Halo Infinite preview: 9 things we learned from the developers

Halo Infinite
(Image credit: Xbox)

Microsoft finally revealed the first-ever Halo Infinite gameplay demo this week, showing off a return to form for the classic shooter franchise, which also incorporates an ambitious new open-world structure. And while the nine-minute gameplay clip we saw showcased plenty of the weapons, vehicles and abilities Master Chief will be using as he battles the Banished, the demo left us with lots of questions about what kind of game Infinite will be.

Fortunately, we got a chance to catch up with developer 343 Industries to have some of those questions answered. In a private livestream, 343 studio head Chris Lee, associate creative director Paul Crocker and head of design Jerry Hook provided commentary over the gameplay demo and took a few questions, giving us a slightly better idea of what to expect from Microsoft’s highly anticipated Xbox Series X release. Plenty of questions still remain, but here’s everything we learned about Halo Infinite directly from 343. 

Halo Infinite is a "spiritual reboot" for the franchise 

(Image credit: Xbox)

343 frequently used the phrase "spiritual reboot" when describing Halo Infinite. The developer wants to deliver the same memorable combat sandbox as the original game, with a variety of modern twists. Many players were quick to point out that the demo looked very similar to Chief’s first arrival on the Halo ring in the original title, and that was no accident.

"The 'spiritual reboot' was us looking at the legacy Halo has across all the titles. And taking a look at how our weapons felt, how our characters felt, and saying, 'how do we bring all of that forward?'" said Hook. "The sandbox has more full realization than we’ve seen in the past. Have we ever had a Grunt thrown at us from a Brute? I don’t think so! [Laughing.]" 

Yes, Halo Infinite will have multiplayer at launch 

After rumors started making the rounds that Halo Infinite will ship without a multiplayer mode, Lee officially confirmed that there will be multiplayer available at launch. He also noted that the campaign will be playable in four-player co-op online, and that more details on split-screen multiplayer will be available soon. 

No, Halo Infinite is not an RPG 

"We’re definitely not an RPG," said Lee when asked about some of the ambitious changes being made to the Halo formula. "Think about taking Halo: Combat Evolved and knocking the walls down, and giving players freedom to explore."

Lee noted that players will be able to pick up new upgrades and abilities as they traverse the game world, but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of leveling, or a gear system in the vein of Destiny or The Division.

The new character is called The Pilot and is "very important" 

(Image credit: Xbox)

343 shed some additional light on the human male USNC character that discovered Chief’s floating body in the E3 2019 trailer and accompanies him for much of the gameplay demo. The character is simply called "The Pilot" (no word if we’ll get a full name), and he is very important to the game’s narrative, according to 343.

The "most human character [343 has] ever created in the franchise" according to Crocker, The Pilot is meant to represent how the player would experience Master Chief firsthand. He’s designed to bring more relatability and humanity to the story, and serve as a more vulnerable foil to the nearly indestructible Chief.

"The Pilot is put in these positions where his humanity is tested, because he can be killed a lot more easily than Chief," said Crocker. "It gives Chief a perspective on humanity he doesn’t have by hanging out with Spartans all the time." 

The gameplay demo takes place halfway through the game 

While the Infinite demo looks a lot like the early stages of Halo: Combat Evolved, it actually takes place roughly halfway through the game, according to 343. That suggests that Chief and The Pilot have been on quite a few adventures before they land on a Halo ring and start taking on big waves of the Banished. 

343 also pointed out that last year’s "Discover Hope" trailer is set in the beginning of the game. In it, we see The Pilot rescue Master Chief after he’s found floating in space. 

War Chief Escharum is the new big bad, and he wants one last fight 

(Image credit: Xbox)

The Halo Infinite demo concludes with an impassioned speech from War Chief Escharum, the Banished faction leader who has one last goal left: to defeat Master Chief. By the time we meet him in the demo, the Banished have already defeated the USNC in some sort of big battle, but Escharum has a personal mission to take down the UNSC's finest soldier.

"He’s a very different character. He’s very much Chief’s equal," said Crocker. "He’s an old soldier that’s already won. He didn’t have  much to live for anymore because he’s too good at his job. This is his final fight. He just wants to be able to say ‘I defeated Chief."

Halo Infinite will continue Halo 5’s story, but not in the way you expect 

(Image credit: Xbox)

343 Industries confirmed that Halo Infinite will pick up on the story of Halo 5 while still making the game inviting for newcomers to the franchise. When we last saw Chief in 2015, he was rescued from a corrupted Cortana by Spartan Jameson Locke. But Cortana makes an escape and appears to take control of a new Halo ring, which should play into the plot of Infinite in some way.

"[Infinite] absolutely continues the story of Halo 5, but it does it in ways people are probably not expecting," said Crocker. "It’s not the cookie cutter approach to things in a way people think we are doing."

So how does Chief go from being rescued by Fireteam Osiris in Halo 5 to being stranded in space at the start of Infinite? We should know soon.

"There are a lot of things that happened between Halo 5 and Halo Infinite that explain why Master Chief is in that predicament," said Crocker.

Halo Infinite will have a complete campaign at launch, but more story is coming 

Speaking of story, many fans expressed some confusion and concern at 343 positioning Halo Infinite as a "platform" that will constantly be updated over time. The developer stressed that Halo Infinite will have "a complete story" when it ships later this year, but that it’s looking at ways to expand on that narrative in the future. 

Halo Infinite will look better than what you saw in the demo 

(Image credit: Xbox)

Before signing off, 343 Industries addressed the big elephant in the room: The game’s graphics. Fans were less than pleased at the demo shown off during the Xbox Games Showcase, which was reportedly running on a PC with similar specs to the Xbox Series X

Lee had two responses to this feedback: First, that players should check out the full 4K version of the demo (the original stream was in 1080p); and second, that Infinite is actively being worked on and will look more polished at launch. He also reiterated that players should look forward to 60 fps performance at up to 4K resolution on Xbox Series X, and that the game delivers 10 times the processing power per pixel of Halo 5. 

"We are definitely still very much in development," said Lee. "We’re excited about the ambition of the title and we’ll make sure its polished and ready to go when fans get their hands on it later this holiday."   

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.