After releasing a sizzle-reel of Halo Infinite this weekend, developer 343 industries on Monday provided a deep-dive video on the game’s upcoming multiplayer mode. The showcase explains what we should expect from the series’ first cross-platform, free-to-play shooter later this year. The best news echoes a 2017 Microsoft pronouncement: Split-screen gameplay is back.
Microsoft has tucked the split-screen news away as a single line of text in this week’s blog post on the video reveal. The post also confirms that Halo Infinite, like Halo 5, will support LAN play across all compatible platforms (Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S) via a dedicated “local server” app on PC. And the video reaffirms 343 Industries’ promise that the series’ first-person games “will always have split-screen support going forward.” 343 Industries chief Bonnie Ross made that statement in 2017 after Halo 5 took considerable lumps from the community for cutting that support.
Today’s update only says that split-screen support is available for “Xbox.” It does not clarify whether the feature will support fewer players on a single screen on weaker Xbox One consoles or whether such a feature will work via Xbox’s burgeoning cloud-gaming options. (Also, can we seriously toggle split-screen options on PC already? We plug computers into big-screen TVs now, 343.)
Academy fight song
In a first for the mainline Halo series, bots will be available inside a new tutorial-filled mode dubbed the “Halo Academy.” You’ll face off against bots during bespoke training-style missions (which weren’t shown to fans just yet), while players can also fill out any “custom game” with bots of varying difficulties. In previous games, the closest that players got to such an option was to spin up a “Firefight” battle against AI grunts. Otherwise, no Halo game has gone to the trouble of providing AI foes designed specifically for its option-rich versus modes.
There’s probably a reason: Halo combat can get complicated. Will Halo Infinite‘s bots truly be up to the task of splitting their attention between Halo classics like weapon-respawn control, managing tunnels with grenades, rushing to claim vehicles, and dual-wielding weapons in select scenarios? And how will new series elements like a grappling hook further complicate those AI demands? Yes, I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth here, and even the dumbest AI peons will still be a massive upgrade over none at all.
This week’s blog post also hints at how the new game will onboard novices: “improved systems that deliver better communication of key info to players during a match.” This, of course, could mean a million things: a new “ping” feature like in Apex Legends or color-coded indicators of objectives—or maybe the classic Halo announcer voice shouting turn-by-turn directions for what to do, Waze style.
Speaking of announcers, the series will continue its commitment to deep customization by allowing you to swap out the default battle announcer, dubbed “AI,” via a chip inserted in the back of your Spartan armor’s helmet. While the Master Chief Collection already includes swappable in-game announcers, Halo Infinite hints at an even more customizable system that lets your in-game voice have its “personality” tweaked however you see fit. Could more snark be an option?
The feature sounds intriguing. Unfortunately, 343 didn’t say exactly how this new voice system will coexist with default series announcer Jeff Steitzer shouting things like “killtactular!” mid-match.
F2P without the FOMO
Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer mode will launch as a free-to-play title, and you can look at Master Chief Collection‘s free “battle pass” system for a peek at how the new mode may work.
Infinite will offer similar experience-driven cosmetic unlocks, though real-world money will be required to open the full selection. As in MCC, Infinite‘s battle passes will operate without any FOMO monetization. You can purchase and highlight any battle pass, present or past, to drive your progress toward its unlocks, should you show up late to a certain shiny armor add-on or take a months-long break from the game.
A quick series of images shown on Monday confirms even more Spartan armor customizations this time around, including the series’ first prosthetic limbs. But if you want to pay zero dollars and zero cents and blow people up using a simple, default suit, you can certainly do so. Infinite‘s multiplayer maps, modes, weapons, and other gameplay-related content will be available for all players, whether they spend money or not. (Further nitty-gritty details: No loot will be unlocked via surprise systems like loot boxes. And if a weapon can be earned via experience, it cannot be purchased outright, and vice versa.)
As far as how the game differs mechanically from existing Halo entries, we get a few looks at changes big and small. The new grappling-hook ability appears to be the biggest change, though Monday’s video didn’t clarify anything beyond the Sunday reveal’s glimpse at crazy new maneuvers like the “grapple-jack.” (That move rewards players for grappling up to a midair vehicle, then punting its pilot to the ground below.) And we’re still waiting to see what the grappling hook’s recharge meter looks like or whether it can be further limited or outright banned in certain Infinite multiplayer modes and custom games.
Did I mention the brand-new Razorback four-wheeler? It resembles the Warthog, but the new cargo bay in its trunk is meant to carry heavier weapons, flags, and other objective-specific objects. 343 has yet to clarify how this very useful vehicle has been balance-adjusted compared to other driving options, though a new anti-armor weapon (the Skewer) seems like an obvious counter. That’s especially likely when you consider that Infinite will include newly destructible elements for vehicles that you can individually target. (If you’re looking for other solid firepower options, the “smart scope” semi-zoom returns to classic Halo weapons like the assault rifle.)
Big Team bucks? Campaign?
While we assume classic combat modes will fill out Infinite‘s public matchmaking queues over the course of its seasons, we don’t yet know what new or existing modes will be the focus at launch beyond confirmation that Halo 5‘s Big Team Battle will return. Sadly, 343 didn’t go into detail about whether or how the Halo 5 system of BTB “requisitions” may return to Halo Infinite and its free-to-play economy. (Requisitions are in-game cards that can be purchased with real money and have an impact on combat.)
If you’re keeping score, some other nagging questions remain unanswered. How many maps, weapons, and vehicles will the game ship with? When might classic maps appear? The series’ famed “Forge” mode—meant for building new maps and modes—will return, but how exactly will it work? How will players share their customized content with friends and the community? And will Halo Infinite eventually give in and do a battle royale mode?
Clearly, the development team at 343 Industries has more to reveal between now and the game’s “Holiday 2021” launch window, especially since Sunday’s splashy trailer included zero new footage of how the game’s campaign mode will look. We saw no new biomes, no new vehicles, and no new ways that the campaign’s emphasis on open-world exploration will play out (and we’d sure like to see some updates there). As soon as we do, we’ll report back, fellow Spartans.
Listing image by Xbox Game Studios