The surprise release of Halo Infinite multiplayer on Monday delighted long-time fans of the series, marking the 20th anniversary of Xbox and the franchise as a whole a few weeks before the campaign arrives in December. It helps that 343 Industries has knocked it out of the park with the game’s feel and tone, but that hasn’t stopped a handful of persistent complaints coming from the fanbase, in particular with regard to player progression.
While Microsoft might want to call it a beta to preserve the notion that the game is actually releasing on 8th December alongside the campaign, that’s about as convincing as Google calling Gmail a beta for more than five years. This game is out now. It’s playable by anyone, you can spend money in it to buy a battle pass and cosmetics, and all of your progress carries forward to the full release. It’s as out as the milk you forgot to put back in the fridge after making your tea.
Better than a beta
Fortunately, unlike a few too many games that release with a few days of early access to sucker in pre-orders, it also feels like a refined and finished product. This is a game that straddles the divide between classic Halo 2/3 multiplayer and more modern sensibilities that demand sprinting, aim down sights, and a lower time to kill. Death doesn’t come for you anywhere near as fast as in Call of Duty, but this is about as quick as Halo has ever been.
There’s also a great range of modes, whether you’re diving into the main Quick Play pool for 4v4 matches of Slayer, Oddball and CTF on small, tailor-made maps, or embracing the new and more expansive chaos of 24-player Big Team Battle modes. It’s the latter where I’ve really found my groove, embracing the larger maps, the plethora of targets, the more varied weaponry, and the ability to hop into vehicles at various times.
It also looks great with a clean, sharp visual style that comes across brilliantly when playing on Xbox Series X.
A couple days in and I love it.
But it could still be better.
Halo Infinite multiplayer progression sucks.
OK, so that’s a bit hyperbolic, but the necessary evil of featuring a battle pass to turn a profit on a free to play game has led to a miserly and slow challenge-based progression system.
100 levels of something or other
Scrolling through the 100 levels of the Season 1 battle pass, which is set to run from now until May 2022, you will find just a small handful of exciting armour pieces and collections to unlock. The highlights are the armour sets that replicate the suits worn by characters from Halo Reach – Heroes of Reach is the name of the first season, after all – but aside from those there’s barely any exciting unlocks. It’s only really when you look back at the whole suite of things you’ve unlocked that you might see the potential to curate your own look and style.
It’s worse for people that don’t want to pay, with pretty much no meaningful customisation outside of armour colour to start with and the rewards you get are so scant they might as well not be there. There’s just 26 cosmetic unlocks, some of which are as granular as individual shoulder pads, AI colour and model (which I don’t know if you can see during gameplay), and visor colours. They all feel so inconsequential.
It’s all well and good saying that Halo didn’t need a battle pass to keep people playing in the past, and that should be true, but once you dangle this particular carrot, you better make sure that it’s still nice and crunchy. This game is still great fun to play, but that’s despite the actual method of progressing through the levels and battle pass.
At all times you have one daily challenge and three or four weekly challenges to complete – the fourth slot is enabled for those with the paid battle pass. These push and pull you away from simply playing the game as you would naturally by regularly tasking you with capturing and delivering a CTF flag, killing an enemy in a capture zone, getting X amount of kills with a particular weapon, and so on.
Putting the chore into challenges
The problem is, and it’s something that I noted when reviewing Battlefield V which had a similar system which has since been ditched for Battlefield 2042. Each challenge is only tracked when it’s active, putting more and more pressure on you to play in a particular way that might not suit your style. Get a challenge to blow up five ghosts, and you’ll spend match after match chasing after this particular white whale, losing sight of the game mode and actual objective and getting more and more frustrated as things don’t go your way. I’ve currently got a challenge to defeat enemies with the Commando. The gun barely stands up to the main assault rifle that you spawn with, making this a real chore.
This was all complained about during the Halo Infinite multiplayer beta tests over the last few months, and 343 Industries claimed that they heard the criticism and would make changes. You see that primarily through the daily challenge, which will constantly be replaced when completed and is cycling through challenge after challenge that simply says to complete matches. These equated to handing out 50 XP per match, it seems. That’s 20 basic matches for a single level, or more than 3 hours of play with no other challenges completed. On average, you’ll earn one actual customisation item every four levels from the free progression.
It’s great that 343 has avoided the gambling mechanics of loot boxes, that they’ve committed to battle passes that will not expire and not wanting their game to feel like a second job, but the system they’ve settled on isn’t quite right and feels discouraging.
What’s the fix?
So, how to fix it? 343 Industries has several options available to them. The first change should be to make the first 5-10 levels unlock quicker, reducing their XP requirements, while also better highlighting that you are actually earning XP simply for playing a match.
More fundamentally, they could detach the XP for playing from the challenge system. Further avenues of progression could come from handing out XP for earning medals in a match for things like getting 5 AR kills, multikills, and so on, or for overarching player stats, so you can always feel like you have something you’re working towards.
Ultimately this is a bit of a distraction from the fact that Halo Infinite multiplayer is great fun to play. 343 Industries already have special events and unlocks planned that will let people get more customisation options, and I’m sure that change will come in due course, the team hopefully figuring out how to make the rewards they dangle feel meaningful and the road you travel less of a chore.