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Warning: Long. Some spoilers, some BTS (Gaming)

by Quirel, Friday, February 11, 2022, 23:48 (179 days ago) @ Cody Miller

Is Infinite canon?

*drums fingers on his desk*

From a story point of view, I think that Infinite is a very poor story with decent presentation. If I had to put numbers to it, I'd say that Infinite's story is a 5/10 with a *very* wide standard of deviation. Some moments are top notch, and other moments are pure cringe, and it feels like a third of a game stretched out into two thirds or maybe even four fifths of a game.

Because it pretty much is.

Keep in mind that some of this is speculation, but it's no secret that Infinite's development got rebooted in 2018 or so. And one of the recent Halo novels, which was released in 2020, is about Blue Team scrambling around on Reach, fighting the Banished, defending colonists and searching the ruins of CASTLE Base for something that is hinted to be the spare clone brains that Halsey mentioned in her journal. That clone brain was obviously used to make the Weapon. In a perfect world, this probably would have been the first third or the first half of Infinite, with the Banished boarding of the Infinity taking place halfway through the game.

I don't know if a complete Halo: Infinite would have been a good story, but IMO it would have been a *better* story because there'd be less of the Weapon and the Pilot. Or at least there would be more to the story than those two.

The problem with the Weapon and the Pilot isn't that they're bad characters. There's not anything inherently bad about them like there was with Captain Del Rio*. The problem is that... well, imagine if Halo: Combat Evolved deleted Captain Keyes and Sergeant Johnson from existence. That just leaves Cortana and Foehammer, and this hypothetical game fills the void with their personal drama. Foehammer was fine the way she was presented in the original game, but there would be nothing wrong with adding lines of her being apprehensive about being stranded on Halo, and lamenting that she lost everyone she cared about on Reach.** But when you fill level after level with that plotline in pursuit of a more character-driven story, the result is a bland, one-note mess.

There really needed to be a Sergeant Johnson and a Captain Keyes in this game. Or, in the interests of branching out and not telling the same story all over again, give us an Ellen Anders or a Colonel Quartich or some other character archetypes to play with. Give me a hardass major who'll fight the Banished with sticks, a rock, and a private if that's all he has. Give me a fresh-faced lieutenant who's sorry to have missed the Human-Covenant War.

Lasky and Halsey and (I think) Locke and Blue team make an appearance in the data pads, but they have zero presence in the story. And there is an additional Spartan character in the multiplayer and tutorials, but she's a bad reaction to Sarah Palmer. She's so kind and motherly, she doesn't feel like an officer. I realize that Sarah Palmer was criticized for being a brash asshole, but completely reversing the formula doesn't work.***

As for the villains... meh. It's standard 343i writing. Once is an example, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern. The main villain sits in his throne room for the whole game, throwing taunts and legions of mooks at you.

As far as villainry in Halo goes, I think that the gold standard for writing and presentation is going to be Halo 2 and Halo 3, because the main villain had clear goals and he took clear steps to achieving those goals

-Recover the Sacred Icon
-Sideline the Elites
-Fire the rings
-Ascend to godhood

The Prophet of Truth taunted us exactly once, because he had bigger things to worry about. Every other time we communicated with the Hierarchs, it was a natural and organic part of the story. IE, it happened because the Master Chief was crashing their party.

Escharum's plan is simple:

-Goad the Chief into fighting him in hand to hand combat.
-Go out in a blaze of glory.
-That's it.

OK. That's a little harsh. Escharum's beef with the Master Chief is really what the campaign is built around, but he does have other goals. An honest assessment of Escharum's goals are:

-Repair the Halo ring.
-Wipe out the remnants of the UNSC, or at least prevent the survivors from stopping him.
-Take revenge for Doisac by firing Zeta Halo at Earth, using that nifty cone-shaped Halo blast effect mentioned in the Forerunner novels.
-Fight the Chief and go out in a blaze of glory.

The problem is, the presentation of the goals is pretty lackluster. There's statues where Atriox boasts that the Banished won because they are strong, and they are strong because they are strong, and they don't need the Covenant or gods. Escharum has holograms where he boasts about how the Banished are strong and they are honoring Atriox by following the will of Atriox, and Zeta Halo is going to be used against Earth.

The Banished are so much better when you learn that Cortana apocalypse'd Doisac. The Brute homeworld is gone. The whole reason why the Banished are beating their chests like a legion of howler monkeys is because they came from behind and ganked Cortana****. The reason why they're repairing Zeta Halo and going after Earth is because Earth created smart AI and unleashed Cortana on the galaxy. Frankly, I'd be pissed too.

But this is left until a late-game reveal. Seriously, if you learn that Doisac is gone and you haven't already grabbed all the upgrades you want, you're kind of screwed, because you're locked into the endgame. But because this reveal is so late in the game, Atriox and Escharum and the Banished have nothing of substance to talk about. But they'll talk anyway, and they'll do it over and over and over, because Halo Infinite is a third of a game stretched out into a full game. That's the tragedy of this game. There's the bones of a good story in there, but because of development issues, it's buried under a lot of padding.

Note that I think this is a quantum improvement over Halo 4 and 5, which were just plain bad stories.

Infinite has a lot of strengths, and if 343i can keep an even keel, I think that they'll start producing some very good games. For one thing, the Covenant races are back as primary antagonists. Brutes, Elites, Grunts and Jackals have potential to be compelling villains (Or allies) in a way that undead Forerunner killbots don't.

Likewise, Marines are back in a way that they weren't in Halo 4 and Halo 5. Not only that, but the UNSC and the Banished have that familiar look to them, even though the Banished are their own faction with distinct technology.

I guess Infinite's biggest strength is that it feels like a Halo game made by a different company than Bungie, rather than a different game developer using the Halo brand to do its own thing. It reminds me of Halo Wars in a way. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing where 343i goes next.

Infinite's biggest weakness is vagueness and pacing. The pacing is largely because of how much story content was cut, but... well, I think if 343i had written Halo 3, the first half would have gone like this:

Master Chief: What's going on?
Miranda Keyes: Truth's here, on Earth. We don't know why, but whatever it is, it's bad.

One mission later:
Miranda Keyes: We just got word! Truth is here, in Africa!
Master Chief: What's he doing?
Miranda Keyes: Good question.

One mission later:
Master Chief: Where are all those ships going?
Miranda Keyes: Truth is digging something up.
Master Chief: Digging up what?
Miranda Keyes: Something big. And ancient.

Later that same mission:
Master Chief: OK, I've plugged into the Covenant battlenet. What are the Covenant saying?
Miranda Keyes: Oh, no! This could be the Ark! Truth might be trying to fire the rings!

Yet another mission later:
Truth: *Opens the portal*
Miranda Keyes: Now I understand. This wasn't the Ark, it was a portal to the Ark. Let's go!

Halo 3 pulls off the same bait-and-switch with the portal under Voi, but it does it in two steps: First the exposition in Crow's Nest that sets up the excavation and hints that it's the Ark, and then the actual opening of the portal.

Infinite has a problem with pacing caused by all the padding needed to turn the Zeta Halo levels into a full game, but it's still frustrating to plug the Weapon into a terminal only to hear that the Banished are up to something, or that the data she found feels old and somehow lonely. It's trying to push a mystery too far, and it's a trend in all the 343i games so far.

Halo 4 was a slowly unravelling mystery as to what Requiem was and what was calling in the UNSC Infinity. Halo 5 was a slowly unravelling mystery (but not the one that was advertised!) as to what Cortana was up to, how she survived, who are the Guardians, why is the Warden Eternal, when is the Warden Eternal?

Infinite tried to make a mystery out of why the Banished wanted to sterilize Earth, and what happened with Cortana, and what the Harbinger is after. This led to encounter after encounter with the Banished talking circumspectly about what happened to Atriox, and Cortana and the Forerunner monitor referring to the Endless with oblique references.

Halo games have mystery and mystique, but they don't have to be built around a mystery. Take Halo 2, for example. There's no mystery as to what the Covenant are doing and why. They're hunting for the Index so they can fire the Halo array, and the Master Chief is trying to stop them. The fun in the story comes from the detours (The battle of Earth, the Heretics on the gas mine) and the curveballs that the story throws at you. Truth betrays the Elites and replaces them with Brutes, triggering a civil war! The Flood is coordinated by a central intelligence, and that intelligence can negotiate!

The same can be said of Halo 3. There were mysteries, but those mysteries were not key to understanding the central plot. Hell, forget Halo entirely and look at the greatest action-adventure film ever made. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark tells you everything you need to know about what the Ark is and why the Nazis want it in the first ten minutes of the film. The rest is a race to the key to the Ark's location, and then a serially escalating battle over possession of the Ark of the Covenant.

And I'd like to see stories like that told with Halo.

If you've read through this entire mess, thank you. All the points above aside, I am fairly positive about what 343i has done with Infinite, and I hope the team is healthy enough to deliver many more campaigns. Here's to a decade of smooth sailing.

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*Existing solely as a hate sink and an obstacle to the MC is a bad foundation for a character, especially when Del Rio was right about everything, and yet the game still acted as if he was wrong.
**OK, maybe there would be tonal issues, as Foehammer sounds pretty cheerful in the games. Being wary of Halo and lamenting her lost ones would make her character more determined and grim, which would clash with the delivery of some of her lines.
***I think you could have handed Palmer to a different writer, and she would have been much better received by the fans. There's an early draft of Halo 4 where she is first seen leading a fireteam out of a Pelican into combat in search of Lasky. I have no idea why that was scrapped, because it was actually pretty good. First impressions matter, and and meeting her as she leads troops and kicks ass would have been infinitely better than finding her hiding behind a blast door without her helmet. Not sure what could have been done about Spartan Ops, though.
****Somehow? Probably with help from the Harbinger, but this is left frustratingly vague. And now that I type this out, I realize that the Harbinger was dug up after the Banished had control of Zeta Halo, so... *Shrug*


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