There’s a new Halo out, the first in more than half a decade, but all anyone can talk about is its contentious battle pass. The convo has now hit a point of cacophonous saturation, prompting a top creative on the game to openly acknowledge complaints about Halo Infinite’s progression, and state that addressing them ranks as a top priority.
Sigh. All right. This has gotten out of hand. Halo Infinite’s battle pass is totally fine, you guys. I’d even go so far as to say it doesn’t need the total overhaul some say it does — certainly not compared to some of the other pressing issues with the game, and certainly not yet.
Two weeks ago, if you somehow missed it, Halo Infinite came out of left field. Though the full game still won’t be out until December 8, developer 343 Industries surprise-released the multiplayer mode — technically “in beta” — on Xbox and PC. Pretty much everyone agrees: On the fundamentals, it’s a blast, a ridiculously polished first-person shooter that somehow both feels new and carves out space as a return to the golden age of arena shooters.
The bulk of criticism has been directed at the game’s meta-progression system. Like most games based on a free-to-play model (the campaign is priced at a premium, but the multiplayer mode is free), Halo Infinite features a battle pass. By earning experience points, you can level up, unlocking rewards tied to each rank: stuff like new visor colours, helmets, armour “kits,” armour attachments, shoulderpads, knee pads, emblems, and post-battle stances, alongside various single-use items that can help speed up the process. The free model grants you marginal rewards; paying $US10 ($14) earns you cooler gear, and more of it, than what you’d get with the free pass. With both, earning 1,000XP boosts you to the next level.
The catch is that levelling is largely based on completing hyper-specific challenges, rather than performing well. Right now, completing a multiplayer match in Halo Infinite gives you 50XP. (You don’t get a bonus for winning.) Knocking out a challenge — say, getting 10 kills with the stalker rifle, or winning three matches of capture-the-flag — can net you anywhere from 200XP to 400XP. You’re allotted 20 challenges per week. Once you complete them all, you won’t get more until the week resets (on Tuesdays). You’ll have to rely solely on 50XP bursts to work toward ranking up.
Critics contend that the current structure begets glacial progress. You could knock out your weekly challenges and rank up at a steady clip for a bit. But once you’ve finished all of your challenges for the week, it’ll take you 20 matches to increase just one level. (Judicious use of XP boosts, which double the amount of XP you earn for an hour of real time, could theoretically cut that down to 10 matches.) The chatter reached a head over the weekend, as evidenced by a Reddit post that’s been upvoted more than 6,600 times as of this writing, headlined, “Do not undersell that Halo Infinite is a new industry low.” The post largely cites concerns with Infinite’s free-to-play model.
There are a hundred levels in the battle pass for the first season, “Heroes of Reach,” which is scheduled to wrap up some time in May 2022. Let’s put that in perspective: There are 23 weeks between now and the start of May. (343 hasn’t given a specific end date but has said you’ll be able to continue working on battle passes from previous seasons after the respective season ends.) While fully acknowledging that I no doubt play more than the average player, I’m currently 24 levels into the battle pass — that’s 12 levels a week, a rate that’ll see me hit the finish line in less than two months.
How would most players stack up against 100 levels? Microsoft hasn’t publicly shared the average battle pass level among Infinite’s player base, so it’s hard to tell. Anecdotally, I see a lot of players rocking the (kick-arse) EVA helmet, which is earned at level 10. Staying steady at the minimum rate there, five levels a week, you’d hit the end of the battle pass in 18 weeks — more than a month before the first season is supposed to wrap.
Some players want 343 Industries to inject some nitrous into the model by allowing various forms of faster progression. One option on the table: medal-based progression, a system that was in place for previous Halos. Were that model applied to Halo Infinite, earning, for instance, killing spree (five kills without dying) or killjoy (ending an opponent’s killing spree) medals would grant you more XP at the end of the match. Most commonly, you hear people advocate for some sort of win-based progression.
One refrain — and it is legit — is that, the way Halo Infinite currently works, there’s very little incentive to play to win. If one of your challenges tasks you with racking up 15 gravity hammer kills, you’ll naturally focus on finding a gravity hammer over securing the ball in a round of oddball. To that end, some players have suggested granting a small victory bonus — maybe you’d get 75XP or 100XP for winning a match, instead of the typical 50XP — which would both speed up the levelling process and potentially spur players to focus on actually winning the game, rather than their own personal suite of challenges. (For what it’s worth, I’m of the mind that, yes, a small victory bonus would be quite nice.)
Whether or not you believe that full completion of a battle pass should be a badge of honour solely reserved for the most dedicated players, Infinite’s pass, as it stands right now, is designed to be completed by those who are even moderately engaged each week. It’s a system set up to steadily reward players over the course of months. No one’s going to finish it within the first few weeks. That’s not the point. Mathematically, you’ll get to the end eventually — as long as you stick with it somewhat.
And it’s not like the most devout players can’t earn badges of honour that denote their particular level of devotion. There are indeed some rewards that are likely out of reach for players who dabble. Completing all of the weekly challenges will give you the opportunity to knock out a “capstone challenge,” typically a bit tougher than the standard fare. Once you finish that, you’ll earn that week’s cosmetic reward — which, to my knowledge, is not available via other means. This week’s challenge, “get five killing sprees in Fiesta PvP,” was a doozy, a true time commitment in that it was purely based on the gods of random-number generation. (As an apology for resetting the challenge structure days after release, 343 granted the first week’s prize, a gold visor, to all players who logged in between November 23 and November 30.)
More egregious is the recently launched “Fracture – Tenrai” event, a sort of a battle pass within a battle pass. While the event is active, some challenges are designated as being tied to the event; every one of these challenges you complete increases your rank in the Fracture – Tenrai pass. (The experience you earn goes toward your standard battle pass.) The event is scheduled to occur during six different weeks between now and the end of “Heroes of Reach,” in the spring. The way it currently works, you can only earn seven levels for each week. In order to complete all seven levels, you’d have to play several hours during each week the event is active.
All of the rewards in the battle pass are free, but you can only purchase the coolest-looking cosmetic accessories in the store for an extra cost. Most of those can only be applied on the Yoroi armour, which is earned by hitting the fifth level of the event’s battle pass. In other words, you could conceivably spend money on a cosmetic item that’s limited to one set of armour and miss the window for earning that set of armour, essentially rendering your purchase useless. Uh, yeah. I’ve got nothing there. That’s just weird.
When reached for comment, representatives for Microsoft didn’t have anything to add on the topic.
But, look, this entire conversation misses the key point: Halo has never been about this stuff. Since the days of Halo: Combat Evolved, in 2001, Halo has always been about the game itself — about winning matches just to win, about sharpening your kill-death ratio, about messing around and having a blast with fun-feeling vehicles and weapons you couldn’t find in any other game, then pairing them with ridiculous match parameters, all in the effort of meshing creativity with competition. (See: Grifball going from a joke to a bona fide game mode.) Though you could always tweak your look, playing Halo was never a matter of being so preoccupied with changing your visor colour. As reporter Gene Park noted at The Washington Post, the chatter today has highlighted a stark divide between how we played games then and how we play games now.
I’ll admit that yeah, at first, I bristled at having to complete challenges to level up. But I quickly came around. The challenge-based structure has changed how I play Halo, and for the better.
My instincts were to fall back on Halo Infinite’s starter weapons, the ones I know best: the pistol and the assault rifle (or the battle rifle, if we’re talking that white-knuckle ranked mode). But the battle pass’ raft of weapon-based challenges nudged me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to experiment with the entire arsenal. I now get a kick out of nearly every gun on the roster, save for the ravager, which ran the table during this summer’s technical tests but has been noticeably nerfed for the full game.
Contrary to some of the more widespread critiques, I’ve actually found myself focused on winning matches because of the progression system. It’s a sharp diversion from my previously laser-focused goal of improving my kill-death ratio (which, maddeningly, isn’t tracked anywhere, even on Halo’s stats-tracking halowaypoint.com site). Even if I personally don’t need to win the strongholds game I’m in, I’ve got it in my head that at least one member of my team is working toward a challenge that requires victory, so I’ll play to win, rather than to hone my KD, as I have in every other Halo. Pay it forward, and all that. As a result, I’ve found myself playing, and even thoroughly enjoying, modes that aren’t the series-standard slayer deathmatch mode.
Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is of course not bereft of issues — its menus are confusing, partying up with friends is a mess, cheating is reportedly rampant on PC, there’s no way to see your KDA ratio, the options for custom matches are severely limited, and the ravager is functionally useless — but the battle pass is by no means the worst of it. I’d say it should remain the way it is.
Well, for now. My thinking is that Halo Infinite players should let this play out over the course of the first season. The folks at 343 Industries have poured years of work into this game; they deserve a chance to see if their vision clicks or not in the long term. Considering Halo Infinite is the foundation of what’s intended to be a ten-year game, there’s plenty of time for change. If season two rolls around in the spring and the community is still irked by this structure, then sure, it could use (and should receive) an overhaul. But to loudly and widely demand significant change two weeks after release strikes me as reactionary.
Also, you can play Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode for zero dollars.