Yesterday I experienced something in Halo Infinite that I hadn't since its 2021 launch: I'd wrapped up a match of Squad Battle and was waiting for the next one when I realized I'd just played six consecutive matches of Halo without blinking, and I didn't want to stop. I was having a really good time in multiplayer—so good that, for once, I wasn't distracted by all the ways 343's free-to-play FPS still falls short.
The pieces are finally starting to fall into place for Infinite, and all it took was two years of unofficial early access as 343 struggled to run a live service while also trying to get staple features like campaign co-op, Forge, and a custom games browser out the door. Remember when Big Team Battle was flat-out broken for weeks? Or when "Seasons" 1 and 2 were six months each? Me neither, because I stopped playing after a week of grinding one of the worst battle passes I've ever seen.
Halo Infinite Season 5: Reckoning, which kicked off last week, feels like a turning point. There's a lot worth checking out: Forge got support for AI enemies that has already spawned an impressive battle royale mode, you can wear any helmet with any armor core, two new arena maps join a pretty good new mode, and you can earn XP in custom games. I've checked in on Infinite at various points over two years, most recently when it added my favorite Halo gun of all time, the DMR, and Season 5 is the first time I've noticed other lapsed players taking an interest in what's new. Higher Steam concurrents since launch are a sign that they're sticking around, too, for now at least.
It's a great time to play Halo Infinite, as long as you don't mind all the ways it's still janky, awkward, and obtuse. Such is the Halo experience right now: There are major improvements, but most of them come with significant caveats.
Where Halo Infinite stands at the start of Season 5
📈 Progression doesn't suck anymore*
⚒️ Forge is there, and cool
🧑🤝🧑 Custom games have been a boon for variety**
⛑️ Armor customization is better***
🔋 Arena is overflowing with good playlist options
🔫 Combat is more responsive****
🖥️ Servers are more stable
🌞 Seasons are releasing somewhat consistently
🗺️ Maps: there are lots of them now, and they're good!*****
*Progression doesn't suck anymore, but it's not great either
These days you can progress Halo's battle pass simply by playing, and challenges are a lot easier to complete too. But, what for? Infinite's battle passes are still stuffed with stuff I'm not that interested in on their own, like kneepads and gloves that look slightly different from the ones I'm wearing. It's encouraging that there are more color variants in the mix now, and even overlays that dramatically change the shape of your guns, but disappointingly few of these cooler cosmetics end up on the battle pass. You'll find most of them in $10 - $30 bundles in the Shop tab.
**Custom games are great, but they're broken
Like, they literally don't work. When I join a map via the custom games browser, there's around a 60% chance it'll error out. It has been like this since the browser launched 10 months ago, and 343's latest communications make no mention of how terrible the experience is or provide a timeline for when it'll be fixed. The UI is also terrible. This is a major part of Halo, and it's unacceptable.
***Armor customization is better, but still a nightmare
Using any helmet with any armor core is great. Now do that, but with every single piece of armor in the game. The "armor core" is a failed idea.
****Combat is more responsive, but still occasionally wonky
This isn't unique to Halo, but I don't like getting killed when I've already cleared a corner on my screen. Sometimes I'll trade simultaneous melee blows with an enemy and we both die, and sometimes only I die. There's a layer of inconsistency that's occasionally annoying, but improved from launch.
*****The maps are good, but overly reliant on Forge
Forge creators are hard carrying Halo Infinite at the moment. 343 has added a pile of Forge-created classic map remakes and original arenas to official matchmaking playlists. While Forge remakes are surprisingly faithful and fun, they all have that snapped-together "Forge" look that's incongruent with the game's art style. I wish we didn't have to rely on talented community creators to produce the maps people are most excited to play. 343 should be doing that work.
For me, Season 5 is evidence that 343 is finally in a place to spend more time expanding on Infinite than putting out fires. If the trajectories of Cyberpunk 2077 and Battlefield 2042 are anything to go by, then Halo Infinite has the makings of an honest-to-god comeback.
But it's not there yet. 343 has tackled almost every problem I had with Infinite at launch, and yet there are fires that still need extinguishing. Onward and upward in 2024.