The date was June 10th, 2018. After a 10-second countdown that felt like 2 minutes, the Xbox Briefing was finally about to begin. A booming voice plays out over the crowd of fans. “This is the Xbox E3 2018 briefing!”. Then, suddenly, gamers are whisked into what at first glance appears to be a new world. The phrase “game engine demonstration” appears on the bottom of the screen. After playing through some graphically stunning atmospheric shots, we finally see him, the Master Chief. His armour is evocative of the old Bungie style, and he suddenly suits up. As he rides with marines into the proverbial sunset, a familiar riff from Halo 3‘s “One Final Effort” plays and the title Halo Infinite appears on screen.
Flash forward a year, it’s E3 2019. Just as the show is about to end, Phil Spencer concludes his discussion of the then-forthcoming Project Scarlett and announces that the next generation of Xbox will be launching with Halo. A cinematic tease, full of emotion, plays out before us, as a pilot, nearly given up entirely, finds solace in the Master Chief. However, Chief’s plans are different, and when the pilot’s Pelican is attacked, Chief is ready for a fight. We cut to a brief cutscene, re-revealing fan favourite character Cortana, and we go our merry ways.
Flash forward again to 2020. Scarlett is now the Xbox Series X. A worldwide pandemic has ravaged the world. E3 is gone. But the Xbox Games Showcase lives on. Halo Infinite kicks off the festivities once again with an 8-minute gameplay demo, but… something was off. The game that blew fans away with its in-engine demonstration appears highly downgraded. Texture pop-in is a clear, noticeable issue. However, throughout it all were some fun narrative teases, some great music and a strong-looking gameplay loop. But, for those promised a taste of the next generation, Halo Infinite was rather lacking from a wow-factor point of view, especially after games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Returnal blew minds the month prior at Sony’s showcase.
In the events that have transpired since this showcase, Halo was delayed an entire year, leaving the Series X launch window lacking all but the excellent, if already released on PC, Gears Tactics, and some much-appreciated updates to pre-existing Xbox titles. The promise of a day one Halo was lost, and a notorious image, freeze-framed from the demo of a Brute, made the rounds. This Brute, dubbed Craig, has been used regularly in fan circles as a negative reflection on the original demo.
However, other major events have transpired as well. Most notably, Microsoft acquired Zenimax Media, a holding group of 8 major studios. These include Bethesda Game Studios, the creators of Elder Scrolls and current custodians of Fallout; Id, the arguable inventors of the FPS genre; and Arkane, a talented duo of studios that are keeping the Immersive Sim genre alive.
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That brings us to where we are today. The Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase is mere days away, and the hype is at a fever pitch. A show that may have once just appealed to Xbox fans, is now drawing in fans from Bethesda, and hopefully interested consumers outside of the Xbox ecosystem. Several games have been rumoured to show, from a new Forza Horizon to the latest game Arkane Austin is brewing, but so far, only two have been implicitly confirmed: Halo Infinite and Starfield. The latter of these is the first new IP from Bethesda Game Studios in over two decades and is directed by the legendary Todd Howard. The hype around this one speaks for itself.
However, it is with the former game where things are far different. Halo Infinite has a lot to prove this year, and a lot to show. What was supposed to be the cornerstone of the first-party launch lineup has left the window barren, and the team has been hard at work polishing things up. While there is definitely a reason to hope for the best, especially with the writer of the original series Joe Staten having been brought on board, trepidation remains. For better or worse, all eyes will be on Halo Infinite this year, which leads me to have what some may consider being a “hot take”: Halo Infinite should not open or close the Xbox Games Showcase this year. Allow me to explain why.
Firstly, I do not envy the workers at 343. The expectations placed on the team at the best of times is a thankless task; having to satisfy a community that is so diverse in opinion in how the series ought to be must be challenging. Having to inherit the franchise from Bungie just makes these stressors all the worse. The best outcome is that Halo Infinite pleases the majority of fans, but the fact of the matter is that the mere retention of the sprint mechanic has already made it controversial in several circles. Halo will be under immense scrutiny here alone.
However, what is compounding these issues is last year’s showcase. For what it is worth, I actually really enjoyed what we saw of Halo Infinite last year. I am not the type who overly cares about graphics, and for me, the gripping story segments and the fun shakeups to the Halo formula (including a really awesome-looking grapple hook and a big, open-linear environment) got me excited about what I saw. However, as a game meant to sell the power of the Series X, it was severely lacking as the drawbacks in visual fidelity weren’t made up for by any mechanics that felt tied implicitly to next-gen (think the dual-reality gameplay of The Medium).
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While early indications show that Halo Infinite has been improved rather substantially in graphical fidelity, it still does look a decent bit behind titles such as Horizon Forbidden West and Rift Apart. Granted, this is to be expected. Halo not only has to maintain a consistent 60fps, but it also needs to maintain it in an open world, at 4k, possibly with split-screen. Couple this with the multiplayer having to push 120fps, and the reality is that graphical fidelity is a necessary sacrifice. This does not mean that Halo Infinite will not look good – early indications show it will – but it is unlikely to have the “next-gen” selling points that many are hoping for.
Then there comes the reality I alluded to at the start of this piece: Halo Infinite has taken one of the two marquee slots at the last three E3 showcases. This is to be expected to an extent. Halo is inarguably Xbox’s biggest franchise and a new mainline title is always worth getting excited about. However, from the point of view of someone outside of the ecosystem, the type that Microsoft is fighting hard to win over, or a Bethesda fan tuning in for Bethesda’s content, it may not be the showstopper people think it is.
Catering to a diverse set of tastes is important, and for a while, the media and fans have scrutinized Xbox’s first-party as being overly reliant on Halo, Forza and Gears. While these are all fantastic franchises, Xbox Game Studios has over the past 3 years alone grown from 6 studios to 23 and counting. They have added franchises like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, Psychonauts, Dishonored, and many, many more under their belts. For fence-sitters, opening and closing the event with some heavy-hitting existing or new IP could go a long way for showing just how different the Xbox of today is, and I expect that Starfield will take up at least one of the marquee slots.
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However, none of this is to say that Halo does not have a place in the show. That is absolutely false. As one of Xbox’s closest games, and easily one of their most anticipated, they can and should show off a large slice of the game, be that multiplayer, single-player, Forge or, preferably, all three. However, if they start the show off with Halo, it could send out the message to viewers that nothing new is on the table. While you and I know this to be false, someone who has tuned in on a whim may not. Similarly, if Halo fails to impress at the start or end of the show, it could colour the perception of the event entirely. Last year, Xbox put on a great show with a ton of new announcements, but instead of discussing the return of Fable, the trippy-looking Psychonauts 2, or the out-of-left-field reveal for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, they were all talking about Craig.
By putting Halo towards the middle of the show, it takes a lot of the weight off of the game. It sets the tone for viewers early on that Xbox has a lot coming to look forward to, and that Halo is not the be-all and end-all for the system’s future. It also allows for a buffer to end the show on a high note, if Infinite once again fails to live up to expectations. If Halo Infinite is the star of the show, it will shine brightly wherever it is placed and will be the talk of the town. However, if it doesn’t quite stick the landing, it’s less of an issue when it doesn’t do it with a million spotlights on it.
Ultimately, these points can and probably will end up moot. Microsoft is likely to kickoff or close the show with Halo, and if it lives up to expectations, it could be a gamble well worth it. However, if Microsoft wants to take full advantage of the new studios and IP at their disposal and truly communicate to the world how diverse their forthcoming slate is, it may be wise to place Halo towards the middle. If Halo Infinite impresses, it will be talked about for days to come. But there is no guarantee it will. As such, it may be wise to mitigate a potential effect on mindshare and let the other games have their much-deserved time in the limelight.
But what do you think? That comments section below is crying out for your words.