Is Halo switching to Unreal Engine? Here's what we know.

Halo Infinite co-op.
(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

What you need to know

  • A new report from YouTuber Sean W suggests that Halo Infinite's battle royale codenamed 'Tatanka' is switching to the Unreal Engine, and perhaps even Halo itself.
  • We revealed Tatanka exclusively earlier in the year as a "battle royale-lite" Halo game designed to appeal to a new audience. 
  • Since the departure of Halo leader Bonnie Ross, many fans have been wondering what, if any, change in direction may be on the way for Microsoft's flagship shooter franchise. 
  • We've been investigating Sean W's rumors for the past week, and can tentatively corroborate some aspects of it. 

Halo Infinite may be set for a large change in direction, according to new reports which we can tentatively corroborate at least in part. 

Last year, we exclusively revealed that Halo Infinite was slated to get its very own battle royale-like codenamed Tatanka, in development between 343i and partner team Certain Affinity. After the leak, CA released a statement confirming its deeper commitment to the Halo franchise, and as recently as last week, stated that the team is doing "major work" on Halo Infinite. 

Halo Infinite is in a bit of turmoil as of late. The live service has left a lot to be desired, and 343i has struggled to return to the necessary pace of updates live service shooters generally enjoy across competitors like Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends. Blizzard is launching Overwatch 2 this week as well, piling further pressure on Halo Infinite to keep up. 

The game's much-awaited Forge mode is coming later this year, but its third season of content has been delayed out to Spring 2023, with season four naturally coming even later. In conversations with 343i staff past and present who wished to remain anonymous, Halo Infinite's internal Slipspace Engine has been blamed for much of the problems with the game's on-going development. Two separate sources described the launch state of Slipspace's developer tools as "non-existent." Descriptions paint a bleak picture for contractors and new 343i staff, who had to work with a "difficult" engine which was light on documentation and pipeline maturity. To that end, these recent rumors may not come as much of a surprise. 

Report: A change in direction for Halo?

Last week, YouTuber Sean W shared a video detailing some rumors he's heard about Halo Infinite, alongside some speculation about what may be going on moving forward. At its core, Sean W reported that Halo's Tatanka battle royale-like mode may be moving over to the Unreal Engine. If it wasn't there already, this would potentially mean dropping much of the work already done on Slipspace. 

Initially, I wrote off the report. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to drop 2+ years of work on Tatanka to move it all across to a new engine, but after speaking with Sean W and doing some digging of my own, it's certainly looking increasingly as though Tatanka is either ditching Slipspace, or was never on Slipspace from the outset. 

Information I received during the original Tatanka leak earlier in the year suggested that the game was supposed to incorporate Halo Infinite's Forge user generated content systems, alongside progression from Halo Infinite itself. On the face of it, switching it out to a new engine would potentially be incongruous with the design goal of incorporating Halo Infinite content, which would continue to exist on a separate engine entirely. But information we've received could suggest a wider change in direction for the Halo franchise. 

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Increasingly, there are reports that Halo may be gearing up for a wider switch to the Unreal Engine, known for games like Gears of War, Fortnite, and many others. Sean W's report was also corroborated by ACG's Jeremy Penter, as well as some of our own sources. I wanted to gather more details in an attempt to paint a more complete picture of what's going on with Halo right now before creating a report, given that some information I've received is conflicting. Until then, here's what we've heard so far. 

Some details on the concrete plan remain vague, we have some indication that Microsoft may be looking to move to the Unreal engine across the whole franchise too, not just Tatanka, with 343i getting ready to explore the future of the franchise. We've received opposite information as well, suggesting that Tatanka is not moving to Unreal, with builds still hitting Halo APIs as recently as this month. But there definitely seems to be some smoke with regards to considerations about whether or not Unreal could represent the future of Halo. 

With 343i founder Bonnie Ross and Slipspace architect David Berger no longer with the company, it seems the studio is eager to explore new ways to adapt to the fast pace of development in the shooter service game world. Moving to a more popular engine that has mature tools, and perhaps more crucially, high levels of experience from the game developer workforce, may be key to figuring out Halo's future. 

Right now, it doesn't seem like there's any real indication that Halo Infinite itself is winding down, though. Development on Forge isn't stopping, and neither is development on Season 3 or 4. 

Speculation: IF true, could this be a good thing?

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Halo Infinite's live service simply wasn't ready when the game launched to critical acclaim both from fans and media alike last year. While there were reservations about the relatively anaemic offering of maps, modes, and progression, everyone seemed eager to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt — surely the company that pioneered the idea of a console service game would have Halo Infinite nailed? Right?

Fast forward to now, and we know that Halo Infinite's live service simply wasn't ready. Six-month seasons are an outlier in an industry where service games frequently do one-month seasons, with new battle passes filled with cosmetics providing a sense of progression and reward, while keeping competitive balance in-tact. Halo Infinite's seasonal updates have been a bit lacking too, adding minimal amounts of maps and new features compared to other competing games. 

Right now, it doesn't seem like there's any real indication that Halo Infinite itself is winding down, though. Development on Forge isn't stopping, and neither is development on Season 3 or 4.

Locking down a singular narrative on why this is has been tough, to say the least. Some of the people I've spoken to lay blame at former game director Chris Lee, while others lay blame at studio head Bonnie Ross. The one consistent area of irritation falls on the Slipspace Engine, however, which has become somewhat notorious in commentary surrounding Halo Infinite for its difficult implementation. 

I know from information and conversations that I've had about Tatanka that the game was supposed to incorporate Halo Infinite, and Certain Affinity received Halo Infinite's source code to build out its implementation. We know from leaks in the Halo API some fragments about how Tatanka is meant to play, although if the game is indeed switching engine as rumored, it's essentially anyone's guess just how much of the original plan will be retained. 

Instead of representing the continuation of Halo Infinite, it's possible that Tatanka could eventually grow to represent the next phase of Halo itself as a completely separate, standalone experience. On a different engine, it may scupper Microsoft's original plan to incorporate the Forge mapping tools, but they could still bring across Halo Infinite's cosmetics potentially by leveraging Halo's social APIs. 

Microsoft registered "The Endless" trademark a few months ago, which seemed could indicate some kind of campaign DLC for Halo Infinite. There have been some potential suggestions that The Endless may shift to Unreal Engine as well and become a standalone experience in its own right, although we're unable to corroborate anything about The Endless at this time. 

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)
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Halo Infinite

Halo Infinite's live service support hasn't been the best, but it's still a crisp and competitive arena shooter that modernizes the classic formula for a new age. The multiplayer portion is free, and the campaign is available as part of Xbox Game Pass. 

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Unreal Engine is widely used in the games industry at large, and Microsoft's internal teams from The Coalition to Undead Labs have a huge wealth of experience with the tools. Microsoft and Certain Affinity both also have internal tools and pipelines for working with the Unreal Engine established already, at a time when Slipspace is widely rumored to be problematic to work with at best. Microsoft's use of contractors also potentially compounds the issues with Slipspace, since training new staff to use the tools used by literally nobody else in the games industry doubtless creates a deficit on speed — and speed is absolutely key in today's live service game world.

Of course, I would caution to take all of this with a pinch of salt until we get some kind of official statement from Microsoft, or some form of concrete physical evidence. But as the saying goes, there's no smoke without fire, and right now, there's a lot of smoke.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!