To quote what I said over at Era:
Personally, when I was watching the demo for the first time, the graphics weren't the first thing on my mind. The gameplay was. And gameplay will always be the single most important aspect of any game. Infinite looks like it will be incredibly fun. The amount of interactivity has obviously been increased, and I imagine the grapple hook and being able to toss things like fusion cores aren't all there is in that regard. Vehicle damage looks like it's being expanded upon (that suicide Grunt blew the whole tire off the rim on the Warthog). And the level design. Holy shit, at the level design. This is what I've been looking for in a Halo game for a very long time.
One thing I enjoyed so much about the original game was all the potential for exploration and the general scale it had. I spent hours back in the early 00s trying to get to the bottom of the Silent Cartographer and other normally out of reach locations. I played Assault on the Control Room entirely on foot one day as a self-imposed challenge, and it gave me new appreciation for the sheer scale of that level. But subsequent games were lacking when it came to that kind of scale, with narrower, more constrained levels, sometimes with artificial barriers like invisible walls and (beginning in Reach) soft-kill barriers. The only truly large areas in later games were mostly empty spaces designed for fast-moving flying vehicles (e.g., Long Night of Solace, New Alexandria, Shutdown). But now in Infinite we have these truly massive levels with so much opportunity for exploration. It looks like something I'd spend hours just exploring.
As for the visuals, yeah, it's clearly unfinished and needs some polish. And I can understand some people expecting an eye-melting graphical tour de force. The engine demo trailer was, on a technical level, prettier than the gameplay demo. But the gameplay demo is a months-old build of a cross-gen open-world game (or at least with open-world elements; I don't think it's been confirmed to be one big contiguous map) running at 4K+60fps. So, on the one hand, the 2018 engine demo did set expectations that the demo did not deliver on. But on the other hand it's an older build and there's a very high likelihood that the demo is not representative of what the final product will look like (as others have pointed out, it wouldn't be the first time a game received significant polish from trailers to the final game). Also, should anyone have really expected a Halo game to be on the cutting edge of game graphics, especially one that's a launch title that also has to run on the XBO and at the scale, resolution, and frame rate 343i is aiming for?
Halo CE wasn't exactly the best-looking game of its system or its general time back in 2001, at least from a purely technical perspective. Halo 2 pushed the graphics forward in some ways, but had many sacrifices made to its visuals as well (some environments looked ugly even back then, and the pop-in was atrocious in many parts). Halo 3 wasn't the most impressive-looking game around in 2007, and its character models were terrible (the lighting was solid, though). Reach and Halo 4 looked better (but still not close to the best of their generation), but they came out years after Halo 3, and in Halo 4's case it had a lot of bad textures as well as the most linear and constrained levels in the series to achieve what it did in other areas. And Halo 5 was not even remotely in the same league as a lot of other games from earlier in this generation.
But art design is arguably as important if not more so than graphical bells & whistles. Artistically, I think Infinite looks great. It looks nice and uncluttered, without that typical overwrought 343i art style from 4/5. I also love how they're moving back to designs inspired by Bungie's art style. We've already seen that the Chief's armor is 95% identical to the Halo 3 design (the shoulders are the biggest difference). The Elites look just like Reach-style Elites. The Grunts are inspired by their Reach designs. The Jackals are back to being vultures instead of lizards. Even some of the Brute designs hearken back to Halo 3.
So, while the demo wasn't exactly the most graphically advanced, it showed a game that looked like a blast to play, and it's still my most anticipated game of the fall.
To add to that, Digital Foundry did a good job of explaining how the choice of using dynamic lighting and even things like the angle of light in the level in the demo impacts the look of the game, and how it could be improved. For what the game is and given the context of the demo, I think it looks okay compared to most other titles in its genre. Not great, but good enough. And that's fine. And it can be made to look better. And even if it's not the prettiest game even at launch and even after the post-launch ray-tracing update, I still think the gameplay is more important than the technical merits of its graphics. I see so many discussions about how graphics aren't the most important thing for a game, and then we end up seeing a game torn to shreds over its graphics even though it's from a series not exactly known for having the latest and greatest in state-of-the-art graphics. I just don't get it. When are graphics important, and when are they not?
Don't get me wrong. I love pretty graphics as well. I was blown away by the UE5 gameplay demo from a few weeks back, for example. But graphics aren't everything. Given the choice between the two, I'd rather have a game that's a 10/10 in the fun department but maybe only a 7/10 in the graphics department than one with stunning visuals but mediocre gameplay mechanics. The negative reactions to Infinite's graphics honestly did surprise me, and as I said in my post on Era the technical aspects of the graphics were the last thing on my mind. For example, I didn't notice things like "Craig the Brute's" face until someone pointed it out to me after the fact. When I was watching the demo, I was simply smiling at how fun the game looks and how so many classic designs are returning in addition the new stuff. And speaking of the new stuff, it's certainly possible that the Banished could add a lot more new stuff to the sandbox, especially in the vehicles department with all the crazy machines they had in Halo Wars 2.
Entire post: Exactly! The game just needs to have a satisfying gameplay. Nice graphics would be welcomed but they should never be the one and only thing that matters.
Bolded: Right? One the one hand a lot of people say they are happy with the current level of graphics, we even had a thread for this exact topic just recently. On the other hand this very thread (read: a lot of the comments in it) suggest that excellent graphics are necessary for a game to be successful, no matter how good the gameplay feels. There appears to be some sort of disconnect.
I would love to know how much the general audience is aligned in regards to the connection between graphical fidelity and perceived value. In real life I know some people who truly believe that games with bad graphics cannot be good, my own brother being one of them. Of course that's just anecdotal and in no way represantitve, but I am very sure that this mindset applies to a very large number of gamers. I think many gamers want to feel wowed and blown away. I would like to call this the 'surface level enjoyment'. When it looks good, it must be good. When something else looks better, then that must be better. Simple logic. This helps to keep our minds in order and organised. So I believe that these graphics we see here in Halo Infinite, which in comparison look not like people would expect them to be, may leave a bad first impression in many minds and some may believe that this is a sub-par product.
On the contrary, I think The Order 1886 is such a game that excells on the surface level and blew some people away. But when we dig deeper and find out that the gameplay is weak and boring, even the shiniest graphics won't help anymore. That's the 'core level enjoyment' to me. A game needs to be thrilling and exciting, it must feel good to play it. Graphics are nothing but a vehicle to this, instead the core mechanics and level designs are the main driver. As gamers we can only find this however if we look past the surface level. Gamers should be more sophisticated and seek the core level enjoyment rather than shiny graphics. If I look at the trailer here, the core gameplay looks absolutely fine to me. I have never played a Halo game but this actually sparks my interest.
Having said all that, good graphics and good gameplay do not necessarily need to be a trade-off. Yet, I am sure we can all agree that out of the tens of thousands of games that exist only a very tiny selection achieves both. That's the Metroid Prime level of enjoyment. In fact, many many many many examples exist that indeed suggest it's a trade-off, especially in these modern times when developers won't take risks and won't stray away from tried and true formulae. We see so many nice looking games that drop so many jaws but after a while we hear how hollow and dull they actually are. I think developers feel the need to push for graphics rather than gameplay because the customer demands it. It is us gamers who constantly fall for pretty graphics because we think in simple patterns. Good graphics means good game. But unfortunately this will never stop, I guess. That's just how we the customers try to avoid the risk of spending money on a product that won't live up to our own expectations. I would love to the see the day when this trend changes.