Microsoft did us all a solid by dropping Halo: Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer like a freaking ODST from the sky when we weren’t expecting it. It was a big-boy play by Microsoft and was instantly rewarded by a tidal wave of people downloading and jumping into what many consider to be the year’s biggest release. To the credit of Microsoft and 343 everything held up well and Halo: Infinite’s launch wasn’t plagued by the server crashes, bugs and glitches that most other launches these days get hit by. And yes, I’m looking directly at Battlefield 2032 as I type this. A few weeks on and just days ahead of the Halo: Infinite campaign launching, I’m here to review the multiplayer. Am I late to the party? Yup, but to be perfectly honest, that’s because I’ve been playing Halo: Infinite and couldn’t be arsed to write this when I could be nailing headshots like I nailed your mum. Oh God, this game brings out the teenager in me.
Note: I’m reviewing the campaign and the multiplayer separately because in my eyes they are separate products. One is free-to-play and standalone, the other is a full-priced singleplayer campaign, so I think this is the way to go.
But let’s assume for a moment that you haven’t seen, touched, played or even read about Halo. A baffling concept, yes, but let’s roll with it: this is an arena-style FPS in many ways with power weapons littering the map that can turn a regular Spartan into a death-dealing douchebag. Movement is fast, the jump is bouncy, the grenades are a pleasure to toss and the Warthogs are heaps of fun to drive. Despite looking like a tank that has been magically transformed into human form, Spartans are light on their feet, faster than the wind and pack more of a punch than Mike Tyson after he’s been told somebody ate the last slice of pizza. 343 Succeed on every level of making controlling a Spartan feel special, and that translates to every aspect of the gameplay, from movement to combat.
Whether you prefer the more intimate 4v4 of Quick Play or Ranked, or like myself love the messier mayhem of 12v12 Big Team Battles, the very core gameplay that determines whether Halo: Infinite is fun is damn near flawlessI haven’t had this much fun in a multiplayer shooter in years, and the key to that, I think, is the time it takes to kill an enemy player. Games like Call of Duty focus on fast kills, making firefights a case of whoever shoots first wins. But in Halo that time is much longer, giving gunfights a much more dynamic quality. If you get hit from behind you’ll be at a disadvantage but you still have a big chance to turn the fight around through better accuracy, better movement or better use of the environment. This is why I dedicated hundreds of hours to Halo: Reach back in the day, and it feels great to be back in the fight.
Of course, the longer time to kill does typically make any fight where you’re outnumbered a foregone conclusion, although epic saves are always possible. In something like Fortnite or Call of Duty, getting the jump on 2 players will often let you wipe out both, whereas in Halo unless you hit them from behind with a melee attack both parties are going to get involved in kicking your ass. Mind you, it’s a team game, so you really aren’t meant to be charging headlong into groups of foes without backup anyway. Not that the average online player seems to understand such complicated concepts such as maths.
One of the biggest tweaks to the formula comes in the form of the old MA40 Assault Rifle. Sure, it’s a Halo staple but in the past you’d usually ditch it quicker than that one drunk friend who overshares whenever you hit the bar. This time around it’s a far more capable weapon and is actually one of the better choices for close-range fights because it’ll melt a Spartan’s shield fast, letting you swap to the pistol for that decisive headshot. Suddenly you aren’t ditching the AR for a BR with a promise to BRB. The default Sidekick pistol is a bit of a beast too, and I’ve seen damn good players use it instead of the assault rifle. Twelve rounds doesn’t leave you much room to screw up, but if you have the accuracy of a cougar in a bar hunting down stupid young then the pistol is lethal.
Another tweak is found in the radar system. Just like in the previous games sprinting, firing your weapon or farting makes you show up on the radar, but now the distance has been reduced to a mere 8m. I like this because it makes flanking foes and sneaking into enemy territory much easier to pull off. You have to be more visually alert now, keeping the radar as a useful tool that should not be relied upon entirely. And if you want extra ninja awesomeness the returning Active Camo equipment is now a powerful tool, turning you nearly invisible provided you don’t sprint. I’ve used it numerous times to walk into an enemy base, steal their flag and walk calmly out.
In the small, frantic 4v4 matches there’s a selection of modes starting with the classic Slayer, where it’s simply a case of reaching 50 kills before the other team does. Capture the Flag is exactly what you’d expect, played across tight maps with exciting grabs and defences. Strongholds revolve around grabbing and holding bits of the map to score points, where the secret is usually to hunker down and hold two points rather than spreading thin and seeking to control all three. And finally, there’s Oddball, where holding a skull awards points.
At the opposite end of the spectrum lies Big Team Battles with its three bigger maps, more players and vehicles. These bigger arenas still aren’t huge by the standards of other games, but their size is perfectly judged to keep the action flowing, be it long-range sniper battles, Scorpion tanks laying siege to a base or a bunch of Spartans throwing grenades at each other. All three of the maps feature bases at opposite ends, with Deadlock being the most open of the trio.
Not everything is absolutely perfect, of course. A couple of weapons feel fairly useless, such as the new Ravager that spews out red globs, although its ability to charge up and create a floor of fire can be useful in certain game modes. Perhaps the best example is the classic Halo Plasma Pistol which has been so heavily nerfed that I still haven’t seen a single player using it. For starters, its charge ability to EMP vehicles is gone. Thankfully a fully charged blast can still decimate a Spartan’s shields in a single hit, but the homing ability of the shot has been heavily reduced making it quite tricky to consistently use. Highly skilled people with the aiming abilities of Hawkeye may be able to pull off kills with it, but for plebs like me the Plasma Pistol is currently more useless than a politician in….actually, just a politician in general.
On the other hand, the Skewer is a badass new addition that hurls giant bolts at people, capable of killing a Spartan in a single hit and of annihilating vehicles in just two. That level of power is offset by the fact that it has to be reloaded after every shot and sticking a new bolt in takes a while. You’ve got other choices, too, like the Mangler, a big-ass one-handed beast that fires chunky slugs that have drop-off but that also pack a wallop. The Cindershot delivers bouncing explosives and the projectiles can also be controlled via you’re aiming reticle, meaning you can follow players and even turn corners for hilarious kills. As for the shotgun it has been nerfed so that it can’t deliver a one-hit kill anymore which might annoy hardcore fans but it’s a change for the better, I reckon.
The power weapons are as awesome to use as they sound, whether it’s the brutal sniper rifle that delivers one-hit headshot kills or the satisfying Gravity Hammer. As much as I love using it, though, I do think the Energy Sword needs fewer charges than it has because right now in the hands of even a semi-skilled player the sword can leave a swathe of Spartans in its wake.
The single best new addition to the Halo formula is the Grapple Hook which you can pick up from equipment points around the map. This simple tool adds so many cool gameplay tricks. For starters, you can hook onto any part of the environment and then hurl yourself around, creating a deadly combo with a Gravity Hammer or Energy Sword because you basically becoming a freaking ninja that can drop from the sky and wreck enemies. I’ve had so much fun learning how to get around with the grapple, how to flank people, how to reach absurd places. But on top of that, the grapple can be used to grab weapons and even flags in Capture the Flag and can be used to grapple onto enemies or vehicles. Hell, you can even hijack enemy aircraft with the grapple and so clever use of the environment to get the height.
After just a few weeks of playing with the grapple, I can’t actually imagine Halo without it now. It fits so well into the movement and the gameplay that it feels like it has always been there.
The Repulsor is another new piece of gear that can be snatched up and while it may not be as impactful as the grapple it is still a damn fine addition. Its most basic use is to shove opponent’s backwards, but with some creative thinking, it can be used to throw grenades and even plasma balls from a Wraith back at the opposition. You can toss enemy Spartans off a cliff with it, or even hurl a vehicle at somebody for a quick kill which never gets old.
We do need to talk about melee because emptying a clip into a Spartan while you run at them to take out their shield and then smacking them in the face is the time-honoured Halo move. For Infinite 343 have employed a soft-body system that lets players literally walk through each other. That does stop people annoying the shit out entire teams by blocking doorways, but it also makes fights kind of…weird. Couple this with melee attacks seemingly not registering quite often and you have a wonky head-bonky system that can make the finale of brutal fights idiotic and even downright frustrating. I’ve lost countless matchups despite being absolutely sure my melee hit connected with the enemy’s helmet.
When you tie all the combat mechanics together, Halo has arguably never felt so damn good as it does in Infinite. Every fight feels dynamic, playing out markedly different almost every single time. You’ll slide underneath a jumping enemy to hit someone else with an Energy Sword, you’ll hijack a leaping Warthog with the grapple, you’ll annihilate a whole squad with a rocket launcher, you’ll sneak into the enemy base for a daring Flag raid, you’ll encounter awesome acts of accidental teamwork, you’ll drive a Mongoose through a hail of fire then leap off it and somehow make it behind cover. Nearly every match I played had some memorable moment that made me cheer in triumph, laugh at the insanity or groan in defeat because someone pulled off a hell of a trick. Whether you’re winning or lose, Halo: Infinite plays smoother and more satisfyingly than the Master Chief’s voice.
And that’s where most of the praise ends.
As a free-to-play game, Halo: Infinite has a few tricks to make money, one of which is the Battlepass system. As you earn XP you’ll rank up on the pass, unlocking things like new armour pieces, colours, challenge swaps and XP boosts. You can do this for free, or you can opt for the reasonably priced premium Battlepass for around £7 which provides twice the amount of unlocks, with a lot of the armour only accessible to paying Battlepass members. Considering the Pass lasts months, I don’t have any issues with the idea. £7 is more than fair for something I love playing anyway.
That brings us to the much-maligned progression system which 343 say they are already working on. Cruise the Internet and you’ll find plenty of people arguing that you should just play the game for the game’s sake, not to chase pointless skins and other gumph. They are right, of course – you ultimately should play to have fun. However, a good progression system can augment that fun, giving players extra things to push toward while also having a blast. Personally, I’m a sucker for a good progression system because I love to have goals I can aim for. Plus, the Battle Pass system is part of the game, so I have to talk about it and include it in my overall opinion.
The short answer is it sucks. Only time will tell if 343 can make is suck less.
You can earn XP simply for playing the game, with the first 6 matches of each day awarding bonus XP, starting at 300XP before dropping to the flat rate of 50XP per game. At 1000XP per level, you can earn one level on the Battlepass every day by jumping into and completing six matches, and then after that you can continue to grind away.
The rest of your Battle Pass progress will be done via the Weekly Challenges that range from 250-400xp and include stuff like playing 3 Oddball matches, getting 20 kills with a Pistol, scoring Killing Sprees, winning 17 matches and so on. It’s a clumsy system and very few matches go by without seeing at least one or two players clearly attempting to complete specific challenges rather than go for the objective. It’s not so bad if the challenges coincide with regular gameplay, but often they don’t, so if you want to advance on the Battle Pass you need to play in odd, counter-intuitive ways. Consumables unlocked in the Battle Pass can be used to swap challenges if you want
And that brings me to the fact that your actual match performance, whether you win or lose and even the medals you garner for impressive feats count for absolutely nothing. Provided you’re in the game you’ll get your XP, so even if you have the best game of your life with 40 kills to zero deaths and you single-handedly capture every flag you’ll still get the same amount of XP. Hell, considering how many Spartans I’ve seen standing in corners, I wonder if people are simply queueing up for matches and then ambling off to do something else so they can grind Battle Pass levels. Even a small 50xp bonus for winning would encourage more folk to play the objective.
Another problem is the lack of playlists for specific modes. Whether you opt for the messy Big Team Battles or Quick Play, every game mode is lumped together, so you have just as much chance to play Capture the Flag as you do Slayer. That would work perfectly fine provided every player was happy to play every mode, but the reality is much different. Many people only want to play Slayer, while other people, like me, want to focus on the objective modes. In fact, I don’t enjoy Slayer modes at all, so any time it pops up I brace myself for misery. As a consequence of this system, I’ve seen dozens of players who evidently don’t want to be playing Capture the Flag and are instead focusing on chasing kills, even going so far as to ignore the flag in front of them that a team-mate has died to get there.
There are huge problems with the customization system, too, which 343 claimed was going to be the best yet. We were supposed to be able to craft our dream Spartan’s from dozens and dozens of chest plates, helmets, shoulder pads, gloves and knees. Since the days of Halo: Reach this has been a big part of the franchise, with many people creating their own stories that explain why their Spartan’s are decked out a certain way. But what we’ve gotten is a horrendously clunky and limiting system.
Almost all of the issues boil down to the Armour Cores and how parts can’t be freely mixed and matched. Let’s use the helmets as an example; currently, there are 30 in total, not counting what you can buy in the shop. Those get split across the armour cores, though, with the armour core you get from the Battle Pass being the one that gets the lion’s share. And so what you wind up with is less than a dozen helmets to pick from even for the armour with the most available, and even then you’re still limited by which helmets you unlocked via the Battlepass. Remember, the Battlepass is linear, so everyone is getting the same gear at roughly the same rate. It’s infuriating to go into the customization to check out a new shoulder pad only to find out you can’t use it with your current armour so you swap over only to find out now you can’t use the damn helmet you like.
As an example of the level of bullshit going on, 343 have said that cross-core customization isn’t possible, and yet AI bots actually mix and match armour pieces with seemingly no limitations showing that it’s completely possible. Let us use whatever pieces we have to create unique Spartans.
The most baffling thing is how armour colours are likewise limited in their use. You can only use certain colour sets with certain Armour Cores. And if you buy certain visual styles from the store you can’t change anything at all. I decided to treat myself and bought a sweet black and blue colour scheme on the store, only to discover that it would only work with one specific set of armour. So now if I want to use a new helmet, shoulder pad or bracer I have to lose my sweet colour scheme. Thanks, 343.
Speaking of buying stuff, the prices are utterly absurd. £14.39 for a set of armour!? £7 for a colour scheme!? These prices are insane, and on top of that, the store refreshes so if you don’t grab that colour or armour piece it could be months before it returns. And of course, you can’t simply buy items, instead, you have to purchase credits first which means frequently having to buy more than you need. Systems where you have to purchase any form of “credits” are utter bullshit and serve as nothing more than a petty way to get people to pay extra money.
Leaked shop bundles indicate plans for a further 88 bundles coming to the shop with a total value of over £1000. Take that bit of information however you wish.
The other big issue Hal Infinite currently faces is the lack of content, a tricky thing to talk about in free-to-play games since they tend to be designed with a slow drip of new content in mind. However, the ten maps we’ve got feel like slim pickings, especially since that leaves Big Team Battle, my favourite mode, with just three locations. 343 have already committed to bringing modes like SWAT and Fiesta into the game by Christmas which will certainly help alleviate my content concerns, but I still think it should have launched with a more robust choice of maps and modes.
There are also some other basic options missing that you might expect to find in a shooter. Where are all my stats? Why can’t I find information on how many games I’ve played, what my K/D ratio is or even how many of each medal I’ve gotten? Custom game mode, a series staple, is missing loads of standard options like choosing what weapons and gear players spawn with. This is a truly odd omission because custom games were responsible for keeping the series alive between releases, with content creators streaming the latest mad creations from the community. It also appears to be somewhat borked, because sometimes A.I. bots won’t load in or other odd things will happen.
With that said, the rest of the game is quite well polished. It runs buttery smooth, and the biggest glitch I’ve encountered stops certain points during Total Control matches being captured, turning the whole thing into a game of Slayer. Outside of that, the glitches have been minor and funnier than anything else.
Microsoft could not have chosen a better time to drop Halo: Infinite’s multiplayer. As we near Christmas, Microsoft have been given relatively free reign by both Sony and Nintendo who have no big first-party titles coming out, leaving MS to push out Age of Empires 4, Forza: Horizon 5 and Halo: Infinite. But on top of that you have Call of Duty: Vanguard which has seen 40% less sales than last years game, and the new Battlefield launching in disastrous form. What better time is there for Halo’s multiplayer to be released?
While I await the campaign with bated breath and a sense of trepidation, the multiplayer is absurdly fun, and even if the new campaign sucks I don’t think I’ll feel as let-down because I know I can hop onto Big Team Battle and bounce people into pits, nail insane Skewer shots, engage in some of the sweetest combat around and generally just have a damn good time. I just wish 343 and Microsoft hadn’t blundered so badly with the Battle Pass, progression and show, especially since they have so many examples to have taken inspiration from. So yeah, there’s some big problems within Halo: Infinite.
Here’s the thing, though: ignore the progression. Don’t even think about the Battlepass. Don’t play purely to unlock customisation items. Do these things and what you’re getting is an awesome multiplayer FPS that provides some of the slickest, sweetest and satisfying gameplay in years, all for the princely sum of absolutely nothing. Seriously, all you have to do is shrug your shoulders and accept your basic grey Spartan, and in return you get some of the most fun you’ll have without having to pay a penny for it.
That makes scoring the multiplayer a little tricky. Based purely on the fun factor I’d happily give this four-and-a-half stars or even a full five stars, even despite a few balance issues. I’m completely addicted to playing Infinite right now and look forward to getting a few hours to spare so I can get some Big Team Battle action in. However, as always I review the package as a whole and that includes all the surrounding the actual gameplay. Ultimately, then, I think the raw fun factor trumps almost everything else, especially since it costs nothing to play, but have reduced the score because of how badly 343 and Microsoft have messed up everything around the actual gameplay. If they can get that fixed, Halo: Infinite’s multiplayer will be unbeatable.