The Infinite Zenith

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Halo Infinite: The Spire and Pelican Down at the Halfway Point

“We all fail. We all make mistakes. It’s what makes us human.” –Master Chief

Upon entering the Conservatory and fighting through the Banished forces within, Master Chief and The Weapon encounter Despondent Pyre, Zeta Halo’s Monitor. Despondent Pyre is destroyed whilst warning Master Chief of a new threat that Zeta Halo holds, and Master Chief encounters the Harbinger shortly after. She explains that her people, the Endless, were incarcerated on Zeta Halo, and the Banished have been working to rebuild a facility that will liberate them. Along the way, they are assisted by Adjutant Resolution, but upon learning that the Master Chief’s goal is to destroy Zeta Halo, outfits himself with a Sentinel battle mech and attempts to stop the Master Chief, who ultimately destroys his armour. After Master Chief deactivates the spire, it begins to collapse, and while he manages to escape thanks to Esparza’s arrival, their Pelican is shot down. Frustrated, Esparza expresses his want to escape by locating a functional slip-space drive. Master Chief reassures Esparza and promises that after he deals with the Banished anti-aircraft guns, they’ll look for a slip-space drive together. After the guns are disabled, Esparza reveals that all of the slip-space drives are non-operational, and moreover, he’s actually not a pilot: during the battle on board the Infinity, panic took him, and he stole a Pelican. Master Chief confides in Esparza that he was unable to stop Cortana, and the pair set off to destroy the remaining spires on Zeta Halo to stop its reconstruction. Having now spent an additional six hours since I last wrote about Halo Infinite, I am now a ways further into the campaign, and at the time of writing, I’ve now captured all of the forward operating bases. In addition, I’ve taken down all but one of the high value targets, and I’ve unlocked enough Valour points so that I’m able to call in the AV-49 Wasp, a UNSC VTOL that, alongside the Banished Banshee, allows for unparalleled ease of exploring Zeta Halo’s surface. Having access to the Wasp means one thing becomes apparent: before I continue on with the remainder of the campaign missions, it’s time to finish gathering Spartan Cores and Mjolnir cosmetics now that I’m able to freely fly around Zeta Halo.

One detail that became particularly enjoyable in Halo Infinite is the presence of weapon variants, which are modified versions of common weapons that cater to a specific play style. Some of the weapon variants are straight upgrades of their common counterparts, offering improved firepower, accuracy or firing rate, while others alter the base weapon’s functionality. The Volatile Skewer I picked up is a Skewer whose projectiles are explosive, while the M41 Tracker is able to lock onto vehicles. These weapon variants offer additional variety for Halo Infinite and allow players to play according to their preferences to a much greater extent than was previously possible. The incentive for unlocking weapon variants is built right into the heart and soul of Halo Infinite: Valour Points from completing secondary objectives will give access to most UNSC weapon variants, while high value targets provide the remainder. This gives players the encouragement they need to really explore Zeta Halo (as opposed to just blasting through the story missions) and those who take the time to check out every nook and cranny of Zeta Halo will get the most out of their experience, being rewarded for their troubles in a fair manner. In this way, Halo Infinite creates a highly immersive environment that brings the Halo franchise to new heights; exploration isn’t mandatory, and it doesn’t bloat Halo Infinite‘s runtime in any way, but instead, it provides a chance to really build up Master Chief’s arsenal, abilities and a bit of the backstory behind how things are since Cortana’s actions devastated the galaxy during the events of Halo 5: Guardians. Having now reached a point where I am able to explore freely, I find that Halo Infinite has absolutely lived up to expectations, and the open-world segments of the game have allowed me to play Halo in a way that advances the franchise in an impressive new direction.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I left off in Halo Infinite, it was New Year’s Eve, and I’d just finished clearing out the Excavation Site of Banished. I’d brought with me the Gravity Hammer and Ravager used to defeat Bassus into the labyrinthine interior of the Conservatory. Almost immediately, the silence inside the Conservatory overtook me, and it hit me that I’d not been inside a Forerunner structure in quite some time.Beyond the first set of doors, I find a deceased Spartan and a new armour ability, the drop wall, which can be deployed to provide cover from one direction.

  • The drop wall provides cover from enemy fire briefly, but adds the bonus of allowing Master Chief to continue shooting through them. In a pinch, deploying a drop wall can mean the difference between life and death, and I’ve managed to extricate myself out of deadly situations by making use of the drop wall when my shields had failed. At this point in Halo Infinite, I’d already fully upgraded my Grapple Shot and shields. The improved shields aren’t normally noticeable, especially if one comes under heavy fire, but when fully upgraded, it allows one to survive things that would otherwise be instant death. I’ve found that I can now escape being stuck with plasma grenades or a sword lunge now that my shields are maxed out.

  • 343 Industries did a phenomenal job of portraying Forerunner interiors: exploring the interior of the Conservatory brought back memories of playing Halo: Combat Evolved with classic visuals, and I’m especially fond of the lighting effects. Artificial lighting inside Zeta Halo’s interior gives the impression of sunlight streaming through windows into the cavernous hallways, and in these tight quarters, I swapped off my weapons for more mundane, but practical weapons. Halo Infinite generally does a fine job of balancing the weapons, and most of them have some utility. The Mangler is great as a hard-hitting pistol, and in fact, the only weapon I’ve found to be ineffective is the Disruptor.

  • When required, I’ve found that the classic Covenant weapons are actually quite effective in a fair range of scenarios. The Needler retains its ability to super-combine and instantly kill even shielded foes, but unlike its predecessors, the Halo Infinite Needler’s projectiles no longer home quite as aggressively on targets. The exception is the Pinpoint Needler, whose projectiles are a walking cheat-code and moreover, can lock onto multiple foes at once. On the other hand, the Banished Pulse Carbine is weakly homing and can eliminate shields quickly. Combined with the fact that one can recharge its battery now, this is actually a viable weapon to have around.

  • The energy sword, an iconic Elite weapon, retains all of its classic mechanics; it is a one-hit kill on all but the toughest foes, but the lunge distance is reduced. In multiplayer, this weapon is highly sought-after as a power weapon, but in Halo Infinite‘s campaign, it is less effective owing to the fact that every kill with the sword depletes its battery by ten percent, regardless of whether or not the kill was on a Grunt or a Brute. As such, while I will use the sword where my ammunition is depleted, I generally will not pick the weapon up.

  • The Bulldog is the UNSC’s go-to close quarters weapon in Halo Infinite, and it is devastating in narrow corridors and small rooms. A single pull of the trigger will put most foes on the floor, and speaking to its firepower, even the Brutes will be seen wielding the Bulldog despite their disdain for humanity. Conversely, in the wide-open areas of Zeta Halo, the Bulldog is next to useless. However, there is a variant of the Bulldog, the Convergence Bulldog, which has a choke that reduces spread. Together with a larger magazine, this Bulldog is a longer-range option that still retains the standard Bulldog’s traits.

  • As I make my way deeper into the Conservatory, I encounter Zeta Halo’s Monitor, Despondent Pyre. Although this Monitor appears helpful and desperate to stop the entity known as the Harbinger, it is promptly destroyed. Recalling that it took a Spartan Laser to permanently kill Guilty Spark, whatever killed and dismantled Despondent Pyre must be a foe to reckon with. Shortly after this revelation, Master Chief and the Weapon come under attack from the Gasgira, informally known as Skimmers. These foes are new to Halo – they share similar traits as the Harbinger’s species and functionally, are a cross between the Drones and Grunts.

  • After escaping the ambush, Master Chief pushes further into the facility in order to track down the Harbinger, and along the way, encounters another deceased Spartan. The mystery of who is killing Spartans with such brutality remains a mystery for now, although Master Chief assures the Weapon that he’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way. Every time, the Weapon’s analysis indicates that the Spartans were cut down by an unnaturally powerful energy blade, implying that it’s probably an Elite that’s been doing this, and cutscenes have shown that there is one Elite that Escharum respects: Jega ‘Rdomnai.

  • A pair of Brutes appear, and while the Weapon wonders if they’re the Spartan killers, Master Chief replies no. At this point, I’d been short of ammunition, but luckily, there was a cache of weapons in the large hall where this fight occurs. I ended up using the Cindershot to take one of the Brutes out, then picked the Scarp cannon off his body and used its firepower to take down the remaining Brute. The Scrap Cannon is a turret that fires large spikes, and the longer the trigger is depressed, the faster it will fire. On the other hand the Cindershot is a hard light grenade launcher of Forerunner origin, and while it is quite powerful, its bouncing projectiles do take some getting used to.

  • After Master Chief confronts the Harbinger, he is promptly defeated and thrown back onto the surface of Zeta Halo. The goal next is to reach the Spire and deactivate the Ring’s reconstruction mechanism. For the time being, I took a moment to enjoy the sunset here: more so than any Halo before it, Halo Infinite takes visual effects to an entirely new level. The first trailer for Halo Infinite was announced back during June 2018, and despite its short runtime, foreshadowed a gorgeous environment. It is not lost on me that during this time period, my first startup was on its last legs. I’d been working on both a mental health questionnaire app, and a generic app for pain reporting at the time, although the lack of clients meant funds were rapidly dwindling.

  • Halo Infinite thus fell from my mind: the 2018 trailer had been an impressive tech demo, it gave almost no hints of what the story was going to be about. Halo 5: Guardians had released to general disappointment owing to its disjointed story, and left players on a massive cliffhanger that had seemed as difficult to resolve as the cliffhanger Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi left viewers with. The games themselves won’t answer this directly – after Halo 5, the Infinity escapes, and Dr. Halsey managed to create a new AI that would be able to put an end to Cortana’s rampage. While this is somewhat successful, elsewhere in the galaxy, the Banished become a powerful threat. This ultimately leads to Atroix clashing with the Infinity at the beginning of Halo Infinite. There’s a great deal of lore, but using the timeframes allows 343 Industries to do a soft reset on things and focus on the most important elements: a clean story and consistently good gameplay.

  • Here, I square off against Adjutant Resolution after he goes rogue upon learning of Master Chief’s aim of destroying Zeta Halo. He dons a Sentinel suit that confers combat capabilities, but despite this suit’s firepower, there are several weak spots: shooting out the arms and central core will damage it. The fight was fairly straightforward for me, although I will note that Kotaku’s Ethan Gach struggled with the encounter. Games journalists encountering difficulty with even the most trivial of tasks in video games is not a new phenomenon, and it is no surprise that most gaming outlets have writers who would prefer to talk about things like representation and the narrative’s political statement rather than discuss things like game mechanics, map design and equipment balance. The end result is unsurprising, but for any moderately competent gamer, Adjutant Resolution will not be a challenge on normal difficulty.

  • By the time Halo Infinite‘s gameplay was shown, it was July 2020, and I had been working from home for a second startup amidst the global health crisis’ first wave. Halo Infinite had looked flatter than I’d expected, but the gameplay still looked solid. Indeed, once I reached the Pelican Down mission, the site of the 2020 E3 demo, I found that while everything looked much improved over what had been shown during the E3 demo, the gameplay was more or less identical. I had been sold on Halo Infinite after that demo – the Grapple Shot was a novel addition that revolutionises how movement in Halo worked, and the ability to reel in things like weapons and fusion coils increased the game’s pacing. Older Halo titles were very slow and clunky, having been designed for older consoles, but with advances in consoles, this is no longer a constraint.

  • I ended up walking around the valley, marvelling at all of the details here that had been first portrayed during the E3 demo. Unlike the demo, which started Master Chief off with the assault rifle and pistol, I had a Commando and Sentinel Beam from my last mission. However, I was similarly playing at sunset, and upon ascending the elevator to the first of the guns, I ended up using my drop wall to similarly stop a Brute with the Ravager, before riding it up to the Banished camp near the gun. The Halo Infinite E3 trailer is another example of where the finished product actually ends up surpassing what was shown – DOOM Eternal had previously done this, and in retrospect, I’m glad that 343 Industries ended up taking the extra year to really polish the title.

  • From the sounds of it, the core mechanics and story were already in place by the time of the E3 conference, but other aspects were not fully ready yet. An extra year ended up being the right amount of time for 343 Industries: they were able to completely improve lighting and textures with this time, and by the time Halo Infinite‘s open beta was available, the game was in a satisfactory state from a technical standpoint, more than ready to be released. The missing features, specifically co-op mode and the ability to replay missions, was somewhat disappointing; considering that Halo Infinite handles more like The Division than earlier Halo games, there is precedence for how these elements can be implemented, but on the flipside, I have heard that both functions are technically working – like the remainder of Halo Infinite, 343 isn’t releasing them until they’re confident it works as expected.

  • I ended up commandeering a Ghost and rode it up to the power core for the first AA gun. Upon reaching this area for the first time, I was treated to Escharum’s iconic speech. In addition to portraying the Brutes as a glory-seeking, but honourable species, Escharum’s first speech also acts as 343 Industry’s challenge to the players, to experience a legend in the making that will push them to their limits. Escharum’s remaining speeches aren’t quite as rousing, but they do portray the Brutes as being a much more fleshed out species than Bungie had ever done: in this area, 343 Industries has done very well, and admittedly, Escharum’s speech was actually one of the main reasons why I’d considered Halo Infinite as something to pick up shortly after launch.

  • Halo Infinite‘s Hunters are tougher than their predecessors: they’re now completely covered by armour plates, and like their predecessors, can deal as much damage as they can take. Careless players will burn through their entire ammunition supply without scratching one, so a bit of strategy is involved wherever Hunters are concerned. The easiest approach is to blast them with power weapons like the rocket launcher, or else focus fire on a specific spot to knock the armour plates off, then shoot the exposed areas. Players with vehicles can also deal damage to Hunters effectively, and making use of fusion cores in the area, in conjunction with the thrusters and grapple shot to get behind them, is also a viable trick.

  • The 2020 E3 demo portrayed Master Chief preparing to knock out one of the AA guns, but here in Halo Infinite‘s completed campaign, players will have a chance to go through all three of them. Because of the distances that separate the AA guns, walking between them can be a bit of a lengthy process. A vehicle makes all the difference here, and it is helpful to remember where one left their ride for this part of the campaign. Here, I take off in pursuit of an Elite major, whose dialogue can be seen on-screen: the enemies of Halo Infinite lack the menace they conveyed in Halo: Reach and Halo 4. In the earlier games, foes spoke their own tongues, but here in Halo Infinite, enemy dialogue is all rendered in English. Elites and Brutes have great lines, as do the Marines.

  • The dialogue from the Jackals is passable: they’re obsessed with whatever bonus money they’ll get from a job well done, but the lines do extend on their personalities. On the other hand, the Grunts are hilarious. Halo Infinite will gently mock players for dying to Grunts with comedic lines (“I’m alive and he’s not? It’s a miracle!”). However, the best line in the entire game comes from the propaganda towers: the Grunt running the show will ask about the WiFi password (implying the Banished have WiFi), and as the Master Chief destroys more towers, the Grunt will even try to plead with Master Chief about not destroying any more towers.

  • If it turns out that Halo Infinite was delayed so they could get these Grunt lines into the game, I’d be completely okay with that. Here, I’ve finished taking out all of the AA gun right as the morning sunrise allows light to fill the valley and glint off a large hexagonal construct in the distance. Hexagonal pillars dominate the landscape of Zeta Halo, and while the folks of Reddit are struggling to understand their significance, a little lore suggests that they’re the result of reconstructing Zeta Halo’s structure. These are placed first, and then terrain and vegetation is overlaid on top of it to create a natural environment. Their jutting appearance stands in stark contrast with the wilderness and serve to remind players that the Halo rings are artificial constructs.

  • Once all three guns are destroyed, Master Chief must face Tovarus and Hyperius, two Brutes bearing the Spartan Killer moniker will appear. Fighting one boss at a time is already challenging enough, so two seems outright impossible. However, I was able to survive this fight because Hyperius enters the fight on a Brute Chopper, and boss or not, it is possible to hijack his vehicle using the Grapple Shot. I thus seized the Chopper and used it to annihilate him, as well as his entourage, before focusing fire on Tovarus. Tovarus is armed with a scrap cannon and is lethal up close, but at a range, one can dodge his attacks while returning fire.

  • In the end, I used the Skewer to drop his shields, and then whittled his health down using the battle rifle. I’m not sure if it was a bug, or luck, but Tovarus used his jetpack and took refuge in the crashed wreckage of what appears to be a UNSC ship. After reaching the platform here, he remained there for the remainder of the match, and I ended up using the drop wall to create cover while hammering him with the battle rifle. Once the Spartan Killers are dealt with, Master Chief will speak with Esparza, who admits he’s no pilot, and compared to Master Chief, he’s a failure. Master Chief demonstrates the extent of his humanity and compassion here by talking to Esparza, who regains enough of his composure to decide that he’s willing to help Master Chief achieve their goals.

  • Once the anti-air guns are down, Master Chief will turn his attention to the second spire. However, the Harbinger has locked it down, and the Weapon must recreate the data sequence from Forerunner signals in order to decrypt its code in order to override the lockdown. My gut feeling told me that this was the best time to now focus on going around the open world and collect anything of value. For me, the main goal here was simply to finish all of the outposts, take down every last high value target, acquire all of the Spartan Cores and as much Valour as I could before pushing onwards with the missions.

  • While this task can seem quite daunting, the combination of air vehicles and fast travel actually makes things a lot smoother – I simply fast travel to a forward operating base, pick out a Wasp, and in moments, I’m in the skies, flying over streams, boulders and forests to the site of interest. When the Wasp isn’t available, a Banshee will also do in a pinch. The Banshee is faster than a Wasp and can be boosted, while the Wasp has better manoeuvrability and is easier to control. Both vehicles are great for taking players from point A to point B, but the Wasp’s ability to hover, and the fact it can be freely spawned at forward operating bases, makes it the vehicle of choice for me.

  • Because completing side quests like high value targets and outposts provides access to stronger gear, Halo Infinite appears to gently guide players down a path where the focus is to reach Pelican Down first, then take some time exploring the open world, before continuing on with the actual campaign itself. Players who choose to focus on the campaign and skip the open world aspects won’t necessarily be punished for it: the armour abilities are great, but at the end of the day, Halo Infinite is a first person shooter, and that means the skill that matters most is a steady aim and a well-practised trigger finger. I don’t imagine that having boosted shields or the best possible drop wall will be too helpful against Escharum or the Harbinger of Truth if one can’t even shoot straight.

  • Moments like these are why Halo Infinite absolutely excels in its single player experience: I’d just finished off a high value target in a field of red flowers and was left with one foe, standing in the middle of the clearing. A few rounds from the battle rifle was enough to wrap this mission up, and I’ve found that it is possible to take down a lower-ranking Brute in as little as one burst if one’s aim is true. Throughout the campaign, I’ve found the battle rifle to be my go-to weapon for almost any situation: one burst will finish a Grunt and any unshielded foe, and when paired in conjunction with a faster-firing weapon like the pulse carbine, players can be ready for most situations.

  • There’s actually an achievement for reaching the highest point available to Master Chief on Zeta Halo called “Nosebleed”, and I actually ended up unlocking it while exploring around for Mjolnir lockers near forward operating base delta. The fact that players can ascend the hills and cliffs speaks volumes to what’s possible, and I will note that even on my nine-year-old desktop, the fact that Halo Infinite looks as gorgeous as it does is an impressive feat, speaking volumes to the optimisations that went into making the game run well on a variety of hardware. Being nine years old, my desktop has been with me through many things, and to be honest, I’m surprised it continues to run as well as it does. With this being said, I have noticed that the CPU heats up a lot more quickly now than it did even two years ago, even with regular cleaning.

  • As such, while nothing is set in stone just yet, I do plan on building a new PC once I’ve had the chance to settle in to my new place. With the Intel twelfth generation CPUs out now, and motherboards becoming available, I’ll probably start shopping around for parts shortly after the move, and then pick out the parts. The criteria for this machine is simple: it needs to beat out a machine with the Ryzen 9 3900X and the RTX 2070, all the while staying under 1500 CAD (prior to warranty for mission critical components and the OS itself). I’ll elaborate on why this is the minimum I am building against in a later post and return to Halo Infinite: for the last outpost, I ended up calling in a Scorpion so I could dispense an unparalleled amount of destruction using the tank’s main cannon, making the outpost trivially easy to sort out.

  • While vehicles in Halo Infinite are powerful, they’re not invincible: here, I took the Wasp on over to the Myriad, a pair of Hunters with firepower far surpassing those of ordinary Hunters. Guides suggest using a Scorpion to deal with them, and while this is the most feasible way I can think of, I ended up improvising. My original goal was to use the Wasp’s rockets to whittle them down, and while this allowed me to take down one of the Hunters, I’d sustained a little too much damage and was forced to bail. Vehicles do make it clear when they’re about to explode, so I was able to escape in time, and with Master Chief’s luck, I managed to pick a rocket launcher from a dead Brute, using it to finish off the second of the Hunters.

  • The prize for defeating what are probably the toughest of the high value targets is a Backdraft Cindershot: this variant allows the Cindershot’s projectile to break down into explosive submunitions, making it great for clearing rooms out. I stopped to admire the jaw-dropping scenery of Zeta Halo before continuing on with my quest to upgrade my abilities and open up as many options as possible before heading into the next act of Halo Infinite. Having just passed the halfway point, I’m quite excited to see where everything is headed, and knowing that I have spent the time to earn a small edge means once I do continue, I’ll have the confidence in being prepared enough for whatever lies ahead in Halo Infinite.

At this point in time, the only things I have left to do in the open world is to deal with the remaining handful of high value targets, collect enough Spartan Cores to fully upgrade all abilities, and amass as many Mjolnir cosmetic upgrades as I can. Once this is done, I will continue with finishing off the story missions of Halo Infinite and consider both the latest instalment’s contributions to the franchise, as well as what this means for Halo. So far, the game has proven to be superb in all regards. The gameplay feels responsive, crisp and fresh. Movement is smooth, and the gunplay is visceral. Moreover, Halo Infinite runs well even on my aging desktop. During my time in Halo Infinite, I only experienced one crash, and this merely sent me back to my desktop, as opposed to blue-screening my computer. The optimisations that went into Halo Infinite are impressive; the game looks amazing, but it also runs extremely well on hardware that’s almost a decade old. With a more recent configuration, Halo Infinite would likely run even better. Quite simply, the game has been worth the cost of admissions, and I anticipate that altogether, I’ll get a grand total of around thirty hours out of Halo Infinite by the time I finish the campaign missions. While the lack of an ability to replay missions or co-op with friends, something that was possible in earlier Halo games, is a noticeable omission, I now fully appreciate why 343 Industries was not able include these features during launch. Halo Infinite‘s open world is vast, and tracking player positions for a smooth co-op experience would entail additional work, while the intrinsic open world approach in Halo Infinite similarly means that additional thought would need to be given towards how to best allow players to revisit missions they’ve previously completed. There is a great deal of precedence out there (e.g. The Division, Far Cry) for how to approach this, but owing to 343’s focus on delivering the best possible experience in the base game, one cannot fault them for wanting to leave these additional features on the “would be nice to have” list: I would much prefer to have a responsive movement system and good weapon handling available now, as opposed to a scenario where Halo Infinite had shipped with co-op and replayable missions that came at the expense of core mechanics like movement and weapons.

Halo Infinite: Reconquering Zeta Halo, Ascending the Tower and Entering the Conservatory

“I am the Harbinger. All that you know shall be undone.” –The Harbinger

After Outpost Tremonius is captured, Master Chief makes his way over to other regions of the Banished-held surface, clearing out local commanders and assisting groups of surviving UNSC marines along the way. Upon receiving a signal from Spartan Griffith, Master Chief heads to the Tower, where he defeats Elite Chak’lok in combat to rescue Griffith. In doing so, Master Chief learns that the Banished have successfully excavated a Forerunner facility referred to as the Conservatory. Master Chief makes his way over to the excavation site and shuts down a Banished mining laser before entering the Conservatory itself. This is where I stand in Halo Infinite after ten hours of play: while there is a story to be experienced, I’ve found myself enraptured by Halo Infinite‘s open world: Zeta Halo is beautifully crafted, and attention paid to details is impressive. Open areas are vividly portrayed, from the most distant mountain right down to the flowers at one’s feet. Day and night cycles completely change both the aesthetic and the combat style one requires to adopt: by day, enemies are awake and will patrol their facilities actively, but by night, guard is doubled as some foes sleep. Foes will taunt the Master Chief, and allies will express excitement at the player’s arrival. Levels themselves are intricately designed, and the campaign missions set within the open world are seamless: after I cleared out a nearby fuel depot, I headed on over to Chak’lok’s tower where, after neutralising all of the patrolling Banished, I simply went inside to fight Chak’lok and liberate Spartan Griffith, without once encountering a loading screen. While my aging PC encountered a few frame drops, performance on high settings has been generally smooth, and moreover, firefights themselves feel immensely satisfying. Having now made some satisfactory progress into Halo Infinite, I enter the Conservatory, ready to see what the next step of Master Chief’s adventure entails.

Overall, Halo Infinite‘s open world aspects feels a great deal like Far Cry: there are forward operating bases to capture, and scattered throughout the world are collectables, combat encounters and upgrade points that confer bonuses to the Master Chief’s armour. These aspects are simple in their implementation, but in practise, Halo Infinite provides a fantastic chance for players to simply explore Zeta Halo and blow things up as they are encountered. Completing tasks also confers Valour Points, which unlock additional options at forward operating bases. Players can initially call in Mongooses and recover the MA40, but as they complete tasks, more powerful options can be called in, as well; at the time of writing, I have access to the Battle Rifle and Commando, as well as the standard Warthog and marines that can accompany Master Chief. Altogether, the fact that the UNSC is on the backfoot here, in conjunction with an open world, should create a lonely experience, of overwhelming odds to overcome, and convey the sense that the former UNSC Infinity’s soldiers are waging desperate war of resistance. However, this actually doesn’t happen in practise, and Master Chief never feels alone in this game. Wildlife can be encountered. Esparza is always on station to drop things off for Master Chief, and The Weapon herself feels distinctly like a younger, more naïve version of Cortana: still competent and knowledgable, uninformed in some things but otherwise retains Cortana’s sense of humour. Marines will loyally accompany Master Chief to objective, manning guns and providing cover fire, as well as make the occasional amusing quip (especially if Master Chief swaps out one of their guns for a sidearm). Similarly, while the Banished are presented as a powerful foe, in combat, they will taunt the Master Chief and exchange trash talk with the Marines. Halo Infinite is a rich experience that shows how much effort was placed into creating an immersive, novel experience that is still Halo: in fact, I have heard that 343 Industries had intended Halo Infinite to be a reimagining of what Bungie had originally wanted to do with Halo: Combat Evolved after the game transformed from an RTS into an FPS, and by all counts, 343 Industries have succeeded in bringing an old vision to life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Halo 4 wasn’t even set on a Halo Ring, 343 Industries returns Halo Infinite to its roots by having Zeta Halo play a much more prominent role in things. Here, I gaze out at the curvature of the Halo ring – when I saw this for the first time in Halo: Combat Evolved, it was a sight to behold: other games of the time had a flat horizon or were otherwise set in narrow corridors, so seeing something of this scale had been breathtaking. In that time, I dabbled in some game design as a part of learning game engines for my thesis, and nowadays, I am aware that Halo: Combat Evolved simply had made very creative use of skyboxes to create what would be an iconic part of gaming.

  • With this being said, Halo Infinite‘s return to a Halo bring brought back all of that wonder and amazement to me in full – I may know how skyboxes work now, but the fact that Halo Infinite recreates all of the feelings I had when stepping out onto Installation 04 for the first time as a secondary school student. Here, I prepare to rappel down a cliff sheer: thanks to advancements in Master Chief’s Mjolnir Armour, falling damage is no longer a concern, although since fall damage is a factor in other games, I usually don’t like jumping down great distances.

  • After taking Outpost Tremonius, Zeta Halo opens up to players immediately, and to guide things along, Master Chief will be asked to take out Ransom Keep, a chop-shop of sorts where the Banished are salvaging parts from UNSC vehicles for their own ends. Taking on these areas entails clearing them out of Banished, destroying their assets (such as these fuel tanks), and then fending off any reinforcements that show up. Hidden away around these locations, and Zeta Halo in general, are audio logs, Spartan Cores and Mjolnir lockers: while the initial goal surrounding an objective might be simple enough, searching for everything before clearing an area can take some time.

  • Red markers indicate the arrival of Banished drop pods: everything from Elites and Grunts can arrive to reinforce existing forces, but most challenging of all to deal with are the Brute berserkers, who will rush straight for Master Chief after deploying. They possess no ranged weapons, but are immensely durable and can pummel Master Chief to death if allowed to close the distance. There isn’t any one strategy to use against these foes: circumstances dictate what works best, and I’ve found that chucking fusion cores or making use of grenades, in conjunction with the upgraded Grapple shot’s ability to stun ensnared foes and melee attacks, can make short work of these foes.

  • I ended up finding a Scorpion Tank at Ransom Keep and used its massive firepower to make short work of the Banished foes to secure the site, before wandering off to see if I could find a Spartan Core on the nearby hill. I ended up finding a VK78 Commando, an automatic rifle that is a solid precision weapon. I’ve found that weapons like these are actually better for dealing with the weaker enemies like Grunts and Jackals: a single shot will knock them out. Unshielded Brutes also go down fairly quickly, but against shielded foes, it’s better to use these semi-automatic weapons in conjunction with a plasma weapon. The Pulse Carbine has become a reliable weapon in this area, having the advantage of being a relatively common weapon.

  • The Halo Infinite Scorpion handles very similarly to its Halo 4 and Halo 3 iterations, where players only have access to M512 90 mm cannon. Previous Halos gave players a coaxial machine gun, as well, but this made tank drivers overpowered against infantry and vehicles alike. Instead, to fully use a Scorpion’s power, two operators are needed. One touch I particularly liked about Halo Infinite is the fact that, after every shot, the Scorpion will spit out the spent shell casing before the autoloader prepares a new one for firing.

  • After I cleared Ransom Keep, I ended up capturing another forward operating base right as the sun began setting. The fact there’s a day-night cycle in Halo Infinite is impressive, and it adds considerable character to the game. 343 Industries had indicated that they were looking to add dynamic weather, as well: players would’ve experienced overcast skies, fog and even rain during their trek across Zeta Halo’s surface. I do not believe this was ever implemented, since I’ve only ever seen stunningly gorgeous daytime weather, and a nighttime sky that is at once exotic and breathtaking; even without additional weather, Zeta Halo looks amazing.

  • Here, I’ve finally picked up the BR75 Battle Rifle, an iconic weapon that debuted in Halo 2. The original BR55 was as burst-fire weapon that required a modicum of skill to use, standing in contrast with the fully-automatic assault rifle, and in multiplayer, the Battle Rifle became the tool to become familiar with. The Battle Rifle has changed over the years in terms of performance and appearance, but in Halo Infinite, it most closely resembles its Halo 2 iteration, being a powerful medium range weapon. This weapon pairs very well with the Pulse Carbine or Assault Rifle, giving players plenty of options at different ranges.

  • When Master Chief rescues squads of marines pinned down by Banished forces, Valour points will be earned. I initially thought that these would be a currency that I could then put towards certain unlocks, but as it turns out, Valour points handle more like experience points, and accumulating a certain amount will automatically unlock weapon and vehicle call-ins. In the time I’ve put in, I’m able to call in the Battle Rifle and what’s called a “Gungoose”, a Mongoose armed with a pair of forward-facing, slow firing cannons that can deal massive damage.

  • Some folks have suggested calling in Sentinel Beams and handing those to marines, then calling in a Razorback and drive around with five marines around. The result is supposed to make playing Halo Infinite trivially easy, but I’ve found that doing things like this takes the fun out of the game. As it was, I am more than content to stick to my style of play: while I’ve got a Sentinel Beam variant and the Razorback unlocked, I’d much rather stick with my usual method of picking foes off from a distance before switching over to CQC.

  • After clearing out the forward operating bases and collecting as much stuff as I could in the first area, I finally turned my attention towards Chak’lok’s tower. The campaign missions set in the open world are surprisingly smooth; switching over from the open world to the tower’s cavernous interior was seamless, as was the firefight leading up to the confrontation against Chak’lok, an Elite warlord with an arrogant attitude, a cloak and an energy sword. I will note here that watching TheRadBrad’s playthrough of this mission was ultimately what cemented my decision to get Halo Infinite.

  • I had already been quite confident that I would be picking up Halo Infinite at launch, but wanted to get a measure of how the game handled and see what the missions were before diving in for myself. Watching TheRadBrad cleared up some questions I had, and also showed me that Halo Infinite was going to be fun; in his playthrough, TheRadBrad manages to kill Chak’lok, but an exploding shock barrel kills him after, sending him back to do the fight over. I was fortunate in that I only needed one attempt: I made extensive use of shock coils to lower his shields, and then hammered him with the assault rifle and battle rifle to finish the fight. Despite Master Chief’s efforts, Spartan Griffith cannot be saved, but he learns of something called the Conservatory, leading Master Chief to the next area of Halo Infinite.

  • During the mission at Chak’lok’s tower, I ended up coming across the shock rifle for the first time: this weapon is a long-range electrolaser and is effective against both shields and vehicles. However, during my play through, there were few targets to use this weapon against, so I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to really try it out: at present, it’s the basic weapons like the assault rifle, battle rifle and pulse carbine that have proven to be most versatile.

  • I’m a little ashamed to admit that in the beginning, I didn’t have any idea how to get over to the next area: a gap leading into space separates the area with Chak’lok’s tower from the next, and I initially thought that I could build up some speed using a Mongoose, then exit said Mongoose and attempt to use the grapple-shot to latch onto the  other side. In the end, I just needed to approach a bridge, fight off the Banished guarding things, and that was sufficient to open up the new area. Here, I’m rocking the S7 Sniper Rifle: like its older counterparts, the sniper rifle is a powerful weapon for long-range combat, being balanced out by a small magazine capacity and rare ammunition.

  • Once in the new area, I set about clearing out forward operating bases so that I could fast travel more readily. Once forward operating bases are captured, nearby points of interest are also revealed on the map, so it makes the most sense to secure those first and then decide how to best tackle everything. Here, I enjoy another sunrise en route to rescuing a squad of marines; Halo Infinite looks jaw-dropping with its visuals, and speaking freely, I’m surprised my machine can run the game as well as it does. This moment really highlights the incredible detail paid to lighting, and under the first light of day, my battle rifle’s textures are thrown into sharp relief, making the weapon’s resemblance to its Halo 2 counterpart all the more evident.

  • Amidst a field of yellow flowers, I fend off all of the Banished forces attacking the UNSC marines, earning myself some additional Valour points in the process. Throughout the course of Halo Infinite, I’ve found that the default assault rifle has actually proven itself to be an excellent all-around weapon, and it has taken some time for me to get past my initial thoughts on it: the Halo: Combat Evolved assault rifle handled more like a submachine gun, while the pistol behaved like a marksman rifle, and in most Halo games, I’ve actually swapped off the assault rifle for something else at first convenience because of my original experience. On the other hand, Halo Infinite‘s assault rifle feels like a proper weapon that hits hard at close to medium ranges.

  • During one high value target hunt, I ended up picking up the Volatile Skewer, a variant of the Skewer whose projectiles explode on impact. Weapon variations in Halo Infinite add variety to the gameplay, ranging from altering a weapon’s functionality to simply improving its overall performance. Completing high value target hunts reward Banished weapon variants, while Valour points are needed for unlocking UNSC weapon variants. The Volatile Skewer is particularly fun, since it can be used to eliminate entire squads at once if one picks their targets well; common Skewers are a one hit kill on most enemies, so if one were to aim for a Brute commander standing among a squad of Grunts and Jackals, a single shot could conceivably take everyone out.

  • Here, I switch over to the Stalker Rifle, a cross between the Covenant Carbine and Beam Rifle that I grew up around. This weapon is primarily found with Jackal Snipers, but unlike Halo 2‘s Jackal Snipers, who were armed with Beam Rifles that could one-shot players, the Stalker Rifle requires three headshots to kill, and wielders give away their position when aiming down sights: the weapon emits a laser sight of sorts. For most combat situations, I scavenge weapons off defeated Banished forces, use them to achieve a goal and then return to pick up the weapon I’d dropped for it.

  • This approach allows me to conserve on kinetic ammunition for my UNSC weapons: while weapon resupply is possible thanks to ammo crates scattered throughout the world, I’ve not tested to see if they’re one-use only, and as such, during my play-through, I’ve only used them to top off before a boss fight or campaign mission. For everything else, I end to run UNSC weapons until I run dry, then I switch over to whatever weapons I can scavenge from the world. The plus side is that Banished weapons are quite effective, and there are instances where the Banished will swallow their pride and utilise scavenged UNSC weapons, too.

  • The fight against Balkarus was particularly challenging, since he’s accompanied by Brutes and Elites wielding the Ravenger. This weapon handles most similarly to a grenade launcher, firing rounds of incendiary plasma in an arc and dousing an area of impact with hot, damaging plasma. I was actually at quite the disadvantage, since I was using UNSC weapons that were better suited for engaging common enemies, but fortunately for me, there was a weapons locker nearby with a few Ravengers. I subsequently utilised this with the grapple-shot to end the fight, earning me another weapon variant.

  • Today is New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2021. From a personal standpoint, 2021 was a fair year for myself; I’ve not hung out with many friends in person, and my physical fitness isn’t what it was before because all the gyms are closed, but on the flipside, I also was able to better my career and finances, and in the process, became a homeowner, too. During this past year, I also achieved the impossible by going through the whole of Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny; this is something I wouldn’t have thought possible, but thanks to encouragement from friends in real life, and the anime community I’ve become a part of, I was able to finish the Cosmic Era in whole.

  • Being able to do something like this means finishing a journey that was some fifteen years in the making, leaving me in a position where I’m able to both keep up with my friend in discussions surrounding the Cosmic Era, and be ready for the upcoming Gundam SEED film. Encouraged by this, one of my anime related goals for 2022 is to make my way through Ah! My Goddess in full, as well as Love Hina, and on the topic of finishing things from my childhood that I never finished back then, I also managed to set up the PCSX2 emulator. Armed with the BIOS dump from my PlayStation 2, I’m now able to play my old PlayStation 2 games on PC, and this means I can actually begin going through Ace Combat 5 and, as time allows, Ace Combat 4.

  • After picking up some patches to disable deinterlacing, tuning the video settings and getting the controller bindings configured, I powered on the emulator and entered the game. At this point in time, I have a working emulator: things run at a smooth 60 FPS, and everything looks sharp. The controls are a little tight, and I don’t have the same level of finesse as I did in Ace Combat 7, but after an hour’s worth of setup, I can finally begin my journey through a game I’ve been curious about for the past fifteen years. I still vividly recall borrowing an Ace Combat 5 strategy guide from my library back in the day, and during university, I remember spending time watching YouTube videos of Ace Combat 5‘s final missions when I should’ve been studying for organic chemistry.

  • It does feel like there are unlimited possibilities now as I go through something that, a decade earlier, I only could’ve dreamt of trying for myself. I have plans to write about my Ace Combat 5 experiences in the future, but for now, I’ll return to Halo Infinite, where I’d just found a Forerunner Artefact and sent it back for decoding. The night sky can be seen here, and it is stunning. The skybox designs remind me of star-forming nebulae seen in astronomy books, making the night skies feel a lot more exotic, worthy of Halo.

  • The final mission I’ll highlight in this post is the dig site. The goals for this mission are simple enough: stop the Banished mining laser, which is powerful enough to cut through Forerunner metal. While the goal itself appears straightforward, Master Chief is faced with an entire Banished armada, and it’s going to take some creative thinking, spatial awareness and a steady aim in order to come out triumphant. With that being said, this mission was absolutely fun, and I had a blast shooting at everything that stood between me and the objective.

  • During the course of my travels through the open world, I found and defeated Thav ‘Sebarim to unlock the Arcane Sentinel Beam. This weapon is deals more damage than a standard Sentinel Beam at the expense of consuming ammo faster and having a smaller ammo pool to begin with. After attempting to deactivate the laser, The Weapon finds that there are two regulators that must be destroyed first, and unsurprisingly, destroying the exposed regulators will cause Banished reinforcements to appear. It is here that the Sentinel Beam shines: a short burst will vapourise foes and thin out crowds.

  • Once all of the regulators are destroyed, Master Chief must return into the tower and deactivate things again. However, Bassus makes a sudden appearance. He is counted to be one of the hardest in the whole of Halo Infinite because of the fact that this fight takes place at extreme close quarters, the range that Brutes excel in. Bassus prefers to rush players with his Gravity Hammer, and this leaves players with very little space to make use of more powerful ranged weapons. Guides suggest that there is only one viable way of beating Bassus: use the Pulse Carbine and Needler.

  • On my first encounter, I was completely unprepared; I came to the fight wielding the battle rifle and Commando, and unsurprisingly, because neither weapon is suited for damaging shields, I got wiped. I subsequently switched on over to a Ravenger and a Rushdown Hammer in anticipation of close quarters combat. This approach differs greatly from what is suggested, but since I’m playing on normal difficulty, I am afforded with a little more creative freedom. I utilised shock grenades to slow him down so that I could use the Ravager and drop his shields.

  • Once Bassus’ shields fall, a few strokes of the Gravity Hammer are enough to finish the fight. With Bassus done, I returned my attention to disabling the mining laser, and subsequently finished this mission off. Before returning here, I explored the mission area to ensure I’d found all of the items of note: in a given mission, my priority is to locate all of the Mjolnir lockers and Spartan Cores, with the audio logs being a “nice to have”. Thus, with the mission done, I headed for the waypoint on my screen and prepared to continue on with Halo Infinite.

  • I thus pass through the Forerunner wall that the Banished were trying to drill through with their mining laser, and entered the Conservatory. I didn’t bother swapping out my weapons, so it appears that as I continue, I am going to have to change out my weapons for something a little more appropriate. With this post in the books, I’m quite excited to continue: Halo Infinite has completely modernised the Halo experience, and I’ve had zero complaints with the campaign so far. This is my last post of 2021, and I look forwards to seeing what lies ahead in 2022, both for myself and this here blog.

At this point in time, I’ve fully upgraded my grapple-shot and shields with the various Spartan Cores I’ve found throughout the world, found several interesting Banished weapon variants as a result of taking out high value targets and have spent nearly eight hours in the open world of Zeta Halo just exploring the superbly detailed, West Coast-like environment. The openness of Halo Infinite has meant that there is no shortage of things to do or check out, and while this makes for an unparalleled experience, of providing players with the near-total freedom to play as they wish, that Halo Infinite has an open world component to it has also meant that I’m getting distracted by just how gorgeous Zeta Halo is. I could be content just running around Zeta Halo with a Battle Rifle and Skewer, ruining the lives of all Banished that cross my path, as I search for every last weapon variant and Spartan Core available to me. The fact that Halo Infinite has created this compelling of an experience speaks volumes to the effort that went into bringing Halo into the modern age, and it is saying something that a part of me wants to just stay in this open world forever. However, being a Halo game, complete with a lore and the need to unearth whatever the Banished’s machinations are, I do need to push ahead and continue on with the story. Having now entered the Conservatory, I saw my first loading screen since the first few missions: Halo Infinite has done a fine job of breaking things up, and given what I’ve seen, I am expecting that the Conservatory will be a more traditional, linear mission. After about ten hours of Halo Infinite, then, I can say with confidence that 343 Industries has stricken a great balance between the open world and linear missions to give players a hitherto unmatched experience. Having found a good amount of the collectibles and upgrades, it’s time for me to continue on with the story and see what about the Conservatory makes it so valuable to the Banished. Halo: Combat Evolved had presented players with the Flood as an expected surprise, and a part of me can’t help but wonder what game-changing experience lies ahead, in the labyrinthine interiors of Zeta Halo.

Halo Infinite: Initial Impressions, The Banished, A New Weapon and Setting Foot on Zeta Halo

“The missions change. They always do.” –Master Chief

In the chaos resulting from Cortana’s actions in Halo 5: Guardians, a former faction of the Covenant known as the Banished attack the UNSC Infinity, led by the warlord Atroix, attacks and destroys the UNSC Infinity. Atroix defeats the Master Chief and casts him out into space, where a UNSC pilot, Fernando Esparza, locates him. Their Pelican is captured by a Banished warship, prompting Master Chief to board the warship and disable it. While the Master Chief is working to take out the warship, a beacon is received, hinting at the presence of a “weapon”. Making his way through the cavernous interior of Zeta Halo’s massive interior, Master Chief locates the source of the signal and finds a Cortana-like AI calling herself The Weapon. She explains that her original directive was to delete Cortana and then herself, but somehow managed to survive the process. The Master Chief retrieves her and fights his way to Zeta Halo’s surface, defeating the warlord Tremonius in the process. After clearing out a Banished camp, The Weapon explains that the Banished have taken over UNSC outposts on the surface of Zeta Halo and suggests that clearing them out will give them an advantage as they make to ascertain how many survivors remain from the UNSC Infinity’s destruction. This is Halo Infinite‘s campaign after two-and-a-half hours of gameplay, marking the first time a new Halo’s been available on PC at launch since Halo: Combat Evolved was released, and while 343 Industries’ previous instalment, Halo 5: Guardians, was met with cool reception for introducing a meandering, convoluted story, Halo Infinite makes a bold effort in returning the franchise to its roots. The end result, coming six years after Halo 5: Guardians, shows that for their part, 343 Industries had been successful; the story continues on with the dynamic between Cortana and Master Chief that Halo 4 had portrayed, while at the same time, placing the events on a Halo ring that the series is named after. With a promising new narrative and a return to an iconic setting, Halo Infinite‘s campaign is off to a strong start; everything about Halo Infinite is faithful to the original aesthetic, while at the same time, properly bringing Halo into the modern era.

At the heart of Halo Infinite is a responsive and smooth movement system. In earlier Halo games, movement felt sluggish and slower. Players were limited to walking and jumping. By Halo: Reach, sprinting was added as an armour ability, and this subsequently became an integral part of the game in Halo 4. However, contemporary shooters have very evolved movement systems: Titanfall seamlessly combines wall-running with standard movement, and Battlefield introduced the idea of being able to vault over fences by jumping near them. DOOM similarly implemented a ledge-grabbing feature, where players could automatically catch onto and pull themselves up a ledge if their jumps landed them nearby, and DOOM Eternal further improved this mechanic, making it possible to move around a map in a creative manner. Halo Infinite enters this realm by introducing the grappling hook, which allows Master Chief to latch into and pull himself towards a surface quickly. In addition, Master Chief can also grab onto an enemy with the grappling hook and rappel in for a quick kill, or else pull nearby items close. The grappling hook of Halo Infinite is an upgrade over DOOM Eternal‘s meat hook, which similarly extended gameplay options. A more versatile movement system in Halo Infinite means that map designs can be more creative, allowing keen-eyed players to fully utilise their environment in order to be successful. Together with a visceral and tactile combat system, Halo Infinite is a winner in gameplay: firefights feel immensely satisfying, and the game makes every effort to communicate the results of a player’s actions clearly. Red hit markers are used to let players know when they’ve scored a kill, allowing for attention to be redirected to a new target. The firearms are diverse and unique, creating an environment where picking one’s weapons matter again. Halo Infinite also marks the first time the series deals with boss fights in a traditional manner: before Master Chief can exit Zeta Halo’s tunnels, he must first fight Tremonius, who has a larger health pool and stronger energy shields than standard enemies. The introduction of proper boss fights in Halo adds variety to the game and punctuates moments of exploration and classic firefights with with platforming and strategy. Mechanically, Halo Infinite is built on solid foundations, adding enough new features to modernise gameplay while at the same time, making the core elements of a high standard. In the knowledge that the basics in Halo Infinite are nailed, I can focus my attention on exploration and progression into the story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Whereas Halo 4 presented a humanity filled with a newfound confidence, Halo Infinite‘s humanity is scattered, hunted and defeated. This is emphasised for the player’s benefit right at the beginning: the UNSC Infinity, mightiest of humanity’s vessels, is under siege, and Master Chief himself is being ragdolled by Atriox despite putting up an impressive showing. The atmosphere Halo Infinite conveys, of humanity being forced onto the backfoot, is consistent with the feeling that originally accompanied the original Halo games.

  • The first mission is set inside a Brute warship, and right out of the gates, I am reminded of Destiny‘s Cabal, whose gargantuan frames and utilitarian ships share parallels with the Brutes’ designs seen in Halo Infinite. Long characterised as a barbaric, war-like species, Brutes favour aggression and strength over finesse, and while Brutes tend to look down on humanity, they aren’t above picking up human weapons off their foes on the battlefield. Here, I wield the Mangler, a mainstay Brute sidearm that fires massive spikes at foes. The weapon is extremely powerful and handles similarly to a slower-firing version of the Halo: Combat Evolved pistol, but with a lower firing rate and projectile drop to balance things out.

  • The UNSC assault rifle in Halo Infinite is the MA40, an evolution of the MA37 seen in Halo 5: Guardians, which is itself a successor to the assault rifles seen in earlier games. An all-around performer, the MA40 is a fast firing weapon with less spread than its predecessors. It is able to hit targets further away with greater reliability than its predecessors, and carries enough ammunition to, in conjunction with grenades, make short work of a crowd of Grunts and Jackals. During this first mission, the entire setting is in the narrow corridors of a Brute warship, bringing to mind how Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 both started in claustrophobic spaces (the Pillar of Autumn and Cairo Station, respectively).

  • The tradition was broken in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, but Halo 4 has players start in side the Forward Unto Dawn. I actually enjoy these missions because Halo has always excelled in presenting wide-open environments, and coming from the narrow confines of a starship, or the vast caverns Forerunners had built, into a pristine bit of wilderness has always been the most breath-taking moments of a Halo game. Halo Infinite is touted as being a ways more open than any of its predecessors, allowing the game to capitalise on the wonderous setting, but for players beginning their journey, one must get through the first two missions.

  • While this can feel a little arduous, the first two missions actually act as an opportunity to familiarise oneself with Halo‘s newest toy: the grappling hook. This versatile tool has multiple applications, ranging from reaching hard-to-reach places to being able to pull distant items closer. One particularly amusing feature is the fact that the grappling hook can actually latch onto enemies and stun them, leaving them open to attack. When used in conjunction with closing distance, the grappling hook behaves a great deal like DOOM Eternal‘s meathook.

  • The Revenger is a new weapon that fires searing plasma bolts over short distances: projectiles arc and are affected by gravity. This weapon is powerful but cumbersome, and I found its utility to be in softening up groups of enemies before finishing them off. Unlike earlier games, plasma now deals damage to players for a few moments after it is discharged, and it takes a few moments for the plasma to evaporate. This shows how far Halo‘s come: small details like these bring Halo Infinite to life, and also alters the ways players approach the game in subtle ways.

  • The Needler makes a welcome return, and like its predecessors, it is capable of super-combining to create devastating explosions that can kill even Brutes. Once Master Chief reaches the warship’s control room and finds that he is unable to cleanly disable the tractor beams holding Esparza’s Pelican in place, he decides to destroy the ship instead by overloading its engines. The Brute warship begins disintegrating, but the Banish seem unfazed. In the end, Master Chief cannot make it back to Esparza, but fortunately, Esparza is around to pick up up outside the warship’s wreckage.

  • Halo Infinite doesn’t allow players to replay completed campaign levels, and while this decision does seem strange, it appears that 343 Industries was focused on making the core experience solid first, before adding back long-standing features. Like co-op, 343 Industries is suggesting that being able to replay campaign missions to completely collect audio logs, Spartan Cores and other items will be added later on. For me, this is perfectly okay, since I do not expect I’ll be finishing Halo Infinite‘s campaign so quickly that I’ll be replaying missions again for completeness’ sake.

  • After Master Chief retrieves a new communique, Esparza consents to drop him off on Zeta Halo, feeling that whatever weapon Master Chief might be able to acquire could be helpful in getting them both home. Contrasting the utilitarian interiors of the Brute warship, Forerunner architecture is angular, smooth and features plenty of clean lines. In this second missions, Elites are encountered for the first time, and like their classic incarnations, equip energy shields and side-strafe to evade attacks. Classic techniques like the plasma pistol overcharge and any headshot will quickly dispatch them, as will seven Needler rounds.

  • During the open beta, I was a little underwhelmed by the Pulse Carbine: this weapon is basically the Storm Rifle from Halo 4, but fires in four-round bursts rather than on full automatic. The burst properties were quite unknown to me in the beta, but now that I’ve had a chance to get into the campaign, I’ve found that it handles like the Battle Rifle: a single burst at close range will kill weaker enemies, and a burst will also disable a Jackal’s shields. Three bursts will drop an Elite’s shields. The weapon initially appears tricky to use, but the weapon has a very unique property: the plasma rounds travel faster the further they are allowed to travel and the plasma rounds weakly lock onto targets, making it a superb medium range weapon.

  • This past weekend marks the halfway point from the start of December to Christmas, and this past weekend, I enjoyed my first-ever day off since 2017. I ended up using that time to fully finish the Master Grade Kyrios, a process that took five hours from start to finish, and altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed the build. The kit is incredibly detailed, feels solid and looks amazing. Yesterday, I spent most of the morning waiting for new beds and mattresses to arrive, and then by evening, I attended the company Christmas party at a local Italian restaurant. Dinner started with Arancini (stuffed rice balls), Tuscan Bruschetta (a flatbread with tomato, basil, olive oil and a dash of vingear), and a Caprese Salad. The centrepiece was grilled Chicken Parmesan with seasonal vegetables and potatoes, which was superb.

  • After dinner and a desert Saltinbocca, there was a live show, as well. I didn’t arrive home until half an hour to midnight; while I’d been quite exhausted from a longer day, it was also a great chance to get out and celebrate with the team: I had the chance to converse with people I’d not met in-person previously, since we’d been working from home, and the food was fantastic: Italian food is something I don’t have often, and when done well, different dishes have completely different, vivid flavour profiles. With this Christmas party in the books, I only have one more week of work left before my winter vacation begins. I anticipate spending this time handling the remainder of the furniture delivery and assembly, as well as hitting IKEA to pick up any smaller items we’ll need for the new place.

  • In the spare time I have, I’ll aim to continue on with my blogging and wrap up what remains to be written about. This naturally will extend to include Halo Infinite: I am hoping to make a bit of headway into the open world and check out Zeta Halo for myself. Here, I’ve found the Stalker Rifle, a cross between the Beam Rifle and Covenant Carbine from earlier Halo games. This weapon is actually a joy to use, being a highly reliable solution for longer ranges than the automatics and burst fire weapons. In earlier Halo games, I always carried a good medium range weapon and then paired it with whatever the situation demanded. For now, I am holding onto the assault rifle and pulse carbine to fulfil the role of a solid medium range solution.

  • As Master Chief progresses through Zeta Halo, armour upgrades and Spartan Cores will be found. The latter unlock acccess to different abilities that augment the Mjolnir armour’s functionality, while the latter improves an ability’s functions. The approach taken in Halo Infinite brings to mind the likes of Far Cry, which has similar mechanics. For now, I’ve found that the grappling hook to be an ability I am making extensive use of, so I’ll probably focus on getting this one fully upgraded before looking at the other abilities.

  • A few weekends ago, shortly before Halo Infinite was due to launch, uncivilised and counterproductive discussions were occurring on social media, to the point where people were issuing threats against those who disagreed with them, led moderators to temporarily put a hold on all discussion. It was actually shocking to see people defending this level of negativity: someone actually went so far as to claim that excessive negativity is a “human right” because it’s supposedly the “the only mechanism by which people can campaign for, and achieve change and improvement”. This is soundly untrue: change and improvement comes from people acquiring the skills needed to make a tangible difference, and then working hard to reach a point where said change and improvement can be implemented.

  • As it stands, excessively negative individuals have no inherent value to society. This holds true for those who tear down game developers, and it certainly holds true of those who pull anime apart pixel-by-pixel. Criticism is only valuable if it offers a course of action, such as a suggestion for improvement, and in their absence, defenders of negativity are not meritorious of consideration for the simple fact that their aim isn’t to be constructive, but rather, to gain notoriety. Here, I square off against Tremonius: the two Jackals accompanying him can be a distraction, so I finished them off first, before using the Skewer against him. The presence of boss fights in Halo Infinite is a first, but I found this first one to be most enjoyable, a change of pace from the usual firefights.

  • Once Tremonius is beaten, Master Chief will board the elevator and ascend to the surface of Zeta Halo. Players will be greeted with a verdant evergreen forest and blue skies, but there’s little time to enjoy the scenery. This forward operating base is crawling with Banished, and Master Chief must clear them out. However, even if one is short on ammunition after the fight with Tremonius, there’s a plasma turret up on the cliff overlooking the Banished-held territories below. This turret handles similarly to the turrets of older Halo games and will make short work of foes, at the expense of reducing mobility and forcing one into third person mode.

  • After clearing out the first group of enemies, I came under fire from more Banished on the cliff above. They’re standing closely to a bunch of fusion coils, so I ended up burst-firing the assault rifle to set these off, allowing me to easily clear them out without needing to close the distance. This area is meant as an introduction to the sort of world Halo Infinite offers players, suggesting that for a given problem, there are always several solutions one can utilise to complete their goal. The only thing that Halo doesn’t do well is stealth, but beyond this, having a semi-sandbox is going to be quite exciting.

  • After realising the power that amassed fusion coils can provide as a force multiplier, I ended up reaching the platform, waited for the Banished to arrive, and then detonated one of the fusion coils. Upon exploding, these created a chain reaction that cleared out the entire launch pad, leaving a handful of stragglers that could then be mopped up without much effort. In this way, I ended up taking this forward operating base, which, according to in-game documentation, is an area where players can fast travel to, resupply and link up with allied forces.

  • While the possibilities are quite varied, I think that my approach now will be to finish off the side quests and unlock as much of the map as I can before pursuing the story missions. This way, I will have the best possible amount of armour abilities unlocked for the campaign ahead. Here, I’m wielding the Hydra Launcher I picked off Tremonius; this weapon was introduced in Halo 5 and is described as a multiple missile launcher. I’ve only used it to one-shot Brutes, since it handles more like a shotgun than an anti-armour solution. However, unlocking a forward operating base does mean I gain access to more weapons, and this means I’ll be able to kit myself out with my preferred weapons before attempting whatever lies ahead for me in Halo Infinite.

From my two and half hours of time spent in Halo Infinite, it is early to say what themes and motifs Halo Infinite covers. However, I can say that what I’ve experienced has been fun so far, and as such, 343 Industries’ decision to delay Halo Infinite by a full year was a decision that proved wise and appropriate. When the game was showcased in June 2020, it was met with mixed reactions: on one hand, the gameplay and mechanics looked amazing. However, the visuals proved to be a point of contention: Halo Infinite did not particularly look like a modern game, and while the world assets and the lighting looked sharp, textures were still quite lacking. Realising the potential for disaster on account of all the memes that followed, 343 Industries astutely took Halo Infinite back for additional work rather than insisting on a 2020 launch. The end result speaks for itself; Halo Infinite is the smoothest-playing and best-looking Halo game made to date. Textures are more detailed, character models are less uncanny, and overall, Halo Infinite feels precisely what one would expect Halo to be. While the game does have a few flaws (the inability to replay campaign missions, absence of co-op mode and a poorly thought-out progression system for the multiplayer come to mind), overall, once I set foot on Zeta Halo and captured Tremonius as a forward operating base, all of these issues melted away as I began considering what my next actions should be: I can continue to clear out areas of the map and make travel easier by finishing the side missions, or I can press forward with the story and see how The Weapon and Master Chief’s experiences unfold, delving deeper into the secrets that Zeta Halo contain. One thing is for sure; seeing the distinctive curvature of the Halo ring on the horizon, rendered using modern game engines, is an absolutely astounding sight to behold.

Halo Infinite: A Reflection on the Open Beta

“This is my last fight; a true test of legends! Our story…will outlive us both. Set a fire in your heart, Spartan! Bare your fangs! Fight hard! Die well!” –War Chief Escharum

Originally set for launch in November 2020, 343 Industries ended up making the decision to delay Halo Infinite‘s release to December 2021 to ensure that their latest instalment of Halo was functioning as expected. While at launch, Forge and co-op will not be available, 343 Industries decisions demonstrates the level of commitment to quality that is expected of developers; in recent memory, games like Cyberpunk 2077 and No Man’s Sky had illustrated the price of launching games on schedule even in the knowledge the game was incomplete, with inevitable results. For me, since I’m in no particular rush, these delays are acceptable: in fact, as far as gamers go, I’m quite unconventional in my habits, and news of Halo Infinite‘s launch date, as well as the presence of a technical test, drew my attention primarily because I am running a machine that is now eight-and-a-half years old. As such, the concern for me was a matter of whether or not Halo Infinite would even run on this machine: the game requires an Intel i5-4400 and GTX 1050 Ti at minimum, along with 8 GB of RAM. On paper, my machine’s GTX 1060 and 16 GB of RAM should be sufficient. Moreover, the i5-3570k is supposed to be around eight to fifteen percent faster than the i5-4400k under real-world conditions despite being older. However, it isn’t until one actually attempts to run a game that performance can be tangibly ascertained: this was my primary goal with Halo Infinite‘s technical test, and after around four hours of gameplay spent in the open beta, playing against both AI bots and other players have given me a much clearer picture of what the way forwards looks like. On my aging setup, Halo Infinite is generally very playable at 1080p, maintaining a consistent 60 FPS with the visual settings set to the “high” preset. There were frame drops on occasion, although I did not find that they occurred as a result of activity on the screen (e.g. entering a crowded area with many players, or the result of visual effects resulting from weapon fire and explosives usage). The client testers were provided with was generally stable, although I did experience a two separate instances where the build did freeze or crash to the desktop as a result of bad memory access. Outside of these issues, I have satisfied myself with the fact Halo Infinite appears to run with reasonable smoothness on my machine.

Looking beyond the fundamental matters of performance and stability, Halo Infinite‘s technical test gave me a chance to try out the gameplay mechanics for myself. Trailers had shown that Halo Infinite would feature the return of equipment that had previously been employed in entertaining ways during combat, including a grappling hook and shield wall. However, the most critical element in any Halo game (or shooter, for that matter) is the movement and weapon system. Halo Infinite delivers on both. Player movement has been refreshed to be in line with more modern games; besides the return of a sprint system, players have slightly faster movement than the Spartans did in the original Halo titles, and there is now a vaulting system that allows players to grab ledges, making navigation through maps easier than before. Altogether, modernising movement in Halo Infinite means maps can similarly be updated to utilise creative elements that weren’t previously possible. The gun-play in Halo Infinite is similarly excellent. Weapons feel powerful, and the time-to-kill is reasonable. Players being shot at have enough time to react and get out of a situation. Keeping cool under pressure will allow one to win a firefight even if one did not start shooting first, but players who start a combat engagement with a sure aim and utilisation of the right timing and equipment will come consistently out triumphant. The weapons themselves are fun to use: the basic assault rifle has come a very long way from the Halo: Combat Evolved incarnation and is now reliable, while the Halo 2 battle rifle returns as the BR-75. Players are given feedback in response to landing shots on an enemy, and scoring kills. While quality-of-life adjustments in Halo Infinite makes every successful kill more visceral than in earlier Halo titles, the core gameplay largely remains untouched: everything still feels like it did with Halo 2. Overall, the gameplay mechanics of Halo Infinite are satisfying and consistent, retaining all of the elements that made the original Halo games great, while simultaneously bringing some of the best features in contemporary shooters into Halo.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I’ve had two weekends to try the Halo Infinite beta out, these days, I’m don’t spend the whole of that time in game: the weather of late’s been gorgeous, and I’ve been greatly enjoying all that the autumn weather has to offer. I ended up spending the afternoon yesterday walking out to a grove of trees that turned golden-yellow, and then swung by an overlook at the park’s southern end. Shortly after spawning into my first-ever match on Live Fire, the original map that August’s Halo Infinite technical test featured, I immediately snapped up the S7 Sniper Rifle and got a double kill with it against the bots. My intention in this open beta was not to see how much gameplay I could experience, but rather, to see if my machine could even run Halo Infinite, and so, having the option of playing against AI bots was most refreshing.

  • One of the drawbacks about open betas are that some players deliberately use their vacation time to experience the beta, and consequently, have put in upwards of eight hours before I even finished downloading the client. Playing against these individuals means being annihilated in the blink of an eye, which would’ve degraded my ability to run the game for longer periods of time. Conversely, with AI bots, I was able to stay alive for extended periods and properly stress-test my machine, as well as see what happened whenever many grenades were thrown and equipment deployed.

  • On the whole, Halo Infinite runs very well, and there were no player actions that seemed to cause any performance issues. However, during one match, my client began stuttering and then outright froze, forcing me to quit (and incur the early quit penalty). After I finished and quit another session, my machine suffered from a blue screen of death, with the error code indicating my GPU had been overtaxed. DOOM Eternal has done this to my machine on occasion, where the computer would display a blue screen and force a restart after I’d quit the game.

  • These sorts of things happen infrequently, but I imagine that it is a driver problem more than anything; even people running more recent GPUs, like the RTX 2080 Ti, have reported this issue on some occasion. However, as noted previously, these events are infrequent enough so that they’re not super-disruptive. Here, I’ve switched on over to the Recharge map, which is located inside a hydroelectric plant. I’m armed with the basic MA40 Assault Rifle, a capable all-around weapon for close to medium range combat, and the MK50 Sidekick as my sidearm.

  • The MK50 is more similar to the M6C line of pistols, being a compact and lightweight weapon compared to the hard-hitting magnum pistols of earlier Halo games. In most matches, I discard this weapon straight away for a different secondary weapon: here, I’ve got the VK78 Commando, an automatic tactical rifle with a twenty-round box magazine. Accurate and reliable at range, the VK78 replaces the DMR, reaching further out than the battle rifle, but firing more rapidly than the sniper rifle. This weapon very quickly became a favourite for me; while I used to be a big CQC person in Halo, my experiences in Battlefield has meant that medium range engagements are something I’m more comfortable with.

  • This strange-looking weapon is the Ravager, a Banished weapon that fires arcing plasma rounds that can deal damage to vehicles and infantry alike. The weapon is not reloadable and utilises a battery, but built-up heat is not automatically dissipated, so players must use the reload button to vent the weapon. During the open beta, I found that the UNSC and classic Covenant weapons proved to be the most reliable and consistent in firefights; the new Covenant Pulse Carbine, for instance, is a burst-fire plasma rifle with the Carbine’s form factor, although its behaviour was a little difficult to get used to, so I ended up ditching it. Conversely, the Plasma Pistol and Needler still work just as I remember, making them excellent secondary weapons.

  • Bazaar is a map set in Old Mombasa and therefore, is reminiscent of Halo 2‘s “Outskirts” mission in terms of aesthetic. This arena-like map is laid out in a manner most similar to Counterstrike‘s classic Dust and Dust II maps, featuring a central open area and two “bases” that make the map suited for two-team battles, like CTF. These sorts of maps bring back the memories I have of playing Halo 2 on Windows Vista: back then, I had considerably more time than I did today, and I remember (with a twinge of regret) that I spent the most of my summer, prior to starting university, playing custom games in Halo 2‘s multiplayer.

  • In retrospect, I would’ve been better served spending that time with a summer job, specifically, at one of the local bookstores: while the work experience here wouldn’t be relevant to the undergraduate research experience I did end up picking up, and the pay isn’t anything to write home about, it would’ve been nice to get out and do something constructive with my time. Once I did enter university, I spent my summers doing research instead: this was both relevant and engaging. On the flipside, I also remember that most days, I also went for long bike rides on the best of days.

  • The new CQS48 Bulldog is a combat shotgun fed from a rotary magazine. Compared to the old pump action shotguns, the Bulldog has a much faster reload and can fire faster, but does considerably less damage than its predecessors. Here, I used it to decimate an AI bot at close quarters, earning myself a Running Riot spree in the process. The bots in Halo Infinite‘s training mode can have their difficulties adjusted, but during the online matches where I teamed up with other players against the AI bots, said bots appeared to have had their difficulties set to the easiest level: every match I played was a blowout (or, in Halo terms, “Steaktacular”).

  • Here,  I stick a bot with the plasma grenades. The keen-eyed reader will have spotted that the evergreen trees in the background look a little blocky and low-resolution; I originally wondered if this had to do with the fact that I was running Halo Infinite on the default low settings, but even after turning the settings up, the trees remained of a low quality. It is probably the case that not all assets or visual effects have been finished at this point in time: 343 Industries sent out a stable build to test their server capacities and see how things handle under load for this test flight.

  • After switching over to higher visual quality, I did not notice any appreciable improvement in the visuals. Fortunately, there was also no degradation in performance: 343 Industries intended this test more for their servers rather than for us players, and I imagine that the build we were given, while ready for play-testing, is not optimised yet. Assuming this to be the case, it could mean that I’ll have no trouble running the launch version with reasonable settings.

  • While some elements of Halo Infinite are still works-in-progress, others are remarkably polished and look production ready. Here, after scoring a double kill on some AI bots, I made to reload my weapon and happened to capture a screenshot of the reload, which highlights the level of details that went into the weapon models. Reloads have come a very long way since the GoldenEye 64 days, where the animation simply involved ducking the weapon off screen and raising them once the reload finished.

  • The HUD in Halo Infinite has been modernised so that its layout is identical to that used in contemporary shooters. Previous Halo games put the ammunition display counter on the upper right of the screen, and the grenade inventory on the upper left. However, more popular shooters like Half-Life and Counterstrike had their ammunition counters on the lower right. Call of Duty and Battlefield follow the same layout, as do other well-known shooters, so it made sense to migrate the ammunition counters over to the lower right.

  • The shield indicator firmly remains at the top of the screen, and players will have noticed a small health bar underneath that also recharges. This bar was originally hidden in Halo 2 through Halo 4, only returning in Halo 5 to provide a visual indicator of how much health a player has once their shields are drained. Health can be depleted very quickly if the shields are dropped, and players traditionally can fall to a single headshot if their shields are down, so as soon as the upper screen flashes red in response to shields being low, one’s first move is to get to cover as soon as possible (or finish off a foe and then get away when safe to do so).

  • During the beta, I had a plethora of double kills, but owing to the map and team sizes, I never got around to getting any triple kills despite coming close on a few occasions (teammates would finish off the enemies before I could). It has struck me that 4 on 4 matches mean that the coveted Killtacular would be exceptionally rare. Back when I was a secondary school students, some of my friends were absolutely determined to get a killtacular and so, hosted LAN parties every other week. Since graduating from university, everyone’s gone their separate ways, although right up until the global health crisis started, we were still able to gather on some occasions for LAN parties.

  • A big part of the fun about LAN parties was that, since we didn’t do them often, they always took forever to setup, as we fumbled with wiring all of the Xboxes together using Ethernet cables. This was one constant that remained with us no matter how many times we did the LAN parties, but we never minded; while waiting for setup, conversations would turn towards all manner of topics. Of course, during LAN parties, the folks with Xboxes back home would tend to do the best, and the remainder of us would be lucky to get a few kills here and there. This never mattered, though, since LAN parties were always fun.

  • Here, I’ve finally come upon the BR-75 Battle Rifle: a burst-fire weapon that was introduced in Halo 2 and subsequently became the most recognised MLG weapon in the games. With its three-round burst, the battle rifle was a reliable four shot kill at medium ranges (three bursts to strip the shield, and then a headshot), making it a highly consistent and dependable. On consoles, I’ve never been able to make use of the weapon properly, but with the mouse and keyboard, the battle rifle has very much become my favourite starting weapon in Halo.

  • I’d like nothing more than to have fun and relive the glory days of the old LAN parties in a comfortable chair at home. However, when I returned to The Master Chief Collection‘s multiplayer last year, I found that the design paradigm behind Halo‘s multiplayer today is completely incompatible with what I am looking for. I expect to be able to drop in and out of matches without penalty and play in a relaxed fashion, but 343 Industries have a quit penalty, and players in the so-called “social” tier are still aggressively competitive.

  • In conjunction with the fact that players will universally plug in a controller to capitalise on the fact that controller have full aim assist and increased bullet magnetism, playing with the mouse and keyboard set up leaves me at an immense disadvantage, so I ended up calling it quits by the time Halo 3 joined The Master Chief Collection. Here, I managed to swipe the SPNKR rocket launcher and blew up an enemy. Playing Battlefield and Call of Duty has changed my usage of explosive weapons somewhat: in modern military shooters, anti-armour weapons don’t have enough splash damage to be effective in an anti-infantry role, but in Halo, the rocket launcher is meant to be a power weapon, possessing limitations but otherwise, remains highly effective against personnel and vehicles alike.

  • For Team Slayer matches, the AI bots are more than fine, but it turns out that the bots are also present in smaller games of CTF and Territory Control: the very fact that the bots do work suggests to me that it would be possible to include a mode with bots only so players can get used to the maps and weapons without affecting their stats. For players like myself, bot-only matches would also represent a nice way to simply go mess around for ten minutes and play at my own pace: the days where I could dedicate a few hours towards ranking up my character and items are long past, and I prefer games where I can pop in and drop off whenever I wish.

  • Towards the end of the open beta, my old skills began returning to me, and I managed to get a double kill off the bots with the battle rifle. The bots, while far easier than human players, still have the same shields and health as players do, making them a great way to get a feel for the TTK against human players. I elected against playing real players for as often as I could for the open beta, since the aim of this exercise had been to test the game. I won’t have this luxury during the Battlefield 2042 beta; DICE had announced their beta to start on October 8 and will run through the ninth.

  • However, players who preordered or have EA Access will be able to start their test on October 6. Preloading begins on the fifth, and here, I will note that while I am a Battlefield fan, I’m not so dedicated as to preorder the game yet. Instead, I will sit down for a few sessions on Friday night and throughout Saturday where I am able. Similarly to Halo Infinite, my goal will be simply to see how well my machine can handle Battlefield 2042. Unlike Halo Infinite, however, Battlefield 2042 won’t have a campaign, and what determines whether or not I end up buying it will be how extensive Battlefield Portal‘s AI bots are.

  • Back in Halo Infinite, I start a match on Behemoth, a larger map more suited for Big Team Battles rather than infantry-only matches. Vehicles are available, and this makes the match particularly suited for the larger matches of CTF or territories. I’m actually not too fond of these larger maps, since the vehicles disappear almost the moment the match starts, leaving me to hoof it across the map. Conversely, the smaller, arena-like maps are my favourite, since their focus is on infantry combat. In Battlefield, maps are designed so players can spawn onto points allies have already captured, on squad-mates who are out of combat, or on special beacons, so larger maps aren’t a problem.

  • The Volt Piercer (informally, the Shock Rifle) is one of the most exotic weapons I’ve seen in a Halo game and would not look out of place in something like Planetside 2 or Tribes Ascend. Firing an electrolaser bolt with a range of up to 300 metres, the weapon functions similarly like a sniper rifle and can kill with one headshot. However, it can also arc off nearby enemies, and two shots can temporarily disable a vehicle. I’ve not had the chance to try the plasma pistol’s overcharge against a vehicle, but in Halo 4, the overcharge could disable a vehicle and render it vulnerable to boarding.

  • Overall, the modes against AI bots were fairly compelling, and I had a great deal of fun here: the weapons of Halo Infinite definitely retain the handling and feel of the classic weapons. Of course, the most fun for me will be seeing where all of these weapons come into play during Halo Infinite‘s campaign. Towards the end of my time in the open beta, I hopped on over to Fragmentation for a Big Team Battle match up, marking the first time I’d fought human players during this open beta. I admit that I was a little reluctant to join such a match: back when 343 Industries was flighting Halo 3, I ended up with a miserable experience owing to the fact that the game openly favoured controller players.

  • However, when I joined my Big Team Battle match, I was fortunate in that the size of the map meant that players were spread out enough so that I did end up with a chance to explore the map and get a few kills here and there, as well as work out where all of the weapons were. I’m not sure if Halo Infinite will bring back the old loadouts from Halo 4, which allowed players to spawn with a primary and secondary (non-power) weapon of their choice. If given the choice, I’d almost always pick the battle rifle and magnum in Halo 4. However, since the battle rifle and Commando tactical rifle are found on the weapon racks as pickups, I imagine that Halo Infinite could be going back to the basics.

  • For some reason, Halo Infinite describes the Commando as a light machine gun: while the Commando is automatic, its smaller ammunition capacity and description as a precision weapon means it doesn’t satisfy the definition of what makes a light machine gun: LMGs don’t necessarily fire full-sized cartridges, but their function is to fulfil an infantry support role (e.g. providing covering fire). The small magazine on the Commando is too small for the weapon to be used in this role, so I am wondering if 343 Industries are going to continue referring to the Commando as an LMG once the game launches.

  • I managed to pick up another Shock Rifle and began firing on distant enemies, but because the weapon’s handling is unlike the UNSC weapons, I wasn’t able to place the best shots on my opponents, who were trying to steal our flag. However, I did land two hits on two different foes, and my teammates astutely picked them off. This match ended up being a game of attrition: players were very much focused on defense and felt reluctant to go on offense, which makes sense, since everyone is still new to the map: I did make one attempt to take the enemy flag, but died instantly, since half their team was hanging back.

  • As the match drew to an end, I ended up picking up the Heatwave, a Forerunner hard light weapon designed for close-quarters combat. The weapon is most similar to a shotgun, and in its default mode, fires a horizontal pattern of projectiles. However, it can be altered to fire in a vertical pattern. The former sounds good for crowd control, and the latter has proven to be excellent against individual targets. The weapon resembles the UNSC Rail Gun (Halo 4), and indeed, when I picked it up, I was expecting the weapon to handle like the Rail Gun.

  • During this final map on Fragmentation, I ended up going 13-16 and helped my team to win the game with a score of 1-0, and to cap things off, I’ll show that it is possible to get kills with the Sidekick even though it is a sidearm meant for use if one’s starting primary weapon is out. All things considered, this wasn’t a bad first time playing against real players, and I did have fun just running around on the map and engaging lone players before ducking away. With this, Halo Infinite‘s open beta comes to a close, and I imagine that the next time I play Halo Infinite will be once the campaign launches.

Having now had the chance to experience Halo Infinite for myself, it is clear that my aging machine will run Halo Infinite in a passable manner, and the gameplay itself retains everything that made the original Halo games so enjoyable. As such, my final verdict on whether or not I will pick this game up is simple enough: I have seen enough to know that I will have a good time with the game once it launches in December. The multiplayer aspect to Halo Infinite is actually free-to-play, and revenue is to be generated by a seasonal battle pass: 343 Industries will have seasons, and players can purchase the passes for seasons they wish to unlock cosmetics for. Unlike other developers, who have time restrictions, Halo Infinite‘s battle pass system will be such that one could buy the first season pass a year later and still be guaranteed a fair chance at completing everything. While my main interest in Halo has always been with the campaigns, a free-to-play multiplayer gives another more opportunity to see how my desktop handles Halo Infinite before I step into the campaign should the need arise (otherwise, if the footage of gameplay looks promising, and the benchmarks look good, picking up Halo Infinite will be an easy decision). The sum of my experiences here in Halo Infinite‘s technical test have been positive. If the final product can iron out the more serious of the issues I experienced, as well as optimise the game to further improve performance, 343 Industries will have made a very compelling case for me to pick up the single player campaign at launch price. With this being said, the multiplayer alone is not something I see myself playing extensively; in this day and age, I no longer have the time to play through multiplayer games with a lengthy progression system. The appeal of having a single player campaign is precisely that I can experience something at my own pace. However, if Halo Infinite were to include the ability to play AI bots in all of the same game modes and maps that are available to in PvP modes (complete with match score and time limits), I would be ecstatic; the AI bots seen Halo Infinite are actually pretty convincing when set to the higher difficulties, and while they understandably should not contribute to one’s completion of progression items, being able to go into a private server and mess around with the AI bots would be immensely enjoyable, perfect for folks who are interested in having a more laid-back opportunity to have fun in their own manner of choosing.

World of Warcraft: Setting Foot in Northrend and Exploring Wrath of the Lich King’s Coldest Frontier

“I came through and I shall return.” –General Douglas MacArthur

The end of my vacation was approaching: I was sitting on a bench at Taikoo Shing’s City Plaza mall and waiting at our rendezvous point for everyone to gather so that we could take a bus over to the airport for the flight back home. This had been a particularly memorable trip, during which I had the chance to check out Beijin’s Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, Hangzhou’s West Lake, Suzhou’s legendary canals, and Shanghai’s world-famous Pudong skyline. At the end of two weeks, I was quite happy, but also quite ready to go back home. I stretched my feet, brought out my iPod and put the music on shuffle. Moments later, Howling Fjord began playing. I watched the crowds pass by while listening to the song’s Nyckelharpa, and my thoughts strayed back to a time a year earlier, when my friend’s private server was still running. It was not lost on me that while my friend had upgraded the server to support Wrath of the Lich King, I never ended up travelling to Northrend, since I’d been busy exploring Azeroth and Outland. The music of Northrend had been very enjoyable, making use of a variety of Scandinavian instruments to convey the sort of beauty associated with northern landscapes of boreal forests, striking fjords and snowy mountains. However, with my friend’s private server now offline, I imagined that the time to finish exploring the whole of Wrath of the Lich King had passed. I shook those thoughts out of my head and returned to the present, ready to board the half-day flight back over the Pacific, certain that I’d never have the chance to visit Northrend for myself. Eleven years later, I ended up putting together my own private server together; after growing salty at some overly serious players who saw fit to kick me from a dungeon, I decided to get my own Wrath of the Lich King server set up. Since then, I’d finished exploring Azeroth, built back my old mage and warlock, and finally got the chance to check out all of the major regions in Outland. With the old goals done, it occurred to me that here was the opportunity I’d been longing for. I thus spun up the server and boarded a boat that brought me over to the Howling Fjord.

As I began exploring more of Northrend, it became clear that, far from the dark, cold and frozen wastelands of the Arctic I had imagined it to be, Northrend possessed a variety of biomes, from thermal hot springs in tundra plains, to steep fjords, boreal forests and glacier-capped mountains. The world design in Northrend speaks to the improvement in period hardware: Northrend is bigger and bolder in design than any of Azeroth or Outland’s locations, featuring dizzyingly high peaks and tremendously deep ravines. In particular, Storm Peaks’ terrain is such that one must have a flying mount to even consider traversing some of Northrend’s most gorgeous vistas. It becomes apparent that Northrend was designed to accommodate the players’ ability to fly, and unlike Outland, vertical movement has been integrated seamlessly into map design to encourage players to get to a point where they can have access to cold-weather flight. Beyond the scope and scale of these new maps, one area in Northrend I absolutely was not expecting was Sholazar Basin, a tropical paradise surrounded by massive cliffs whose magic kept out both evil forces and the frigid weather. This was such an unexpected surprise: to find anything approaching the tropic in the far north would be a fool’s hope at best in reality. Stories of tropical valleys tucked away in the deep in the mountains of the Nahanni dominate the myths about some of Canada’s most remote regions, as adventurers of old imagined that geothermal springs of the Nahanni would create fantastical landscapes. Today, advances in cartography corresponds with the understanding that anything resembling hidden tropical gardens that far north would be implausible in reality, but in the virtual world that games like World of Warcraft provides, it would appear that these constraints are no concern. Thus, I took some time to check out the lush, verdant tropical forests in the Sholazar basin before concluding my journey at Dalaran, finally having done something I’d figured was impossible twelve years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • During the Heritage Long Weekend this year, temperatures were actually even hotter than they had been last year (33ºC to last year’s 28ºC). However, unlike last year, I had the presence of mind not to spend six hours doing dungeons; instead, I visited the Grizzly Hills for the first time. I found myself in a region of evergreen forests, rolling hills and swift rivers, and decided to take on a few quests to familiarise myself with the area.

  • Besides towering conifers, fields of violet also adorn the hillsides. Grizzly Hills is a decidedly beautiful area, and the background music has a very Nordic feel to it. However, unlike my earlier experiences, the monsters here are closer to me in level; they now take a few spells to kill, a world apart from when I was slaughtering everything trivially with my wand. In World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion, the game has been updated with what’s called a level squish, allowing new players to reach the endgame faster and get to the activities that most come for.

  • For me, raids and dungeons aren’t my objective – I’ve gotten my share of grinding for loot through games like The Division, and there, the game had been sufficiently well-designed such that one could solo the levelling experience and then still work towards unlocking a working loadout for endgame activities solo if they felt so inclined. In The Division, I used matchmaking to periodically party with others to complete legendary missions, while in The Division 2, I ended up finishing the entire game solo.

  • For me, being able to complete things solo is a vital part of a game, and when a game with a large group component accommodates this play style, I end up with nothing but respect for the game. Solo players are often at a disadvantage, fighting off larger numbers of enemies, and rewards are typically better with groups, but I find that being able to do things like collect most of a game’s most powerful items alone is an immensely satisfying experience.

  • I’ve now entered back into the Howling Fjord, capitalising on my cold weather flying to travel more swiftly over the northern continent. While Wrath of the Lich King‘s aurora might not be as stellar as those of Skyrim‘s, they look solid and fit Northrend’s aesthetic well. The aurora can be seen from almost everywhere up here, and they certainly liven up the long flights around: while Northrend is quite large, flights up here do not feel anywhere as lengthy as those of Outland’s.

  • I understand that I’m playing through Wrath of the Lich King in the most unconventional manner: this is something that is afforded by the game master (GM) powers my account has access to. In general, GMs are staff who oversee the game and will enter the game with an avatar to help players out (for instance, if they’re stuck somewhere or lose an item of importance), as well as to enforce policies. To allow GMs to carry out their duties, their accounts have access to powerful commands that allow them to become invisible, invincible, spawn items at will and teleport players.

  • On my friend’s private server, the GM powers were used to quickly gather all of the players for evening parties, as well as kit everyone out with a fully-levelled character so that we could take on some of the end-game content. During the server’s last week, I was given access to a GM account so I could build a level 80 character capable of travelling around Azeroth and explore without worry about being wiped. I utilised my abilities to create an Ashbringer, too – such actions would’ve certainly defeated the purpose of playing the game with friends, but at that point, since the server was about to shut down, my friend didn’t see any harm in giving me a chance to really play around.

  • While the role of GM was highly coveted back then (several of my friends had requested GM accounts for the purpose of spawning powerful items instantly), the role of GM is an actual role. A quick glance around shows that the average GM makes around 56000 CAD a year pre-tax, which goes out to 43000 CAD a year after deductions. Having access to a host of commands and being a virtual god is nice, as is the feeling of being able to help players in need and punish those who seek to degrade the experience for others, but it’s not an occupation I could see myself doing. Consequently, I’ll stick to acting the role of GM on my private private server.

  • With this being said, the exploration in Northrend has been quite unlike anything I’d previously seen on Azeroth and in Outland. Some of Northrend’s best sights are truly spectacular, and here, I find myself overlooking the seaport of Valgarde, which consists of a small town cut into the fjord’s narrow cliffs. Everything seen here can be visited, and while folks rocking a flying mount have it easier, the level designers fortunately had the foresight to create footpaths for players to walk down there, as well: it isn’t until level 77 where one can unlock flight for Northrend.

  • I’ve long had a fondness for watching sunsets from different places in World of Warcraft: the combination of mostly playing the game after finishing the day’s assignments and busy weekends meant that a large majority of my World of Warcraft memories are set during the evenings. I had previously mentioned that I would like to try and visit some spots in World of Warcraft by night, and wondered if changing sunset times might impact the times where night sets in. However, I never got around to trying that out last year, since I’d been wrapped up in Halo.

  • This year, with Battlefield 2042 and Halo: Infinite on the horizon, things are looking mighty busy, so time will tell as to whether or not I get around to testing my theories out. The Howling Fjord’s got areas that appear exactly as I imagined Northrend to appear, and with a flying mount, exploring becomes considerably easier: Northrend is very much walkable, and there are plenty of flight paths, but nothing beats having one’s own flying mount when it comes to pure exploration. Flight paths are only a bit faster, but they don’t always take the most efficient way to one’s destination.

  • Here, I’ve managed to fly out over to the Boreal Tundra’s Valiance Keep. This is the first place players would see of Northrend if travelling from Stormwind: the decision to have two starting areas in Northrend, as opposed to Outland’s one, was a consequence of The Burning Crusade suffering from capacity issues when all players congregated in Outland’s Hellfire Peninsula. The idea was that having two starting areas would lighten loads on different parts of the game world. Here, I look in on the city, having flown in over from Dragonblight.

  • While the Boreal Tundra isn’t too exciting of an area compared to the Grizzly Hills, directly north of the Boreal Tundra is the Sholazar Basin. This tropical area caught me completely off guard, and within moments of landing here, Sholazar Basin swiftly became one of my favourite areas in Northrend, mainly because it was so unexpected to see a tropical area so far north. Previously, I’d only heard of such a concept in tales about the Northwest Territories: prospectors in search of gold would return with tales of fantastical travels, and it was rumoured that tropical forests existed in the Nahanni National Park area.

  • Today, it is accepted that those travellers probably encountered geothermal springs in the Nahanni, and imagined that on the other side of the mountain, it might’ve been so warm that thermal energy was seeping through the crevices in the rocks to reach them. Such tales, while fanciful, are still fun, although the Nahanni is also known for being the home of many mysteries, including the macabre “Headless Valley”, so named for the compelling forces that produced a pile of decapitated corpses from visitors who were brave enough to venture into territories unmarked.

  • Nahanni National Park is a tempting place to visit: tales of tropical valleys and an unknown force aside, the area is home to some of Canada’s most striking scenery, such as Virginia Falls (twice as tall as Niagara Falls), Ram Plateau (a series of plateaus that rise 1800 metres above the rivers below) and Cirque of the Unclaimables that have no equal anywhere else in Canada. For now, the Nahanni is an area that is a little above my skill to reach (the drive is 1500 kilometres north of Edmonton), so I’ll settle for exploring spots within my grasp (and checking out more fanciful spots in games like World of Warcraft).

  • In the end, I spent an hour completing quests here in the Sholazar Basin and sought out the flight master here so that I could fly here more readily if the need required it: Sholazar Basin is a spot I’d definitely be interested to revisit in the future.

  • Dragonblight was the next region on my list; it’s a quest hub for players looking to level up, and its western edge is covered in forests. The eastern edge is more barren and home to a massive tower known as the Wyrmrest Temple. Wyrmrest can be seen from a great distance away, and it dominates the landscape. While the tower is marked as being a meeting place for Dragons, the area was quite quiet by the time I reached it. Exploring Northrend, I experienced the slightest bit of melancholy; this was something I’d wished to do twelve years earlier.

  • I occasionally wonder if the group of us on my friend’s private server would’ve stood any chance at all against the dungeons and raids of Northrend: save for one of our friends, the remainder of us were complete novices on setting up characters properly for end-game content and utilising our abilities in a party setting. I’ve seen for myself that players can become very serious about raids and dungeons, to the point of kicking people from a party for doing five percent less damage than is optimal. I’d never quite gotten over that, and this is why I have a private server to begin with.

  • If memory serves, I used the Dungeon Finder to join a group at Shadowfang Keep, but my level 20 frost mage was not equipped with the best possible gear for that level, so my spells weren’t dealing much damage. After clearing the first room, the party kicked me, sending me all the way back to the Stonetalon Mountains. I’ve heard that this is actually a more common experience than I’d initially thought, and veteran players note that this sort of behaviour comes from people power tripping; it’s something players learn to ignore. However, since I’m only a novice in World of Warcraft, and since my goal is exploration, I determined it’d be easier to explore on my own server.

  • During the past weekend, I had a few errands to tend to, and these sent me downtown. Since I had some additional time before my appointment, I decided to walk on over to the building where my seminar with World Vision was held some thirteen years earlier. I’d driven by every day last year returning home from work, and seeing this building reminded me of the Stonetalon Mountains, in turn lighting in me a wish to return to World of Warcraft. The World of Warcraft today is radically different than the one I remember, and while the game has seen numerous improvements, there is a charm about Wrath of the Lich King.

  • Here, I set foot on the Storm Peaks, a mountainous and gusty area covered in snow and ice. The foes here are closer to me in level, and while I can still engage elite enemies my level, it is clear that were I to be surrounded by enemies, I’d be finished in the blink of an eye – my most powerful spells can do a reasonable amount of damage, and with the Hot Streak talent, I can potentially have an instant-cast Pyroblast. Pyroblast is the most powerful single-target spell fire mages have available to them, but also has an extremely slow cast time.

  • For most fights, I open with Pyroblast owing to its high damage, and then follow up with a Fireball and Fire Blast where appropriate. Because fire spells also deal damage over time, I can whittle down individual enemies very quickly before they can get within melee range. Besides these utility spells, mages also gain access to the Frostfire bolt, which is essentially a best-of-both-worlds type spell: the spell takes a slightly longer time to cast, but will hit the enemy for whichever element they have less resistance against, making it a versatile spell to utilise.

  • The Storm Peaks’ greatest sight has to be Ulduar, a massive temple built by ancient beings known as the Titans. Nothing in Wrath of the Lich King quite matches it in scale, and its labyrinthine interior is home to a raid dungeon. Upon exploring Ulduar’s exterior, I was absolutely blown away by how large everything was, but it was a little surprising to see it so quiet outside. In retrospect, this is quite similar to how Blackrock Mountain had been deserted on the outside.

  • With Ulduar done, I changed course and prepared to fly on over to the Crystalsong Forest. Here, I pass back over more ordinary terrain in the Storm Peaks – it appears that it’s always night here, allowing the aurora to be seen in greater clarity. It hits me that a large number of places in World of Warcraft have the suffix -song as a part of their names, although I don’t have any background on what the origins of this are within the lore.

  • After arriving in the Crystalsong Forest, I was greeted with groves of golden-yellow aspen as far as the eye could see. Running through these forests, a very peculiar sight soon greeted me: violet-white trees composed entirely of crystal, which gives the region its name. According to lore, dragons fought here, turning the once-normal trees into crystal when they died and released their magic in to the landscape, transforming trees into glowing, purple structures.

  • We are at the end of August now, and truth be told, I’ve been pushing my blogging to the limits this month, averaging a post every 2.2 days. With September fast approaching, the Labour Day Long Weekend will offer some time for me to write out a few posts I’ve had in the wings for a while. September is actually looking quite relaxed – I have six posts planned out for the month so far, which leaves me with a bit of extra time for anything unforeseen that comes up. I’ll kick off the September posts come Saturday, and in the meantime, focus on making a progress on the drafts that I already have.

  • Here, I’ve reached the heart of one of the crystallised forests – it looks like a photo negative of sorts, although my character and HUD still have normal colouration. World of Warcraft‘s locations have always been fun, and while the starting areas are pretty ordinary in design, levelling up would really allow one to check out the more exotic-looking places. This was what I’d missed out on with my friend’s private server, and now, having set foot in all of the places of World of Warcraft up to 3.3.5, I wonder if it’d be worthwhile to create a post-Cataclysm server. On one hand, a newer server would have newer features available, most notably, transmogrification and the ability to fly in Azeroth, which had previously been a no-fly zone.

  • The tradeoff is that the old maps have seen considerable changes, and in Mists of Pandaria and later, the spells and talents have been completely overhauled to the point where I’m not too sure how everything fits together. Returning to Wrath of the Lich King, the overall effect in Crystalsong Forest is quite pleasing: in some places, the ground has cracked, releasing an eerie blue light into the air. After I concluded with the exploration, I ended up flying up into Dalaran: the city has a no-fly zone; although players were allowed to fly up (as of Patch 3.3.5), once in the city, flying mounts would be disabled.

  • The last destination on my list was the sanctuary city of Dalaran. As it turns out, there’s a crystal in the Crystalsong Forest that can be used. Of course, being a mage, I could’ve created a portal here without any additional cost to myself, but I preferred to do things the old-fashioned way. Upon arriving, I found myself in a very peaceful and well-kept city floating high in the sky. I ended up finishing a few quests here for the mage quarter, before reading through a quest that led to a raid (and then turning it down, since I don’t have the ability to solo raids on my own).

  • With this, I’ve now finished checking out Northrend’s more peaceable regions. I did fly over Icecrown, home of Arthas the Lich King – a glance at the area finds it swarming with the undead, and they are numerous enough to completely overwhelm individual players. In fact, Horde and Alliance forces alike use airships to observe the area, so I’m thinking that flying here is necessary to reach Icecrown Citadel; the aesthetic in Icecrown is basically a frozen, icy version of Sauron’s Mordor. I will not be taking on Arthas myself – even in later expansions, where players become powerful enough to to solo entire raids on their own, the fight against him requires a group to handle the mechanics, so this is one thing I won’t be checking out for myself.

Having now explored Northrend, I’ve checked out all of the regions in World of Warcraft that would’ve been available to me back when Wrath of the Lich King was the newest expansion, fulfilling an twelve-year-old wish. I am aware that as a solo player, a great deal of Wrath of the Lich King‘s best content is simply not available to me; even the Molten Core was much more challenging than what I could handle on my own, and this was with level sixty enemies. It is evident that 25-person raids featuring level-appropriate enemies would be impossible for the solo player to attempt, and for this reason, I won’t be able to waltz into Northrend’s raids and slaughter my way to victory, the same way I’ve done in DOOM Eternal. This is one of the hazards about the most private of servers: without other players, much of World of Warcraft‘s most iconic experiences (gathering a party together and smashing up raids over the course of a few hours for the game’s best equipment) remains unknown to me. Having a private server means missing out on much of this experience. However, my interest in a private server wasn’t to experience the end-game content on my own; my original mission had simply been to revisit some of the experiences I had back as a secondary student, as well as try out some of the things that I never had an opportunity to. In this area, the private server has absolutely fulfilled its intended function, and I’m happy to have brought such an old experience back to life. With Northrend’s more scenic location now in the books, my mind turns to whether or not I’d like to try putting a Mists of Pandaria server together, or if I should take an even further trip down memory lane and get my old private Ragnarok Online server back up and running. There are stories behind both decisions, and both stories offer a bit to talk about, so I’ll recount them in more detail in their appropriate posts, at the appropriate time.