On November 8 2021, the 20th anniversary of the original Halo, 343 Industries dropped a bombshell. Halo Infinite's free-to-play multiplayer went live, kicking off season one and letting us jump into the complete online arena a full month before the planned December 8 release.
It was probably the best way 343 could have celebrated the series' birthday. But a month on, with the discussion around Infinite's multiplayer reaching venomous levels of ire, I've wondered if the game hasn't hamstrung itself by splitting in two like this.
Don't get me wrong, Halo Infinite's multiplayer is great fun. I stand by everything we said in our initial response—it’s a stunning revival of a multiplayer classic. But ignoring the furore over battle passes and progression systems, there's a real sense that the game's arenas are being stretched thin. A scant handful of modes and maps are delivered at random in matchmaking queues—game selection so outside the player's control that an already small pool can feel even smaller. If you're sick of playing Oddball, there's no guaranteed way to avoid playing them other than to stop playing.
The game's underwhelming first event is set to repeat four more times over the course of the season. And even without the battle pass doling them out slowly, there simply isn't much there in the way of customisation options. In short, Halo Infinite's multiplayer just feels like it's missing a whole load of "stuff".
Even as a chunk of a larger Halo release, this would've been a little frustrating. But for the last month, this has been the complete Halo Infinite experience—and without campaign or forge to distract from these shortcomings, the conversation around Infinite has become feral. Dip into YouTube or Reddit and you can't move for complaints about limited modes or stingy challenges.
But the lack of a campaign hasn't just emphasised Infinite's already-light offerings—it's also removed valuable context from what's there.
Going by multiplayer alone, I'd have questions surrounding the game's weapon lineup. Why is the shotgun now a much weaker Bulldog auto-shotty? Because it's meant to be a weapon Brutes use to apply pressure on you, said nobody, having not played the campaign. Similarly, the Pulse Carbine is awkward and naff in Arenas, but in singleplayer it's a near-vital shield cracking machine.
Halo combat is a dance, playing weird weapons against uniquely specific alien baddies—and in multiplayer there’s always been the sense that you're not really using these weapons for their intended purpose. Halo Infinite might have a fantastically balanced sandbox, but its separation from the campaign has many weapons feeling a little flat, a little dull, designed for esports in a way that misses the weird and wild nature of how these guns act in the main game. Coming off Infinite's campaign, the multiplayer arsenal feels like a fundamentally different toolkit.
We're used to games launching a little unfinished these days. When Fortnite can stay in early access for three years, there's no longer a clear sign of when a game is done, and we've been conditioned to expect that more content will come if we simply wait a few months. But Halo has a legacy of arriving content-complete, and without that campaign, Halo's multiplayer shortcomings are even more apparent. It's a damn good shooter, but it can't help but feel like the incomplete accompaniment to a game that's arrived an entire month later.
That multiplayer is now free also makes the value proposition of the campaign a little tougher. I hate discussing games in terms of "value for money", but time was you'd spend your $60 and get the complete package. Yes, Game Pass exists (and Infinite will be on it at launch), but Microsoft is still asking for $60 for Infinite's campaign alone—a campaign that's not significantly longer than previous games as, as I mentioned in my review, falls frustratingly shy of being an all-time classic.
It's hard to blame 343 for shifting to a free-to-play model in a world where establishing a new online community is harder than ever. I don't know that waiting to release Infinite's multiplayer would have alleviated problems with its battle pass, or the limited selection of content on offer. But it's tough to argue that it did the game any favours, letting the problems with the game's progression and monetisation absolutely dominate the conversation surrounding it.
Tonight, Halo Infinite's campaign launches. It's hard to say the game is complete (Forge and campaign co-op are still months out), but it feels like the beginning for a more fully-rounded vision of what Halo Infinite can be. I'm not going to pretend like I haven't had fun with Infinite over the last month. I just struggle to see what was gained from carving apart a game that would have been better served as a complete package.