Halo Infinite’s New Focus on Character Growth Is Brilliant

“Crushed. Broken. Beaten. Useless. When is it enough, Chief?"

Halo Infinite Character Growth
Halo Infinite Character Growth | Credit: PC Gamer

Heavy spoilers for Halo Infinite follow.

Cultured Vultures spoilers

The Halo series has gone through some changes over the years, shifting from the hands of its original developers at Bungie to its new home at 343 Industries. Some of those changes focused on how the games depict the tone and focus of their stories. Instead of the mostly silent, sometimes quippy super soldier from the Bungie games, 343i had originally set out to flesh out the Master Chief’s personality.

From the start, 343i wanted to make their first outing with Halo 4 feel like the player was becoming closer to Master Chief than fans have ever before. However, this exploration of the character stopped at the relationship between the Chief and Cortana. There were only brief glimpses at the human under the iconic MJOLNIR armor.

What’s worse is that Halo 5: Guardians pulled back and not only gave Chief less screen time, but also made his few appearances feel shallow in comparison to anything that had come before.

With Halo Infinite, though, 343i dialled back the world-ending plot threads for a second to give us a Halo game that was mostly focused on giving some depth to its new cast of characters. 343i tightened up the cast and made Infinite’s three core characters feel like the most realized personalities in a Halo game thus far.

There may be a conflict with the Banished and some mysterious new foe, but the real heart of Halo Infinite comes from its small band of characters and their chemistry with one another.

 

Two New Allies Help Focus the Story

Halo Infinite Weapon
Halo Infinite Weapon

Halo Infinite removed all of the established characters from previous games. From Lasky to Spartan Locke, the only returning character to make a physical appearance is the Master Chief himself.

Chief is surrounded by only two named allies: The Weapon and Echo-216. It’s a very trimmed cast, but that allows for a more focused inclusion of these characters as each of their personalities, history, and quirks are explored throughout the campaign.

The Weapon is a factory reset Cortana, who is only just establishing her relationship with Chief under a completely different set of circumstances compared to the first, so her development and personality tend to be different from Cortana’s.

Echo-216, on the other hand, is a family man who volunteered aboard the Infinity with no military training. Just a normal guy who thought that he could lend a hand to the UNSC and the heroes who had done so much already. However, he kept his citizen rank a secret to Chief until later on to avoid confessing about how he obtained his Pelican.

Each of these characters is their own person. They aren’t just military side characters who salute when Chief enters a room or constantly talk about how much alien butt they’re going to kick. No, they’re much more than that.

In Infinite, all three of the focus characters are dealing with their own history and overcoming it to become better versions of themselves. And in the end, these characters are only able to do so through their relationships and shared dangers with one another.

 

The Importance of Contrasting Characters

Halo Infinite
Halo Infinite | CreditL: Gameclips

Going into the story of Halo infinite, Chief is working with the UNSC Infinity to relinquish Banished control on Zeta Halo and finally put a stop to Cortana after he failed to in Halo 5: Guardians.

In a surprise turn of events, the fans’ first reunion with the Chief since Halo 5 isn’t seeing him taking charge and being an unstoppable force. Instead, we see Chief suffer his most brutal defeat at the hands of the Banished leader, Atriox.

Atriox incapacitates the Master Chief and throws him from the Infinity to float through space where he’s left to reflect on his most recent defeat. Another failure that’s only compounded by his failed attempt to reason with Cortana. These recent failures only add to the responsibility that the Chief feels, piling on top of the weight he feels in every choice he makes.

Chief’s found six months later by his new ally, Echo-216, who helps to revive him in the hopes that Chief would guide them back home, but Echo-216 soon learns that’s not what’s going to happen.

Chief wants to get back in the fight to make up for his absence, and Echo-216 just wants to go home. This dichotomy between these characters is an example of how great supporting characters can be to bring the best out of a protagonist that has had mixed characterization so far. One of their first scenes together illustrates this perfectly.

As Chief readies the Pelican to land on Zeta Halo, Echo-216 barges through the hologram and shouts, “Wait, what? Are you kidding me? Why would we go down there?” He’s slightly shocked by the Chief’s readiness to jump back into the fight, despite the massive casualties that were suffered in the last fight. Echo-216 even goes so far as to attempt to push the Chief.

Echo-216’s cowardice and lack of understanding of Chief’s role lead him to challenge the Chief on several occasions. There has never been a citizen featured this heavily in the Halo games, and it adds a certain level of juxtaposition to the regular military professionalism that the Chief embodies.

This cowardly behavior in Echo-216 is a constant for most of the campaign as he wants to run away from the fight that has already taken so much from him, but the Master Chief doesn’t operate that way.

 

Echo-216 and Chief Share an Emotional Moment

Echo 216 Chief
Echo 216 Chief | Credit: Gameclips

Rarely in the Halo games have we been shown characters reflecting on the events they were involved with. There hasn’t been the time to do such a thing in a Halo game. It was almost always about getting to the next universe-ending plot thread. Infinite isn’t afraid to slow down and let people talk, and there is no better exhibit of this than when Chief rescues Echo-216 from the Brute Chieftains.

When Chief finds Echo-216 hiding inside the cargo bay of the Pelican, he’s in distress. He remarks on the UNSC Condors that have been taken down and gutted for the Brute forces. He’s stressed about the overwhelming odds that they’re facing while continuing to face the guilt of his own cowardice.

Echo-216 says, “Crushed. Broken. Beaten. Useless. When is it enough, Chief? When we’re in there? Because that’s where I belong. In there. With them. Worthless junk. I’m not you! I’m not a pilot. I’m not even a soldier, a marine! I’m a fraud! I stole that Pelican. I stole it!”

Echo-216 is admitting his failure aboard the Infinity and confessing that he feels he shouldn’t even be alive. After storming around Chief, he falls to his knees and says, “I’m worthless. You should have left me with the rest of the garbage.” Echo-216 feels terrible for leaving his comrades behind. He’s suffering survivor’s guilt, and Chief begins to recognize this and understand where he’s coming from – Chief has gone through similar experiences, after all.

While Echo-216 paces around yelling and letting off steam, the Chief just watches, letting him cool off. Chief doesn’t shout over him or push him aside and tell him to start flying. Instead, when Echo-216 finally falls to his knees, the Chief takes a knee next to him and says, “We all fail. We all make mistakes. It’s what makes us human.”

Never in the series has Chief been so sympathetic toward another person. He’s never been given the chance. Here, despite his robotic posture and larger-than-life presence, there is a person talking and trying to help their ally.

Chief chooses to emphasize with Echo-216. He doesn’t try to tell him to keep his chin up because he’s in a war zone. No, he actually takes the time to admit that even the legendary Master Chief makes mistakes. Chief continues, “I should have protected Cortana. Stopped everything from going wrong. I failed her. I will not fail you.”

This helps to shape our perception of Chief beyond the unstoppable cyborg persona that most of us had built up since the Bungie-era games and expands on narrative threads that weren’t explored fully in previous 343 games. We finally get to see how Chief is working through his own failure – the first one that we ever witnessed in the games.

 

Learning to Overcome the Past

Halo Infinite Weapon
Halo Infinite Weapon

As effective as Echo-216 and the Chief’s scene had been, a similar arc happens with the Weapon when she finally learns that she’s a copy of Cortana. She begins to struggle with an identity crisis and starts to question whether she can even trust herself in the line of duty.

Up until this point, the Chief was ready at all times to try and take her offline to avoid another Cortana situation. Infinite waits until this scene to connect why Chief was so ready to delete the Weapon. He can’t help but see his past mistakes and relationship with Cortana in her.

When the Weapon begins to see what Cortana did, she says, “She destroyed their home? …How could she do that?” and the Master Chief replies, “It’s my fault…I should have stopped it. I could have reasoned with her.”

Here we get further confirmation that the Chief was placing the entire burden of the last few years on himself and not placing it on Cortana, Halsey, the UNSC, or anyone else. Chief was taking full responsibility of Cortana’s betrayal and the resulting deaths and wanted to do better this time.

The Weapon finally understands why the Chief had been acting so evasive about Cortana around her. She also fully understands how she was connected – that she was a copy of Cortana if they had never met. Chief wasn’t going to risk the universe again despite still having strong attachments to Cortana and her doppelganger.

This realization sends the Weapon into a crisis where she begins to accept her original fate, saying, “Will I d-do what she did? Become what she became? Am I that already? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That wasn’t me! It can’t be. …I shouldn’t be here. Your mission was to destroy me. I’ve restored the deletion protocols. I’m ready.”

But Chief responds with, “We do it together.” He goes on to admit that he doesn’t quite trust the Weapon yet, but that he wants to because he has begun to see that maybe there is another way. He doesn’t need to be as cold-hearted as he had planned to be with her.

Chief’s talk with Echo-216 and his conflict with the Weapon help to give him an insight into his own actions. While those characters didn’t directly cheer Chief up, they did help to set his priorities straight and begin to convince him that he doesn’t need to bear the weight of humanity alone. Their emotions help to influence his actions on screen, and bring out a little more of the human in him.

Chief wants to make up for his oversights in the past, Echo-216 wants to redeem himself after his act of cowardice, and the Weapon wants to fight the guilt of a life that she can’t help but feel semi-responsible for. Each character is trying to overcome themselves and contribute to humanity’s fight, but none of that would be possible without their relationship with one another.

343i have always tried to put their best foot forward when it came to their Halo games and with Infinite, it looks like they finally found their rhythm by focusing on characters rather than simply another cataclysmic event, and the Halo series is all the better for it.

Halo Infinite is available on PC, Xbox Series X & S, and Xbox One.

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