Halo: Infinite has been one of the more anticipated sci-fi shooters since its reveal back during E3 2018. And with it lining up with the launch of a new console line (The Xbox Series S/X), folks were gearing up for something amazing. Now here we are, over three years later. The campaign just released, a year after the console launch, with the multiplayer mode having launched as a separate, free to play title a few weeks prior. And people are unhappy. So what happened?
Before you sharpen your torches and light up your pitchforks, know that I dont think Halo: Infinite is a bad game. And Im referring to both the multiplayer and the single player campaign. Is it a perfect game? No. Do I see some flaws in it that reduce the experience? Yes. The purpose of this article isnt to just unapologetically bash on the title in a fit of dissatisfaction. Instead, I wish to highlight the opposite. Halo: Infinite wanted to be great, to be beloved, and to be enjoyable. And yet, this goal was hindered by an unhealthy business environment and a toxic user base. Allow me to explain.
The Two Things Wrong With Gaming Today
Sure, I said everything. But when you take a step back, everything wrong with gaming can be sourced back to one of two core issues: The industry and the community.
Its no secret that the video game industry is in a fairly unhealthy state the last several years. Theres been an influx of releasing low-effort expansions for premium prices, Microtransaction-centered gameplay loops for maximum monetization, and hostile battles over franchises and intellectual property. Many major publishers have abandoned the idea of creating a memorable experience, in favor of a profitable one. And when you cut corners in the game industry, you either cut it out of the game or the developers.
But they arent the only one at fault. Its also a bit of our own. We, the community, have taken on a number of traits over the years that encourage a strong sense of consumer entitlement and a powerful degree of hostility toward anyone that challenges that. Not everyone who plays video games behaves like a libertarian gamer-Karen. But its an increasingly common problem that only ever results in everyone being unhappy.
How The Industry Strangled Infinites Development
The most common (legitimate) criticism Ive seen about Halo: Infinite, both campaign and multiplayer, is that it still feels a little incomplete. Multiplayer lacks seemingly common features like specific game mode options, and Forge mode. The campaign is lacking even more, missing things like campaign level select and co-op. The game could have really benefited from more time in development. So why didnt it get that?
The answer: high level executives. To CEOs, investors, and stockholders, a project is not profitable until it is done. So instead of waiting patiently, they push for it to be done sooner. This pressure is amplified when you take seasonal influence into consideration. The end of the year is considered a hot-spot for things like video games because countless people are buying the latest game to gift to their friends and family. If you want something to sell well, sell it right before Christmas.
Lets take it even a step further, under the context of Halo. The newest game console, the Xbox Series X, was marked for release in Holiday 2020. And the best way to sell both a game and a console is to pair them together. With Halo being Microsofts star child, its only natural to want them both to release at the same time. But the problem is: thats not enough time.
Video game development is a very time-consuming practice. It takes all of the creative process of cinema, music, art, and literature, and merges it into the tremendously complicated and dynamic world of electronics and software. To develop a game thats both appealing and functional is no easy effort. And its complicated enough that simply throwing more man-power at it won't actually make it better, faster.
Halo: Infinite wanted to be great. The developers at 343 Industries had grand ideas for the next game. They wanted to create something amazing, something new. According to a report on Bloomburg by Dina Bass and Jason Schreier, Infinite was actually going to be an open-world adventure shooter, similar to the most recent Legend of Zelda game.
Rather than progress through a series of levels, players would explore a giant land mass, completing missions in any order, as they did in Nintendo Co.s 2017 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is considered one of the greatest games of all time.
You can see evidence of this in the game, too. The large, open landscapes and base reclamation system of the main campaign absolutely feels like it wanted to be open world. But as mentioned before, development isnt easy. That same report shed light on all sorts of issues, from difficulties with their development framework to frequent losses in workers, due to Microsofts policies on contracted work. But the game was now taking too long to finish by Microsofts standards.
There was at least one saving grace among the impatience and rush. His name is Joseph Staten. He was the lead writer on the first three Halo games, and was brought in after the underwhelming response to their early 2020 showcase video. Staten managed to convince Microsoft to let go of the goal of releasing alongside the Xbox console launch, and delaying the game into late 2021, instead. If you think the game is incomplete now, imagine how messy itd have been a year earlier.
I don't have a degree in business, nor was I intimately involved in the games development. So I recognize that my opinions here sit somewhere between uneducated and wrong. But from what it seems like, if 343 Industries was given all the time they needed to develop the game without pressure, and if Microsoft lifted their limitations on contracted work. Halo: Infinite would have been a remarkably better game, possibly even a best game of all time nomination.
The Gamers Aren't Much Better
Ive heard an overwhelming amount of negativity regarding Halo: Infinite. So much so, in fact, that I was actually kind of confused. Primarily directed toward multiplayer, I was seeing so much anger on online forums that I was starting to wonder if there's some other part of the game I simply hadnt unlocked yet. They even made it free to play, why were people so unhappy? As it turns out, the only thing missing from my personal experience was that Im not a complete dill weed.
When multiplayer launched, I was having a blast. Each session felt tremendously smooth to play. I was able to connect to games and play online with surprising fluidity, giving it was launch day of a multiplayer Halo game. Each match was fairly well-balanced, with no single team dominating the other. And in each one-on-one gunfight I encountered, my kill or death felt fair. As far as free-to-play shooters go, it was one of the best experienced Ive ever had.
Not to say it was perfect. I recall being underwhelmed by the season unlockable system. I noticed that all of the worthwhile cosmetic unlocked where restricted behind the premium season pass, which one can purchase as a microtransaction. Levelling up through the season was also slower than I cared for. While it wasnt ideal, it felt fairly reasonable for a free title. They need to make money somehow, right? There also was an odd lack of playlist options, the most common one being unable to select a Slayer only game mode playlist. Valid, but I figure that will appear fairly soon, as development continues. Like I mentioned earlier, the game needed more time.
If you ask the Halo Reddit community, theyd tell you that this system was a complete scam. Im not kidding, there were trending posts quite literally calling the Multiplayer a scam because one of the blue armor color options was $10 (a bit high, sure, but by no means a game changing feature). It makes me wonder if these people have ever actually been scammed before. Not being given a cosmetic for free, in a free to play game, is by no means a scam. Ubisoft shutting down the Might and Magic X servers, but still allowing it to be bought on Steam, THATS a scam.
There was an oddly common consensus that this was an insult to the entire Halo community. People would compare the best of Halo 3s multiplayer to the worst of Infinites multiplayer (conveniently forgetting to mention the full price tag of the former). There were long, detailed posts explaining how mad they were. It reached a point where developer representatives were coming in and making statements saying that they dont agree with the attacks and ways in which some choose to express those feelings.
Thats the rough part of it all, though. The things these people are unhappy about, underwhelming rewards, slow progress, lack of features, are all valid complaints. The developers have recognized that and promised progress. But instead of expressing them in a polite, respectful way, were seeing aggressive rants, hate messages, and melodramatic shouting. And since these changes usually come in due time, these people think that the Karen-esque crying is what worked.
Frankly speaking, this is the part of the article that I expect people to respond to the worst. Theyll feel personally attacked and will disregard any other criticisms Ive made since I now no longer agree with them. Theyll leave offensive comments, ranging from calling me a laughingstock, to telling me to kill myself. These types of people exist because Ive personally experienced them. And thats unfortunate because it those exact people that need to hear things like this.
Obviously not everyone in the gaming world behaves this way. Id say that not even a majority of people who play video games are like this. Most folks are just common people who dont care for the more complicated details of the industry and just like to have fun with a video game every now and then. Maybe they don't comment online, or engage with others. Maybe they have a small, personal circle of friends to share in gaming revelry with. Maybe they participate in online communities in a healthy, positive way. These people have my respect, more people should be like them.
Infinite Was Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
All in all, I feel somewhat bad to Halo: Infinite. My own personal experience, while not mind-blowing, has been fairly enjoyable. It feels good to play, and I look forward to playing more. It feels like a game with amazing potential that was born in a time that actively works against it. Like a distraught millennial, heavy in student debt and struggling to find a job that pays more than $30k a year, the Halo: Infinite developers have tried their hardest to be the best they can. And much of their shortcomings were not of their own. So I sympathize.
The saddest thing is that I dont have faith any of this will get better. As long as they are allowed, corporations almost never choose the less-profitable option for the sake of quality or employee happiness. And as long as people can post online without any risk of genuine consequence, theyll continue to kick, scream, and death threat until developers do the thing they were going to do anyway. I don't anticipate either of these things changing.
If youre to take anything away from this, it's that Halo: Infinite might not actually be the hot mess it sounds like when you check Reddit or Twitter. Its not perfect, but its still a really fun time. Multiplayer is free, so theres no harm in trying it out. If youre on the fence about the campaign, try getting Xbox Game Pass instead. While only a subscription, the $10-15 a month is more affordable than purchasing $60 outright. And if you beat it quick enough, youll pay less overall. New members also get a discount on the first month, but Im not paid to promote it, so I won't bother with additional details.
Anyway, Im going to go back to playing some good ol fashioned Oddball.