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Halo Infinite campaign review: playing the hits

Infinite in name, not quite yet in scope

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An image showing Master Chief

Halo Infinite’s campaign has been a long time coming, and yet it’s been hard to know what to expect from it. Developer 343 Industries has described Infinite as “the start of our platform for the future” and “the start of the next 10 years for Halo.” But after a notoriously poor demonstration last year prompted a delay into this one, Microsoft has shown very little of what’s intended to be a crucial entry in its best-known series.

At the same time, the multiplayer portion of the game has already been released for free. You’ll be able to play Halo Infinite’s campaign on Game Pass, sure, but this was already a series where interest heavily skewed toward multiplayer, and now the only part of the game Microsoft is directly charging for is the single-player mode.

What, exactly, are you getting?

It turns out the answer is… pretty much another Halo campaign. It’s clear that 343 is using Infinite as a soft reboot in an attempt to bring the series back to broader relevance, and it features the most radical changes to the core Halo design since the original game. At the same time, Infinite is almost explicitly a throwback to the series’ earlier days — it feels like it was designed to win back people turned off by the aesthetic and narrative left turns of 343’s Halo 4 and 5.

Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite begins in an uncharacteristic situation for the series’ iconic protagonist Master Chief: defeat. Floating in space after an encounter with a leader of the Banished — essentially a coalition of bad guys from alien races found in the early Halo games — he’s picked up by an unsuspecting pilot and ends up exploring an uncharted Halo ringworld in an effort to gain ground and fight back. 

It’s easy to get the sense that ‘Halo’ is back to its best

Despite appearances, Halo Infinite is not really an open-world game. At certain points in the campaign, you do have a lot of freedom to roam Zeta Halo, the new ring, and there are side quests dotted around the map. You can discover items that let you upgrade your equipment, and various optional actions in the world earn you “valor” that can be used to call in for reinforcements. But these moments are sectioned off by the story, and there’s no sense of a singular world that you ever get to explore. Zeta Halo feels more like the incidental hub areas introduced in Gears 5 than a genuinely open game, and there’s very little visual diversity. Like the original Halo, you will also spend a lot of your time roving around neon blue underground corridors fighting endless waves of enemies.

To be clear, this isn’t a big problem, because Halo Infinite plays incredibly well. Halo never needed an open world to give you a sense of freedom and creativity with its combat, and that’s even more true with Infinite. The addition of the Grappleshot, a grappling hook tool that lets you zip around the environments with abandon, is transformative and brings Halo right up to date with more recent first-person shooters that prioritize the joy of movement. And the more open design, at least for missions situated outside, gives you plenty of freedom to approach them the way you want.

There’s a mission called “The Sequence” midway through the game that’s the perfect example. Ultimately, it’s a simple design — you need to activate four separate buildings to get access to the one you’re coming from. But they’re all several kilometers away from each other, and you have to improvise how to get there. In my case, that meant hijacking various vehicles and getting back to my starting point in a Banshee, a small alien flying craft that was close to exploding. At its highest moments, Halo Infinite evokes and elevates the blueprint set by classic missions like “The Silent Cartographer” to a whole new level of freedom. Combined with a colorful art style and environmental design more reminiscent of the earlier games, it’s easy to get the sense that Halo is back to its best.

The side quests are essentially just enemy bases with more aliens to shoot, but they do at least give you something to think about when traversing the landscape. Halo has always best played to its strengths when its combat opens up to wider environments, and Infinite takes that idea even further, enabling much more flexibility in how you take on your objectives. Unfortunately, too much of the campaign is spent in narrow, repetitive indoor settings. It’s not like the combat isn’t still fun, but frankly these sections can sometimes feel like filler given the promise of how well the game plays outdoors. You will spend far too much time in Halo Infinite looking for batteries to plug into terminals in order to open doors, which is pretty much all the game ever asks you to do inside.

One of the biggest criticisms of Halo 5’s campaign was the repeated boss battles against the Warden Eternal, which felt punishing and tedious. Infinite has a lot of boss fights, but it feels like 343 put in serious effort to make them more interesting than Halo 5’s. The battles are well-designed and often require you to make use of recently unlocked abilities or weapons, which is a big improvement.

But Infinite can’t fully escape Halo 5 in other areas. While the narrative is seemingly designed to bring in players less familiar with Halo’s complex lore by shaking up the setting, the fallout from the previous game’s big twist ultimately ends up driving the plot, and that’s where Infinite loses me. This is by no means a game where you have to care about the story in order to enjoy it, but even as a fan of the series myself, it does feel like it was written more for die-hards than newcomers. 

That’s the thing about Halo Infinite. It’s the best Halo has been in a long time, but it could easily have been called Halo 6. There are clear possibilities for potential expansion down the line, of course, and what’s already here will be very replayable. (It’s worth noting here that the campaign won’t be playable in co-op until at least May next year). I do plan on getting around to the side quests I didn’t finish before, which should at least be more of a varied experience than running through “The Silent Cartographer” for the 300th time.

But while there’s a lot to this Halo, its scope is far from infinite. This isn’t really a game like Destiny where even though it was lacking in content at launch, I’d still feel that urge to replay missions and grind endlessly to make progress. It’s also not a huge open-world game that will take dozens of hours to complete.

343 Industries has laid some really solid groundwork here and deserves a lot of credit for managing to modernize the series while focusing on what people loved most about it. At this point, though, it’s not so much a reinvention as simply a very good Halo campaign. 

Halo Infinite’s campaign will be available on Wednesday, December 8th for Xbox One consoles, Xbox Series consoles, Windows, and Steam. Microsoft provided The Verge with early access to the campaign for review.