Halo Infinite hands-on: The return to form the franchise needed

Halo Infinite Multiplayer
Halo Infinite Multiplayer (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

The Halo franchise has recently struggled to maintain relevancy in the shooter space, often attributed to controversial design decisions. While Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians were certainly enjoyable, some disliked how 343 Industries placed less of an emphasis on the sandbox, focusing on movement and combat abilities intrinsic to every player. As a result, the games didn't appeal strongly to Halo's core following.

In response to the fanbase's feedback on these games, 343 Industries has pivoted to returning Halo to its sandbox-driven roots with Halo Infinite. To give players a chance to test the game, the developers have recently launched the first official Halo Infinite beta (also referred to as a technical preview) that allows them to try out the core multiplayer Arena experience against AI bots, experience weapon drills in the Academy training mode, and get a feel for the customization and battle pass systems.

Going into the beta test, I wasn't sure what to expect with Halo Infinite. But after spending several hours with the game, I strongly believe that 343 Industries is on the right track to bring Halo back into the limelight — though I haven't seen enough of the game to say for sure.

Halo Infinite preview: Multiplayer gameplay

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

After three years of waiting, we've finally got our hands on a playable version of Halo Infinite's multiplayer, and overall I'm very impressed. Every weapon available in the game so far feels absolutely incredible to use thanks to their snappy handling, crisp sound design, and excellent animations. More importantly, each weapon has clearly been designed around filling a unique role in combat, which is a huge component of the formula that made classic Halo so fun to play.

Want a precision weapon? Grab yourself a Battle Rifle or a VK78 Commando. Looking for short-range devastation? The Bulldog shotgun or the Heatwave energy weapon with two different firing modes available. The Plasma Pistol's shield-piercing capabilities make it a perfect weapon to pair with a precision one for the classic "noob combo," while the Sidekick's quick fire rate and solid damage-per-shot make it an excellent backup when you can't afford to reload. Don't forget the Skewer, a power weapon that sacrifices magazine size and reload speed for a deadly projectile that can deliver instant death to your enemies. Experimenting with the nuances of each of these weapons has been a blast so far, and I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the game's arsenal.

Halo Infinite's weapon and equipment sandbox is a joy to engage with.

Halo Infinite's sandbox is also bolstered by the return of equipment pickups. These include items like the grappling hook you can use to traverse the map or pull weapons, the deflector shield that's capable of reflecting projectiles back at enemies, a deployable cover shield, and more. It's too early to say how well balanced and useful these equipment pieces are, but I will note that I've been able to use all of them to pull off some pretty slick plays in the beta.

In terms of movement, Halo Infinite has brought sprint, clamber, and slide back from Halo 5 while getting rid of the Spartan Charge, ground pound, and thrust abilities. This is a move I've grown to appreciate, given that Halo 5's "advanced mobility" focus felt like a departure from what makes Halo enjoyable. Sprint, clamber, and slide all bring fluidity to Halo Infinite's gameplay, but the sandbox is still the star of the show.

Halo Infinite preview: Customization and battle pass

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

One of the most important parts of Halo is the customization, and based on what 343 Industries has shown in this test, it looks like Halo Infinite's will continue the trend. You can swap several different shoulder plates, chest pieces, helmets, gauntlets, and more on an "armor core" foundation to create a unique look that suits your tastes, and the game's coating system also allows you to choose from a variety of different color and texture options for your armor as well (coatings are also available for weapons and vehicles). My only concern with this system is that people might not be able to mix and match pieces of armor across different armor cores, but we'll ultimately have to wait for 343 Industries to provide some clarity on this topic in the future.

We know that the Halo Infinite battle pass will be linked to the game's customization, and the test version of it that was included in this preview makes me feel confident that the developers' implementation of it will be player-friendly and geared towards earning unlocks through accomplishments instead of grinding for them. Like Halo: The Master Chief Collection before it, Halo Infinite allows players to accrue large amounts of battle pass experience by completing straightforward gameplay challenges. This system has worked tremendously in Halo: MCC, and I have faith that it will work well in Halo Infinite too.

Halo Infinite preview: Academy training mode

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

I'm also a huge fan of Halo Infinite's Academy weapon drills, which offer new players an opportunity to get a feel for the game and experienced ones a chance to hone and perfect their skills. Due to Halo Infinite's free-to-play nature, it's incredibly likely that the game will draw in thousands and thousands of newcomers that have never played a Halo game before. The Academy mode is exactly what the franchise needs to help new players get acclimated with Halo.

The Academy is exactly what the franchise needs to help new players.

I tried out several of the weapon drills that are available during the test, and I was surprised by how impressive they were. Each weapon has three different drills that players can run, increasing how difficult targets are to track and hit. Level one drills have stationary targets, level two ones have enemies that move horizontally across the arena, and level three ones have targets that strafe constantly to try and throw off your aim. Whether you're new to Halo and want to get used to the feel of each weapon or you're a pro that needs to keep your aim in tip-top shape, these drills will be incredibly beneficial.

The AI bots that players will battle over the course of the beta test are also technically part of the Academy experience, and they're surprisingly competent. Compared to most games where bots are a joke, Halo Infinite's bots put up a pretty good fight — although most players will still beat them. Only "Marine" bots are available to fight against right now, though, so I may end up eating those words when the "ODST" and "Spartan" bots show up to the party.

Halo Infinite preview: Final thoughts

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

Overall, I'm having a ton of fun with the Halo Infinite technical preview, and I hope that everyone else is, too. The weapons are all a blast to use, the customization and battle pass systems look like they're going to be some of the best in the franchise's history, and the Academy training mode is an amazing resource for newcomers and veterans alike. What's not to love?

Did you get into the Halo Infinite technical preview? If so, how have you been enjoying it so far? Let me know. For more information on Halo Infinite and its beta, make sure you check out our full coverage on the Halo Infinite beta schedule as well as our list of Halo Infinite beta known bugs and launch issues. Also, make sure you read our guide on how to play the Halo Infinite beta so that you can properly sign up for the next flight if you haven't already.

Halo Infinite is expected to launch on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and Windows 10 (and Windows 11) PCs during the Holiday 2021 season, and may specifically launch in November based on a possible leak in a donut ad. The campaign most likely costs $60, but the multiplayer will be completely free-to-play. With any luck, it will end up being one of the best Xbox games ever.

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.