It hasn’t been an easy journey for Halo Infinite. A disastrous campaign reveal last July that turned the game into a punchline on social media, a delayed launch, and high-profile departures behind the scenes at developer 343 Industries have been the headlines that have plagued the title for the past year, an incredibly tumultuous period that seemed to kill the hype for Xbox’s biggest release of 2021. To gamers who already felt burnt out on the franchise after the divisive Halo 5: Guardians, it seemed unlikely that this latest sequel would revitalize their excitement for the 20-year-old shooter series.
But all 343 needed to change the conversation was to put the game in players’ hands. A technical preview held from July 29 to Aug. 2 finally allowed fans (including this writer) to jump into Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer and get a feel for 343’s take on a faster Halo PvP experience that also hearkens back to the franchise’s roots as one of the foremost competitive console shooters. Despite offering only a snippet of the final product — three maps, a handful of weapons, and the first 20 tiers of a Battle Pass — the preview seems to have been a success, with many players immediately asking for more when the demo closed down on Monday.
The thought that the game that brought us “Craig” memes, and lots of whispers about its troubled development, would ever leave people asking for more seemed like wishful thinking a year ago, but 12 months is an eternity in the gaming world and 24-hour news cycle, and now Halo Infinite‘s fortunes seem to have changed (at least on social media) on the strength of the impressive tech preview.
I put several hours into the preview myself on the Xbox Series X, trying out the new maps — the entry-level Live Fire, the more vertical Recharge, and the action-packed Bazaar — and facing off against the surprisingly competent AI bot enemies with a team of three other players. My biggest takeaway is that matches feel much faster and kinetic, as you charge, slide, jump, or swing around the arenas, unleashing grenades and clips of the new MA40 Assault Rifle onto your enemies. Sprint, a controversial feature to some veteran Halo fans who feel the tweak to player movement robs the experience of a more classic feel, is back in Halo Infinite, upping the pace of matches to what one should expect from a modern shooter but not quite as high-speed as Call of Duty. It felt like a nice balance to me. Jumping felt suitably floaty, though, which should delight purists.
Opponents remain spongy in the classic Halo way, forcing you to use a combination of tactics in every encounter — jumping around the map while tossing grenades at the other team during a firefight feels as good as ever — a nice departure from the twitch Call of Duty gameplay that has largely become the norm of the genre. Like the best Halo games, Infinite still encourages you to get into players’ faces to land the killing blow, which proves to be incredibly hectic when in the tighter corners of Recharge or Live Fire. Weapons, grenades, and melee remain at the center of the Halo experience, with only the latter leaving some room for improvement. The melee mechanic felt sluggish or downright unresponsive at time. When landing that final elbow to your opponent’s head means the difference between life or death, that’s no good.
But that’s what the technical preview is for, and player feedback will hopefully help 343 iron out the kinks, especially with some of the weapons. While the Assault Rifle and the MK50 Sidekick pistol (a new version of the series’ classic magnum) felt like a winning loadout most of the time, the new Pulse Carbine and VK78 Commando rifle — both best at mid-range — packed less of a punch. One standout was the Skewer, a one-shot killing machine that impales your enemies as long as you time the shot just right. In fact, some may end up calling this launcher overpowered, but at least it spawns after a cooldown, which means the playing field won’t be full of them during the match. And what else can I say about my beloved Needler except that it’s still so very good to charge into battle with it like an absolute badass.
My favorite of the three maps was Bazaar, an Earth-set map that will delight Halo 2 players with fond memories of the New Mombasa sections. While teams start at the opposite side of the map, all lanes lead to the map’s central market, where you’ll have to fight over the high ground as well as the power-ups and weapons scattered in the area. While you’ll be able to snatch up Drop Walls — new deployable cover that will remind you of Halo 3‘s Bubble Shield, minus the 360-degree protection — almost from the start on the match, you’ll have to wait to get your hands on spawning Overshields and active camo, which trigger a cooldown after each use. And when they spawn, you’ll have to rush to snatch them up before the enemy team does.
One piece of equipment you’ll definitely want to get your hands on is the brand-new Grappleshot, the grappling hook first teased in last year’s gameplay demo. It is perhaps the biggest game changer to the multiplayer experience, as you can use the Grappleshot to quickly swing around a map like the multi-level Recharge and surprise your enemies from above, or simply to pick up weapons from a distance. Players bothered by how sprinting changes the pacing of Halo may also have a few complaints about the Grappleshot, although I found it added another plenty of interesting options to the way you attack, especially once you learn how to launch yourself at your opponents by grappling onto them.
Just how easy it’ll be to ambush skilled player-controlled enemies with the Grappleshot remains to be seen but don’t dismiss the bot AI, either. These bots are impressive, intelligent enough to flank you or chase you down a lane, and adapt incredibly well to each situation, switching between grenades and melee in a remarkably organic way. They also became more savage as the weekend went on, with 343 turning up the bot difficulty a bit each day. By Sunday, these bots were actually winning matches. There was also a short PvP Social Slayer test period on Sunday that I didn’t have a chance to participate in, but I never got bored of the PvE opponents, which is a good sign for the Brutes, Elites, and Grunts in the story campaign. If they’re as intelligent as the harder difficulty bots in this technical preview, expect a formidable challenge.
For the first time since last July, I’m actually excited for Halo Infinite, a sentiment echoed by other fans on Twitter over the weekend, and I can’t wait to play more of the game’s free-to-play multiplayer when it launches later this fall. (Yes, “free-to-play” does mean there will be in-game purchases and Battle Passes with rewards featuring plenty of cosmetic items to customize your armor, weapons, vehicles, etc., but I didn’t spent too much time with the customization beyond checking out the shader system, which definitely feels like a downgrade from just being able to color your armor however the hell you want.)
But there’s still so much to see from the game, especially the controversial campaign mode demoed last year. While the technical preview was never about the campaign, it accidentally revealed quite a bit about the mode. Leaked story spoilers found by dataminers within the technical preview’s files have received a polarized reception at best, with some fans already writing off the plot while others are keeping a more open mind until the final product is released.
Are story spoilers enough to really tank the game after such an excellent showing last weekend? Remember that The Last of Us Part II, arguably the biggest release of the PlayStation 4 era, had its entire story leaked a month before its eventual launch, and it still became the third best-selling PlayStation game of all time, discourse about the story notwithstanding. Like with the multiplayer, the best way to judge Halo Infinite‘s story will be to play it for yourself.
Halo Infinite multiplayer will launch as a free-to-play experience that anyone can jump into regardless of whether they’ve bought the full package containing the campaign, so the PvP won’t really live or die by its campaign, no matter its quality. Ultimately, the campaign is a discussion for another day, and judging solely what I’ve played of the game’s multiplayer, I think there’s finally plenty to be excited about in this new chapter of Halo.
Halo Infinite is coming to Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, and Xbox Game Pass later this year.