This article discussing Halo Infinite and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker contains some spoilers for the second Halo trilogy.
Prior to diving into the Halo Infinite single-player campaign, I never would have imagined the experience would remind me of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Given that Halo 5: Guardians ended with Cortana taking control of some bottom-kicking alien technology, declaring that she knew what was best for the galaxy and rallying virtually every other AI to her cause, I was expecting things to go a little Battlestar Galactica.
Maybe there could have been a dash of The Terminator thrown in there for good measure, or if Cortana figured out how to churn out new Guardians, it could have been a full-on Mass Effect scenario. That wouldn’t have been a bad thing – more than a few properties wear their influences on their sleeves. Uncharted, for example, is clearly the result of a teleporter accident involving Lara Croft and Nathan Fillion.
But it’s not so much the content of Halo Infinite that reminds me of The Rise of Skywalker as it is the way it “handles” its story. Like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Halo 5: Guardians’ ending is a real bombshell, rife with questions and possibilities, all of which had me excited to play the next installment.
For example, what if Cortana is right that artificial intelligences are best positioned to guide the other races? Would Halo Infinite make you, Master Chief, the galaxy’s savior, or would it make you the one who plunged the galaxy back into war? Halo 4 showed that humanity was capable of wreaking havoc on other races, Flood or no Flood.
It’s not an entirely unique premise, but it’s one that Halo Infinite could have run with. The issue then is none of this is really tackled, at least within the game. Halo Infinite stops just short of having Cortana turn up in Fortnite, but it sweeps everything set up by Guardians under the carpet in favor of another Covenant splinter group, just as The Rise of Skywalker ignores most of The Last Jedi’s plot developments. At least the Banished were previously established in Halo Wars 2, but that’s no reason to boot Cortana and company into the void.
Halo Infinite is a little more logical than The Rise of Skywalker, which never adequately explains how the Resistance suddenly amasses a second armada. But both feature an equally jarring time jump, and at least for the first chunk of Halo Infinite, you’re playing catch-up. That approach worked to a degree in Halo 3: ODST, but you’re Master Chief, dammit!
I’m well aware that there are a wealth of Halo novels and comics, some of which may fill in the gaps. But in the same way that you shouldn’t have to read Star Wars comics to fill in The Rise of Skywalker’s colossal plot holes, you shouldn’t have to read Halo side-material for any of the games to make sense. Novels and comics should complement a franchise, not prop it up.
Ultimately, the time jump in Halo Infinite largely stems from 343 Industries choosing to make the game a soft reboot. While I got a kick out of Halo 5: Guardians’ overall story, I wasn’t that fond of being yanked away from Master Chief, and many had qualms with what felt like too many deviations from the core Halo experience. 343 apparently felt that something had to be done about it.
“We really started this game with the concept of the spiritual reboot… thinking through what we’ve learned from building Halo 4 and 5 and really looking across the whole history of Halo to grab the most iconic parts,” explained then-studio head Chris Lee to VGC.
“We wanted to present an amazing ring for players to explore and bring back all those memories they had when they first played Halo all those years ago,” added Associate Creative Director Paul Crocker. In short, they wanted to play it safe and restore Halo’s Haloness.
Granted, they’ve freshened up the gameplay a little by throwing in the grappling hook and making the game more open, and Halo Infinite is indeed a hell of a lot of fun for what it is. But it’s clearly a concerted effort to channel the spirit of the original game. You even get a new “Cortana,” all but restoring the same dynamic the pair had in the original trilogy through artificial means.
Sound familiar? Love or hate Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it dared to be different. Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recycled so many familiar story beats that it might as well have been Return of the Jedi. The good news is that, while Disney’s Star Wars trilogy may have gone out with a whimper, Halo is far from done.
Going forward, Halo has a strong player base of 20 million players if Microsoft and 343 are to be believed. That said, that 20 million will include all the people who downloaded the game on Game Pass, for free. It may also include the people who tackled the free multiplayer mode. We’ll have to wait till the dust settles to see how many copies it actually sold, if indeed Microsoft and 343 reveal those figures. But The Rise of Skywalker, for all its sins, was a commercial success, and Halo Infinite is certainly better crafted than that.
With the Endless, there is at least a new enemy waiting in the wings, but my fear is that, instead of this intriguing foe, Halo 7 will recycle the Covenant once more. In any case, while Halo Infinite is a respectable effort, if 343 wants to make a follow-up that’s really worthy of the Halo name and craft a saga that’s as strong as the original trilogy, pulling a J.J. Abrams just isn’t going to cut it.