Busted challenges. A dysfunctional battle pass. A bunch of ultimately ineffectual “fixes.” A cacophonous uproar of player feedback, much of which isn’t positive. It may sound like the launch-window era of Halo Infinite, but no: This is Halo Infinite today, six months after its launch, during the first week of its second season.
Halo Infinite, released last fall for Xbox and PC, is the first entry in the series of shooters to be based on a free-to-play model. It’s replete with many standard features of such a model, including a “seasonal” structure — where new stuff cycles into the game every few months — and a 100-level battle pass. You can progress through the battle pass by completing specific tasks, called “challenges,” which proved controversial at the start.
On Tuesday, developer 343 Industries rolled out the second season for Halo Infinite. Called “Lone Wolves,” it adds a bunch of new features right off the bat. Three new modes — a reimagining of fan-favourite King of the Hill, the return of fan-second-favourite Attrition, and the introduction of Last Spartan Standing, a battle royale-lite — are available, with more to come. The battle pass is full of some truly inspired cosmetic options. It is undeniably awesome to see your personally customised spartan soldier in sumptuously choreographed cutscenes. And the new lobby music is OMG levels of awesome. There’s a lot to like here, and a lot to sort through, which is why the update needs a whole table of contents before you even dig in.
According to the most dedicated players, along with some fans who were hopeful to return to key changes, there’s a lot more to not like.
“It’s hard not to feel like this update contained surprise ‘fixes’ that felt deliberately targeted at the speedrunning and competitive community with no room for discussion or compromise,” Taras, a Halo-focused content creator known as LateNightGaming on YouTube, told Kotaku.
Many of the loudest complaints are about challenges for the Last Spartan Standing mode. A free-for-all game type set on a large map, Last Spartan Standing gives you five lives, with no options to earn any more over the course of a round. Once you’re out, you’re out for the rest of the match, at which point you can spectate other players or quit out to the multiplayer lobby. A pop-up notification will say you can leave without penalty to your challenges, but players say that’s unreliable, at best.
For some, progress toward your challenges simply doesn’t seem to register. For others, you can successfully complete challenges and still not seem to register any progression for the two active battle passes. (Right now, in addition to the standard 100-level battle pass, there’s a secondary “event” battle pass going on. Upon completion, Last Spartan Standing challenges grant you progress toward both.)
“DON’T LEAVE YOUR MATCHES!,” one player warned. Others shared experiences of completed tasks that didn’t actually show up as completed, unless they waited for the match to wrap up. Some, go figure, shared memes. While technical issues on launch day aren’t uncommon in the world of video games, of course, this isn’t your typical day-one rollout: It’s coming significantly into the game’s life cycle, amid a player base that’s slowly dwindled for months, and is meant to not just stop the bleeding but to usher lapsed players back into the fold.
Speaking personally, I ran into a few issues with progression on launch night. I even tried 343’s recommendation (restarting the game) to no avail. Randomly, several matches after I knew I completed the requisite requirements for a few challenges, those challenges showed up as completed, but I still didn’t unlock any of the levels on the event battle pass. An hour or so later, I did. Weird.
That same evening, 343 Industries released a hotfix for busted challenges in both the Last Spartan Standing and typical Free-For-All playlists, but some players still say the problem persists. Last night, 343 Industries released a second hotfix intending to fix the same problems the first one purported to fix, which suggests the first one did not 100-per cent work as intended. Time will tell if this second one did the trick.
In any case, players will still (understandably) feel uncertainty so long as Last Spartan Standing doesn’t actually register challenge progress immediately. So, really, you’re given two options: Risk losing progress toward your challenges (not ideal!) or sit around and spectate each match as it plays out (zzz…).
The rollout of season two also seems to have skewered some fundamental gameplay mechanics. Inexplicably, this week’s massive update now apparently causes some guns to jam up. Austen Mikwen, a pro Halo player, cited the bug as a top reason he’s avoiding the game for the moment. Tyler “Spartan” Ganza, of the pro team eUnited, initially pointed to battle rifle jams as a reason he’s glad he takes breaks from Halo Infinite after big events. (eUnited finished in fourth place during this past weekend’s relentlessly kickass HCS Kansas City major tournament.) After eventually hopping into the game, he criticised the update, calling it “a fat fucking L” and “fucking pathetic.”
Ganza says he’s pivoted to playing Pokémon.
A fix for the issue, at least, is on 343’s radar: Halo senior community manager John Junyszek said the development team is looking into the problem. Key features planned for season two, including support for cooperative play in the game’s campaign, were pushed back to later in the summer, a decision the studio attributed as a preemptive measure to avoid putting developers through extended periods of overtime.
“I know things will get better, I know they will improve, I know the development teams at 343 care, and I know these bugs and issues hurt them as much as they hurt us,” NadeGod, a Halo content creator who streams on YouTube and Twitch, told Kotaku. “But [as] with any live service game, it all takes time.”
“We can only hope Halo Infinite becomes the next Apex or Sea of Thieves, instead of the next Anthem,” he added.
Season two’s rollout also comes with letdowns that aren’t apparent bugs, and were in fact intentional choices that were telegraphed beforehand. Informed players knew full well about them; they just didn’t fully anticipate the degree to which certain changes would impact the game.
In this week’s tome-sized patch notes, two lines stood out to high-skilled players: “Velocity gained from landing into a slide on a ramp has proportional reduction based on fall height” and “Removing or adjusting collision on small props and thin ledges.”
These lines refer to the removal of “skill jumps,” or pathways in multiplayer maps that may not technically be official or intentional but nonetheless allow you to make use of shortcuts. They’re enormously helpful, if used properly, and therefore a cornerstone of high-level play. One popular one, on the Streets map, involved bouncing off an awning and clambering up a ledge that’d otherwise require you to walk halfway around the map. It’s now done for, though players are already trying to devise replacement routes.
On Twitter, Tommy “Lucid” Wilson, arguably the best Halo Infinite player in the world right now, detailed six specific such jumps that were removed, writing, “Who asked for a single one of these?”
Literally no one, to take it from Alexander “Shyway” Hope, a professional Halo host and analyst. These movement techniques have no “negative effect on casual players,” Hope told Kotaku. Meanwhile, the best players in the game are almost certainly well aware of them, and have calibrated their playstyles to compensate. (Watch any Halo pro event from the first season and you’d have seen pro players making liberal use of skill jumps on basically every map.) Thanks to Halo Infinite’s skill-based matchmaking, too, it’s practically unheard of that players who know about skill jumps would end up in a match against players who don’t, so it’s not like their inclusion throws any profestations of balance out of whack.
If anything, patching skill jumps out of the game has done nothing beyond obliterating strategies that were honed — and agreed upon by the community — over the past six months.
“There was no pressing need to remove [their] impact,” Hope said. “At the very least, I think a public discussion about changes like this should be had, and insight from the most dedicated members of the fanbase should be considered.”
Before the patch, if you stood on top of a fusion coil (an explosive barrel), you could grapple it toward you, which would then launch you across extreme distances. Now, you’ll simply pick it up as if it’s any other piece of gear. The patch also removed the “scorpion gun,” which allowed players to get their hands on a portable version of a tank’s cannon…that just so happened to have unlimited ammo. Nade further told Kotaku that this week’s patch also removed a loophole that allowed you to commandeer a pelican dropship…that just so happened to be invincible. Speedrunners often combined those exploits to sprint through the campaign.
“I do think these changes should be reverted or at least discussed with the community,” Taras said.
That’s the general sense among the Halo Infinite community: that 343 Industries is implementing changes based on what they think is best, not on what the most devoted players want. Halo games have always been known for its “holy shit, you can do that?” moments (scaling the out-of-bounds mountains in Halo 2, or finding the devastating scarab gun in Halo 3). With this update, Halo Infinite now has fewer such moments.
“Why, when the game has so little content as it is, do I feel like the most passionate and dedicated part of the fanbase is being attacked without proper reasoning or transparency?” Hope said. “Why can’t the focus just be on adding content and fixing existing issues that are truly preventing this game’s success?”
In a blog post preceding season two’s launch, 343 Industries detailed the forthcoming modes expected over the next few months. Much of the focus was put on describing Last Spartan Standing, but 343 also described some killer-sounding game types — including a slayer variant that starts everyone with unlimited-ammo rocket launchers. Those are in addition to a rework of how free-for-all works in general. Season two makes it so free-for-all matches are now found under the Rumble Pit playlist, which bundles Slayer, Halo’s standard deathmatch, together with a slew of objective-based modes.
At the moment, those cool-sounding game variants are solely relegated to the Rumble Pit playlist, essentially excluding groups of friends from trying them out, since Halo Infinite does not allow multiple friends to play together in free-for-all modes. If 343 Industries isn’t planning on making those variants available in team-focused modes, players at the very least want to be able to party up with pals in Rumble Pit. These are, after all, some of the most patently ridiculous modes. No one’s hopping into a Slayer variant with unlimited rockets as a true test of mettle.
“It just makes no sense that we have to experience those modes and moments alone,” Nade said.
It’s unclear why multiple players can’t queue up for free-for-all playlists, whether or not it’s a technical limitation or an intentional design choice on 343’s part to, say, prevent players from teaming up and cheesing challenges related to such modes. When reached for comment on this story, representatives for 343 Industries did not immediately have any information to share.
Now, this is not to say Halo Infinite’s second season is shrouded entirely in doom and gloom, despite the multiplayer lobby literally having its weather switched from bluebird to overcast and rainy. There is, to reiterate, a lot to like.
The Catalyst map, a small-scale arena with stunning art direction reminiscent of Halo 3’s best maps, is the first Infinite battleground that truly feels like an old-school Halo map. Though I personally can’t stand it, Halo fans are largely positive about the new Last Spartan Standing mode. For traditionalists, Slayer now features a variant that starts you off with the wonderfully familiar battle rifle, which simply and undeniably rules. On the large-scale Fragmentation map, if you hit up the locked rooms in the map’s margins, you’ll now find the ridiculously overpowered (and ridiculously fun-to-use) weapon variants that previously only appeared in the campaign.
OMG.— iSpiteful (@iSpiteful) May 4, 2022
THE LOOT CAVES ON FRAGMENTATION NOW CONTAIN THE UPGRADED WEAPON VARIANTS FROM HALO INFINITE'S CAMPAIGN! pic.twitter.com/357f41s5w1
Nade called these “loot cave” variants a “very welcome addition.” He also pointed to a number of other tweaks — buffs to the ravager cannon, nerfs to the mangler pistol, balancing tweaks to melee attacks, and reworks of notoriously tough-to-pilot vehicles, including the banshee — as steps in the right direction. “Also, the addition of Jeff Steitzer back into Big Team Battle feels so good.” (Steizer has served as the announcer for Halo’s multiplayer mode since the series’ inception. He’s also by most accounts a good dude, and recently made headlines for vocally supporting trans rights.)
For Hope, meanwhile, the “Lone Wolves” update isn’t a total wash. Even though 343 Industries removed skill jumps, the studio didn’t do away with so-called “curb slides,” wherein you sort of clip a ledge with your feet to get a temporary burst of speed. That such a trick still exists is a bright spot, but not one absent its own shadow of anxiety. To a certain degree, Hope, who popularised the move in Infinite — his tutorial videos accrue tens of thousands of views across social media platforms — seems to shoulder some blame for the removal of skill jumps and is reticent to call further attention to curb slides, lest 343 kill those too.
“Now I’m stuck having to juggle the idea of whether or not I should teach people the things I enjoy in this game anymore,” he said. “They might patch curb sliding also [which would remove] one of the most exciting and unique mechanics to ever exist in a Halo game.”
For most players, sure, mastery of niche movement tactics may like a tiny thing, but it’s indicative of a broader matter: The unignorable wave of quality-of-life issues that no doubt prevents Halo Infinite from ascending to greatness, at least within the expected confines of modern shooters that update regularly with a steady stream of content, a la Fortnite. Possibly, that’s part of the issue here too: Expectations for what the game is (and can be under the stresses of a pandemic) and what fans want it to be are out of tune. The rollout of season two was looked upon by the community as a north star, with many pointing to its launch as the great resuscitation this legacy series needed — its second chance after a notoriously turbulent start.
“Lone Wolves” still has six months — with a ton more cool-seeming features in the pipe — to generate attention, but interest isn’t exactly screaming out of the gate.
On Steam, 24 hours after season two launched, Halo Infinite reached a peak of 21,000 players; that’s down from its all-time peak of more than ten times that, according to stat-tracking site SteamDB. It didn’t rocket into the top spot on its most popular platform, either. Not accounting for platform double-ups, Infinite leapt up the charts and became the fifth most-played game on Game Pass, a spot the shooter previously lost to Roblox. On Xbox proper, it’s currently the seventh most-played game. (Microsoft does not publicly share specific player counts.) Back in November, Halo Infinite debuted as the top-played game on Xbox consoles. In other words, plenty of room for growth.
“My faith in Halo Infinite hasn’t wavered,” Taras said. “I do believe the game will eventually be a game to be celebrated, but the time it’s taking for 343 to get the ball rolling is a test of patience, I won’t lie. It feels like the powers-at-be decided to make a live service game without being fully prepared for what that comes with.”