On Nov. 15, 2001, the original Xbox launched with Halo: Combat Evolved as its flagship title, and the two were immediately inseparable. Halo revolutionized console shooters and the entire scope of multiplayer, while simultaneously providing that rare kind of “killer app” that only comes along once in a decade. From day one, it helped instantly propel Xbox into the conversation alongside PlayStation and Nintendo, a dialogue the three of them are still having nearly 20 years later. This is why July’s big Xbox Series X showcase and the focus that will be placed on Halo Infinite are so crucial for not only the Halo franchise, but the future of the Xbox brand as a whole.
Editor’s Note: Republished due to relevance, originally published on May 29, 2020.
For that first decade, things were good. The name Halo became synonymous with Xbox. Halo 2 hit in the fall of 2004 with a stellar campaign and a legendary multiplayer suite that helped usher in the rise of Xbox Live and online multiplayer that is now ubiquitous in gaming. Once the Xbox 360 came along the following year, all eyes were on Bungie and Microsoft to see where Master Chief’s story would take us on this new hardware. In a wise move, Microsoft released the Halo 3 beta early in 2007 as a pack-in with Crackdown, which helped increase preorders of the new IP by 25%. This was the kind of power that Halo held back then — it could actively help lift other unproven franchises. The hype surrounding the launch of Halo 3 helped Microsoft’s shares rise nearly 2%, which is astounding. At this point, it felt like Halo could do no wrong.
Over the next few years we got ODST and Reach, and despite their not being “core” Halo games, both were well received by critics and fans. But Bungie and Microsoft ultimately parted ways. While Bungie went on to create the Destiny series, the keys to Halo were handed to the newly formed internal Microsoft studio 343 Industries. After Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011, 343’s first proper game was Halo 4 in 2012, which helped send off Xbox 360 with a bang before the arrival of Xbox One.
Imagined to be the first part in a new trilogy dubbed the “Reclaimer Saga,” Halo 4 was followed up in 2015 by Halo 5: Guardians. And while the game sold well and was positively received, it didn’t have the staying power of the franchise’s earlier efforts. The campaign didn’t deliver on the high expectations set by the previous games, and the multiplayer couldn’t rise above the titanic success of the Call of Duty franchise. Instead of being a generation-defining shooter, Halo 5 was merely a good one.
It’s been five years since Guardians, and with Halo Infinite set for this fall, we’re currently at the longest gap between mainline entries in franchise history. The teaser at E3 2018 showed a return to a Halo ring setting that echoed the original game, while a full cinematic trailer at E3 2019 gave us a glimpse at what the story might entail. But besides these two drops, we’ve had little concrete information regarding Infinite’s tone, structure, and distinctions from past games.
That’s why July’s showcase is such a pivotal milestone for the game. As the first Halo to launch alongside a new console since the original, and the first Halo to launch under this new era of Xbox leadership, the game represents so much more than just a singular experience. It’s also going to be cross-gen, and while that means a much larger install base, it’s up to Microsoft to show us how next-gen the game actually is. While this isn’t necessarily a make-or-break moment for the franchise, it might be its most important yet.
The shooter ecosystem is vastly different in 2020, not only from when Halo first launched in 2001, but even from when we last saw Master Chief in 2015. The multiplayer shooter space is more crowded than ever, with not only Call of Duty, but ongoing experiences like Fortnite, PUBG, Apex Legends, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege all drawing massive numbers.
In order for Halo Infinite to carve out space here, it will need to deliver something that both makes a big initial splash and then continues to be a part of the conversation for months and years following launch. It’ll need to deliver something that its bountiful competition doesn’t, which is no small task. Likewise, there have been stellar FPS campaigns over the past few years from games like Titanfall 2, Wolfenstein 2, and both Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal that have managed to scratch that blockbuster itch that used to be Halo’s bread and butter. It’s on Microsoft and 343 Industries to show us why we should be excited for Infinite in July.
Infinite also has the potential to stand out among the crop of next-gen launch titles as a whole. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is most likely just the first in a long line of major third-party games that will launch alongside both of the new consoles. And while we don’t know what first-party games the PlayStation 5 is going to launch with — perhaps we’ll find out at its June 4 event. But Sony’s heavy hitters traditionally don’t come until a year or two into a console’s life cycle, and given how few franchises are as storied as Halo, there’s a good chance that Halo Infinite will be the biggest exclusive of the fall on any console. That’s even including Nintendo, who is rumored to be spending the back half of 2020 celebrating excellent, but familiar territory for Mario’s 35th anniversary.
Speaking of Nintendo, it’s a company that has always specialized in creating iconic franchises that people are glad to revisit time after time as they grow alongside the hardware. One need only look at the massive success of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and how it’s composed of literally dozens of examples of that. And over the past generation, Sony has similarly embraced this motto, creating new or reimagined pillars in the form of Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, and the Naughty Dog games that will carry the built-in assumption of quality into the PlayStation 5 generation.
With how robust Microsoft Game Studios has become over the past few years, this is something that I absolutely see happening with the Xbox Series X. We’re undoubtedly getting new Gears and Forza games for the foreseeable future, and newly acquired franchises like Hellblade, Psychonauts, and The Outer Worlds can help pick up some of that slack alongside the rumored returns of classics like Perfect Dark, Fable, and Banjo-Kazooie. But as beloved as these are, none of them hold the gravity and weight that Halo did throughout so much of this century, which gives it the potential to become a maypole that all other franchises circle around. Whether Infinite manages to recapture that glory remains to be seen.
And so the wait until July’s Xbox Series X showcase continues. June will undoubtedly be a busy month, with countless developers and publishers showing off their upcoming games through the bramble of 2020’s E3 substitutes. But if there’s any game capable of rising above the noise, it’s Halo Infinite. This is Microsoft’s chance to bring Halo back to the forefront of the gaming conversation, cement a face for the new Xbox Game Studios, and once again make the franchise synonymous with the Xbox brand. Master Chief has proven that he can finish a fight; now it’s time to see if he can start a new one.