Late last week, Halo developer 343i launched the public’s first chance at playing Halo Infinite, which is currently scheduled for a late Fall release. The closed beta was offered up to members of Xbox’s Halo Insider program and was scheduled to launch on July 29th, though persistent server problems prevented many players from being able to participate. However, the next morning the technical preview was in full swing until late Monday morning.
For 90% of the flight’s availability, players were only allowed to fight against AI “bots”. While your team was usually filled with live players, if a connection issue occurred you may have had a bot end up on your team as well. A major purpose of this technical preview was to help the AI learn playstyles to mimic. The longer the tech preview went on, the more the bots learned and the tougher they got.
Through the 3.5 days the flight was available, 343i introduced three different difficulties of bots, the first introduced were the base level “Marine” bots which struggled to challenge even the greenest of Halo players. Later, “ODST” bots were made available, giving players slightly more of a challenge if they were not playing carefully, but still lacked the threat of a human behind a controller. Last introduced were the “Spartan” bots, AI opponents that had quick thinking and even quicker kills.
For a brief hour, 343i opened their PvP server which served as a humbling experience for many players (not naming names here) who became overconfident putting up numbers against the bots. Shortly after the PvP servers closed, players began to notice the Spartan bots seemingly got better, suggesting the AI was learning from those games as well. Perhaps the fundamental advancement in machine learning did not come from bots learning map movement, or teamwork tactics, but much like a toddler repeats a curse word, the bots picked up some naughty habits as well, like teabagging an opposing corpse.
The Maps and movement
343i rolled out 3 different maps slowly. Each conforming to prior Halo norms, such as key control points being elevated positions that house a devastating power weapon. While the three maps, Live Fire, Recharge, and Bazaar, all showcased a different color palette, they were all UNSC (the human faction) locations and lacked an environmental uniqueness that can be found in many prior installments of the franchise. While the game will surely launch with more than three revealed maps, hopefully the inevitable future beta flights will reveal more exotic maps with set pieces from different factions such as the Covenant, Banished, and Forerunners. However, the highest praise is how the maps work well with the movement mechanics of Halo Infinite.
Any longtime Halo fan that has participated in community discussions will be familiar with the hot-button topic that can be surmised as this question: “Does sprint belong in Halo?” Introduced in Halo: Reach as a power-up, sprint has divided the Halo community for quite literally a decade. While there are merits to both sides of the argument, much of the debate centered on how sprint affects the layout of maps, which in turn greatly influences the flow of gameplay. Since Halo has always been a series where the outcome of matches can be decided by the control of power weapons, how fast a player can reach those weapons from the spawn is important to the balance of its multiplayer. In short, the existence of sprint informs map layout, which further informs match flow. Many complaints regarding Halo 5‘s multiplayer maps were that they were just simply too big for 4v4 since they had to accommodate for sprint.
Halo Infinite takes a unique, if almost non-existent stance to the “the sprint question”. While they do include an animation for sprinting, the increase in speed is marginal. Now that sprint seems to be a Shrodinger’s Cat of a feature, hopefully the discourse surrounding it will begin to fade out. Thanks to how sprint is now implemented, the designs of the map fit perfectly to the spacing and speed your spartan is capable of.
The biggest effect sprint will seemingly have on Halo Infinite is not horizontally, but vertically. Though the sprint feature does not grant you much speed, it does, however, allow you quite a bit more height movement. While sprinting, your spartan can crouch into a slide, and when you jump out of that slide you are launched into a vault that can carry momentum somewhat consecutively. Combining this with the clamber mechanic that is brought over from Halo 5, allows maps to have unique vertical movement paths that add a new dimension to Halo gameplay that was only partially realized in the previous installment.
While the maps themselves seem to be serviceable, but possibly unmemorable additions to the gallery of Halo maps, the functionality of the designs is perhaps at the best they’ve been since Halo 2 and 3. It’s worth noting that while the maps do not strike an impression on the player as the classical Lockout or Sandtrap, the most memorable map of the group may be Bazaar, the African-based urban map that calls to mind Counter Strike’s iconic Dust.
I need A weapon
Ask a dozen Halo fans what their favorite weapon is, and you’ll receive a dozen answers. From the Energy Sword to the Spartan Laser, Halo’s diverse weapon sandbox has been a primary appeal to the franchise. Unfortunately (but understandably), 343i only allowed a limited amount of weapons to try out during the brief weekend window. Among these were both classic and new additions. The Assault Rifle, Battle Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Rocket Launcher, Needler, Gravity Hammer, and Plasma Pistol make up the portion of the familiar roster, while the new additions include the Commando, Skewer, Bulldog, Sidekick, Heatwave, Ravager, and Pulse Rifle.
For the returning weapons, all the functions remain primarily the same. The most notable exception may be the considerable buff found in the Assault Rifle that makes it a serious threat at even a deep-medium distance. While some are calling for a nerf, many players (including yours truly) wish for it to remain unchanged. The Needler remains a quick short-range threat that possibly has a quicker rate of fire compared to Halo 5, though there is not an exact comparison at this time. The other returning weapons are mechanically the same. While time-to-kill (TTK) may differ from previous entries, based on the preview there are no major changes to report.
For the new guns on the block, the standouts are the Commando and the Skewer. The VK-78 Commando is a fully automatic UNSC rifle that touts great damage with great recoil. While scoped-in Commando can prove difficult to control, if a player can put a dot on an opponent and exercise some adept aiming control, there are few guns in Halo’s 20-year run that feel as satisfying to finish off an opponent with as the Commando. The design of the gun is something that feels slightly out of place, looking more like it belongs in the Titanfall universe or perhaps the upcoming Battlefield 2042. Regardless of its appearance, the Commando is a welcome addition to Halo’s reservoir weapons.
The Skewer is an intimidating piece of Banished weaponry that hurls a spiked projectile at Mach speeds towards your opponent. The weapon is a one-hit-kill tool but requires pinpoint accuracy. It functions similar to the Spartan Laser but is even more satisfying to end a spartan’s life with. The true pleasure in using this monument of brutalist architecture will inevitably be eviscerating a Banshee out of the air or pinning a full-capacity Warthog against a wall.
While the other new additions to your spartan’s armory don’t quite stand out as much as the Commando and the Skewer, they certainly do not feel out of place in a Halo game. The Sidekick is the Halo Infinite version of the trusty default pistol, which has seen numerous iterations throughout the series. While not as powerful as the legendary Halo CE magnum, the sidearm boasts a greater power than the likes of the Halo 2 pistol, and a higher fire rate than that of Halo 3. Though absolute comparisons are hard to draw now that the flight is closed, the Sidekick seems to be a slight downgrade in usefulness than its Halo 5 brother.
Speaking of downgrades, Halo Infinite’s new shotgun, the Bulldog, left many players unimpressed. While earlier iterations of the shotgun were a fan favorite, the Bulldog’s debut revealed it as much weaker, with a shorter range as well. Though developers claim that the Bulldog’s purpose is to encourage its prevalence on multiplayer maps, most fans are surely praying the classic shotgun will still be available for use, much like how Halo 5 incorporated previous variants of weapons as alternatives in certain game modes.
Another new addition to the power weapons of Halo is the Heatwave, which evolves the Scattorshot from the previous two games, and merges it with alternative vertical and horizontal firing modes, to increase the viability of the weapon across battle scenarios. The rarely-seen Ravager acts as a heavy plasma-burst “launcher” the burns through enemies. Lastly, the three-round-burst Pulse Rifle enters the fray as a Covenant version of the Battle Rifle, though it trades of rate-of-fire for a slight homing mechanism found in other weapons such as the Needler and the Plasma Pistol.
Unique weapons aren’t the only things that Halo Infinite introduces to your arsenal. Other than the returning equipment pick-ups like the Overshield and the Active Camo, players can now find the Drop Shield and the Grapple Hook at various points on the maps. The Drop Shield works as a segmented kinetic barrier between you and your opponent’s rounds. Though it is not impervious like the classic bubble shield, it can still prove useful in tight situations where one plasma shot to the body makes all the difference. Probably the most notable game-changing element on Infinite’s field is the Grapple Shot, an equipment pick-up that allows users to zip across limited spaces, or retrieve out-of-reach weapons. This addition exponentially increases the threat of close-range weapons, as nothing during the technical preview was quite as fear-inducing as a spartan ziplining towards you with a gravity hammer in their hands.
The Reception and the anticipation
Though gaming has its fair share of incorrigible pessimists and grumps, the larger reception to the Halo Infinite tech preview has been positive. Veteran fans and new players alike have responded positively to the experience. The overwhelming support seemingly comes from 343i’s successful integration of classic Halo gameplay, with a touch of modernization that will hopefully bring Halo back into the heavy hitters of the multiplayer world. While impressive and engrossing, the beta left me pining for so much more that makes Halo, Halo, such as Big Team Battle, more maps, more guns, custom games, armor designs, and vehicular combat to name a few. The full launch will only compound the positives of this game that has struck a chord with so many fans, and many of us can hardly wait. With Halo Infinite inevitably on the horizon, the best is yet to come.