Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Release Date: 12/08/2021
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Well, here we are again. Another Halo, another semi-reboot, and after a 12-month delay was the game worth the wait? Well for starters I can say yes, but the biggest change here is the new open-world a la Far Cry style. The campaign opens up with an epic cinematic opening leveling that’s rather typical of Halo. Lots of explosions, exposition on what the hell you need to do on this new halo and the game picks up after the events of Halo 5. This is Cortana’s story, but you don’t realize that until about halfway through the campaign. Speaking of the campaign, it doesn’t really pick up until halfway through as well. Because this is an open-world game the entire game had to be rebalanced and changed a bit, but the core of Halo is here and better than it’s ever been.
After you finish the opening sequence which runs you about 30-45 minutes you are spit out into the open world, or technically a large chunk of the Halo ring. Unlike the finely nuanced corridor shooting that previous games were, campaign missions take place just like those, but you have to get to them in the open world. So, overall the campaign itself doesn’t really take place in this open world, but instances instead like an MMO. The open-world itself is 100% filler due to the fact that it actually worked by luck, not by design.
Think about it. The building blocks for an open-world game were already in place. Halo has excellent balancing already. The weapons, enemies, recharging shield, and the few abilities and vehicles already exist in the franchise. Just take all those and tweak them a bit and throw them into a big open space, which technically Halo also already did, and it just works out of sheer luck. The only, and I repeat the only reason why this open world exists is for unlockables. Mjolnir armor for multiplayer skins and upgrades for the five abilities you get which are mostly useless by the way. You get your recharging shield which you can upgrade. Again, this is an excuse to use upgrade cores. Then you get the biggest change to the game which is the grapple. This allows you to traverse vertically as well as horizontally and is awesome to use. After this, you get a shield which is useful of course, but the two abilities I never used were a sonar enemy detector and a dash ability. In the heat of battle, I don’t need to dash. I can just use the grapple and get much further away or use the shield to regenerate my own.
You can also unlock superweapons which are higher-powered versions of every weapon in the game and show up red. You unlock these by doing bounties. As the game progresses and you unlock more of the world to explore you of course get more vehicles as well. All are here from the past, but you can also fast travel to FOB that you must liberate to unlock vehicles stations. The last activity is liberating squads spread throughout the area and then there are large installations that house tons of enemies. That’s pretty much it. If you stripped all of that away there would be no reason to have this world to explore. You can just blow through the campaign missions without upgrading or doing any side missions, but I do recommend at least upgrading the shields and the grapple. These are handicapped from the start unlike past games, and the game gets brutally hard later on in the game.
Once you finish the campaign you can go back and unlock more stuff or dive into multiplayer. At this point do we need so many Halo games online at once? The Master Chief Collection is still alive and well and so is Halo 5. Literally, the entire Halo franchise is available to play online so what’s the difference here? Well not much really. There are three different types of weapon classes. Hardlight, regular ammo, and energy ammo also go for the campaign. To me, the entire online experience blends and blurs together. I can’t tell the difference between this suite and Halo 1. Call me an idiot, but my favorite part about Halo has always been the campaigns and the story. The multiplayer is fun. The maps are well done and the modes are all here except we now get a stupid Battle Pass just like Call of Duty does. This just locks away cosmetics for your Spartan, but I also never cared about customizing one anyways.
The visuals are really good. While not groundbreaking the open world looks great albeit the same throughout. It’s just dirt and trees through the entire game. There are good-looking textures, and nice lighting effects, and the game seems well optimized even for lower-end hardware. The Xbox Series X version looks mostly like the PC but with slightly lower graphics settings as you would expect. The game does look dated on Xbox One, pretty horribly actually, and Xbox One X is passable. The best way to play is on Series X or PC for sure. However, no matter which console you are on you will get a smooth experience.
Overall, the campaign’s story is decent, but nothing special. Finding out what happened to Cortana after going rampant is interesting, but the new antagonist is just a typical dumb Brute with nothing special going on with him. I love the Halo universe and story, but it’s better explored in the novels and comics if you want to dive deeper into the lore. The world is a complete filler and just works by luck rather than by design. They took everything that already works in the game and just plopped it into this open world. I will admit I had a lot of fun doing the activities. You only get a few and it keeps it nice and simple, unlike Ubisoft open-world games.