Halo Infinite has had one hell of a week. On Monday—the sci-fi franchise’s 20th birthday—series stewards 343 Industries surprise-released Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode, weeks ahead of schedule, to instant-zeitgeist reception. Today, various sites published glowing previews of the first few hours of its campaign. (Kotaku did not receive early access.) They share the stage alongside a handful of wide-ranging interviews with various top creatives.
Yes, Halo Infinite’s final publicity push is clearly at full-speed, ahead of its December 8 release on Xbox and PC. Here are six key takeaways from today’s internet-wide junket.
Release dates for co-op and creative mode aren’t set in stone
In August, developer 343 Industries announced that Halo Infinite would not release with a cooperative campaign, as has been series tradition for every other game. Forge, Halo’s long-time creative mode, which allows players to create custom multiplayer maps and modes, would also be absent at launch.
During Monday’s announcement rush, 343 Industries said the co-op would come during Infinite’s second season (slated to begin in May 2022) and that Forge is scheduled for the third. Earlier this week, when reached for comment, representatives for 343 declined to provide Kotaku with specific dates. As we know now, following the surprise release of Infinite’s multiplayer, 343 is willing to move up the timeline. But there’s also room here for these features to get pushed back even more.
“Those remain goals. Those remain targets,” Halo Infinite creative lead Joseph Staten told Eurogamer. “And we can’t commit to any hard dates right now.”
The campaign is more like Halo: Combat Evolved than Halo 4 or Halo 5
Speaking to The Washington Post, Joseph Staten—who played a significant role in crafting the original Halo trilogy—likened Halo Infinite’s campaign to 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved. In the Eurogamer interview, he drew a direct line between Halo Infinite and two totemic levels from the first game: “The Silent Cartographer” and “Truth & Reconciliation.” Both were structured around slightly-open areas, before funneling the player into more traditional linear first-person-shooter segments. Both levels featured miniature stories that could stand in isolation from the broader game. Halo Infinite will sport a similar structure, albeit on an infinitely grander scale.
“We’re not retelling the story of Halo 1. What the team set out to do and I think really succeeded at was to capture the tone and some of those strong themes of the early Halo games, but also modernize as well with new systems,” Staten told The Washington Post.
And it’s not a direct sequel to Halo 5
Halo 5, released in 2015, alienated some longtime fans. Rather than casting players solely as Master Chief, the majority of the game followed a new character. And that’s to say nothing of a plot that goes off the rails with little justification. (Don’t even get me started about Cortana’s turn to wannabe galactic overlord.) Halo Infinite does away with that, apparently, by starting off Master Chief with a bout of amnesia (classic sci-fi) in a totally new part of the galaxy, 18 months after the events of Halo 5.
“There’s a connective tissue between the two games,” Staten told The Washington Post. “And it definitely enriches the experience if you play the previous Halo games and if you played Halo 5, but if you’re brand new to the franchise, we wanted to make sure that we really sloped the floor for you, that we open the door, turn on the lights and say, ‘Hey, just jump in and enjoy.’”
“Normal” difficulty is the standard this time around
Halo games have historically been playable in four increasingly challenging difficulty levels—Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary—and intended, from a development end, to be played on Heroic. For the first time in series history, Halo Infinite has been designed with Normal as the baseline difficulty, character director Stephen Dyck told VGC.
“So usually we look at Heroic, we’re tuning everything here, everything is scaled down a little bit for Normal and Easy and then scaled up a little bit for Legendary,” Dyck said. “This time, we spent much more time on the Normal difficulty, expecting new players to come in.”
There’s a Craig reference
Halo Infinite’s now-infamous July 2020 reveal could be summed up in a freeze frame of one character model: a flatly rendered Brute, whom the internet immediately immortalized as “Craig.” (There’s a conversation to be had about whether or not pausing a showcase on a single frame was a fair assessment, but 343 internalized the feedback nonetheless. The Brute character models got a serious glow up.)
Spotted by The Verge, there’s a blatant reference to Craig in Halo Infinite. On top of one of the open area’s towers, you can see a “touring” poster citing all his appearances around the ring, plus an album featuring his “greatest hits” (songs like “The Day You Become A Meme, I Got Tears Last Summer”).
On the topic of crunch, 343's upper management is vague
It’s clear that last summer’s blowback had negative impacts on the developers at 343 Industries. In the immediate aftermath of the July 2020 showcase, 343 delayed the game by a year, pushing what would’ve been a blockbuster launch game for the Xbox Series X/S well outside of the launch window. Format project head Chris Lee stepped down. Staten stepped in. A report in Polygon today detailed the morale hit that period of turmoil (which, it’s worth remembering, went down during the apex of a pandemic) wrought on the team.
Speaking to Polygon, three higher-ups on Halo Infinite—studio head Bonnie Ross, multiplayer director Tom French, and narrative director Paul Crocker—said that Microsoft by no means instituted mandatory overtime, but demurred on answering specifically whether or not the team ended up working under crunch conditions.
“No one is forced into doing anything,” Crocker said. “But everyone loves Halo, and people want the game to be as good as it possibly can be. It’s a complicated answer.”
“We don’t want to push on crunch. Sometimes people do it because they’re putting their love into it,” French said. “Sometimes things fall behind and you make decisions. It was a lot of complexity managing all that from home. But I think we’ve done a good job balancing the team’s health on top of shipping a game that we’re all super proud and excited about.”