Halo Online ready for free battle -- in Russia

The title will allow Russian gamers to play against each other at no charge as part of a closed beta.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

Microsoft's Halo Online is coming to Russia this spring. 343 Industries

The wildly popular game franchise Halo is going free, but if you're outside of Russia, don't expect to get your hands on it.

Halo Online will launch this spring in Russia, Microsoft-owned Halo developer 343 Industries announced Wednesday. The game will be available in a closed, invite-only beta and run exclusively on the PC. Players invited to join the title will be able to access it free of charge.

Halo Online is unique in the Halo franchise. For one, it's the first game in the franchise to be available for free and the first to only be available in Russia. The game also lacks a campaign -- or single-player -- mode and instead pits gamers against each other in a "space installation called Anvil" for multiplayer shoot-em-up.

Halo, a first-person shooter that combines sci-fi with military combat, is one of the most popular game franchises in the world. The first title in the franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved, launched on the Xbox in 2001. The game was developed by Bungie Software, which was subsequently acquired by Microsoft and then spun off in 2007. Before Bungie became independent again, the company had to hand over all rights to the Halo franchise to Microsoft.

Since then, Halo has been developed by 343 Industries. That company developed Halo 4, the first installment in a new trilogy, and is currently working on Halo 5, which is slated to launch this year. According to 343, Halo Online was developed by partners Saber Interactive and Innova Systems. The game is also built atop the game engine that powered Halo 3 -- a title that launched in 2007. That will allow the title to be played on lower-end PCs, which are somewhat common in Russia. It will not be available on Microsoft's current console, the Xbox One, and 343 said there are currently no plans to bring it outside of Russia.

Halo Online is part of what is seemingly becoming a broader movement in the games business as developers bring their franchises to new regions.

In January, game publisher Activision announced that an online-only title, Call of Duty Online, would be available in China as an open beta. Like Halo Online, Call of Duty Online is free to play and designed to target new gamers who may not have played the title yet.

Although the games are free to play, both Halo and Call of Duty come with in-game economies featuring virtual goods that can be bought and sold. Developers can generate cash on such transactions.

Microsoft declined to comment on the news.