Halo and co-op have gone together since Halo Combat Evolved launched alongside the original Xbox. For many players, it’s been a core part of the Halo experience, but as with couch co-op’s decline in general, we’ve seen this feature sliding down the priorities list. As bitterly disappointing as it was to see the lack of Halo Infinite co-op at launch, the Campaign Network Co-op Test is now live – Master Chief and Master Chief 2 (and Master Chief 3 and Master Chief 4) are finally reunited in battle once again.
Before we dive into Halo Infinite’s co-op experience, it’s important to remind yourself of what the series has offered in the past. The first two games on original Xbox featured two player local split-screen co-op only, but as the 360 dawned and online gaming truly became utterly integral to consoles, this expanded to four players online, with two locally.
That setup held true through the 360 generation, and the original game limits were even preserved for Halo: The Master Chief Collection (enhanced with online play where it was missing before), but then things changed for Halo 5 Guardians. Couch co-op was the standard no more, the need to push graphical excellence on the Xbox One too great to support split-screen, and as 343 Industries sought to mix up the storytelling of the franchise, they added more distinct characters for players to join in with.
But the reaction to that change was so negative that it sent 343 back to the drawing board yet again. Halo Infinite was a game with grand ambitions to win back a fanbase that was disheartened by Halo: TMCC’s broken multiplayer at launch, as well as reset the franchise after what many felt were missteps with Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians’ gameplay and story, development proved to be more arduous and drawn out than hoped. The planned release in November 2020 slipped to 2021, and with the need to deliver, 343 made cuts to the game in order to get it out the door last December. Co-op was one of those core features, but now, at long last, 343 has delivered. It’s online only for now, but there is the dangled promise of split-screen co-op coming in ‘Season 3’ later this year.
Simply put, Halo Infinite in co-op is a bundle of fun. It took all of 5 seconds for us to start shooting each other once we spawned into the game, trying to get the Spartan fratricide out of our systems. It’s an absolute blast to be able to hop into a Warthog together and assault an outpost, the amount of combat chaos that you can create amplified by having two, three or four Chiefs charging into the fray. It amplifies what was already a game that pretty much perfected the Halo gameplay feel for a modern era.
Then there’s the shenanigans, with one of my favourite quirks to discover being that you can grapple onto a buddy Spartan while they themselves are grappling through the world, accelerating you through the sky even faster and further. We had fun with two of us doing this, but it’s already providing highlights online with four players.
Rampaging through the world, it does feel like you can step the difficulty up at least one or two notches when playing in co-op. While 343 has stated that there have been tweaks to the AI so that they can focus on multiple players, the number and difficulty of them hasn’t really been altered, reducing the challenge that you’re facing compared to the equivalent in single player.
It’s great to have co-op, but there are a number of oddities to how this has been integrated. Let’s start with the positives. Every player comes into this with their own campaign save file, and they’ll make individual progress in completing and unlocking missions, capturing parts of the map, and more. However, to enable this, the game will compare all the save files before launching a campaign, starting you back at the earliest point that any player has reached. If one of you has yet to even start the campaign, then you’ll be right back to the start of the game. Similarly, if any one player has missed an FOB, Spartan Core or other world item, that will be shown on the world map. So yes, you do have your own individual progress saved, but you could be trudging through the early game quite a few times if you don’t have regular co-op buddies.
Then there’s the “Area Of Operations” system, a leash that prevents players from getting too far apart from one another. Halo Infinite has a lot of the feel of an open world game, but in co-op, you’re restricted and forced to stay within 1,000 feet or a shade over 300 metres of your buddies. That does allow for there to be a fair distance between you, and once warned you get a marker showing the distance to your buddy, but it’s a shame when there’s so many other online co-op games that give you free reign to go and do whatever you wish.
On a more pragmatic level, it’s an understandable concession. For the upcoming split-screen co-op, letting players go to completely different places would be a vast amount of pressure on the system to maintain so many different world assets. That’s not really an issue when purely thinking of online, but 343 can’t overlook couch play, even if it’s not ready yet. There’s also the history of Halo’s co-op, where every game so far has featured purely linear levels with a plentiful and forgiving checkpointing system, in which players lagging behind would be warped forward whenever someone passes the threshold between level areas – this is replicated here whenever you trigger a mission cutscene.
By and large, the two hours we spent playing felt pretty solid. 343 has built this on dedicated servers to enhance stability, and for most of our playtime, that held up. However, toward the end of our session, we did notice laggy moments starting to appear more often. A mini boss encounter was also skipped during the Excavation Site mission, and trying to jump back to a previous mission with the Mission Reply feature left us stuck on a loading screen. There’s some kinks to be worked out before this can be fed through to the live game, but the foundations seem pretty solid.
It’s been a long time coming, but the dawn of co-op in Halo Infinite is great to see. It’s a further showcase for just how well 343 Industries renovated the Halo FPS experience for this game, even if there’s still plenty of room for improvement elsewhere.