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When you first saw Zeta Halo, were you blinded by its majesty? Paralysed, dumbstruck? Given that, at the time of writing, Halo Infinite isn’t out yet likely means you won't have an answer to that until December 8. But I've finished the campaign and had a solid rummage around the open-world portion of the ring, and I'd like to share my ramblings with you.
So may I introduce you to Zeta Halo: the Good and the Bad.
THE GOOD - Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and Banished Outposts
Halo Infinite is peak Halo. The sandbox in this game is probably the best the franchise has been in a very long time. Throughout the world are FOB bases that need to be taken back from the Banished. And although these base battles are mostly ‘copy and paste’, with only different variants of baddies to make them stand apart, there’s enough variation in what the player can do when in these battles.
Unlike the standard level structure of Halo games, the weapons that are handed to you are less planned out. When progressing through a standard mission, the developers cherry-pick enemies and weapons that are placed in a level to make a playthrough as satisfying and well crafted as possible; but here the tools at your disposal are just what you’ve scavenged while making your way to that Forward Operating Base, or what spawned in at the last FOB you visited. It makes you look at your gear and think about who to attack first. If you run in with a Gravity Hammer and Bulldog (a quick-firing shotgun) while Jackal snipers are raining down on you from a distance, it’s probably worth hitting an Elite with a Pulse Carbine to find something with more range… or you could grapple up to the sniper Jackals and bonk them with your hammer that way.
Banished Outposts tend to be more bespoke, with different variations of “blow up these three things” and “open these doors to press these buttons”. It is by no means a fun mechanic - in fact, it’s as tedious as it was on The Maw back in 2001 on Halo: Combat Evolved. But unlike the FOB fights, these tend to have several stages and can last a good deal longer, offering the chance to really switch up your approaches on the fly as different enemy types spawn in to ruin your day. Think of Banished Outposts, in a way, like mini versions of Firefight. They’re structured very differently but offer up that similar extended-battle-in-one-location vibe that comes from the beloved (and missing from Halo Infinite) mode.
The options are endless in the sandbox and this can make even the most generic, copy-and-paste scenarios feel different and enjoyable every time because there's very little chance you will be going in with the same loadout each time.
THE BAD - It Locks The Campaign Missions Mostly Into ‘Dungeons'
I’m not saying Halo Infinite’s campaign is bad - in fact, if you read Dean’s review right here, he thinks the exact opposite: it’s 343 Industries’ best Halo campaign yet. It’s just that most of the main campaign missions take place in Forerunner and Banished structures, with only a few moments out in the world. It was probably a design decision from the developers to avoid any unexpected open-world variables messing with the choreographed cutscenes. But this means that there’s no Silent Cartographer from Halo: CE-style level, nothing that feels like legging it to Sword Base across the beaches in Halo Reach, no massive fight in a desert firing rockets off the back of a Mongoose at two Scarabs like in Halo 3. Set-piece moments feel small and never break out of a confined dungeon-esque design. There is one major stand-out sequence, but that's more a case of pointing the player to areas far away from each other on Zeta Halo, to make your own fun getting to the points as you feel fit. It works, but it’s not that bespoke, tightly designed moment Halo fans adore.
The open-world is great, but it can never match a perfectly crafted set piece, especially during narrative beats.
Check out Halo Infinite Wins & Fails below for a good hearty chuckle at the Halo Infinite multiplayer. Article continues below.
THE GOOD - Exploring Is Genuinely Fun
I don’t know if this will relate to everyone. As a kid, I would explore every nook and cranny of each Halo level, both campaign and multiplayer, to find all the secrets possible. I’d be so into every little secret fans found online. I spent so much time in Forge breaking underneath Sandtrap to work out the mystery of the eggs, and recreating the Stairway to Heaven in Halo 2. It feels like just wandering this Halo ring largely recaptures those weird moments of wonder.
One example I encountered was finding a makeshift and deserted UNSC outpost at the top of a ‘highrise’ of pillars. There were decent UNSC weapons to scavenge, a range of shooting targets, as well as rope rappels explaining how the marines made it up so high. There's clearly a story of UNSC soldiers spying over the Banished stronghold below, and these tiny touches make the world feel more lived in.
During another, I was on a remote section of the ring, higher up than most of the rest of the world, where I found a very small hole in the rocks. Sneaking through revealed a Forerunner door to what can only be described as a loot cave full of desirable weapons.
Of course, there are the audio logs that flesh out the story, skulls to find, captured troops to save and Banished propaganda towers to destroy, but those feel supplementary to the ring. It’s not as big as your Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed open worlds, but the ability to grapple up to new heights, and flying in a Wasp or Banshee to areas that are inaccessible on foot open up a fun dynamic to exploration, and I can’t wait to see what other secrets are hidden on Zeta Halo.
THE BAD - No Co-op, YET
This is more down to 343 allocating time elsewhere and getting what they need to right for launch when having co-op in an open-world game isn’t the easiest of tasks, but it does absolutely sting not having it here right away. Along with split-screen multiplayer, the Halo franchise is synonymous with campaign co-op. One of my key memories playing video games was 20 years ago, being allowed to take gunner seat in the Warthog while my dad drove through the second level of Halo: Combat Evolved, and it’s such a shame we can’t do that here, at least not yet.
Zeta Halo feels built to explore with a buddy. I recently took down a high-value target pair of Hunters, and on the way, barrelling across the land in a Warthog with two marines, I couldn't help but feel it in my jellies, that this whole place, this whole concept, would lead to some genuinely hilarious and thrilling hijinx with a pal.
Hopefully it comes sooner rather than later, or in time for any potential story expansions… I mean, Halo Infinite is a 10-year plan, so there’s gonna be more.
THE GOOD - The Grappleshot
I don’t think I need to say much here for those who have played the multiplayer beta. The Grappleshot is by far the most important addition to the Halo sandbox in years; I’d say it’s even more important than the open world. Without the ability to grapple, traversing Zeta Halo would not be as fun as it is. Yeah, you have vehicles - but vehicles can blow up, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere. The Grappleshot helps speed up the movement in ways never seen in Halo, and with a couple of modifications it can stun enemies too.
Can't believe web-swinging in Halo Infinite is better than Marvel's Avengers pic.twitter.com/txScyNibWp— Tom Ryan-Smith (@Monkeynuke) December 6, 2021
Firing your Grappleshot at a nearby fusion coil, flinging it towards you then throwing it at a nearby Brute will never get old. Halo is better off with this addition, and so is the open world.
THE BAD - No Level Select
This is ruddy mysterious. There is no way to go back and replay missions, despite the fact you can see past missions on the map and find out how many collectables you’ve found in them, and how many are left to discover. Halo Infinite works like most other open-world titles: just save where you’re up to and load in when you return, no level select, nothing.
I realise this isn’t directly a bad thing about the open world specifically, but it feels like a side-effect of having one. I really want to go back and replay segments, especially those that are set in places outside the usual accessible open-world areas, or those where I’m told there is more to find. Having to go back and replay the entire game for one collectable in the back end of the story just isn’t something I’m willing to do.
Fingers crossed we get this added soon, as selecting a level is a staple of the Halo franchise and getting the option to go back with a fully maxed out Grappleshot could be a lot of fun.
THE NOTHING - It’s Unessential
The kicker to all of this, outside of the missions that force you to explore certain areas of the map, or travel from Point A to Point B, is that the open world is pretty much optional. You can complete the game without ever really exploring much, and I imagine there will be a whole host of players who will do it this way. Some folk just want to play through the story and call it a day, and may barely realise there's an expansive area to explore!
It’s so strange to have a game’s open world feel so inconsequential. Nothing you do really matters: you earn Valor for killing high-value targets, taking down Banished outposts and recovering Forward Operating Bases, and I’m sure there will be plenty of achievements for finding all the secrets. But in the wider narrative, it doesn’t matter.
I love the world of Zeta Halo, and I could explore it for hours. But that doesn’t stop it from being kind of redundant to those who just want to ignore it.
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