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The Tragedy or HALO Infinite and continuing impacts on Xbox Gaming (it’s not THAT bad, I’m just terrible at titles)

Content of the article: "The Tragedy or HALO Infinite and continuing impacts on Xbox Gaming (it’s not THAT bad, I’m just terrible at titles)"

I sit here looking back on 2020 and think to myself, what a wonderful world… at least that’s how 2021 makes it seem. The zombie deer out break in Nebraska really shook up the post-election civil war and Cyberpunk 2077 being delayed until March of 2022 really damped a lot of moods. Thankfully Xbox embraced that Series X meme and it became the bestselling refrigerator for December and January. And I think back on Xbox and realize that I was hopeful, thinking that maybe Phil Spencer was the prodigy son returned to bring life back to Xbox after the failure of Xbox One launch.

Well, it isn’t that bad. Hopefully 2021 will be tremendously better than 2020, but we’re not there yet so we’ll have to see. What I am concerned about, and why I’m a little morbid with my introduction is that Xbox Series X, while the most powerful console we have ever seen, doesn’t have the games at launch to support a GAMING console. Why is that important? The Xbox One launched a home media machine competing with the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Wii for dominance in gaming, Plex home servers, Netflix, and cable tv for entertainment and arguably lost on both accounts. I say that, but I am one of the fanboys that has a Day One Xbox One and a day one Xbox One X. The Xbox ecosystem just didn’t have exclusive well-paced, narrative games and if a game played equally well on both PlayStation and Xbox why would we want to get a system with fewer gaming options?

Xbox and Gaming:
For many on Xbox it was HALO, Gears of War, and Forza. I’ve never been big into Forza which is arguably the flagship of its genre and it’s microtransaction hell. Personally, I have been in love with the HALO universe almost as much as with the Star Wars universe. And, maybe this is just my heart being broken so often by big corporations and their, let’s say, odd story telling decisions but I have an ever-decreasing amount of faith in Microsoft to revive its gaming & console division. (I can explain my word choice in another post, later) Let me explain.

Mixer failed investing 40 million plus into three streamers instead of 30 million into building an ecosystem and brand, investing in their thousands of streamers and partners. This was poor top down decision making. There is a reason that Jason Holtman is no longer the head of Xbox, but it still doesn’t have a marquee line up that excites people past HALO and maybe Gears of War. Sea of Thieves is fun with friends, Gears is ok still but doesn’t have that same pull, and Sunset Overdrive is like being in middle school and having that relationship on a fieldtrip that was over before you got back to the parking lot. It was fun, it was weird, but it wasn’t going to keep your attention for long.

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343 and HALO: Good gaming?

So why does all of this matter? Because HALO Infinite is potentially showing itself to be not only disappointing for HALO fans but in general. Yes, it is pretty at a glance and the backside of the warthog has some nice detail but I never asked to see that side of Pumba. And we have the birth of one of 2020’s best gaming memes, brute Craig. Will the game look good, yes, will it be aww inspiring and change gaming forever? No, but it doesn’t need to be. The gameplay just needs to be great, actually, I’ll settle for good. Give me a good story line, good gameplay, and good graphics and I’m happy. Give me great in the first two and I’ll believe again.

And here is where my second concern lies. I’ll be honest the gameplay trailer makes me think more of Call of Duty than HALO with sprint, grappling hook, and a few other things. But sometimes innovation can be good, without trying new things we would never progress. But some games have foundations that they’re built on and it feels wrong to change them drastically. Hit markers, sprint buttons, grapple hooks again don’t feel like HALO. Gun mechanics, choosing the best weapon to use against the right enemies and having a decent time to kill does feel like HALO. The game MIGHT speak and feel HALO but we won’t know until we get our hands on it. I'll leave this reservation until I play it, but getting Martin O'Donnell to put his music on top of COD doesn't make a HALO.

The last crucial piece of making a truly good video game is a tangible universe, an agency in the story, a reason to get lost in the words, actions, and story of the game. HALO Infinite is set up by a bit of a plot twist, series speaking. But by itself, HALO 5 doesn’t really set much up. I was never impressed by being fireteam Osiris. It never had the story telling aspects of the Arbiter levels in HALO 2 and just felt flat. There was little to no agency in the game, fighting against the … wait who was the main bad guy again? Why Don’t I like him? And what does it have to do… never mind… this isn’t about that. Let’s just say that the failures of HALO 5 don’t inspire the confidence I would like in HALO Infinite. (I just want to forget HALO 5, I’m sorry)

Creative Misdirection?
This would all be ok but 343 all but ‘fired’ their creative director, Chris Lee, and brought on board two new / old hands to direct multiplayer and single player rebound and rework. This isn’t scraping the entire story like what happened to Destiny 1. Which ironically is Joe Staten’s story and he is leading the single player campaign. Pierre Hintze is another Bungie veteran brought back to run multiplayer. With Chris Lee being effectively removed a few months ago and now stepping back officially it is putting the future, really, the end of the HALO story in peril. A simple story that spoke to millions about protecting mankind from it’s own worst traits since it’s launch in November of 2001 is now potentially leaving the gaming sphere with a whimper instead of a bang.

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And it DOESN’T STOP THERE. I wish I could make this up, but I can’t, HALO is an old franchise which makes me feel like gramps every time I get on to play. Being able to change armor color is a key staple in the atmosphere of HALO. Play and earn armor pieces, complete some hard, really hard and dedicated challenges and you can get a flaming helmet. But the colors, players could always choose their colors. Their own unique brand, identity. Their emblem, their colors, their tag and ID. But now 343 and Microsoft have gone the way of $5 microtransactions and pre made armor skins. Gone are the days of the individual freedom, represent yourself with your armor, your colors, and your emblem you played to unlock and picked. No, no you just PAY to unlock it and look like the other couple thousand or so who did the same.

A Last Hope?
Not everything that Xbox has done is anti-consumer, or even bad. In a potentially very pro gamer move, Xbox partnered with Steam to release their games on PC and have their own client with Xbox apps on PC. This appears to be great on the surface, until you realize your PC has three or four apps to play one game and party up and you still might or might not be able to play with friends on Xbox. It’s not intuitive, the games run as console games emulated on PC not really taking advantage of the customization and accessibility of the platform (in fact check out how they install, very different than traditional PC Gaming), and it just feels like too little too late. I’d rather pay the money to buy Halo Master Chief Collection on Steam than get it “free on game pass (that I pay for)” because it is just EASIER to use (but I don’t because money is money).

And what does this do? It puts the entirety of Xbox gaming in jeopardy. That’s a little over dramatic you say? Yes, maybe. Almost certainly. But it’s accurate because while Xbox is trying to compete with PlayStation 5 and Nintendo’s Switch it’s getting pummeled. Xbox Series X and S will have an insanely large catalogue to play at launch thanks to Game Pass. And Game Pass is an incredible deal for gamers, but by and large many of those games are not games I want to play. Yes, there are gems such as Hollow Knight, A Plague’s Tale: Innocence, the Ori games, and Sea of Thieves, oh, and the Gears of War Series, and well there are a lot of games but many of them are available on multiple platforms now. I am missing God of War, Spider-man, The Lat of Us, Uncharted, Thankfully Horizon Zero Dawn and Death Stranding are now on Steam. I can play Call of Duty, Madden, and other annual releases with MTX on any platform, and Xbox is losing the why should I buy your brand competition. Right now, two things are bringing me back. First Xbox is appearing to be very pro-consumer and pro-gamer this time around (see above with Game Pass and not forcing gamers to upgrade to the series X/S to play exclusives) and HALO.

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I hope HALO lives up to the hype, I hope I’m wrong and my old age has just made me disheartened. Please, 343, Microsoft, and HALO team. Bring back that sense of wonder, achievement, and pride. Give me a reason to believe in Master Chief, and move Forward unto Dawn.


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