That sound you hear? That low hum, that ceaseless wailing? It’s an elegy of Halo Infinite fans around the world. Developer 343 Industries will soon nerf the best weapon in its multiplayer shooter, fulfilling a longtime request of top-flight players — and thumbing its nose at the desires of the hoi polloi.
The mangler, which is new to the series for Infinite, is debatably one of the game’s best PvP weapons. It’s not just that the mangler is a powerful firearm (two body shots plus a headshot gets a kill). It’s that it has a small blade affixed to the barrel, seriously increasing its melee damage; shoot someone right before smacking them, and you’ll get a kill, turning the thing into a bona fide shotgun in close range. Plus, the mangler shares a respawn point with the comparatively weaker plasma pistol, popping back on the map every 30 seconds or so, ensuring that it’s basically always in play.
In the wake of Halo Infinite’s surprise release, the mangler sparked heated debate. Pros hated it with a vengeance, with some players and teams calling for an outright nerf, or at the very least an increase to its cooldown time. Regular players, however, pushed back. The mangler, they said, was fun as hell to use, and isn’t that the point? Cue the memes (and the mean tweets).
“I might be in the minority here when I say I like the mangler. However, in its current state, it is quite overpowered,” Jennifer “Echidna” Hal, a pro Halo player and content creator for eUnited, told Kotaku. “It promotes camping and easy trades with the one-shot beatdown mechanic, has a generous amount of ammunition, and respawns too frequently.”
“Something’s gotta give,” said Alexander “Shyway” Hope, a Halo esports host and content creator. “Either they raise it up to mid-tier level to make it more of a power weapon, or reduce its ammo and availability, or they nerf it.”
The developers went with the latter — kind of. For Halo Infinite’s second season, which will add new maps and gameplay tweaks early next month, 343 plans on reducing melee damage by 10 per cent across the board, a change that was detailed in a lengthy blog post released at the exact hour banks and government agencies tend to publish press releases whenever they want to bury a major oopsies (6 p.m. on a Friday). Effectively, this nullifies the mangler’s best perk. Right now, you can grab a mangler and score a kill with a shot and a punch, or what’s known among Halo players as a “one-shot beatdown.” (The bulldog shotgun, which takes way longer to respawn than the mangler, also has a one-shot beatdown.) Following the season two overhaul, though, you’ll need two shots and a punch — a “two-shot beatdown.”
“My biggest gripe with the mangler is the one-shot beatdown. With 343 tuning it so it’s a two-shot beatdown instead, I am much more content with it being on the map,” Hal said, and pointed to Halo Infinite’s quick-drop tactic as a reason the mangler’s impending Marie Antoinette-ing won’t be as much of a shellshock as it seems.
In Halo Infinite, it’s marginally, almost imperceptibly faster to drop a weapon than it is to swap between both equipped weapons. You can pop an opponent’s shields with two body shots from your mangler, then drop it and instantly switch to your battle rifle for a quick headshot, for which you’ll earn the “hold this” medal. Right now, among high-level play, “hold this” is the meta. The forthcoming changes shouldn’t upend that strategy, Hal said. (As someone who’s recently become fond of the move: Hell yeah.)
But amid the changes, one weapon is going to stay the same: the battle rifle. Yes, almost every weapon’s melee attack is getting slashed by 10 per cent. The battle rifle’s bash, however, is staying as is. That said, in running down the changes for season two, 343 only explicitly mentioned that the battle rifle’s melee will stay the same in ranked matches, so it’s unclear whether or not the broader reduction will apply for social, non-competitive playlists as well. 343 Industries declined to comment for this story.
So the situation is two-fold: The least-favoured weapon among pro players is getting a notable nerf. Meanwhile, the pro player weapon of choice for, oh, two decades is staying just as powerful as ever. It all contributes to the natural sense that the upcoming changes are lab-designed to appease the pros. (Halo Infinite’s next marquee professional event, the HCS Major Kansas City, goes down the weekend before season two is set to start.)
“Even when adjusting mangler to a two-shot beatdown, I’d say it still has an advantage in close quarters [over the battle rifle],” Hope said, and noted that he’s not a huge fan of any potential change to the battle rifle outside of the ranked mode. “Universally, the BR is in a good spot and it’s challenging enough to two-shot beatdown that it shouldn’t be adjusted in social, but I guess we’ll see.”
I’ve played a ton of Halo Infinite over the past five months, and that’s largely where I’ve found myself as well, if with a bit more trepidation: “We’ll see.”
At first, I bristled at the idea of nerfing the mangler. I’m what you’d describe as an “aggressively average” player, and I’ve come to not just love the mangler, but often rely on it. Why should a handful of top-tier players drive decision-making for a broader player base? And if 343 Industries is cool with tweaking one gun in social playlists but potentially leaving it unchanged for the ranked mode, why not just leave the mangler untouched in non-competitive playlists, too? Let the people have their cake!
But by now, I trust 343 to make the right decisions for Halo Infinite’s sandbox. In the technical flights conducted last summer, the commando — a shield-demolishing automatic weapon with a mid-range scope — was a blast to use. It was also, you have to admit, ridiculously overpowered. But for the November launch of Infinite, 343 kicked up the commando’s kickback, making it too erratic to be effective in close-quarters combat. (PSA: Fire in controlled bursts.) At every turn throughout the first season, from the cacophonous fury over pricey cosmetics to the extremely reasonable ire about a certain loathed map, 343 Industries has internalized feedback and instituted well-received changes. There’s no reason to believe this nerf will be any different.
In other words: We’ll see.
Plus, the mangler is by no means the only weapon seeing an overhaul. The ravager — a portable cannon that shoots literal balls of fire — is going to see an increase to its “base” damage, though it’s not yet clear by how much. And throughout the early goings of the season, 343 says it’ll pay attention to the performance of three “underperforming” weapons to see if they could benefit from a similar buff in the wake of the mangler’s dethroning: the commando, the burst-fire pulse rifle (whose projectiles move slower than Jared Leto on the set of Morbius), and the plasma pistol (dear 343, please turn the thing into the headshot machine it is in the Halo show).
These are all baby steps on Halo Infinite’s decade-long path to achieve perfect balance, indicative of a careful development studio that wants to ensure every tweak, no matter how small, is pitch-perfect before rolling out an additional wave of changes.
“I don’t think this change is unreasonable. I do understand that some Halo players just want to have fun, though, and balance is less of a concern,” Hope said. “Unfortunately, I think the bigger issue is the lack of game modes, custom game options, or things like a custom game browser to allow people to experience the game however they want and one-shot beatdown to their hearts’ content.”