Halo Infinite‘s first gameplay footage reveals the motivations of the franchise’s new villain. In the trailer, War Chief Escharum, a Brute warrior who has plans for the game’s Halo ring, prepares to battle Master Chief, declaring it his “last fight.”
“Without challenge, I grew weary. Lost. Alone,” says Escharum in the video. “But, here you now stand. This is my last fight, a true test of legends. Our story will outlive us both!”
Escharum may be a brand-new character, the big bad who will usher in the next era of conflicts in the Halo universe on the Xbox Series X, but he’s also a callback to the franchise’s past. With the return to a Halo ring, the traditional weapons, and the Brutes back at the forefront of the conflict with humanity, 343 has made a game deeply rooted in nostalgia for the “classic” Halo experience. Escharum seems to fit the mold of the classic Halo villain, too, especially if he’s on his own misguided quest to activate the new Halo ring, which would make him a successor in a way to Brute chieftain Tartarus from Halo 2. We don’t really learn what Escharum is up to in the gameplay trailer, though.
As familiar as Escharum may seem, there are a few things about him that separate him from the traditional Halo Brute. For one thing, he’s is one of the Banished, a mercenary group that split from the fanatical Covenant, the invading alien theocracy of the first three games. The Banished clawed out an empire as space pirates and built a military machine of their own to take on all who opposed them. According to Escharum’s speech in the trailer, the Banished have grown powerful enough to destroy most of humanity’s fleet. As 343 associate creative director Paul Crocker told IGN, the Banished are “an evolution of the Covenant.”
The faction was first introduced in the RTS spin-off Halo Wars 2. In that game, the group is led by Atriox, the snarling foe who managed to capture the Ark, the massive Forerunner facility first introduced in Halo 3 that can construct new Halo rings as needed. With the Ark under his control, Atriox planned to create a new Halo ring with which to vanquish his enemies. But the end of Halo Wars 2‘s main campaign and its DLC left Atriox’s story unfinished, Installation 09 beyond his grasp as it went into slipspace without him. It remains to be seen whether he’ll play a part in Halo Infinite, although the trailer does tease that Escharum fights “to honor the will of Atriox.”
Atriox is a master strategist and an effective leader, but he’s also ruthless. Whether he wants power for its own sake or has another motive behind his mission is unclear, but the plan is clearly working since the new Halo ring is already “under Banished control,” according to Escharum.
With his scarred face, grandiose manner, and probably a wicked swing with a gravity hammer, Escharum will bring the pirate philosophy of the Banished to bear against Master Chief in Halo Infinite. But the trailer teases that he’s not working alone. Escharum says that “the Harbinger and the Banished share the same goal” under Atriox and that they’ll soon capture a mysterious location known as “the Auditorium.” The Harbinger is a brand-new term in the Halo universe that may point back to the events of Halo 5: Guardians.
It’s possible that Cortana is the Harbinger. A human-made AI and Master Chief’s partner in the first four Halo games, Cortana created a new faction known as the Created, sparking a violent AI uprising at the very end of Halo 5 that left humanity’s forces in disarray. Is she the Harbinger who’s recruited the Banished to her cause?
The word “harbinger” implies this individual is bringing or predicting something that’s to come, but the context is too vague to really speculate on. Either way, 343 has said that Halo Infinite isn’t a total reboot. Even if it isn’t a numbered sequel, the game will still follow the events of Halo 5.
“It is the conclusion of events that have been set up in the past, but it is very forward-looking as well,” Crocker said. “We want places to go and we want new mysteries.”
343 creative director Chris Lee added, “It’s setting the foundation for future storytelling as well as tying some of those threads from the past. You don’t need to go through the whole franchise to learn and understand the fiction coming in, but if you do have that knowledge we want to reward that. You’ll see these [extended universe] elements and nostalgic moments. There have been a lot of goosebumps in the studio as we have [finished] different scenes and things that are in the game.”
Halo Infinite is coming to the Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC this holiday.