Halo Infinite – First Impressions
At long last, Microsoft’s long-awaited Xbox Series launch title is here. Halo Infinite is a year late and, in fact, arriving after Forza Horizon 5 and Psychonauts 2, but better late than never. And, actually, it has been a long time since Halo has felt this good.
The multiplayer mode for Halo Infinite was shadowdropped during the Xbox 20th anniversary celebrations on Monday. Technically still a beta, it is the full release in every way except name. You can get into games quickly and easily. It’s fun to play, and instant access on Game Pass feels very sweet.
As someone who has not been the biggest Halo fan in the past, Infinite has nearly converted me. Nearly is doing a lot of heavy lifting in there. Because although this iteration of Halo is the best it’s ever felt to me, it’s currently a long way off keeping me around for good.
Let me qualify that “Not the biggest Halo fan” bit. I’ve owned every major console over the last twenty years, although not always straight away. The original Halo games were so instantly influential that by the time I got to them, I’d seen almost everything they had to offer. Halo 3 online kicked my ass, especially next to the infinitely more accessible (read easy) Call of Duty 4. Halo 4 and 5 had their own problems, and the Master Chief Collection was a pit of shitty messages and too-good players.
I always loved the idea of Halo. I respected Halo. But it did not respect me.
And that’s still kind of a problem. More on that later.
To be here nearly on day one has been eye-opening. Everybody is as bad as I am. Imagine that. Two teams of four people tossing grenades into corners and blowing themselves up. More than just one player who can’t figure out what any of the non-default weapons do. It’s brilliant.
I’m mostly kidding, but it’s true that Halo Infinite feels far more accessible than previous entries. It might be timing, it might be improved matchmaking – I just know that I can count the number of times my teams have been decimated on one hand.
There are a few game modes to pick from. Oddball and Capture the Flag are my favourites. These are arena style games, something Call of Duty mostly lacks. What Halo does well is that very quickly teaches you that it’s not all about shooting your opponent. It’s about strategising within every bit of second-to-second gameplay. When you’re not fighting, you’re figuring out routes to the objective. When you’re fighting, you’re looking for ways to gain the upper hand. Maybe that’s about a well-timed punch, or a quick breather to refresh your shield. Or maybe it’s just praying that you don’t run out of bullets before your opponent runs out of health. That level of excitement is completely different to almost anything else on the market, except maybe Overwatch. And it differentiates itself there by giving everyone the same moves.
I really appreciate that it can be so deep.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
But you don’t need me to tell you how good Halo is. It’s well-established now, and has been for 20 years. What Halo Infinite does well is it makes it super tight and super modern.
Tied to super tight, I’ve got to say it’s really impressive how well the game has stayed together over the last few days. Usually a shadowdrop of this magnitude would have a week of problems before getting started. Not so here. It worked from the moment I logged in. There’s a recurring glitch with Quick Resume, where you’re unable to get online without restarting the game. But that’s it. Other than that I don’t have a single complaint. Call of Duty: Vanguard, on the other hand, has been a buggy mess.
That extra year must’ve done something special, because Halo Infinite feels fantastic. When I say tight, I mean it. And all at a silky-smooth 120fps.
The gunplay feels fun and balanced, the game modes are different enough to require alternative thinking. This is a good online game. And it’s not like Halo is an unknown quantity, but it’s a good online game that might actually compete in the host of good online games that populate all those “most played” lists. That’s pretty impressive. Compare it, very unfairly, to Destruction AllStars. Yes, I know, Halo should be better. That’s not my point. For a game to compete with the big boys, it has to be amazing out of the gate. It has to keep players from going back to Rocket League or Fortnite or Apex.
Halo might just about do that. Making it free-to-play was genius.
And I’d like to say that it had no negative impact, but it does. Progression feels like wading through treacle.
Halo Infinite has a battlepass. You unlock cool stuff by earning experience points and, yes, there’s a premium version that you can buy. But the free version feels very sluggish. Call of Duty lets you level up almost as quickly as you can play games. Halo, which seems largely tied to the battlepass itself, barely has you level up at all.
When you combine this with a limited number of maps, you really feel like you’re wasting time. You never want to feel that way, especially after only a few days.
It’s not that the battlepass is all-encompassing, because it’s not. You’re not seeing it constantly, it’s not a hard sell. But it feels like it undermines the “free” experience. And, keep in mind, it’s not a free experience for anybody playing right now. It’s on Game Pass, a paid service.
I don’t know that the premium set would make Halo Infinite feel any better either, although I can’t say that for sure. It just needs something to pat the player on the head every couple of games, some sense that you’re actually doing something.
What’s there is good. Beautiful looking too. But hopefully it can be made a bit more rewarding in the long-term.
But overall the experience has been surprisingly good so far. So long as the campaign is half-decent, that one-two punch of Halo and Forza is going to make this a very good Christmas for Microsoft.