Despite the legendary place that Halo has in the history of Xbox, the news cycle heading into the Halo Infinite launch has been a rocky one. While the franchise is no stranger to controversial decisions and surprising changes, Microsoft and 343 Industries wants Halo Infinite to be the game that brings the series back to its former glory.
Say what you will about the current generation but for a lot of Xbox stalwarts, Halo is the series that brings them in to buy a new console. I find it a bit silly to base your console purchase – hardware shortages notwithstanding – entirely around a single franchise, but that is a thing people do. I don’t have much of a relationship with the series, but the affection people have for it is undeniable.
As I’ve written before, Halo Infinite will emerge into a very different gaming generation than the one its predecessors ruled and will be expected to support a very different vision of Xbox. When Halo 5: Guardians launched in 2015, there was no Game Pass, no Play Anywhere, no Remote Play, no Xbox Cloud Gaming. Halo Infinite is now expected to rally the fans into a new kind of Xbox.
This new era of Xbox by Microsoft and Xbox boss Phil Spencer has been generally well received, and I hope the last of the Xbox holdouts will be delighted when they rejoin the platform. What worries me is Halo Infinite itself. Over the past few months, there have been so many caveats and compromises made that I worry we’re getting the Halo Infinite that Microsoft needs, not the one fans deserve.
No co-op campaign at launch
Being able to play the shiny new campaign with another player has been an enduring part of what has made Halo so popular. For many, it’s a tradition that brings friends together, a kind of social ritual that unites them. 343 Industries says campaign co-op won’t be added until about three months after release, which isn’t a terrible wait, but it’s an incredible bummer. Many players will have moved on in their pop culture calendar by the time the feature arrives.
Weaker custom games without Forge
The Forge has always kept the Halo experience alive and fresh by allowing players to make custom maps for some of their favorite game modes. Unfortunately, the Forge won’t be live on Halo Infinite until at least six months post-launch. Modes like Garbage Man and Duck Hunt wouldn’t have the place they have in the hearts of Halo fans without custom maps, and knowing that vanilla maps will be all players have for half a year is a major buzz kill.
Rigid customization system
Customization is key to expressing yourself in any multiplayer setting, and Halo Infinite’s version of that lets players earn “coatings” – a combination of colors, textures and patterns – to use on armor, vehicles and weapons. The downside is that colors are locked to coatings. So while some cool effects like wear-and-tear are possible, colors are built-in. It’s not quite Destiny 2 launch shaders level of lame but its still disappointing and the devs at 343 indicate that separating coatings from colors ain’t gonna happen.
Questionable changes to progression
Previously in Halo, you gained experience simply by completing matches, guaranteeing progression as long as you keep playing. So it was dismaying when 343 announced progression in the Battle Pass would be limited to challenges. That means getting kills with specific weapons or finishing specific game modes. That’s tough for less skilled players as well as vets who simply don’t like certain weapons or modes. The reaction was so negative 343 made it so that challenges refresh after every game.
A launch is always just a beginning
At a time when Destiny 2 is harnessing years of hard lessons to craft some of the most compelling in-game events and the upcoming Battlefield 2042 is making promises to offer more features and content than ever, Halo Infinite needs to hit the ground running. That’s not going to happen when literally every cool thing about it comes with a catch.
I feel very concerned for Halo fans. The absence of co-op and Forge at launch feels like a decision to keep it on track for December, but only because Microsoft and 343 are stuck in a PR position where another delay risks some weird gamer backlash. The coating system feels restrictive and the mere fact that a course correct was necessary to adjust progression are troubling signs as well.
I’m concerned for Halo fans. I can’t imagine a campaign great enough or a multiplayer community powerful enough to gloss over these compromises, but who knows? Maybe Microsoft and 343 are more prepared than I’m led to believe, with exciting content and features just waiting down the road. I hope so, otherwise the Halo Infinite launch is going to be the most divisive one Halo has ever had.