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Halo Infinite: Open World, No Matter the Cost

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Halo Infinite open world

I am and always have been a Halo fan. Like so many other gamer’s my introduction to Xbox was via Halo, I had stopped by a friend’s house after school in December 2001 to pick up my homework he had copied. As I was on my way out I heard the now-familiar theme song and was stopped in my tracks. Ever since then, roughly one-month post-release, Halo has been a significant part of my life. Needless to say, I was quite excited for Halo Infinite and the first Halo campaign in six years. But as more and more information was released regarding the game’s format and the developers hinted at the prospect of a larger more pseudo-open-world Halo campaign I began to worry. I didn’t want a Far Cry style Halo game and unfortunately for me, that’s exactly what we got. While in pursuit of their open-world vision for Halo Infinite, 343 industries seem to have lost sight of what makes up the essence of Halo and in that pursuit, the developers appear to have been willing to sacrifice anything and everything in service to the open world.

During the Bungie era of Halo, a huge portion of the team’s focus was on quality storytelling. As a result of this focus, Halo has always been filled with intriguing stories backed by rich lore. At the core of that story was an engaging conflict between multiple factions all with clearly defined motivations. Driving those motivations towards their end goals were interesting characters full of depth and personality. To witness the prophet’s undying belief in the prophecy, the Arbiter’s revelation of how his people had been used, Chief’s devotion to the mission despite his undeniable emotional trauma, or Miranda’s attempt to live up to the memory of her father is what gives the story of the original Halo trilogy life.

Halo
Image: 343 Industries

From a story perspective, 343 industries have clearly attempted to replicate Bungie’s success, but particularly throughout Halo 5: Guardians and Halo Infinite, have failed to do so. While Guardians’ storyline was successful in featuring several interesting characters with conflicting goals and motivations the way in which those characters behaved made little sense when considering their background and history. But where Infinite fails to tell a compelling story is both in how convoluted said story quickly becomes and the lack of compelling characters with understandable motivations. Master Chief has been well established as having a strong loyalty to humanity but even his actions seem to be driven by little more than winning the fight. While Esharum’s motivation being solely to ensure his name becomes legendary undeniably moves the feud between him and Master Chief forward that’s essentially all it does.

At the outset of the campaign, after being given only a brief tease at the events that led to the present, both Chief and the player are thrust into a situation that is already in motion. As the story progresses, the player learns that Cortana has died and Atriox (who is revealed to have been a pupil of Esharum’s for some reason) led a siege on the Infinity before dying himself. While there is a lot of interesting stories alluded to throughout the campaign in Infinite, one of the most egregious offenses of the game is that those story beats that are alluded to having occurred prior to the start of the campaign are far more interesting than anything that actually occurs during the campaign. And even in the case of the story beats that make up the campaign of Infinite, the open world’s demand that all storytelling be presented through the lens of the Master Chief necessitates that basically all of it be exposition vomited onto the player via hologram archives of interactions between other characters. Storytelling was one of the most glaring sacrifices in service to Infinite’s open world. 

But the story wasn’t all that was sacrificed at the altar of the open world. Halo: Combat Evolved, a game that predates Infinite’s campaign by more than 20 years, starts aboard The Pillar of Autumn, then moves into a wooded forest environment very similar to the biome that makes up the bulk of Infinite, after that Combat Evolved moves into a desert canyon, then onto a covenant cruiser, a tropical island, and finally underground forerunner tunnels…all in the first four levels! When accounting for Infinite’s above-ground forest biome and underground maze of forerunner tunnels, Combat Evolved features three times the variety of setting in its first four levels as Infinite does throughout the entire campaign. It is a well-documented fact that the development of Infinite was anything but smooth. As the team at 343 was developing an open world they were undoubtedly faced with challenges that they had never encountered in the context of Halo before. While the team is obviously full of extremely talented developers, that talent doesn’t change the fact that the ambition of their vision would be challenging for any team in the industry. Naturally, as happens with most games, cuts had to be made. While I have no insider information to confirm this theory, the fact that Halo has historically been a series that features a wide variety of biomes in each entry leads me to believe that biomes were something that had been planned but wound up on the cutting room floor in the interest of getting the game functioning and released. 

Infinite
Image: 343 Industries

A wide variety of beautiful settings have always brought the levels of Halo to life. The quiet snowy journey through Two Betrayals towards the end of Combat Evolved, the sight of New Alexandria in flames from high atop the skyscrapers in Reach, inside the flood infected nightmare in the level Cortana at the end of Halo 3, and even witnessing the destruction of Meridian in Guardians all brought the player closer to the world in which these stories took place. Historically Halo’s storytelling has been largely focused on witnessing firsthand the beauty and desperation of the game’s worlds. Those stories could have been completely unchanged in every way, aside from their settings, and they still wouldn’t have been able to flourish and come to life to nearly the extent they did. Halo’s classic biomes and settings appear to be yet another casualty in pursuit of the open world.

Because those settings were sacrificed, so to was the level design. The various settings, biomes, and geography that made up the Halo games of the past allowed the developers to craft truly excellent environmental challenges making each new area feel unique and memorable. Throughout the older campaigns, with each new level came the new potential for a wide variety of tailored combat sequences. From vehicle combat to chases, to low gravity firefights, the Halo campaigns were always hiding something new and interesting around the next corner. By virtue of the open world, Infinite’s levels are all relegated to underground forerunner tunnels akin to those of the library level in Combat Evolved. While this style was tolerable and even enjoyable while under the duress of the flood for one level, it gets old extremely quickly when those tunnels are all there is to speak of with regard to level design. Revisiting Halo 4 and particularly Guardians proves that 343 is extremely capable when it comes to level design, but any developer’s skill is dependent on the level of freedom they have to design environments. Infinite’s open-world dictated that every enemy encounter had to be designed to be approached from any direction. Had the game been more linear those combat scenarios could have been more focused and engaging. As is, Infinite’s combat encounters are the definition of quantity over quality. Regardless of how well those forerunner tunnels were designed, when all the game has to offer is tunnels connected by the open world, one can’t help but wonder what the designers would have been able to conjure up had they not been shackled to said open world. 

Some of the most memorable moments throughout the entire series of Halo campaigns come from the major action set pieces. Boarding the scarab in New Mombasa in Halo 2 felt exhilarating like a top tier action movie, cutting the cables on the platform followed by a several minute free fall as the arbiter, escaping the Pillar of Autumn in a warthog at the end of Combat Evolved, and fireteam osiris running down the face of the guardian in Guardians all come to mind as incredible visceral moments from past Halo games. Once again Infinite’s open-world stands in the way of making those memories or anything like them in the latest Halo campaign. By the simple nature of open-world design, the onus for the creation of fun is on the player rather than the developer. The developer can set up the dominoes but they have no way of knowing what direction the player will be coming from so they have no way of knowing which domino the player will choose to knock down first. Without a tailored experience the big action set pieces of the past are replaced by a variety of ingredients with which the player gets to decide what to do. While there is nothing wrong with this style of design and in some settings it is even preferable, it seems a bit too far a departure for Halo. Not only did I find my enjoyment of combat scenarios to vary wildly based on approach but the game also lacked any truly memorable scenes leaving no impression where even Guardians left me feeling something.

Infinite
Image: 343 Industries

Storytelling, biomes, environments, level design, set pieces, and so much more were all sacrificed to the open-world gods as 343 chased the latest trend with the Xbox’s flagship franchise. While Infinite’s 30-second gameplay loop is arguably the best the series has ever seen, that 30 seconds over and over again combined with a  truly excellent grappling hook just isn’t enough to carry an experience that is void of so many things that have made past Halo games great. As more and more elements that are fundamental to the Halo experience presumably hit the cutting room floor the game didn’t get bad it just slowly became bland. And in a way, oftentimes it’s worse to be bland than it is to be bad. A competent and finished game that is bad most of the time at least took risks to try to deliver something memorable, Infinite’s campaign feels like one of the most risk-averse games in recent memory, which resulted in something that was both fine and entirely forgettable. Hopefully using Infinite as the new Halo platform for years to come, 343 will be able to add in new campaigns that return to a more traditional Halo experience. 

News writer and Xbox reviewer. Patrick lives in Minneapolis Minnesota with his wife and their dog Ghost. Patrick studied economics at the University of Northern Colorado and is particularly interested in the market dynamics of the video game industry. When he's not working Patrick can be found walking Ghost through downtown MPLS, binging The West Wing on repeat, or playing hockey. You see everything Patrick does right here on GoombaStomp.com.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ghost

    February 13, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    Infinite’s Open World was really really bad it was all the same thing, capture FOB’s, capture Strongholds do the Mission. And the interior level desings was so bad not suit for HALO game. All the interior levels were same walls, same grounds and so dull. Nothing interest. The next HALO game must be lineer or should have really good open world design including missions, levels, side missions etc…

  2. Velans

    February 13, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    Halo Infinite will realize by experienced players, along with music and views of new generation :). Multiplayer will change with ideas of 343 Industries, so after some time will be notable players using all options :). I am thinking how 343 Industries develop the story :).

  3. Xboxer

    February 13, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    Hallo Infinit is awesome and 343 studio did an amazing job making it. The move to an open world map was the exact move Halo needed, considering the theme and story of the game. 20 million players says enough. I’ve never played Halo before, I played COD and Battelfield most of the time, but after Halo Infinite, it is easily my new favorite game. The Ghost Recon open world map style is amazing.

  4. Ghanaviking

    February 15, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    Infinite is really good. You bring up some good points though. Level design being my biggest negative about the game as well. However, I think the open world is done well and not nearly as bad and cluttered as a Ubisoft game. I was able to 100% the game in about 20 hours. The bosses were great. The mini bosses in the open world were a lot of fun as well. The freedom to approach combat was done really well. It is a polished game with very few bugs/issues. It is not the best Halo game, but it is a lot of fun.

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