Chief has completed a lot of missions over the years, but the promise offered up by his first is seared into my memory.
'Halo' dared us to dream of larger, more open game worlds – an escape from the corridors that shooters had confined us to on console for the longest time. Of course, open world Halo wasn't an option in 2001, but 2021 is a different story entirely. The technical limitations have been lifted, combat has evolved, and Halo Infinite is in a position to deliver on the sort of experience we could only dream of after playing the opening hours of the original game so long ago.
While we're still yet to get a sense of how Halo Infinite will marry its storytelling ambitions with the broader open world experience, we at least now know what we'll be doing on Installation 07 (Zeta Halo). Master Chief is trying to pick up the pieces of a war the UNSC has already lost against The Banished, a new coalition of Brute and Covenant forces, and is working to introduce a new AI to the Rampancy-suffering Cortana before a Spartan hunting Elite and rampaging Promethean can can stop him. To survive between key objectives, it looks like Chief will need to fight for every inch of ground on Installation 07 – establishing Forward Operating Bases to reveal local Banished and UNSC activity, and gear up to clear patrols and collapse fortified enemy bases.
Admittedly, it has an air of Far Cry to it. Once captured, the FOB bases will "serve as fast travel hubs and rally points for UNSC Marine fire support, and provide access to vehicle drops, weapons, and weapon variants." These bases will help connect the large open world, reveal friends in need of assistance to help bolster your support on the ground, and show high-value 'Targets' that can be hunted down and taken out for experience points and resources. You can also unlock a garage and weapons locker at captured FOBs, using a resource called 'Valor' to call in vehicles (such as a Mongoose, Warthog, or Wasp) from a dropship and rally rescued UNSC soldiers to hop into the gunner or side seats for support. From there, you're free to explore; the spirit of Combat Evolved's 'Halo' mission is alive and well.
How Valor is unlocked remains a mystery, but there's a good chance taking down enemy bases will do the trick. We see just one example in the Halo Infinite campaign presentation, Ransom Keep, a Banished base of operations that can only be shut down by destroying four massive silo cores – be it by rocket launcher, sidearm, exploding barrels, or any combination of Halo's vast pool of weapons and equipment. Admittedly, I'm a little burned out on the Far Cry model after sinking a few dozen hours into Far Cry 6 in recent weeks, although it's the way that 343 is merging this style of space with Halo's emergent sandboxes that's making me believe (hope?) that there will be more variation in Infinite than in Ubisoft's most recent open world FPS.
Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a good grappling hook. Particularly one that can be upgraded to electrify Brutes, to whip new weapons off the ground and into your arsenal when you're out of ammunition, and generally imbue Master Chief with a degree of momentum we typically only see in Halo's cutscenes. I guess what I'm trying to say is that It looks incredibly fun. Different. New. World's apart from the stale campaigns of Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. If this new look at the Halo Infinite campaign is fully representative of the final experience, then it would appear that 343 is on track to deliver an experience that can weld the reactive, sandbox action that made Halo 2 and Halo 3 so memorable together with what was only ever hinted at in Combat Evolved's opening missions – quiet exploration of a massive, hostile alien world. Okay, 343, I'm in; I'm so very in.