In August, 343 Industries announced that Halo Infinite would not include campaign co-op at launch, with the feature coming early next year. I was pretty heated about it back then, and I’m frankly still heated about it now because it’s fucking Halo, you know? How are you going to release the first Halo game in almost a decade without co-op? Xbox Game Studios has lucked out though, because Halo Infinite’s PvP mode – even in its current, unfinished state – is good enough to be released on December 8th on its own.
Halo’s multiplayer mode has taken a lot of forms over the series’ lifespan. With Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie introduced a sense of scale with maps like Blood Gulch that continues to influence map design today. In Halo 3, the campaign introduces the player to equipment like the bubble shield and the gravity lift which are then present across the game’s multiplayer modes. Halo 4’s multiplayer might have felt like a weird Call of Duty clone, but its refocus on tight arena spaces paid dividends in Halo 5: Guardians, which I felt had the best feeling moment to moment action in the series’ history.
The sixth Halo – a game that 343 has described as a “spiritual reboot” – must sufficiently re-evaluate and retool the game’s fundamentals while also still feeling like Halo. 343 Industries’ first entry into the series, Halo 4, felt too little like Halo. Time to kill felt off, the weapons weren’t particularly satisfying to use, and the game’s integration of equipment made matches feel unbalanced because the game’s “Golden Triangle” was broken.
Oh, you don’t know about the “Golden Triangle”? It’s the defining philosophy for Halo multiplayer, where players can start, alter, or end an engagement using the three main offensive tools (melee, grenades, weapons). Halo rewards fast reflexes and a quick trigger finger, yes, but by engaging with this triangle and (for example) starting fights by tossing a grenade at your enemy before you start shooting them, you start to win more fights. That literal opening salvo pops your opponent’s shield, allowing you to chew through their health while they try to chew through that energy barrier around you. Shooting someone while you close the gap between you and finishing them off with a quick punch to the face gets you more kills than burning a whole clip into your opponent’s stomach.
With Infinite, players are forced to engage with that triangle. Because the game is so deliberate in its sound design, animation, and tactility, players are rewarded with not only some of the chonkiest shotgun sounds in a shooter, but with in game success, as well. It’s a robust system that establishes a consistent and satisfying ebb and flow.
And then they went and put a damn grappling hook in it. And folks? Fuck a triangle: we’re onto squares now.
Here are some things you can do by combining some of the equipment (like the Grappleshot and the Repulsor) and the game’s legacy systems:
- Using the Repulsor, you can send people flying off the map:
- Send someone’s dumbass grenade back to them by slamming the Repulsor when it lands at your feet
- Use the Grappleshot to hook onto a guy. That’s it. You can harpoon people. It rules.
- The Grappleshot lets you grab weapons and armor abilities, so you can fish a rocket launcher out of a spawner and yank it out of another person’s reach:
- If done correctly, a well timed Repulsor blast can fling a power weapon (or a person) up into the air, opening them up for any number of interactions
The game’s integration of equipment into the combat flow applies a focus on systemic interaction that hasn’t really existed in Halo multiplayer before. Weapons and grenades have types (energy, plasma, kinetic) that all interact with armor, health, and vehicles differently. One of the game’s new additions, the Dynamo Grenade, creates a small field of electricity that slows and damages people who walk into it and it chains between people and also it will lock up vehicles that drive through the area of effect. Players gaining the ability to drop weapons mid match can create confusion because the person who picks up the sniper rifle might not always be the person who has it right now. The triangle becomes a square becomes a pentagon, and so on and so forth.
Those layers combine into something that feels different from any first person shooter on the market right now. It is heavy, chunky, and like Halo 5: Guardians before it, almost mechanical. Even as the free to play shooter space continues to expand with newcomers like Splitgate, 343 has a legitimate chance at starting a wildfire with Halo Infinite. It feels feature complete right now, even though the version of the game that I played last weekend is a month old. It is a great shooter in a sea of okay ones.
As excited as I am to finish the fight for the sixth time with my friend Master Chief, I don’t have any interest in doing that twice in the span of three months – once alone (at launch) and then again with friends (early next year). With Infinite, 343 could flip Halo 3’s script, using the familiar trappings of the multiplayer mode to teach players about the new ways systems will interact in the campaign’s unfamiliar open world. Asking folks who don’t have this job to play your multi-dozen hour campaign twice in ~4 months also seems pretty precocious. It’s a big ask that would be easily avoided if Microsoft just… waited. Instead, one team’s work will be pushed out of the door before it’s ready, needlessly tanking the potential success of the other because someone’s looking at spreadsheet somewhere and they need those numbers to go up.