The blogosphere and the gaming world have been aflame today, following the announcement that Halo Infinite has been delayed. 343 Industries – the studio which acquired the Halo brand when original developer Bungie left the series a decade ago – made the announcement earlier, and it’s significant because the new game will no longer launch alongside the Xbox Series X. Well, unless that gets delayed too!
The general consensus is that this announcement is the worst possible news for the Xbox Series X and could ruin its launch. But will it?
I don’t think the Halo Infinite delay will prove to be all that significant for one major reason: the Xbox Series X was going to have an underwhelming launch anyway. The hardest of the hardcore Xbox fanatics will buy a console, and perhaps a few well-meaning aunties and grandpas will buy one for their relatives for Christmas, but the console most gamers are interested in and excited for is the PlayStation 5. And I’m not saying that as a PlayStation fanboy – for the longest time I was an Xbox guy. It’s just the reality of where most console gamers are right now.
Microsoft – as I’ve noted several times already – has made the incomprehensible decision to launch the Xbox Series X with literally no exclusive games. Not even one. Halo Infinite is also scheduled for a release on Xbox One and PC, as are a number of other first- and third-party titles that Microsoft has shown off. The arguments in favour of buying an Xbox Series X this year were already nonexistent, so removing one non-exclusive game from its launch lineup will have no material impact on sales. I can practically guarantee that.
With all of the issues that are stacking up right now – including those of Microsoft’s own making – I’d argue there’s a pretty solid case for delaying the console’s launch until next year. In the current economic climate, I’m already expecting that fewer people than usual will be interested in a brand-new console for the inevitable £400+ price tag, and many fans – even those who are genuinely interested to play some next-gen games – may have no choice but to wait it out.
If the Xbox Series X launches alongside the PlayStation 5, all it will do is draw unfavourable comparisons. The lack of exclusive titles is a large part of that, and it’s not inconceivable to think that there could be hundreds of thousands of unsold units sitting on shelves or in warehouses come January. It feels like it’s going to be an expensive flop, and while it may eventually build up a solid user base a few years down the line, the Xbox Series X is already lining up to be the upcoming generation’s second- or even third-tier machine.
The Halo Infinite delay will upset some Halo diehards who were excited to see their favourite franchise get a new release for the first time in over five years. But in terms of the launch of the new console – where it wasn’t a system exclusive – it’s genuinely hard to see how it will have any impact whatsoever.
When considering the more general issue of game delays – and, incidentally, delays in other entertainment media as well – I’m all in favour of them. How many titles have been released just in the last few years that would have benefited massively from some additional development time? I can think of many, such as: Anthem, Fallout 76, Mass Effect: Andromeda, No Man’s Sky, 2013’s Star Trek, and WWE 2K20. All of these games released to negative reviews and underwhelming sales, so from that point of view, I fully support the delay to Halo Infinite – and to any other upcoming title that needs it.
I think Mass Effect: Andromeda is a good example of how to screw up a launch, and a great comparison to Halo Infinite. The Mass Effect series was already tarnished by the ending of Mass Effect 3, and was relying on Andromeda to be a semi-reboot of the series. Similarly, the Halo series has been experiencing gradually declining reviews, and while there isn’t one moment fans can point to on a par with Mass Effect 3′s ending that really upset the fanbase, there’s a sense that the series isn’t as good as it once was. Halo Infinite has billed itself as a soft reboot, aiming to return Halo to its roots and put some recent disappointments behind it.
When Mass Effect: Andromeda launched, it was a bug-riddled mess. It was mocked online, and the mockery and memes hurt its sales far more than the mediocre reviews the game received. Halo Infinite has already seen its trailer come under heavy criticism for its visuals, which many felt look decidedly current-gen – an odd criticism for a game that literally is a current-gen game as it will be released on Xbox One, but that’s beside the point. If Halo Infinite were to release later this year in its current form, it would have undoubtedly drawn criticism on a scale similar to Mass Effect: Andromeda. And that game killed the Mass Effect series, which was “put on hiatus” in the aftermath of its disappointing launch and underwhelming sales.
It’s clear that 343 Industries and Microsoft feel that Halo Infinite needs more development time to work on the issues it currently faces. And to them I say: take all the time you need. I’d rather wait a little longer for a better, more polished game than play a rushed, broken mess.
But I don’t agree that it will damage the reputation or sales performance of the Xbox Series X. That’s not because the game doesn’t matter to that console – the Halo series is one of Xbox’s few strong selling points, after all – but because behind-the-scenes business decisions have already condemned the Xbox Series X to second place behind the PlayStation 5. In fact if I were advising Microsoft, I’d ask them if they wanted to take this opportunity to delay the console as well.
Flip the issue on its head, and let’s think about it this way around: would Halo Infinite have been a massive help to the Xbox Series X at launch? Because that’s the fundamental assumption people are making when they say its delay will hurt the console, and from where I’m sitting that doesn’t feel true. If I don’t own an Xbox or a PC and – for some reason – have a desperate need to play Halo Infinite, my best bet is to pick up a cheap Xbox One S or a preowned Xbox One from 2013 and play it there. I don’t need to buy an expensive Xbox Series X to play a game that I could play on a console that costs less than half the price. And if I’m already an Xbox One owner, I’m in no rush to upgrade because every Xbox Series X game is coming my way, including Halo Infinite.
So at the end of the day, Halo Infinite’s delay should be good for the quality of the finished title. I’m all in favour of that. And it won’t have any material impact on the launch of the Xbox Series X – because that console is destined for a seriously disappointing launch anyway.
Halo Infinite is the copyright of 343 Industries and Xbox Game Studios. The Xbox Series X and Xbox One consoles are the property of Microsoft. Header image and Mass Effect: Andromeda promo screenshot courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.