Halo Infinite campaign preview: Familiar yet surprising, 5 hours in

Splat. The Pulse Carbine in Halo Limitless makes a peaceful, gratifying noise when its little blue projectiles clash with an opponent. Halo Infinite’s brand-new, open world is filled with these little, thoroughly crafted information that simultaneously feel both familiar and foreign. These sights, sounds, and tricks complete the world around Halo Infinite’s more direct project, producing an experience that’s absolutely nothing like any Halo video game I’ve played, however in some way stimulates sensations similar to the earlier video games.

Ahead of Halo Infinite’s Dec. 8 release date, I played a sneak peek develop of the video game’s project, including the very first 4 story objectives, in addition to access to the open world surrounding them. I carefully arrived on Halo Infinite’s brand-new Zeta Halo ring, uncertain how the storied franchise would suit an open world. What I discovered was a landscape bristling with life and action.

Halo Infinite starts with Chief, a pilot, and a brand-new AI partner called The Weapon triggering into Zeta Halo to determine what’s taken place after Halo 5. On Zeta Halo, a minimum of, the trio are left in a wake of damage: In between Cortana and The Gotten rid of, a group of banished, previous Covenant fans last seen in Halo Wars 2, the world remains in a bad location. So is Master Chief, in the minutes prior to you discover his pilot buddy.

Chief’s first major goal is to start gaining some sort of control on Zeta Halo. This is largely done by taking over FOBs, or UNSC Forward Operating Bases, that were overrun by The Banished when they defeated the UNSC. Re-capturing these spaces means gaining “safe zones” on the Zeta Halo, small areas stocked with weapons, tools, vehicles, and even UNSC Marines. The options on offer are limited at first. However, by destroying The Banished propaganda and saving groups of captured marines, I earned more tools to choose from: basic weapons, modified vehicles, and more powerful and specialized marines following me into combat.

a brute charging toward master chief

Image: 343 Industries/Xbox Game Studios

Halo Infinite’s world isn’t completely open from the start. Portions are sectioned off into small “islands,” for lack of a better word: Zeta Halo is basically a space archipelago. At first, there’s no easy way for Chief to cross the large chasms of space that separate the land — you can see the other sides, but can’t actually easily reach them right away. The storyline missions are also gated off by each other. To access story missions, you don’t have to simply stumble upon certain locations. Instead, they’re specifically marked on the map — different from any other objective — with the Weapon often nudging you toward them. Side missions may be freeform, but story missions unlock chronologically. Some of these story missions are in portions of the map otherwise hard to reach, but story missions “unlock” these areas, so to speak, by dropping Chief around the map via Pelican. Once they’re unlocked, I can fast travel any time.

Similarly, capturing bases reveals more of the map, including areas where I can collect some of Halo Infinite’s new collectibles: Spartan Cores, which upgrade armor with abilities like the grappling hook; and pieces of Mjolnir armor, which act as cosmetics in Halo Infinite’s multiplayer. There are also larger side missions — assassinating high-profile Banished leaders or clearing important Banished bases, to name a couple — that sometimes grant unique, customized gear.

These tangential missions are new territory for the franchise, but developer 343 Industries nails the Halo feel in these smaller encounters. These aren’t the side missions or fetch quests I’ve come to expect from a 2021 open-world game; I’m not running from quest-giver to quest-giver to deliver items or news. I’m battling my way through the powerful and sometimes daunting hierarchy of the Banished forces, using every tool at my disposal to get the job done. It’s Master Chief doing Master Chief things, scaled down into Halo-esque minutes that break up the open world.

closeup of master chief

Image: 343 Industries/Xbox Game Studios

This is where the small details — those familiar sights and sounds — make a huge difference. It’s the satisfying whap of a carbine blast hitting an enemy. The funny and often ridiculous dialogue from Halo Infinite’s grunts. The small scenes set up at offshoot camps with weapons and hidden sound bites, ways to eke out more story centered around the other people in the world. Halo Infinite is, largely, about Master Chief and his journey, but that doesn’t mean that everything else is neglected; some of my favorite moments playing Halo Infinite during this preview were stumbling upon small Banished outposts while driving around with a car full of eager marines. I loved navigating our doomed Warthog up rocks — and sometimes off of cliffs — marines egging me on as I (sometimes) made a perfect landing. Other times, I wandered into shockingly hard battles that weren’t even plotted out on the map: Where I thought I was simply clearing a propaganda tower, I ended up taking on waves of reinforcements with high-level troops.

In the early hours of Halo Infinite that I played for this preview, I found a few of the base-clearing missions to be repetitive. But, as counterpoints to the more linear, sometimes corridor-heavy story missions, these side quests serve as refreshing changes of pace. Even after this four mission preview, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Halo Infinite’s newly unfurled world.

Halo Infinite’s campaign will be released on Dec. 8 on Windows PC and Xbox Series X, but its multiplayer component is playable now. The game was previewed using an Xbox Series X pre-release download code for provided by Microsoft. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.