Over the weekend, 343 Industries let a bunch of eager players check out Halo Infinite’s first public “flight.” On paper, the flight was a technical test, meant to see how the servers perform under pressure and how bots, a series first, would stack up against real-life human players. But, really, it meant one very simple thing: We got to play freakin’ Halo Infinite! The flight formally wrapped up just a few hours ago. Obviously Kotaku’s biggest Halo fans—staff writer Ari Notis and weekend editor Zack Zweizen—had to geek out a bit about what we played.
Ari Notis: Zack! You and I both spent the bulk of this weekend playing Halo Infinite’s don’t-call-it-a-beta-but-c’mon-it’s-basically-a-beta. After spending some hands-on time with it, how are you feeling about Infinite’s prospects? More or less optimistic than you were, say, a month ago?
Zack Zwiezen: So much more optimistic! I didn’t expect much from this beta-not-a-beta because I was so disappointed by Halo 5 and so underwhelmed by Halo 4, the last two Halo games made by 343. Then it got delayed, the first footage we saw wasn’t amazing and the lack of updates afterward made me nervous. So I went in not sure what to expect and came away impressed and so excited to play Halo Infinite. This feels like Halo!
Ari: Yes! They really nailed that Halo feel here. That said, I know there’s been a lot of discussion around which series entry it feels like—what with the mantling from 5, the weapon designs from CE, the single-use abilities from 3, and so on—but, I don’t know, to me, it doesn’t feel “like” any other Halo. It seems totally new, measurable on its own merits rather than in comparison to prior games.
Zack: Yeah, to be clear when I say it feels like I Halo I mean that it feels like...Halo! Like, not one specific game or whatever, but the general vibe and flow of the overall series. And you are right, parts of this feel like Halo 5, Halo Reach, Halo 3, etc. But I think that’s more a sign that 343 is trying to tap back into that core Halo DNA and I think it’s succeeded, at least from what I’ve played. I mean, did you use that pistol! Damn.
Ari: Duuude, I’m loving the pistol this time around. You can switch guns so quickly that it really lives up to its namesake, the Sidekick. (That’s gotta be a record for T-minus-to-pun time, yeah?) You just drop someone’s shields and whip it out and it’s game over. I’m curious how you felt about some of the newer weapons, though? Or the completely overhauled ones, like the shotgun?
Zack: Oh...Why did you bring up the shotgun so soon. The new one is fine. It’s fine. I don’t...It’s fine. I still think it’s terrible and possibly illegal that the classic shotty’s gone. I’ll get over it one day. Not today. Not today!
Ari: Wait…Is it gone gone? Or was it just not included in this flight? (I know that only a portion of the total armory made it into this one, hence why we couldn’t use some weapons shown in trailers, like the energy sword.)
Zack: I’m not sure. Hopefully it will return. As for the other guns, I’m in love with the DMR-like rifle.
Ari: The Commando?
Zack: Oh, yeah, that thing rocks.
Ari: So, funny story about that…I, like you, initially made that DMR comparison, and spent an entire day (don’t take away my Gamer card)…using it as a single-shot rifle. I had no clue it was automatic.
Zack: Oh, I think we now have to fire you. I’m so sorry it’s happening in the middle of a VG Chat like this, but yeah, that’s it. Sorry.
Ari: Damn. RIP.
Zack: Did you mess around at all with the training bits? I feel like those are so smart and helped me wrap my head around a lot of the new guns.
Ari: [The VG Chat Slack channel is filled with an omnipresent cacophony of one thousand crickets.]
Zack: Ari!! Moving on...I’ve seen some folks complain that this game feels too slow. I’m not sure how you feel about that, but I think it’s slow in the way I want Halo to be.
Ari: Well, that gets back to the point you made about Infinite really nailing the Halo feel, right? On a fundamental level, Halo just isn’t as fast as, I don’t know, Battlefield or Titanfall or Apex or whatever. The shooter genre has evolved a lot in the past six years, since we last had a Halo. I think folks complaining about its relative slowness might be asking a not-Halo thing of Halo, if that makes sense?
Zack: Sure. I think we’ve spent the better part of the last decade with shooters like Titanfall and the new Dooms breaking away from the slower feel of console shooters of the past. It’s natural that many might find the return to slower action disappointing. But I also think Halo needs to be Halo to succeed. The series has tried in the past to directly compete with modern shooters and it never lands right. For me, Halo isn’t about flying around maps like a wild animal. It’s about moving with purpose, using the level’s power weapons correctly and trying to find good moments to attack.
Ari: Right! Hence the game’s bar-none coolest addition, the Grappleshot. Did you get a chance to use it much? I wish I clipped this, because you’ll never believe me, but I used it to hookshot into someone and then smashed them with a gravity hammer and it was maybe the most thrilling thing I’ve ever done in a video game.
Zack: Well first off, no, I don’t believe you at all. But the short time I spent with it was fun. It feels like it needs a bit more tuning and feedback, I felt like I wasn’t able to grapple to places I figured I should have been able to. But I think, in general, the return of Halo 3-like equipment might be one of the less-talked-about parts of Infinite. It’s a smart decision, I think! Having equipment instead of like, I don’t know, perks, means they are part of the match. See someone using a Grappleshot? Kill them and steal it for yourself. That’s good shit.
Ari: It is indeed super cool, but do you feel like the equipment itself could or should have more uses in the eventual release? You get anywhere from one to three activations for each piece of gear. So every time you see someone using a shield wall or active camo, by the time you kill them, chances are it’s already gone. Should the number of uses get kicked up to, say, five? Or will that make it so players can just spam the shit out of this stuff?
Zack: It would be nice if that kind of stuff could be changed in different modes and playlists. As it stands, I think keeping it low forces you to be smart with how you use the stuff and it means that even if you kill someone and get their shield, you are still better off getting your own equipment from the various locations on the map where the stuff spawns. That said, I would love a mode that just gives you endless Grappleshots and shotguns.
Ari: Oh, I’d buy that as a standalone game.
Zack: While this was a limited tech test and I get that, I was sad we didn’t get any vehicles. That’s a big part of the Halo formula and with how great this all feels, I’m excited to see how 343 handles vehicles in Infinite.
Ari: It’s interesting, because you could see them right there in the customization menus. Maybe in the next test? I for one am curious to see what modes the community comes up with—like the Grappleshotgun one you mentioned (it should absolutely be called that), or other totally bonkers ideas we can’t even fathom right now, not having access to all of the weapons and vehicles and settings and so on.
Zack: Yeah. I’m excited for a Halo game! What a concept! But really, it feels like a long time since I’ve been this giddy about playing Halo. And it’s even crazier to think that this will be free-to-play. This game we are going wild over is just going to be free.
Ari: Yeah, given the free-to-play nature—and the fact that 343 has committed to updating it regularly for quite a while—the multiplayer’s bound to end up being one of the biggest yet. Maybe even bigger than Halo 3.
Zack: It’s very possible. Add in cross-play with PC and Xbox One and it becomes clear that 343 is committed to getting as many people as possible to play this new Halo game. Which is cool. I miss just playing a ton of Halo with people. Now everyone I know who isn’t named Ari will have no excuse to skip out on the next multiplayer Halo game. But we still got some time to go before it comes out, and between now and then we will get more chances to play these in-development builds. I can’t wait to see how everything progresses.
Ari: Yeah, clearly this is still a work in progress, despite how excellent it feels and plays. What’s one thing you’d like to see changed between now and the eventual launch? Y’know, besides realistically explosive watermelons, of course.
Zack: Outside of things that will for sure improve, like performance and stability, I’m not sure I would change anything. I know the serious Halo experts out there will point out that this gun has too much recoil or this crate is too small and doesn’t provide enough cover for a particular route or whatever. But to me, this felt like good, solid Halo. And I hope 343 doesn’t worry so much about what the esport players think. No offense to them, but it can often suck the fun out of a game if you balance it to hell. (See: Destiny PvP.) I think what made the old Halo titles so strong was how little they changed after the fact. You learn the game and adapt instead of asking the devs to adapt to you.
Ari: That’s an excellent way to put it, and I guess I’ve never really considered how few patches or weekly fine-tunings previous games received. They just…launched with the scales in tandem. And from what we’ve seen so far, this crop of weapons and these three maps really are meticulously well-balanced. Even the assault rifle is good now!
Zack: Yeah! I get the idea that games should be balanced and all that. But I hope Infinite doesn’t try to change stuff all the time to appease loud players on Twitch. Oh, also did you see those chickens on that one map?
Ari: Did I? I shot, like, eight of them.
Zack: Holy shit. You monster. They were just chilling!
Ari: Look, I needed to get my target practice in somehow, I clearly skipped the weapons drills, and those bots were—as you pointed out over the weekend—nothing to scoff at!
Zack: Oh those bots have me so excited. Could that mean that if someone rage-quits my team isn’t screwed!
Ari: So, funny you mention that. (Also before we go further I want to clarify that “eight” was an exaggeration. In reality, it was three.) The best but quietest addition to Halo might be that teammates automatically filled empty slots, or at least they did in this not-a-beta. I don’t even know if it’s possible to quantify how huge and hugely positive of a change that is. Not just as insurance against rage-quitters, but also for those who have shoddy internet, power outages, unruly pets who chew on power cables…
Zack: It’s a smart addition and I think it is going to help out a lot. I don’t know how many times in old Halo games I would end up in matches where a team quits leaving one player alone to suffer. And I expect that some of that AI smarts will show up in the main campaign too! Maybe my marines won’t die in seconds anymore.
Ari: C’mon, Zack, Halo Infinite’s really freakin’ good, but let’s be realistic here.
Zack: True. Besides, while I’m happy Halo is evolving in some smart ways—adding bots and training modes—I don’t want some of the classic parts to go away. Dumb marines, I love you. I don’t want you to go.