“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.