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The ‘Halo Infinite’ campaign map is basically one huge, excellent Halo level

(Washington Post illustration/Screenshot/iStock)
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Here’s the simplest and most accurate way to describe “Halo Infinite’s” campaign: Imagine the original game’s second level or “The Silent Cartographer" expanded into a full game.

The single-player portion of “Halo Infinite” is not, as some fans feared, a cribbing of the Ubisoft formula of open-world games, nor does it remind me at all of “Destiny 2,” the multiplayer, semi-open-world game by the original Halo development studio, Bungie. Rather, it truly is an expansion of the most universally loved Halo campaign experiences.

I’ve been able to play an early preview build of the highly anticipated “Halo Infinite” story campaign, details of which have been shrouded in mystery and intrigue since the game’s 2018 announcement. The decision to go with an open-world gameplay model made longtime fans a little worried. Will it play like a Far Cry game, with towers to unlock for the sole purpose of seeing more portions of the map? Will it be like “Skyrim,” with heavy story elements and resource gathering?

The answer is, quite definitively, neither. Rather, it plays like a Halo game, just on a larger scale. The closest comparison is the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” Its second level found our hero Master Chief stranded on a mysterious ringworld full of intrigue, strange alien architecture and underground passageways that hinted of civilizations long past. “Halo Infinite” is really that level’s design philosophy extended to a very large, multilayered map.

“Halo Infinite” begins similarly to that first game, with Master Chief crash-landing on Zeta Halo, probably the most important ringworld installation in the game’s lore. It’s been months since humanity’s military forces basically lost control of Zeta Halo to the Banished, a mercenary group that split off from the alien Covenant Empire, and Master Chief is tasked with rallying the remaining human forces on the map. As the player, this means finding stray platoons around the open world who are either captured or under fire by hostile alien forces.

Freeing these soldiers, freeing bases and doing other open-world activities nets you “Valor Points,” which will unlock more resources that you can summon at will and use at any Forward Operating Base. Zeta Halo is littered with these bases, which have been taken over by Banished forces, and once the player frees them, the locations are unlocked not just as fast-travel points, but as a way for players to gear up, free of charge. If you unlock enough Valor Points to call in a Warthog jeep, you will be given a Warthog jeep — no resource or material gathering required. The more the player plays the campaign, the more they will receive free and unlimited resources.

"Halo Infinite" multiplayer is already supremely polished, with just a few more scrubs needed

This is certainly no “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” either. Unlike that game, or even what we’ve seen of the upcoming “Elden Ring,” players are always told exactly where to go to progress the story. The difference is that you can hold off on achieving progress until you explore the entire map. One of the first missions in the game requires Master Chief to rescue an imprisoned and tortured soldier in a tower facility. But in that base’s shadow are bases to liberate, platoons to help and distinct “High Value Targets” to defeat. Those enemies not only require more firepower to defeat, but they’ll often wield unique or specialized versions of weapons that Master Chief can pick up around the world.

Defeating these unique Banished aliens, all of whom are named and come with some kind of story background, nets you a ton of Valor Points, as well as the unique weapons they were using. If you defeat a Banished lieutenant equipped with a special gun, you can easily access it at any Forward Operating Base. “Halo Infinite” makes accessing all these weapons and bases even easier since you can fast travel at any point in the map, a quick process thanks to the power of the latest generation of Xbox consoles.

That’s not to say that there’s not more designed and funneled gameplay. From the first hour of the game, you’ll realize that more linear environments exist within the structures you find on Zeta Halo. The first mission, which takes place on a Banished warship, calls to mind the wide-narrow design spaces of the Truth and Reconciliation battlecruiser from the first game, which offers large rooms and arenas as well as tunnels to navigate. But it’s safe to say that Zeta Halo’s grassy and tree-lined landscape serves as a very large, explorable and wide-open hub for some these missions.

That old Halo feel is also retained in how these scattered human soldiers follow you around. In the original Halo trilogy, United Nations Space Command soldiers would either follow you around or climb into your vehicle to help you fight. These moments were often short-lived, either because the soldiers were killed in action or because the game would simply prevent them from accompanying you as the story progressed.

"Elden Ring" is shaping up to be a dream come true

In “Halo Infinite,” you have an infinite supply of soldiers that respawn around the map, as well as at your conquered bases. You can summon a ride from your infinite supply of vehicles and have them hop on, or you can simply choose to gather them as you walk through forests, hills and caves. There’s no interaction required with these soldiers either. Simply stand around them for a few seconds, and they’re immediately pulled in as a ragtag squad joining the Master Chief. All these elements work surprisingly well and don’t feel at all distracted by open-world elements that often sink other games into repetition.

The Washington Post will publish a full review of the “Halo Infinite” campaign experience in the future, as there are many features, story details and aspects I can’t discuss at the moment due to embargo restrictions. It’s remarkable how long it’s taken the Halo series to get to this point, to replicate its best levels across an entire game’s experience. But developer 343 Industries appears to have finally achieved that in “Halo Infinite.”