The game was released with 10 maps and a frustrating rotation of playlists with limited game modes. In previous Halo games, it was easy to “live” in the games for months, if not years. The series was way ahead of the creative revolution of gaming with its Forge mode, which allowed for player-created maps and customized games. Gunfight, a player versus enemy game type, kept more cooperative casual players engaged while continuing to earn ranks and achievements.
With “Infinite” players were left with only a minimum of Halo experience, with basic game modes such as Slayer and Big Team Battle rotating in a playlist. Weekly rewards earned through challenges were hardly motivating, especially since many of them are decals applied to armor that’s usually hidden by other armor pieces. At the moment, Halo Infinite doesn’t live up to the standards of other live service games, all of which had their own rough patches from which few recover over time. And the game developers at 343 Studios agree.
“Honestly, there are some fantastic games in it too [live service] Space, which has set an incredibly high bar, which is very mature, and which has been running in a live services capacity for a long time,” said Brian Jarrard, aka Sketch, community director at 343 Industries. “And that’s the yardstick that a lot of players look at every game. And we’re not quite there yet.
“At the end of the day I think it just boils down to a capacity issue. Do you know how many people and resources you can throw at one problem? And then what other issues do you have to put off to pursue this at this moment?”
Maintaining the promise of live services may not be a huge task for a large studio, but having the capacity to fill out a regular content schedule for such games is a Herculean challenge. Activision-Blizzard has notoriously contracted many of its talented studios to support its Call of Duty games rather than creating new, original games. The free-to-play service Call of Duty: Warzone runs in tight quarters with constant updates, even between bi-monthly seasons. Halo Infinite was lackluster by comparison. All eyes are on May, six months after its initial release, for the launch of the Season 2 Battle Pass.
343 Industries has also long recognized core issues with the game, mainly how players are unmotivated to keep playing it. Any progress in the game is tied to weekly challenges that often counteract how individual players might want to approach a “Halo” game.
Tom French, multiplayer creative director for Halo Infinite, was responsible for the Forge mode in Halo 5. This game was critically criticized for its single-player campaign, but thanks to Forge it grew into a strong, healthy multiplayer community. Microsoft’s own “Minecraft,” the most popular video game of all time, is a testament to how players’ creative control over the game can lead to global, long-running success.
French said starting without Forge broke his heart because he understands how important it is to the game’s lifespan and 343’s plans to transform Halo Infinite into a decade-long platform. French said he’s proud of the success they’ve had in Forge and his current job is to build on that success.
“Forge is going to be great,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post in early March. “’Halo 5′ Forge was a generational leap in what you can do… and it will be that and probably more. We recreated everything from the modes and thought about how we designed modes to be extensible and reusable. We can reuse parts across them to build new modes faster, more robust, and make them more bulletproof and deliverable.”
French said the last Forge update was Halo 5, which was “pushed to steam.”
“We couldn’t add any more objects to the game because that would destroy maps,” French said. “I literally had to go through and crop content, and we had to reduce the polygon count to things, all sorts of technical, nerdy stuff, to make everything fit in the engine. But we didn’t fit in there anymore.”
Repeating this success in a live service game has proved difficult as many things had to be redesigned. Letting players romp around with the game’s physics, graphics, and engine requires fine-tuning, which is why the Infinite feature has been pushed back to an unspecified date.
Being a fan of Halo Infinite, a game that I gave a perfect 10 last year, means patience for now. Although the campaign got off to a successful start, multiplayer has been difficult for players to revisit while its offerings and core issues remain.
To give a personal example: I recently played the Tactical Ops event – but only partially enjoyed it. I enjoy playing the required game modes. But I didn’t enjoy the requirement to use specific weapons to advance my weekly challenges, not when I don’t have control over what type of weapons I start with in the Tactical Ops playlist. The Tactical Ops challenges required me to get kills with the combat rifle, but instead I kept getting thrown into games that only allowed stalker rifles. Unlike some games, Halo Infinite doesn’t ask me to gamble with money but with my time, a far more limited resource in life.
Because I refuse to let Halo Infinite waste my time, I’ve consistently ditched games that didn’t feature a Battle Rifle. That meant having to leave three other unfortunate teammates to fend for themselves unless someone else filled in. Maybe the next player didn’t need a stalker gun game either and left as well. Quitting games early is frankly annoying and selfish behavior, something I’ve always criticized and still do, and yet I’ve been there engaging in a practice I loathe.
Playing with other weapons might be fine if there was another weapon in the game that was needed to continue a challenge, but I completed the Season 1 Battle Pass a month into the season. In the three months since, there has been no other motivation to play more competitive ranked modes, which have their own issues with progression and how wins and losses count towards player rankings.
Any criticism of Halo Infinite today almost always comes with a caveat: Halo’s core gameplay and mechanics are airtight, solid, and practically perfect. It’s also at the core of the frustration, as today all the nuts and bolts feel in place, but we’ll have to wait for 343 Industries to build on that foundation to give us a game that, as French called it, is expandable and is reusable.
In early March, French said many features were being worked on “concurrently.”
“We’ll talk about that in a moment. There will be new maps, there will be new modes, there will be new experiences, there will be new features,” French said. “There will be improvements [of] the experiences we sent. … It improves our platform, strengthens the foundation, and that includes things like leaderboards. We know we can do better, we dreamed of doing better. Let’s push it in that direction.”
Mike Hume contributed coverage from Redmond, Washington.