Halo is back, and in glorious fashion with the release of Halo Infinite multiplayer. Having once defined the multiplayer shooter for consoles, the series has spent the last generation searching for relevance against the powerhouse franchises and upstart new game modes, but Halo Infinite shows that many of the things that made Halo a multiplayer icon in the first place are just as relevant and enjoyable today.
While Microsoft’s official release date for Halo Infinite is 8th December and have labelled its early multiplayer release as a beta, we consider it to be a full release. You are able to spend money within the free-to-play game’s store, all of your progression and unlocks will remain with you, and the beta includes all maps and modes that will be available at launch. It’s on this basis that we are reviewing and scoring the free-to-play multiplayer separately from the paid single player campaign.
Where Halo Infinite’s multiplayer immediately delights fans of the series is in how the fundamental gameplay feels. It’s speedier than classic Halo, that’s for sure, the TTK (time to kill) is lower, the weapons often feel that bit punchier, but you’re not as reliant on split-second reactions are you are in Call of Duty and you very often have time to dodge, dance and try to make a comeback in a one-on-one fight. It excellently straddles the line between Bungie’s games and the zeitgeist chasing that we saw with 343 Industries’ Halo 4 and Halo 5. As an example, Halo 5’s dodge move is still found in Infinite, but only as a limited use pickup alongside the new grappling hook and threat sensor.
When you spawn in, you do so with the standard Assault Rifle and Pistol duo, all of the other guns and equipment that you want spawning at defined points around each map. There’s a good selection of weapons, all with strengths and weaknesses and relevant use cases. Covenant energy weapons are great for sapping shields, while kinetic weapons do more damage once shields are drained. There’s also a smattering of new electrical weapons that we haven’t seen before, great for stalling vehicles and leaving their pilots and gunners vulnerable.
Some weapons do require you to adjust and use them in specific ways, making them tricky to justify picking up, but on the whole, it feels like there’s a good balance across the arsenal of options. Your starting weaponry will absolutely let you compete – if anything, they’re almost too good in comparison to pick up weapons like the Commando and the Ravager, both of which currently need too much skill to get the best from. Part of the problem is that you don’t have any experience of using them from the campaign, getting used to all of these weapons being done on the fly as you first encounter the randomised weapon pools each match presents to you. It’s fair to say that there’s a solid and enjoyable core with rebalancing sure to elevate the current unloved options.
There’s a few overarching game types where you can put all of these weapons into practice: 4v4 Arena modes in both Quick Play and Ranked, and the more expansive, vehicle-laden chaos of 12v12 Big Team Battle. For this current week, we also have the limited time Fiesta mode, which takes standard 4v4 Slayer matches, but has you spawn with random weapons each life. It can be utter chaos with so many power weapons in play.
These are all modes that we’ve seen before in the Halo series – though Big Team Battle is bigger than ever with 24 players instead of 16 – but when so much of Infinite’s gameplay and design is like comfort food for Halo fans, that’s exactly what it needs. It might take a little while to get into the swing of things, especially if the siren call of the Halo theme music is bringing you back to a multiplayer FPS for the first time in years, but that first time you stick someone with a grenade, run someone down with a fully loaded Warthog, that first multi-kill, the first nail-biting CTF match that runs into overtime, the time you top the scoreboards… it’s magical.
For all the good, the fantastic and brilliant that Halo Infinite does, its launch has been mired by all the hallmarks of free-to-play money-spinning and ‘Games as a Service’ platform building. There’s a battle pass to buy and progress through, and a store filled with cosmetics that are priced so high as to make a mockery of the notion that their transactions are “micro”. It’s these two elements that have largely come to define the progression through the game, and to put it plainly, it’s an area that 343 Industries and Microsoft have got completely wrong, even after the hasty tweaks to the system last week. For free players, there’s a feeling that there’s barely any crumbs of cosmetics to unlock, for battle pass players, there’s a few nibbles, maybe a breadstick or two, but the banquet of customisation is reserved only for those who will happily shell out £7, £10, £15 and more for a few showy cosmetics.
It’s made worse by the method of your progression, with a number of weekly challenges handed out that task you with completing certain feats within game. These were far too taxing at launch and have been made noticeably more simplistic, but you will still have to do things like get 15 kills with a Warthog turret or particular weapon, stick an enemy with a grenade, capture flags, and so on, in addition to the more basic kill count objectives. They’re just not particularly fun and the system as a whole needs to be reconsidered. Coming from previous games where it was your time and game performance that mattered for levelling up, these can now force you toward playing in particular ways, not actively chasing the mode’s objective. It can sour the game for yourself if you’re stuck on a challenge, and for teammates who are now hampered by teammates doing gods knows what. It’s been fascinating to see how players started this week going hell for leather in Fiesta, but now that there’s more demanding challenges like getting kill streaks in the mode, even this fun diversion has slowed to sweatier play styles.
It’s easy to try and excuse this as a necessary tradeoff for the multiplayer being free to play, but there are plenty of free to play games out there that are much more generous through both free and premium battle passes. It’s also easy to suggest that you should simply enjoy playing the game itself and not concern yourself with trivial cosmetics, but Halo games have had cosmetics and unlocks for almost all the way through the series. Halo Infinite doesn’t have a progression system, a rank or level that is separate and distinct from your battle pass, no overarching goal anymore, other than to grind through the season’s content.
Where Halo 2 and Halo 3 pioneered what could be done through the use of player statistics, with detailed and granular data available to view, from kill death ratios, individual weapon performance and accuracy percentages, and Halo 3’s excellent heat maps to show danger areas on a map-by-map basis, Halo Infinite has none of that. You know it’s tracked, because you see the particulars during and at the end of each match, but it’s for 343’s eyes only after that point.
There’s also a very minimalist approach to the playlists on offer. With just 4v4 Quick Play, Big Team Battle, Ranked Arena and the current event playlist available, and no way to choose a particular mode. Some of the quirkier game modes like Grif Ball are missing, sure to be trotted out as a weekly event with themed cosmetics in future. This means that if you’re handed a challenge to play and win CTF matches, you better cross your fingers it comes up in the rotation. It’s a shame, because Halo made a name for itself with its sprawl of varied and fun game modes, and customisable experiences.
Halo Infinite is a fantastic showcase of just how brilliant Halo multiplayer can be, its fundamental gameplay and the mix of small and larger-scale modes a joy to play. It’s just a shame that so much of that is being clouded by the dismal battle pass, paid cosmetics and unsatisfying progression. Halo Infinite is a must play game for shooter fans, but it’s one that also needs to change course if it’s going to survive in the long haul.