Never bet against Master Chief.
Halo 5: Guardians was released almost four years ago in 2015 so Halo fans are understandably eager to learn more about its follow-up, Halo Infinite. Thankfully, the next Halo game is expected to be shown during Microsoft's E3 2019 press conference (alongside with 13 other Xbox One first-party titles).
Besides Minecraft, Halo is arguably Microsoft's biggest and best-known franchise. It has millions of dedicated fans and it is steeped in history and evolution. But it isn't a stretch to say it's fallen out of prominence and mindshare in the gaming world.
Franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield, along with newcomers Fortnite and Apex Legends, generate consistent buzz. Halo, on the other hand, is currently most prominently represented by Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a game that sputtered at launch and has left a sour taste in the mouths of many. Microsoft's commitment to supporting and improving upon the franchise's "black eye," as 343 has called it, has been impressive to see, but fans are interested in what's next for the series.
Ahead of E3 2019, we're looking back at what we know so far about Halo Infinite and examining what the game must do to reinvigorate the franchise. If there is anything that Halo's campaigns have taught us over the years, it's that you should never bet against Master Chief.
Tell A Better, More Coherent Story
Halo 5's story was generally considered to be a letdown, something many reviews noted, and a sentiment that even 343 Industries boss Bonnie Ross has admitted to (and this is to say nothing of the misleading marketing campaign). Whatever the case, it's good news to learn that Halo Infinite will place more of an emphasis on the franchise's hero and one of gaming's biggest names: Master Chief.
As fans may recall, Halo 5 split up time between Master Chief and a new character named Agent Locke (voiced nicely by Mike Colter). Instead of splintering off to tell the stories of different side characters, re-focusing on Master Chief with Halo Infinite could be what the franchise needs to get back on track. Ross has described Halo Infinite as a "spiritual reboot" of the franchise. That wording suggests Halo Infinite could be akin to 2018's God of War. That game didn't tell an origin story for Kratos but it managed to retain the franchise's core tenets while also going deeper or wider in some brand-new narrative and gameplay areas.
The Halo universe is a sprawling, rich tapestry on which to tell all kinds of different stories, and 343 needs to weave something unique and compelling with Halo Infinite after Halo 5's meandering and incoherent narrative. Microsoft no longer numbers its mainline Halo games, but even so, the company tells fans to think of Halo Infinite as Halo 6. That's important because at one point Microsoft said Halo 4,5, and 6 were part of the Reclaimer Trilogy. It's easier to understand why Halo 5's story was such a letdown because it had the tough task of being a bridge story that was actually good. However, Microsoft later canceled its plans for a strictly defined three-game trilogy. Now, the company wants fans to think of Master Chief's story as an ongoing "saga" that is not limited to any specific number of games. This gives Microsoft the freedom to redeem itself and, ahem, reclaim its former glory with a story that puts the focus back on Master Chief in new and interesting ways.
Surprise Us With New Multiplayer Innovations
Halo 5 pushed the Halo multiplayer scene forward with its ambitious MOBA-style Warzone mode. Halo's multiplayer battlefield had never been so expansive, multi-layered, and engaging. It was a genuinely exciting and fresh take on the familiar Halo multiplayer formula. It felt like a bonafide strong step forward for the series, which has always been renowned for its multiplayer in particular. Microsoft needs to deliver a similarly novel multiplayer experience with Halo Infinite.
There has been much discussion about Halo Infinite mimicing Call of Duty and Battlefield with a battle royale mode of its own, but 343 has said that may not happen (even if the game's engine is technically capable of delivering it). This may be for the best, as it would be more exciting to see Halo Infinite blaze its own trail rather than follow in the footsteps and trace the formula of an already-saturated battle royale market.
Warzone was fantastic, but it always felt to me like more of a foundation or canvas that could support something bigger and more exciting. In addition to whatever advancements Microsoft makes with Halo 5 in terms of a large-scale multiplayer experience, the game would also do well to ensure the hardcore Team Arena fans are satisfied as well.
Halo 5's Team Arena also pushed things forward with a multitude of new abilities and weaponry, while the simple addition of clambering really changed how you could move around the map. The white-knuckle, fast-paced action of Halo Arena is where the series shines the brightest. Halo Infinite needs to keep this trend going and deliver something that pro players (Halo has a big competitive gaming scene) and the average player will enjoy in similar measure.
Show Off What The Slipspace Engine Can Do
The first trailer for Halo Infinite that was released at E3 2018 was actually for the game's engine, Slipspace, not the game itself. Slipspace is Halo's next-generation engine, and it was reportedly developed at no small expense. According to one Microsoft insider, careers will be made or broken based on the success of Halo Infinite due in part to its reported $500 million budget spanning game development and engine costs. For its part, Microsoft declined to comment on the reports of Halo Infinite's budget. Whatever the case, a new game engine can unlock new gameplay opportunities, and it's exciting to think about what a new set of development tools might allow 343 to do in terms of gameplay and Halo Infinite's overall depth and fidelity. The Slipspace engine trailer showed off a sprawling landscape that invites players to imagine what could be possible. At E3, Microsoft needs to answer that question.
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Bringing The Game To PC Is A Big Deal
For the first time since 2004's Halo 2, the mainline Halo series is returning to PC with Halo Infinite. This is a big deal because it opens up the Halo franchise to a much wider audience, including those who have never played Halo before (and people who will inevitably double-dip). Fans have been calling on Microsoft to bring Halo back to PC for years now, so it's good to see Microsoft listen to that feedback and take action. Microsoft is already laying the groundwork with Halo: The Master Chief Collection coming to PC beginning this month with Halo: Reach, and it'll have a multitude of PC features like custom frame rates, FOV slider, button-mapping, and more. But Halo Infinite will be the first main series game on PC in more than 15 years, and Microsoft needs to make sure it's a best-in-class, native PC game that doesn't feel like a port.
Showcase Forge's Next Evolution
Halo's Forge mode is a treat, and it's gotten bigger and better with each new Halo game. Already a robust map and mode-making tool, Forge could up the ante further in Halo Infinite with a tool suite and functionality that allows creative people to do even more. Halo 5's Forge mode led to creations developed with a level of sophistication and depth that few could have imagined. I was never creative or capable enough to make the most out of Forge's toolset, but I appreciated the community's creations and I spent my fair share of time playing Halo: Beer Pong and Toilet Bowl Zombies. Forge was never better than it was in Halo 5, but the game doesn't make it exactly easy to find custom game modes and maps, and the matchmaking system for custom games left a lot to be desired. Forge could help Halo Infinite become a truly "infinite" game with endless gameplay opportunities, but it needs better, more user-friendly systems and functionality to truly shine.
Split-Screen Is Back, And That's Good News
It seems like a simple thing, but Halo Infinite bringing back local split-screen is incredibly significant. Split-screen is one of the core pillars of Halo. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing Halo with my friends and siblings after school. I am not alone in my appreciation for local split-screen; just look at the reaction to Halo 5's decision to drop the feature. Microsoft was roundly criticized. Microsoft's data may have indeed shown that fewer and fewer people play local co-op, but removing the feature entirely from Halo 5 was a bad look all the same.
Split-screen always needed to return in Halo Infinite, and I'm happy it is. It may not be a feature that people make use of as often as they once did, but having the option to play split-screen is essential.
Have A Responsible Microtransaction Plan
Halo Infinite is a big new AAA game, so it comes as no surprise that it will have microtransactions. Microsoft confirmed as much a long time ago. Given that Halo 5's microtransactions proved to be so lucrative, it is no surprise the business practice is coming back for the new game. For Halo Infinite, Microsoft needs to communicate a microtransaction solution that doesn't come across as aggressive or anywhere near what could be considered pay-to-win. Microsoft would have surely seen what happened with Star Wars: Battlefront II and other recent examples of microtransactions gone wrong. Microsoft would do well to get ahead of the discussion and explain clearly and upfront how Halo Infinite will handle microtransactions. Until they do, fans may assume the worst. If Halo Infinite's microtransaction plan edges too close to "icky," fans can and should be encouraged to voice their concerns and leave feedback with Microsoft.
Use Halo Infinite To Show Off The Power Of The Next Xbox
With 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft took a bold risk and demonstrated how well an FPS could work on console. It was a tremendous success. Halo played a pivotal role in getting Microsoft's fledgling Xbox business off the ground, and the Halo series has pushed every new Xbox console since, the latest example being Halo 5's massive-scale MOBA-style Warzone mode. With Microsoft also expected to announce a next-generation console (or two) at E3 this year, Microsoft again has the chance to showcase the next evolution of what Halo can be. With a name like "Infinite," Microsoft needs to deliver something special. To sell a new console, Microsoft needs to demonstrate the hardware's new and impressive capabilities. Combining that announcement with a technical showcase of Halo Infinite could be a jaw-dropper at E3.