If you’re anything like me, then hearing that 343 Studios took out split-screen in Halo 5 probably felt like a BR to the face. Since then it’s been a long road for me to come to terms with their direction for the series, especially with their numerous missteps (I’m looking at you, Master Chief Collection). Ever the optimist, I have renewed my faith in 343’s abilities for a few reasons, and it’s left me thinking that the new Halo game might, actually… be good? I know, I know… I must be crazy, right? But here’s the thing, it absolutely NEEDS to be good. Let me explain…
There are a few different answers to this, but I’ll start with the most obvious: so 343 Industries can continue making Halo games and we don’t lose them forever. Halo 5’s multiplayer player base dried up pretty quickly since release, down to 120 000 monthly with sales of 5.5 million. I can remember a time years after Halo 3’s release where there were almost half a million people playing at one time.
343 Industries is in a fairly rare position when it comes to development. They are a relatively “small” studio ((about 450 employee’s) working on making a game for an already massive and dedicated fanbase. The issue is that fans aren’t dedicated to them, they’re dedicated to the source material and the games they’ve come to love from the franchise. If Halo Infinite fails and follows some of the trends of their past games I think there is a solid chance it might be the last one we get. This is an important point as they’ve done (at best) a mediocre job on the previous two games. There have been massive Day 1 fixes required (Master Chief Collection), the removal of core game elements with poor justification (no split screen for “muh framerates”), and a departure from the tried and true art style. A lot of these issues have turned away long-time fans of the series, and taken some of the luster out of the franchise. There is a shining light though, as some of the recent updates surrounding Halo Infinite have sewn some confidence in a discouraged fan base.
Now that I’ve got you all depressed about the fall of my favourite franchise (I’m not crying, you’re crying!), let me lift your spirits a bit. I sincerely think Halo Infinite will be the turning point for the series. The first thing that got my attention was the trailer (omg the trailer!).
There are a ton of things going on in that trailer that is clearly meant to evoke nostalgia in the longtime player-base, and I am all about it. For starters, Master Chief has his armor back! Truthfully, all of the art in the trailer looked more faithful to the roots of the game’s art design than I’ve seen since maybe even before Halo: Reach. The Forerunner structures actually look like the Forerunner built them, instead of looking like an electromagnet at a junkyard. The Marines are coloured like Marines (finally). The game takes place ON one of the Halo rings (thank the Prophets)…
You may wonder though, how much does that really mean? How many times have we been shown a glorious trailer, only to have it swiped from under our noses and replaced with something completely alien, that doesn’t resemble in the slightest what we got all hyped for mere months before? Too many. Thankfully 343 has been pretty open about the trailer since it came out, taking specific time to mention the art style returning to its roots, and an emphasis on retaining older fans, which is a pretty classy move. A return to the game’s more classic art style is a step in the right direction, and course correction in AAA gaming is pretty rare these days (though thankfully that trend is disappearing slowly but surely).
This may lead some of you to ask why their course needed correction in the first place? Well… the answer to that is a deep, dark hole that I may never climb out of if I get too far down. There are a lot of things that I think 343 could have done a lot better since taking control of the franchise.
A large misstep was how they handled the character of the Master Chief, who is supposed to be a shell that the player inhabits. The attempts by the studio to “flesh him out” and “make him human” removed the player from the immersion and made you feel like you’re controlling a puppet instead of being the armor, being the demon.
Another lapse was the removal of split-screen from Halo 5, but I think we can all agree that wasn’t a good idea. It would be like taking trading out of Pokemon, or Vs. out of Smash Bros (seriously, why did anyone at 343 think this would go over well?). The one other mistake I think the team at 343 has made is maybe a little more personal. They RUINED the ELITES.
These aliens used to be the pinnacle of danger. On legendary, they were so slippery, quick, and intelligent. I honestly felt like they were my equal every time I went up against one (honestly, they were probably smarter than me). They were powerful, but most importantly they were fearsome and agile! Rarely in my life have I encountered an enemy in gaming who was so quick on their feet, and it made killing them a real challenge. Then came Halo 4 and Halo 5.
What happened? They packed on 50 pounds of blubber on these poor Elites and gave them heads the size of beach balls. It completely ruined the experience of fighting them because they were easier to hit and slower. I no longer felt the fear I did before because they were easier to kill, and lumbered like lizard-bear hybrids (gross). Accompanying that loss of fear was a loss of satisfaction at downing an Elite through the course of the game. Part of the joy of Halo, especially on the higher difficulty settings, was that you really had to work on each Elite you came across to put them down, and you truly felt powerful when you could stand toe to hoof with one and come out on top. The Elites in the new games just aren’t there. I mean, did you see the intro to Halo 5? How am I supposed to be afraid of these guys when their most capable team gets obliterated by a couple Spartans and walks around like a bear on a floor made of maple syrup? This is something I am still concerned about, but I truly believe 343 has been listening to the feedback of the fans and so I am clinging to my optimism that this will be the game that brings them back into my good graces.
Here’s the bottom line: am I concerned they won’t do justice to my beloved childhood hero? Absolutely. I am concerned for the future of the franchise, and that one of the greatest gaming masterpieces ever will fade into the history books with a whimper instead of a bang. That said, I truly believe that people who love these games as much as I do are working their butts off on this one, and I have to trust them and hope they do right by it.