We Discuss 'Halo Infinite' and the False Promises of Open Worlds

We often want bigger levels or worlds that feel alive, but open worlds rarely deliver either.
July 27, 2020, 7:38pm
Screenshot from Halo Infinite, a warthog vehicle reaches the top of a hill on a Halo ring world, with the sun setting on the horizon behind a forest.
Image courtesy of 343 Industries

Open world games can struggle with imbuing the “open” parts of their worlds with life. Having a world feel active and alive between set pieces is one of the tricker balancing acts these games attempt, especially for games where the primary verb is “shoot.” When engagement ranges get further and further apart, the design behind where and when to place enemies or allow them to engage the player in the open world becomes a messy question. We discuss the recent Xbox Games Studios announcement stream, what we’re excited about, and the different tacts between contained encounters and emergent gameplay on this episode of Waypoint Radio.

Patrick: This is a thing that you and I talk about constantly: the dream is, how do you take open world games, [which have] traditionally have sacrificed their moment to moment gameplay in service of like spectacle and like sheer  volume of content, but when it comes down to it, for grand swaths of the Assassin's Creed franchise just to take one, especially when they don't involve guns, it's not that fun to play engage in the combat, you're just doing that to get to the next thing, the exploration, the next story bit.

The dream is can some studio combine really really good contained linear gameplay and drop that into a bigger space, and get the benefits of the open world? That's why when we talk about Dragon's Dogma 2 it's like look, I love the combat in that game, but they didn't create [what we think of] when we think of an "open world." Dragon's Dogma did not have that, it was a pretty bad one of those. And so I'm excited to see the sequel–


Austin: I disagree but I know what you mean, I know–

Patrick: You know what I'm speaking to, and I'm speaking for most people in that regard–

Austin: Yes I know, I know!

Patrick: But that is usually kind of a disconnect with a lot of these games. I love Devil May Cry and I've constantly thought "you know what would be fucking cool, give me Devil May Cry in a giant open space, where I'm finding quests instead of linear stuff.” But the advantage of linear things is exactly what you're speaking to: even if you think you want it in a giant open space, the reason you're having fun is because they can funnel you and contain the encounters.

Rob: It is just a little maddening though, to be having these conversations literally in the same podcast where we discuss the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and it's like "damn, is there any way to make a game with with good shooting that's open world?" And that problem was solved, it's just for whatever reason it seems like developers didn't like the solution or they didn't feel it would adapt to their games.

Austin: I think they probably felt like it wouldn't adapt to consoles when those games came out, but also I should be clear, I think there are different types of open world shooters and shooting right?

Rob: For sure, but I think [there are many] reasons these games tend to fall apart. There are many reasons why Far Cry games have gotten progressively less interesting, but fundamentally, they don't feel as open as you would think right. The enemies are located at their base, so you go to the base and you fuck up the base full of dudes, and maybe they sound an alarm and more people arrive. But if you think about it, the entire thing happens in a pretty narrow slice of that open world.


Patrick: And sometimes you find a bear in the woods.

Rob: The rest of that open world is inert.

Austin: Whereas the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series, or for that matter,  S.T.A.L.K.E.R I think he's better at it than this, but [Ghost Recon:] Breakpoint. I think one of the reasons you and I connected to Breakpoint in those early hours, was that feeling of dynamism in the open space, the fact that there were things happening that you were not triggering them to happen, they were systemically happening and you would get caught up in them. S.T.A.L.K.E.R was, especially the sequels, were all about that feeling of "these factions are hitting each other in the open world, who knows what experiences you're going to have, this is going to be an emergent narrative generator in a real way."

Rob: Right, and that's why I think the thing that is kind of worrying about the notion of this being a direction for Halo is [when the game says'] "go take out these three turrets," I have a feeling that it's going to be three underwhelming, fairly open encounter spaces that I'm going to have, [and] at the end of each one I'm going to push a button, or plant a charge, or something and that's going to be it. I can do it in any order I want, but it's not going to be a case where there's a cool story about Master Chief operating alone behind enemy lines that is going to unfold as he is trying to do these three things. There's not going to be a "you're just trying to complete the mission but then you're spun off [into] a cool, other encounter." That does not feel like the game that they're making. But, I don't know, it is tough to tell because the other part of this trailer seems so conservative in just like "it's Halo! Remember how much you love Halo? Especially Halo 1?"


Patrick: Halo but big now.

Austin: Yeah, bigger than before.

Rob: When you go up the elevator in that gameplay that you see, and the camera slowly is like, "hey look we're on a fucking ringworld right?" Then it pans around and it's like "those look an awful lot like covenant crates and HVAC units!" It's like "here's a huge open world that you can explore! Behind you where you'll be playing: some boxes."

This transcript was edited for length and clarity.

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