Halo 5: Guardians was released back in 2015 and, given the typical three-year gap between the franchise’s main entries, people have been expecting the sequel to arrive pretty soon. So to say the announcement of Halo Infinite is overdue is an understatement, and it looks like fans are going to have to wait even longer for the game to arrive.
This is compounded by the fact that 343i didn’t give us a whole lot of information about the game. In fact, the announcement trailer was more interested in showing off how shiny the Slipspace Engine looks rather than the game itself. Nobody from the studio gave any interviews at E3 either so, after all this waiting, we got little beyond a few details. But listen Microsoft: I've read the Halo novels. I know all about the extended universe. And that means that the little we have is more than enough to make some educated guesses as to master Chief's next big adventure.
What We Definitely Know
As seen in the announcement trailer, we can see Halo Infinite takes place on a Halo ring, or at least some of the action does. It also features the classic Warthogs (albeit the rubbish troop transport variant), marines, and a Spartan soldier.
The Spartan shown was Master Chief himself, which was then confirmed on stage by Phil Spencer. There was room for this to be another random Spartan (base-level Mjolnir is all the same, after all), but 343i says it listened to feedback from Halo 5 and that Infinite will focus on the gruff-voiced hero fans are invested in. No more tricks to stuff you into the boots of Spartan Luke Cage for the majority of the game.
It was also announced that Infinite will “continue [Master Chief’s] saga after the events of Halo 5”, meaning this is Halo 6 in everything but name.
What kind of game is it?
There hasn’t been any sort of announcement about this, but it’s pretty safe to assume that Halo Infinite will be a first person shooter, and not some sort of MMO remnant as first speculated by Kotaku UK editor Rich Stanton (idiot!). A Destiny-alike? That's possible but we'll come to that with the name.
343i’s announcement post was written by Chris Lee, who was granted the title ‘Studio Head, FPS’ last May. Plus if you ignore remakes and ports, there are 12 Halo games. Only two of them are not shooters (Halo Wars and its sequel), and another two are not first person (mobile titles Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike).
While 343i have promised “bold and unexpected directions for the franchise” switching the core games away from FPS is going to go down about as well as a house on fire. Like Call of Duty and Battlefield, people generally don’t buy Halo games for the plot. They buy them so they can kill each other and make lewd comments about race, sexuality, and opponents’ promiscuous mothers.
That also makes the recent rumours that the game will initially ship without multiplayer even more unlikely. Can you imagine the outrage?
What’s in a name?
Halo Infinite is an odd title, I’ll admit, and there has to be reasoning behind it. Maybe it’ll factor into the plot somehow, much like how Bioshock Infinite featured adventures across the infinite worlds of the multiverse. Or perhaps it’ll be something to do with the gameplay itself. Perhaps not an MMO, which is what the name first suggests, but a new way of playing the Halo games.
343i wasn’t at E3, and thus wasn’t going to reveal many secrets about the game, but we know that the game’s art director is famed concept artist Nicolas ‘Sparth’ Bouvier, who’s produced a lot of incredible art in the past - especially for Halo.
The cover art for Halo: Cryptum, by Sparth
His art is nothing if not grand in scale, and if he’s having that much influence on Halo Infinite then we can expect the series’ tradition of incredible backdrops and landscapes won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. But that was obvious from the trailer, and it’s possible that there’s more to it than that. It got me thinking about the meme involving game companies and mountain climbing:
Bethesda: "See those mountains? You can go there"
Blizzard: "See those mountains? Kill six"
Bioware: "See those mountains? You can fuck em"
— Tom Hatfield (@WordMercenary) August 1, 2016
That in turn reminded me about a claim made by Bethesda’s Todd Howard, regarding Skyrim and its system for infinite questing.
Both of those things are likely wishful thinking on my part, and I’m not saying Halo Infinite will go down the RPG route, but I’d definitely be down for a sprawling open world Halo game. That would be an ambitious and unexpected direction, as well as one that returns to the roots of Halo CE's then-enormous open levels.
When is it set?
Halo Infinite is set after Halo 5, which concluded on 28th October in the year 2558. Despite Halo’s pretty hefty expanded universe, almost nothing has elaborated on the ending that saw Cortana and the rogue AI faction ‘The Created’ seize control of the Forerunner Guardians in an attempt to establish a totalitarian regime and rule the galaxy in ‘peace’. Tidbits of information have popped up in comics (Tales from Slipspace) and short stories (Fractures), but so far everything of substance has been left for future games to explore.
What we do know is that Cortana is still seemingly in control five months after the end of Halo 5. Halo Wars 2 is set at the end of March 2559, and ends with Dr Anders hitching a ride on a new Halo ring to try and get a message from the crippled Spirit of Fire to the UNSC. That ring was intercepted by a Guardian before it could arrive, strongly suggesting Cortana hasn’t been ousted from power.
Interestingly, there does appear to be a tease in the announcement trailer, provided you have very good eyes or feel like watching it on a very large, high resolution screen. Jump to 1:05 in the trailer (the bit with the downed Pelican) and you can see what appears to be a date on the control panel. Specifically that date is 5/27/2060.
I had to view it in full screen on my 4k display pic.twitter.com/5wnse9xFk7
— Masterz1337 (@masters1337) June 10, 2018
There’s no confusion over US vs EU date formats there, and it means the trailer is set 19 months after the end of Halo 5 and 14 months after the end of Halo Wars 2. That’s one of the longest gaps between games, beaten only by the four and a half year gap between Halo 3 and 4. Given the speed and ease of Cortana’s takeover, it’s safe to assume the galaxy will have undergone some significant changes in the interim, the consequences of which we’re likely to see in-game.
Where is it set?
The trailer confirms Halo Infinite is at least partially set on a Halo ring, but the question is which Halo ring? There are seven of them, and four have appeared in the canon so far. Alpha Halo (04) in Halo, Delta Halo (05) in Halo 2, Gamma Halo (03) in Halo 4, and Zeta Halo (07) in the novels Primordium and Hunters in the Dark.
Speculation has already begun that the game is set on Zeta Halo, based on the fact the ring is known to have had an extensive human presence pre-Halo 5 and the fact the radios in the trailer seem to be beeping out “SOS ZETA HALO GRD” in Morse Code. It’s sound logic (excuse the pun) and would add a location not seen in previous games. That’s assuming this is an outgoing SOS, and not a subspace message being picked up by a transceiver.
But why Zeta Halo?
The ring's established human presence is part of a joint scientific research operation with the Swords of Sanghelios - the Arbiter’s faction of Elites. At the end of Halo 5 we saw the two factions together, presumably gearing up to fight back against Cortana.
Any sort of resistance they put up is going to need one hell of a home base, and considering both Earth and Sanghelios were crippled by their respective Guardians their home-planets are out of the question. Similarly, the UNSC Infinity was last seen making continuous emergency slipspace jumps to avoid being captured by Cortana. There’s a limit to how long it can keep running, even with its advanced Forerunner engines.
Zeta Halo would be the logical place to go, even if Cortana knows where it is. Both factions know its location, and know there are already ample supplies for the ring’s research battalion. There was also unlikely to be a Guardian there initially, since the Halos never had a sentient population necessitating the presence of one. The ring itself is bound to be filled with Forerunner technology that could prove useful in the fight, especially if the rebels are able to enlist the aid of the local (and currently unseen) monitor. As we saw in Halo 5, those monitors do wield a significant amount of power over their respective installations.
031 Exuberant Witness, monitor of the Forerunner planet Genesis, was able to effectively fight back against Cortana. While she needed help from Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris to do, she was still able to wrestle control away from Cortana and save Blue Team.
But who’s to say there would only be a single Halo in play?
There’s mounting evidence that Alpha Halo will also play an important part in the post-Halo 5 universe.
If you finished Halo 5 on Legendary difficulty, you will have seen the post-credits scene that focuses on a single Halo ring while Cortana hums ominously. It’s never specified which ring this is, or when it takes place (remember Halo 3’s Legendary tease took place nearly five years later, at the start of Halo 4). Cortana has already used Forerunner tech to dominate the peoples of the galaxy, imagine what she could do with a Halo ring?
Not only does she have the means to wipe out the entire galaxy, Halo Cryptum (and to an extent Halo 3) showed us that the rings don’t have to be fired at maximum power. Much like how the Death Star didn’t fully destroy Jedha in Rogue One, a single Halo can be fine tuned to only fire across a select area of space - be it a planet, star system, or something slightly bigger. There’s no reason why Cortana wouldn’t utilise that feature to set some sort of example, and considering Halos only affect organic life the digital-based Created would likely be just fine.
With no mutually assured destruction-type scenario, and functional immortality, there’s nothing to stop Cortana from firing a Halo to start afresh. If resistance proves too much for her to bother with, she could cleanse the galaxy and take control of life in the earliest stages of evolution, or alternatively dominate the new life that may be reseeded by the Ark.
The good news is that Forerunner ‘protocol’ means only organic beings can retrieve an Index, the key necessary to fire a ring, from the Library - which is why 343 Guilty Spark enlisted the help of Master Chief in the first game. Halo Warfleet also mentions that the Ark had failsafes that prevented it from being accessed by Cortana and the Created, probably a leftover from the Forerunner/Flood war when the ancient beings were betrayed by the AI Mendicant Bias.
Cortana herself already has the Index for Alpha Halo, and therefore control of its firing mechanism, so it’s a good thing both versions were destroyed, right? Oh wait.
Alpha Halo may have been destroyed at the end of the first Halo, while the replacement built by the Ark was destroyed when it was fired at the end of Halo 3, but there is another one. It was discovered by the humans in Halo Wars 2, who sent it off through slipspace to try and get a message to the UNSC. Only it never made it. The ring was intercepted by a Forerunner Guardian, and means Cortana has the power to control an intra-galactic genocide machine. What’s more, the ring at the end of Halo 5 was seen powering up... suggesting she has control of it.
That’s not the kind of thing the Master Chief could let go, and not the kind of plot point 343i could tease then ignore. That means the likelihood of the replacement Halo ending up in the game is quite high, even if it’s only so Chief and co. can destroy it.
One of the stone rings featured in the Halo Infinite trailer has damage suspiciously similar to the way the original Alpha Halo was destroyed as well.
Tonally Different to the Last Two
The overall impression I got from Halo Infinite is that the game is a ‘back to basics’ approach to Halo, despite 343i promising the game was too ambitious to be done without a brand new custom engine. Thinking about what the overall tone of the game must be, especially given the time jump, conjures up similarities with the original trilogy: humanity facing insurmountable odds and an enemy that’s seemingly impossible to defeat, with the power to wipe them out of existence. Then it all comes down to a single supersoldier and an AI on an ancient ringworld.
And there will be an AI. We see Chief placing one in the back of his helmet, with some super-sleuths zooming in to see part of its serial number. It begin in D, which means it can’t be Cortana or any other AI we’ve seen previously in the lore. AI serial numbers begin with letters based on the AI’s name, and the only Smart AI that has a name beginning with D is Deep Winter. It’s not him because he was erased by Kurt Ambrose in Ghosts of Onyx - which was set around the same time as Halo 2.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. Following the end of the war with the Covenant at the end of Halo 3, humanity found itself in an excellent position. Not only had its former enemy devolved into smaller factions hell bent on kicking the crap out of each other, it was the only species that had spent time and effort adapting and reverse engineering Forerunner tech. That gave them a monumental advantage over the Covenant, who considered such a thing blasphemous. As a result the UNSC Infinity ended up being one of the most powerful individual ships in the galaxy.
Plus, since the Covenant collapse, most factions had little to no technological resources - meaning they weren’t easily able to refuel and repair their ships. Humanity had done well for itself in a few short years.
This shift in power also coincided with the shift in developer. Humanity’s stronger position was first shown in Halo 4, which was the first game in the main series made by 343i and not Bungie (Halo Wars doesn’t count). They haven’t been nearly as well received as the Bungie games, especially Halo 5. Resurrecting that desperate tone could be interpreted as 343i realising some of the mistakes it has made, and returning to what made players love the series in the first place.
343i has made it pretty clear that Halo Infinite is still a long way off. It won’t be arriving this year at any rate. Things may change, or the final result may be completely different to what was shown off in the announcement trailer. Remember the announcement trailer for Halo 5? Almost nothing from that trailer ended up in the final game.
All we had was the Guardian springing up from the ground and the crack Chief had in his visor by the time the game ended. Everything else was just for show. It’s not impossible that things will play out the same way here. But based on what we've seen.... this might be the first time Microsoft has said it's going back to Halo CE, and meant it.