Halo Infinite campaign review: A masterpiece that's familiar, yet fresh, in all the right ways

A Great Journey you can't miss.

Halo Infinite
(Image: © Windows Central)

While most dominant game franchises don't stay that way forever, the vast majority of them still enjoy healthy popularity and consistent success even after the golden years are in the rearview mirror. Halo, Microsoft's flagship exclusive Xbox franchise, is an exception. The series has consistently struggled to win over the hearts of players ever since developer Bungie left Halo to create Destiny, and while there is a lot to love in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, many of the radical shifts in gameplay, story direction, and presentation that 343 Industries put forth left much of Halo's core fanbase feeling alienated.

It's clear that if Microsoft and 343 Industries wanted Halo to be successful again, future titles needed to respect the legacy and formula that made Halo so special to begin with. However, it also had to offer something fresh that would attract the attention of new and veteran audiences alike. It's an unenviable challenge, but it seems 343 Industries has risen to meet it with its ambitious new campaign that navigates that narrow middle ground between new and old.

Halo Infinite is familiar yet fresh, traditional yet novel — it's everything a veteran or a new player could ever want from a Halo campaign experience, and I can't recommend it enough. After spending a week with it, I can say it, combined with the free-to-play Halo Infinite multiplayer experience that recently launched on Halo: Combat Evolved's 20th Anniversary, makes for one of the best Xbox games ever made.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review build provided by Microsoft. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Halo Infinite review: Story and characters

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategoryHalo Infinite
TitleHalo Infinite
Developer343 Industries
Xbox VersionXbox Series X|S, Xbox One
Game Size48.4GB
Play Time20-30 hours
Xbox Game PassYes
Launch Price$60

While Halo 5 was disappointing for many reasons, its biggest misstep was arguably with its writing. Its messy and confusing plot made it difficult to digest, and the decision to bring Cortana back as a galactic dictator after the beautifully-executed conclusion to her story arc in Halo 4 left most players, myself included, feeling extremely dissatisfied. The game also had a significant lack of meaningful character development, making it even harder to connect with the narrative.

With Halo Infinite, 343 industries has crafted a "soft reboot" story that largely glosses over the complications of Halo 5, taking its salvageable elements and reforging them into a new narrative that isn't held back by the mishaps of its predecessor. Halo Infinite begins in 2560, two years after the events of Halo 5. Master Chief, adrift in space, is found and rescued by "The Pilot," a survivor of a mysterious conflict on the Zeta Halo ring between the UNSC, the Banished, and Cortana. Now, having emerged victorious, the Banished have plans to use the Halo ring to accomplish their goals. It's up to Master Chief, alongside The Pilot and The Weapon — an AI created by the UNSC to defeat Cortana — to stop them.

It's a simple premise, but there's nothing wrong with that — especially after Halo 5. Besides, plot is just a vehicle for the most important part of any story: the characters. And Halo Infinite's characters are nothing short of superb.

Master Chief is, unsurprisingly, the star of the game's cast. His heroic stoicism and resolve to do what's right is as alluring as it's always been. But something that elevates Chief's character to even greater heights in Halo Infinite are the moments where he abandons his typical stoicism and shows how thoughtful he is. There's quite a big heart underneath that battered titanium armor, and throughout Halo Infinite, Chief doesn't hesitate to show it when his allies look to him for guidance, reassurance, or understanding. He's still a man of few words, but his body language and the words he does speak are rich with depth and complexity.

At Master Chief's side are The Pilot and The Weapon, both of which are just as well-written as Chief himself. The Pilot's resilient spirit and desire to return to the family he loves represent the humanity that Chief is fighting to protect, and while I don't want to go into much detail about The Weapon's role in the story, I will say that her dialogue is every bit as nuanced and layered as Chief's is.

Halo Infinite's narrative had me enthralled from beginning to end.

Notably, the protagonists aren't the only highlights. In fact, some of Halo Infinite's best moments involve Escharum, the leader of the Banished forces on Zeta Halo. Much like Chief himself, Escharum is a legendary warrior worn down by age and years of brutal fighting. Excited by the prospect of defeating humanity's best in his final years, he challenges Chief, eager to prove that the hope the Spartan inspires in others is misplaced. In many ways, Escharum's dialogue sounds theatrical, reminding me of Halo 2's "space opera" narrative structure. Many of the bosses you encounter throughout the experience have their own distinct personalities and motivations as well, adding additional flavor to the journey.

The only character that didn't completely win me over was The Harbinger, who I felt should have been explored more thoroughly. With that said, every other aspect of the narrative was exemplary, and I can't wait to see where the developers take the story moving forward.

Halo Infinite review: Gameplay

While many players did want something new after the Halo 3 and Halo: Reach era, most felt that Halo 4 and 5's emphasis on a redundant sandbox and advanced mobility abilities was disappointing. The developers solved this issue in Halo Infinite by combining the sandbox with the series' traditionally linear gameplay systems and expertly adapting them to an open world-style design.

The open spaces of Zeta Halo are where Halo Infinite shines brightest.

If you would prefer to play Halo Infinite like a traditional Halo game, you can. There are no arbitrary restrictions that force you to engage with the open world, and the main campaign missions are linear experiences that take place across a variety of well-designed indoor and outdoor locations. Halo Infinite's snappy gunplay, dynamic enemy AI, and refined sandbox are arguably some of the best in the franchise's history, ensuring that every encounter offers the beloved "30 seconds of fun" that Halo is known for.

Where Halo Infinite truly shines is in the open spaces of Zeta Halo. The series, at it's core, offers up a dynamic experience where choices made by both the player and enemy AI ensure that encounters never play out the same way twice. With Halo Infinite, the developers have applied that principle on a massive scale, creating an open world that truly feels impossible to predict. Banished troops dynamically patrol the ring in an effort to hunt you down, and no enemy squad is the same as the last. Enemy spawns and weapons also shift based on the time of day and what weapons or vehicles you're using, ensuring that there's always a fun and balanced challenge close by. Zeta Halo itself is full of terrain variety. As you play, you'll find yourself traversing everything from wide-open fields and grassy plains to steep mountains and hazardous ravines.

There are numerous fun activities to do in the open world as well. This includes recapturing UNSC outposts that you can use to fast travel and spawn yourself weapons, vehicles, and reinforcements, assaulting several unique Banished outposts, assassinating deadly Banished officers to unlock their modified weapons, and rescuing squads of UNSC Marines that will fight alongside you in future battles. There are also tons of collectibles to discover, such as UNSC and Banished audio logs, skulls that alter the gameplay experience, mysterious Forerunner artifacts, cosmetic unlocks that you can use in Halo Infinite's multiplayer, and Spartan Core items that can be used to upgrade Master Chief's equipment items. You may even discover some hidden mini-dungeons and other secrets during your adventure. Zeta Halo is simply a blast to explore and interact with, and it rewards the time you invest into it generously.

I would be remiss not to mention Halo Infinite's boss fights, which are paced well and encourage players to get creative with the sandbox tools at their disposal. Unlike previous Halo bosses that usually ended up being bullet sponges regardless of strategy, Halo Infinite's can be taken down in a timely manner with the right combination of damage types and equipment pieces. The fights can be a little too tough on higher difficulties like Heroic or Legendary, but they're overall great.

Halo Infinite review: Visuals and sound

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Presentation-wise, Halo Infinite is nothing short of gorgeous — especially when played at 4K 60FPS on an Xbox Series X. Zeta Halo is full of what feels like an impossible number of breathtaking vistas, to the point where it was hard to not reach for my screenshot button every 10 seconds. Its unimaginably vast fields of vibrant flora and crystal clear bodies of water are contrasted starkly by both the intimidating silver and crimson facilities of the Banished and the numerous metallic hexagonal pillars that Zeta Halo's automated systems are using to temporarily hold damaged portions of the ring together. At certain locations, it's even possible to view where the abyss of outer space, created by the ring's partial destruction, meets the bright blue sky. Upon seeing this grand and bizarre view for the first time, I was transfixed.

Presentation-wise, Halo Infinite is nothing short of gorgeous.

In terms of biomes, Zeta Halo has a decent variety that offers players a break from its standard "Pacific Northwest Woodland" environment. Throughout the open world, players will also come across marshy swamplands, mountainous regions, and war-torn "deadlands" that are devoid of life and filled with the skeletons of destroyed UNSC craft that were stripped for parts by the Banished long ago. It's disappointing that there aren't any sandy or snowy regions in the game, but I'm not that bummed out about it. Perhaps we'll get to visit locations like this in campaign DLCs.

Halo Infinite's interior areas look stunning as well, with the aggressive crimson lighting of materiel-filled Banished bases contrasting sharply against the pristine elegance and soft blue illumination of Zeta Halo's Forerunner facilities. The various caves you can find throughout the open world are lit only by your flashlight and abandoned light sources that belonged to previous explorers, giving them a distinctly eerie atmosphere.

Halo Infinite's soundtrack is also incredible, to the point where it may actually be my favorite in the series. Composers Gareth Coker, Curtis Schweitzer, and Joel Corelitz masterfully blended classic Halo motifs with bold new ideas, creating a soundtrack that's quintessentially Halo while also pushing the music of the franchise in exciting new directions.

Halo Infinite's soundtrack is, hands down, one of the franchise's best scores.

The game's sound effects and voice lines deserve mountains of praise, too. Each weapon and vehicle in Halo Infinite sounds immensely powerful, which in turn makes each weapon and vehicle incredibly satisfying to use against the Banished. Steve Downes, Nicolas Roye, and Jen Taylor deliver standout voice acting performances as Master Chief, The Pilot, and The Weapon, respectively. There are also an unimaginable amount of voice lines for Banished and UNSC troops, giving allies and enemies alike wonderful nuggets of memorable personality. I'll never forget the time when an Elite Ultra smugly stated "Nobody fights my troops and survives!" over my corpse after one of his subordinates gunned me down with his Pulse Carbine.

Everything about Halo Infinite's presentation, from its graphics to its score to its sound effects and voice lines, is immaculate. The game may not be amongst the best in the industry when it comes to raw texture quality, but in terms of art direction, music, and sound design, Halo Infinite is a cut above most other titles.

Halo Infinite review: Bottom line

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While 343 industries has struggled to steer Halo in the right direction ever since the launch of Halo 4 in 2012, the studio has finally come into its own with Halo Infinite. The game successfully honors Halo's narrative, gameplay, and presentation legacies while also incorporating fresh ideas into the experience that breathe new life into the 20-year-old franchise.

There's simply no other way to put it: Halo Infinite is a masterpiece. And whether you're a seasoned Halo veteran or a newcomer that's interested in seeing what the hype is all about, this campaign is a Great Journey you would be foolish to miss.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.