Face off: Do we want a new Halo on PC?

Halo Online

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, we talk about Halo Online, the recently announced F2P Halo shooter currently exclusive to Russia, Wes and Tim ponder the question: do we even really want a new Halo game on PC?

Face off

Tim Clark

Wes Fenlon, Hardware editor
Wes thinks a new competitive Halo could thrive on PC.
Tim Clark, Global editor-in-chief
Tim thinks Halo is old news and thinks it's time for Destiny to hit PC, instead.

Wes: YES. Halo was a revelation on consoles because it established an FPS control model that really worked on a pad. But Bungie’s multiplayer design was brilliant, too, regardless of platform. Strategically placed power weapons on the map (rockets, snipers) added a tactical layer to the arena shooter model. Regenerating shields made teamwork in firefights essential. I lost an entire summer to playing Halo: CE on the PC. Back when esports were still small-time, Halo 2 was one of the giants. That popularity has fallen off in recent years thanks to some bad sequel decisions, but I think Halo has the potential to be the biggest competitive shooter in the world behind CS:GO. Microsoft has really been holding the series back by using it as an Xbox-selling exclusive.

Tim: NO. Problematically for me, none of the things you’ve said are actually incorrect. Halo was wonderful, and the sequels continued absence on PC feels like another missed opportunity to place on top of the teetering pile of missed opportunities which Microsoft’s game division has seen fit to assemble. But I can’t help but feel that it’s too late now, and Master Chief’s ship has sailed. What Halo would you even actually want at this point? The Master Chief Collection, I guess. It’d be a fun curio, and I suppose worth seeing running maxed out on a killer rig, but not much more than that. And do you have any confidence that it wouldn’t be a shuttle crash like the Xbox One version was? Or maybe you like being matchmade into 6-vs-4 teams, like some sort of degenerate. Is that what you like, Wes?

Wes: I was stupid enough to buy the Master Chief Collection on Xbox One, and I’m still mad about it. No matter what Microsoft says, I can’t believe they were unaware of just how broken that collection of games was at launch. And it still has big problems. But I don’t really care that much about having all of the Halo games playable on PC. What I really want is one Halo game that represents the mechanical maturation sweet spot for the series—Halo 3, in my mind—with all the advantages of the PC platform behind it. That means much higher resolutions and wider FOV than on consoles, dedicated servers and modernized netcode, and the inherently higher skill ceiling of a mouse-based shooter. I think that’s all it would take to foster a competitive Halo community that would thrive for years.

halo-master-chief-collection Google-banner

Tim: Again, I agree, in theory. None of those things you’ve written are wrong and you shouldn’t feel bad about having sashayed into my carefully laid trap. Because riddle me this young Fenlon: Who will be making this mooted Halo game with the oh-so-pleasing FOV slider? Because it sure as hell won’t be Bungie. Did you play 343 Industries’ Halo 4? Because I did, and it was fine. Absolutely fine. In the same way that a respectful reboot of a classic movie is sometimes okay. Halo 4 was the equivalent of the 2008 Day of the Dead. Passable, but not a patch on the original. And the thing is, I don’t think we need any more fine FPSs on PC. What I want is exactly that bottled lightning combat feel that Bungie nailed first time around. And… well… you’re not going to like this I suspect, but what we really need is Destiny. Don’t tell the others, but I’ve played it for 800 hours. Yes it’s flawed, and the story is barely there, but the shooting and looting is insanely moreish. And hoo boy would a proper MMO-flavoured shooter, with those innovative raid mechanics, be an interesting fit on PC.

Wes: Aha, I’ve got you here! See, the thing is, 343 Industries actually isn’t making this new PC-exclusive Halo Online game. It’s being developed by Saber Interactive, best known for doing outsource work on Halo: CE Anniversary and...The Master Chief Collection. Also, Saber made some thoroughly mediocre last-gen shooters like TimeShift. So maybe that’s not actually so great. But here’s what gives me hope: the game is based on a modified version of the Halo 3 engine, which could mean it mostly plays like classic Bungie-made Halo (it was Bungie’s engine, after all!), with some modern stuff bolted on. I’ll admit I’m wary about this being F2P, but I hope all the microtransactions are purely aesthetic.

And sure, Destiny’s fine if you want to convince yourself that hundreds of hours of grinding the same encounters is actually fun and not soul-sucking monotonous drudgery. The reward of Halo, to me, is competition and teamwork on a level playing field, where everyone has the exact same abilities and weapons. Throw RPG levels and loot into the equation a la Destiny and you’re never going to have balanced multiplayer, no matter how much you tweak the numbers.

Tim: If only you had held the majesty that is Destiny’s Hawkmoon hand cannon but for even a moment, Wes, because you would know that those 800 hours are but a blink to me. And I can’t say I’m sold on your Saber Interactive pitch either. I mean, I guess Microsoft have made some crackers decisions in the past, but don’t you think there’s a pretty obvious reason that Halo Online is only getting released in Russia? And that reason is likely not that the game is so mind-blowingly ahead of the curve that we in the West, with our blue jeans, Coca-Cola and Madonna albums, are not yet ready for its brilliance. Halo Online seems like nothing more than an attempt to eke some bonus F2P cash out of glorious Mother Russia. Whatever kind of Halo game you’re still holding out for, this ain’t it. Now, shall we discuss Destiny 2 on PC?

Halo Online Shop

Wes: On mobile, it’s common practice for developers to release their games in smaller regions first to test the launch for bugs, gameplay balance, and monetization. I really hope that’s the case here. If you’re right, and this is just a way for Microsoft to grab a few bucks from the Russian market (which is notorious for pirating games unless they’re very cheap), it’s worse than there being no new Halo game on PC. It’s dangling what could potentially be a fun, competitive esport in front of long-time fans, then pulling it away and yelling “Psyche!” Really, it’s ridiculous in 2015 for a competitive multiplayer shooter to not be on PC, whether it’s Destiny or Halo. Look at CS:GO getting bigger every year. This is where the hardcore playerbase is.

Tim: So we’re agreed then. It’s Destiny’s absence that is the real disgrace, and everyone at Activision should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. As for Halo, we have to let it go now. Kiss the Chief’s shiny orange face, and let his limp body drift out into the void. Wait, hang on. Did you say ‘small regions’? Russia? *Thumbs Atlas* I think this is how the last war started.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).