It’s no secret that Halo Infinite, the latest installation in the now 20-year-old series has had a launch window full of ups and downs. From some classic game modes not being present or not working at all to a host of awful monetization practices there was every indication that this could be one of the worst positioned Halo games ever. However, in the two months since its launch, developers 343i have done an almost complete overhaul on every non-gameplay system the game has. So how is it now? Is it worth picking up if you haven’t got Gamepass? How does it fare when compared to the more venerated titles in the series like Halo 3 or Reach?
The Storm Before the Even Bigger Storm
Ever since Infinite was first revealed the community suspected there was going to be trouble. Initially poised to be a launch title for the Xbox Series consoles (I mean, Halo is Microsoft’s flagship franchise, how could it not be?) it was delayed indefinitely after a reveal event showed off less than next-gen graphics. Textures were off, lighting was all wrong, even the characters just didn’t look…right (just look at poor Craig here). After massive fan backlash 343i made the decision to hold off on launching the game in the state it was in. Bear in mind this was July of 2020 when the new Xbox console was due out in November. Units were in production, branding and packaging had been signed off on. This led to the awkward situation of Master Chief being on the box of Xbox consoles, but without a game to show for it. Yikes.
To give credit where credit’s due delaying the game was absolutely the right call, all unfortunate marketing aside. The game we got one year later looks absolutely stunning by any measure. There’s also something to be said for the fact that while they didn’t hit the Xbox launch window 343i was able to soft launch the game on the 20th anniversary of the franchise. I say soft launch because on the fifteenth of November we got the free-to-play multiplayer component, with the campaign set to launch in December.
What was our First Impression?
Initially, the game we got was lacking. While 343i tried to describe it as a large-scale beta test we were given a paltry six game modes to choose from and 10 maps to play those games on. This might be a good amount of content for some franchises but for something like Halo with 20 years of history it simply wasn’t enough. Especially when you consider the fact that Infinite was constantly billed as being the culmination of everything the series had done previously. The Halo series has seen 110 maps and over 20 different game modes in its time and for a game like Halo Infinite to include practically none of them is a bit of a tough pill to swallow for long-time fans. How much would you love to see Blood Gulch or Valhalla be included in the current offering?
Again, to be fair, the 343i PR team went into overdrive pretty quickly and promised that more playlists and game modes would be added soon (and they were) and that our patience would pay off. I personally take issue with this for one simple reason. This is a promise to fix a problem that with almost a year’s extra development time, seems to have been created intentionally. That statement is something that I see as being the unofficial motto of Halo Infinite.
The launch of the campaign rolled around, and the second bombshell was about to drop. While you could buy a physical edition of the game, there was no game data written to the disc. Essentially what this means is that when you inserted the disc into your console, you’d be prompted to download the game instead of transferring it from the disc to your Xbox hard drive. This means that if players have a poor internet connection or no connection, they can’t play Halo Infinite at all. I realise that these types of scenarios are few and far between, but they do exist, and I cannot think of why an alternative wasn’t considered.
343i have explained that this was necessary due to the split-launch of the Campaign and the Multiplayer aspect, but I fail to see how something like a “Campaign Only” disc or some other solution couldn’t be arranged. Again, this is a problem that seems to have been intentionally created to satisfy a launch window commitment (can you tell I’m building to something here?).
Pay Up to Level Up
I have never been shy about the fact that I think microtransactions are one of the worst things to happen to gaming. In my opinion, they are a greedy, predatory practice that exist only to pad the wallets of publishers at the expense of the players. This is why I believe the Halo Infinite store is currently its biggest problem.
At launch, players could expect to pay €10 for a single weapon skin or a pair of cat ears for their helmets with full armour sets coming in at even higher prices. They were charging players for colour swaps for their armour. Absolutely outrageous stuff.
Now there were freebies that could be unlocked by playing the game and progressing through the game’s Battle-Pass. Fair enough. Except, most of the time what you unlock for leveling up is an XP boost, or the ability to swap one of your weekly XP challenges. Or nothing. Seriously, if you reach level 39 you get nothing for doing so. Unless you pay! That’s right, Halo Infinite is the latest in a long line of games to feature a Premium Battle Pass for the low, low price of €10. Then you get far more content as well as a new template for your armour. Yes, 343i have locked the armour from Halo Reach (the second-best-selling Halo game to date) behind a paywall.
Now, in fairness, 343i have reduced their store prices by at least 50% across the board and have promised that we will be able to earn their in-game currency through gameplay when the next season rolls around in May. They have even suggested that players will be able to earn enough credits to buy the premium Battle Pass which would, honestly, be a happy medium for me. I realise that since the game is technically free to play, they can’t offer everything totally free for everyone but giving players the option to “buy or earn” is appreciated. However (sing it with me) this is a solution to a problem that seems to have been created by the publishers in order to wring more money out of the player base.
So as things stand, if I can only earn a limited number of cosmetics, and 343 have made it very clear that I should pay up or shut up then why do I bother to play this game at all?
Yeah, Why Bother Playing?
Because it’s fun. Seriously, like, outrageously fun. This is, hands down, the best Halo gameplay I have ever experienced. And I’ve been around since the beginning! The movement speed is spot on, the gunplay is as tight and precise as ever, the Warthog and Mongoose still bounce around as if they have tyres made of bedsprings. The in-match experience has been refined to near perfection and it truly does feel like the culmination of those two decades of work. Halo 2 helped put online gaming on the map and Infinite has shown up to make sure the floundering Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises that they’re just there to keep the throne warm.
I’ve spent many a night with my friends roaring into my microphone to gloat about sniping someone with the Skewer. I’ve sweated buckets in a close match of SWAT. I’ve raged at being the last man to die in a match of Team Slayer. I haven’t felt this way about a Halo game in over a decade and for Infinite to elicit those feelings makes it truly special to me.
How it all Comes Together
Note I said the gameplay has been tuned to “near perfection”. There are one or two things that bug me. There’s no collision detection between Spartans, for one so, you can pretty much phase through an ally or enemy player as opposed to bumping into them. That one’s just weird and annoying. Another issue I’ve seen is that the plasma pistol, a mainstay of the series, no longer paralyzes a vehicle with a fully charged shot. This has always been the way so why change it now? Well, it’s because there’s a new sidearm called the Disruptor which is a fully automatic pistol that can disable vehicles. This right here is everything wrong with this game. 343i seems to have created a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, necessitating them to create a problem in the first place so the solution can stand on its own.
Why not get rid of the disruptor and let the plasma pistol keep doing its thing? Why not have launched the store with low prices in the first place? Why not launch the game with a handful of game modes or maps from other games in the series? Why not aim to make the game as good as it possibly can be for the players? The game isn’t on-disc because the multiplayer component is free to play. The multiplayer is free to play so items can be expensive. The battle-pass is threadbare to encourage players to cough up their money. This is all a cycle we’ve seen before and we’ll no doubt see it again. Charge players for content that used to be free and drip feed that content to create an artificial sense of longevity for your product (I’m not saying for a second that Infinite wouldn’t have longevity if everything dropped on day one, to be clear) all the while slowly siphoning more and more money away from the players.
Old Man Yells at Cloud
At this point I know that I sound like a grumpy old man, complaining about how things have changed and how I don’t like it. The reality is, though, I am a grumpy old man. At least in gaming terms. There are 16-year-olds who are playing Infinite who have only known a landscape like this. To whom the notion of playing a game to earn content or just getting it for free at launch is completely foreign. There are returning veterans who are just too tired to care about it and don’t think twice about buying stuff like that. Remember when $5 Horse Armour in Oblivion was literally the biggest controversy in gaming? That’s literally been going on for over a decade now and it’s become normal, if not regarded as a pretty good deal. This is just how things are now, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!
So, do I dislike or even hate Halo Infinite? No. Not one bit. I fucking love this game, and that’s why I’m so harsh on it. I don’t care that CoD is doing the exact same thing from a monetisation and content standpoint. I don’t care that Battlefield is totally broken. I don’t even care that GTAV is still making money hand over fist from Shark Cards 9 years after launch. I don’t care about those games at all. But to see something you love come so tantalisingly close to perfection only to get distracted by the promise of riches does hurt a little.