Early Monday morning, Microsoft and 343 Industries released a new six-minute trailer to show off the story of Halo Infinite, its forthcoming first-person shooter set to debut in December.
Initially described as a “spiritual reboot” of the Halo franchise, Infinite‘s story campaign is described by 343 as the biggest in Halo‘s history, as well as the most open-ended. Rather than the straightforward point-A-to-point-B level design of previous Halo games, Infinite‘s campaign is deliberately open-ended, in order to give you as much freedom as possible to approach each situation.
At the same time, it’s deliberately stripped back to the basics of Halo. The franchise as a whole has been notoriously dense for a while now, with dozens of novels, comics, and short films to its credit. 2015’s Halo 5: Guardians drew on a lot of that additional canon all at once, which makes it notoriously inaccessible to anyone who isn’t completely immersed in Halo lore.
Infinite, by comparison, is closer in spirit to the original 2001 Halo: Combat Evolved. You’re once again playing as the Master Chief, who’s fighting a solo campaign against the Covenant on one of the series-namesake Halo rings.
In the Halo universe, the eponymous Halos are habitable installations in space built by the long-vanished alien race known as the Forerunners, as both research facilities and superweapons. The setting for Infinite is Zeta Halo, a heavily-damaged installation in the Sagitarrius Arm of the Milky Way.
Following the events of Halo 5, the Master Chief arrives on Zeta Halo to find a weapon for use against his former AI buddy Cortana. That “weapon,” a new AI that was made to shut Cortana down, will hopefully provide the Chief with answers about what happened to Cortana in the last game.
Once he’s on Zeta, the Chief finds that it’s also come under the control of the Banished, a mercenary splinter faction within the alien Covenant that split off after the end of the Human-Covenant War. Since any Halo is effectively a gun pointed at the head of the universe, the Chief subsequently ends up in a one-man guerilla campaign against the Banished.
That puts Infinite, as an overall product, in a strange sort of space. It’s got a back-to-the-beginning feel, with many old enemies, weapons, and vehicles, and a setting that recalls the first Halo. The new trailer even makes sure to include a scene where the Chief runs a Jackal over with a Warthog, just for maximum 2001 nostalgia value.
The gameplay is where Infinite is meant to be changing things up. The Master Chief is equipped with new tools, which includes a grappling hook. With that hook, the Chief can pull items to him, rappel onto distant surfaces, and jump between aircraft while in flight.
The trailer also briefly showed a new feature, where players can find and install new gear into the Chief’s armored suit. This includes a cloaking device, which lets players go invisible for short periods.
That customization reflects the new open-ended approach to Infinite‘s gameplay, which Microsoft and 343 persist in calling “true Spartan freedom.” (Even when you know the context — the Chief is a member of a cyborg-soldier group called the SPARTANS — that phrase sounds weird.) Instead of simply wading into a succession of pre-planned fights, Infinite gives you the option to go after the Banished in whatever way you’d prefer. You can use the grappling hook to navigate to a sniper’s perch, bring in heavy armor, bombard a site from above, or focus on destroying local infrastructure.
This is meant by Microsoft to be a “new era of Halo.” The general idea behind Infinite seems to be that it’s using all the familiar trappings of the earliest games in the series as a hook, so players are immediately on comfortable ground while 343 Industries reinvents the wheel around them. It’s a risky play, but Halo is the biggest tentpole video game franchise that Microsoft’s got, and Infinite marks an attempt to make sure Halo will be around for a long time to come.
Infinite was previously planned as a launch title for Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X|S, which launched last November. It was subsequently delayed following some behind-the-scenes staff shake-ups, and didn’t get a firm launch date until August.
Halo Infinite is planned for release on Dec. 8 for Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S, and the Xbox Game Pass. Unlike past entries in the core Halo series, Infinite‘s multiplayer mode will be free-to-play, with several big features like cooperative campaign mode and the Forge level designer scheduled as free downloadable content following the game’s launch.