Everything you need to know about why I bounced off Halo Infinite shortly after launch can be encapsulated in a single word: crossplay.
I’m an ardent, long-time fan of the franchise, but it’s profoundly aggravating that I can’t opt out of it, not least because at its best, Halo’s multiplayer – whilst not without its issues – remains incredibly good fun. I’ve long considered it one of the fairest of its ilk, a game that awards not time spent but skill, effectively levelling the playing field. It’s you, it’s them, and it’s standard loadouts and a handful of special weapons and equipment items – camo, overshields and the like – that periodically spawn in around the map.
Forcing PC and Xbox players to crossplay together, however, flies in the face of that, and it’s so frustrating that six months after release, this still hasn’t been addressed – frustrating players on all sides, apparently. PC players are unhappy that console players have aim assist. Console players complain that, in fact, it’s PC players that have the advantage, not least because of access to cheats like wallhacks and aimbots. No one’s happy, and still, no one can opt out of it, even though the shooter’s free-to-play multiplayer modes were released back in November.
It’s just one of a smorgasbord of issues that continue to cast a shadow over Halo Infinite, and even developer 343 Industries itself – which seems to be endlessly apologising to players via its Halo Waypoint updates and issuing numerous updates – has deemed the launch of its second season, subtitled Lone Wolves, as “bumpy”. But even after giving the shooter’s new season a couple of weeks to bed in, Halo Infinite sadly still feels an incomplete, and gratuitous, slog.
Lone Wolves – a jarring contradiction to Halo Reach’s insistence that we “leave that lone wolf stuff behind”, albeit one 343i acknowledges – arrived at the beginning of May, fresh with the promise of more stuff to do, including new modes, maps, events, and the interminable battle pass.
The most notable new arrival is Last Spartan Standing, an interesting Attrition-esque new mode that sees you take on 11 other players. With just five respawns, you need to hang on for as long as possible, shooting anything that moves in order to collect points and upgrade your gear as the battle royale-inspired shrinking circle closes in around you.
It’s now available to play across all the game’s Big Team Battle maps but the bulk of my time with Last Spartan Standing was spent on the new map Breaker, a playground that feels way too expansive for twelve players. I spent half my time looking for someone to fight, and the other half being headshotted by enemies I couldn’t even see, let alone challenge.
Unlike other tactical games of its ilk, however, choosing to lay low comes at a risk. An overly defensive playstyle means you won’t accumulate the points you need to upgrade stuff, so if you’re a hide-and-never-seek kind of player – as I often am – you run the risk of encountering fully stacked enemies towards the end. It’s not quite the same as taking on enemies with Apex Legends’ Mozambique or PUBG’s frying pan – even the vanilla weapons in Last Spartan Standing pack a delightful punch – but it’s worth bearing in mind. As does exiting your match after your lives have been spent; a pop-up promises that you won’t be penalised for quitting if you don’t want to spectate, but my XP and I are yet to be convinced that that’s true.
We also see a refreshed return of King of the Hill – it’s all a bit hectic for me – and Land Grab, an “objective-based arena mode” which I can’t talk about as it didn’t launch alongside the new season. It’s hard to begrudge any map additions, though; a change of scenery is rarely a bad thing, and I’ve grown particularly fond of Catalyst’s claustrophobic corridors and catwalks which sits proudly in Halo’s long tradition of superb and challenging multiplayer maps.
I really find it hard to care about the cosmetics, though. The battle pass is stuffed with the things, but even the items that drop a little head nod towards Infinite’s predecessors don’t do anything for me. That’s not to say I want rewards to give me a battle advantage – I categorically do not believe anyone should be able to buy better in-game gear – but beyond supporting a F2P studio, I’ve often struggled to understand why you’d buy a battle pass, let alone this one. At least with Destiny 2’s F2P battle pass – whilst also not without its problems – you can unlock a few upgrade materials; here, there’s nowt much else at all. Its sole redeeming feature is that should you decide to buy the premium version and then fail to complete it – we’ve all been there, right? – it’ll remain available to you even after the season officially expires. So that’s nice.
A lacklustre battle pass system is further compounded by daily challenges that offer measly rewards for sometimes very demanding requests, though, and no matter how much 343i tinkers with the details, the balance never feels quite right. And that’s the main takeaway from everything Lone Wolves has to offer, really.
Sure, there’s more content still to come, but what season 2 has delivered thus far just isn’t enough, and almost every positive has a caveat bolted alongside it. The new maps are great, but there are not enough of them. The gunplay’s fabulous, but there still seems to be a lot of cheaters cluttering up lobbies. The battle pass doesn’t expire, but it’s only going to appeal to those who can rustle up the energy to care about cosmetics. Add all that with the studio’s inexplicable choices – one was to nerf skill jumps, much to the chagrin of its players – and it feels like even in Season 2, 343i isn’t innovating as much as its endlessly apologising and fixing prior mistakes.
I adore Halo for its solid gunplay and satisfying headshots, and let there be no doubt: those things are very much still there today. But without a compelling progression system that fairly rewards its community of committed players, it’s unclear how long they’ll be satisfied with that. As it stands, Lone Wolves is a good start, but it still might not offer anywhere near enough to tempt lapsed Spartans back to the fight.