When you start playing the Halo Infinite campaign on December 8, there's a good chance that you're going to go on a similar journey to the one that I've been on this past week – when I was granted early access to Master Chief's latest adventure on Xbox Series X. And no, I'm not referring to the fight against the Banished or the search for Cortana on a hostile alien world, but my reaction to the Grapple Shot.
When I first started playing Halo Infinite, I wasn't enamored with the new equipment. It felt perfunctory, an addition that followed the trajectory of broader industry trends rather than setting its own. After all, I've helped steer Spartan-117 through five consequential adventures without it in the last two decades, so why do we need a grappling hook now? A few hours later, I honestly couldn't imagine exploring Zeta Halo without it.
Why the Grapple Shot survived
The Grapple Shot might be the most consequential addition to the Halo sandbox since the introduction of the BR55 Service Rifle. It unlocks the potential of the world around you, opening lines of verticality in the environments whilst granting Chief new offensive and defensive capabilities. For Halo, it's a natural evolution of the super soldier power fantasy. But for developer 343, it was a risky addition it almost backed away from.
"We have a sandbox team that was experimenting with lots of different pieces of equipment over development and I would actually say that the Grapple Shot was probably the most controversial one when it was put into the game," reveals Paul Crocker, Halo Infinite's associate creative director.
343 had a variety of concerns. Would it be too time and resource-intensive to implement? Would it feel natural for the Chief to use? And would the studio be accused of copying other last generation games, anything from Dying Light to Titanfall 2? That last point, character director Steve Dyck tells me, is something the studio thought long and hard about.
"In terms of comparisons to other games, that was one of the few things that made us press pause and reconsider if we even wanted to do a grapple hook. Because it has been done in a lot of games, and so we're like, 'Well, is this gonna feel like we're just following in the footsteps of other things?' But then we always put things back through the lens of 'does this feel like a good fit for Halo?'"
Crocker continues on: "Halo tends to be on the ground or in the air. And what this did was it opened up that middle space where you had more freedom to become a super soldier." Fulfilling that super soldier fantasy is a big part of Dyck's job, and he eventually came to believe that the Grapple Shot would only add to it.
If you were a super soldier, Dyck says, "you'd be like, 'give me more mobility! I want to be able to zip around, I want to be able to pull myself to enemies, and over obstacles'." Despite concerns over the resources it would take to implement an item that opens up play spaces so significantly, one thing ultimately swayed 343: "Ultimately, I don't think anybody could deny how fun it was."
From multiplayer to campaign
Our Halo Infinite Season 1 first impressions are now live, exploring our first week with the multiplayer beta.
One reason the campaign team had so much consternation around the Grapple Shot is that it wasn't their idea to implement it in the first place. Crocker says: "You have to remember, we develop for multiplayer and campaign at the same time. So things are progressing in one direction that can have a slightly… not negative, but a different effect on the other side of the fence."
"So what happened was, it went into the game to test stuff out for multiplayer. And, you know, Justin freaked out because he has to build art to support it, and a whole bunch of other people freaked out because it seems like an overly powerful thing. But the truth is, as soon as you started using it, it just opened up that verticality of the world, and that's what influenced us to keep it."
The "Justin" that Crocker is referring to is Justin Dinges, campaign art lead of Halo Infinite. His perspective on the whole thing? "Yes, I did freak out," he laughs. "In a good way... in a professional, healthy way, because a grappling hook lets you go anywhere! But then I got over it, and the Grapple Shot is one of the coolest abilities I think Halo has ever had. So, it's all good."
He isn't wrong. As much as it changes the dynamics in multiplayer, the Grapple Shot completely alters your approach to combat and exploration in Halo Infinite's wide-open world. Sure, it's easy enough to requisition a Warthog, but why bother when you can grapple up the top of a mountain, maybe find a hidden skull, and look out at that gorgeous Zeta Halo skyline as it seamlessly transitions from day to night. "Actually," Crocker says, reflectively, "the idea of us taking it out now is crazy to us." I couldn't agree more.
This interview is part of our massive deep dive into Halo Infinite. For more, read our exploration of how Halo Infinite's open world works.