It's a good time to return to the 2021 shooters that got a critical walloping at release. In case you haven't heard, Battlefield 2042 is really good now, and I'm starting to feel better about Halo Infinite's multiplayer after last week's Season 3: Echoes Within update.
First, the good stuff: Season 3 added two new Arena maps (Chasm and Cliffhanger) and one Big Team Battle map (Oasis). Halo Infinite has been in dire need of map injections since the day it launched and I'm glad to report that all three of these are winners so far. I'm especially enjoying Chasm, which might take the award for Halo-est Halo map 343 has put out yet.
Chasm is essentially two hallways in an unspecified alien facility divided by a bottomless pit (or chasm, if you will), connected only by a couple of light bridges and floating hexagonal platforms arranged like a 3D platformer.
The symmetrical staredown of the rival hallways is perfect for mid-range fights with Battle Rifle bros or pistol pros. Since most of the space between you is death pit, you tend to stay on your respective side and side-strafe until the fight is over, which is a nice changeup of the usual "run at each other while shooting then punch each other in the face" Halo tactic. It's more spacious than it sounds, but not so big that whoever grabs the top-floor sniper rifle automatically dominates the map.
There's something very "original Xbox Halo" about Chasm that I haven't put my finger on. It's partially the cold, geometric alien architecture that reminds me of Halo's earliest polygonal days, but I think it's more the fact that it's the sort of simplistic, blocky map that'd never get greenlit in any other modern FPS. Can you imagine a Call of Duty map that's mostly negative space? Chasm screams old-school PC arena shooter, a club that I believe Halo: CE belongs in despite its Xbox origins.
Halo Infinite Season 3, at a glance:
- Three maps (Chasm, Cliffhanger, Oasis)
- One new weapon (M392 Bandit)
- New mode: Escalation Slayer (it's Gun Game)
- New equipment: Shroud Screen (shoot a dome of no-see-me)
- 100-tier battle pass
- Ray tracing
You know what else feels great on Chasm? Halo Infinite's first new gun, which just so happens to be the return of my favorite old Halo gun, the DMR. Infinite's version is called the M392 Bandit, a semi-auto kinetic rifle that was made for clicking heads. It fires a bit slower than its iconic Halo Reach predecessor and has a more aggressive recoil than a Battle Rifle, but that time between shots locks you into a rhythm that makes it easier to land consecutive hits. I don't think it'll be outclassing the Battle Rifle anytime soon, but I'll take the Bandit over its full-auto little brother, the Commando, every time.
You'll find the Bandit in weapon lockers on maps across arena maps, but where I'm most excited to see it is in Big Team Battle. 343 added a "BTB Unlimited" playlist this week that replaces the default pistol loadout with a Bandit/Assault Rifle combo, closing the loop on the Halo Reach throwback in a way that I hope becomes permanent.
A surprisingly cool addition to Season 3 is Halo Infinite's team-based twist on Gun Game. Instead of hot swapping between single guns, teams cycle between 11 pairs of weapons with a loose theme. I've been pretty iffy on Infinite's marquee seasonal modes so far (Last Spartan Standing was a flop for me), but Escalation Slayer is hitting just right. Gun Game fits particularly well in games with distinct weapons like Halo, and making it a team sport was a smart move, too—in other games, the mode can often come to an abrupt end when one dominant player snowballs to the end of the gun ladder.
There is a free-for-all variant of Escalation out there for Gun Game purists, but I haven't encountered it in normal matchmaking yet.
The quality and quantity of stuff in Season 3 is encouraging as someone who loved and then quickly dropped the game at launch. It finally feels like there's a good amount of things to do in Infinite—the mile-long playlist selection helps and it's cool that you can now chase a tense ranked match with an equally tense Mongoose race on a faithful recreation of Mario Kart's DK Mountain.
One part of Halo Infinite that's still stuck in 2021 is its new 100-tier battle pass. I'm maybe nine tiers into the thing and already bored to tears. It's a lot easier to earn XP these days, which is great, but the pass is once again stuffed with individual armor pieces and disappointingly few gun skins. And that's if you're a premium spender—the free track is a lonely road paved with terrible non-rewards like challenge swap tokens.
Since it seems like no design change is out of the question at 343, here's how I'd fix it: Take armor out of the battle pass and make it its own thing. Dressing up my spartan in personalized armor like a tacticool Barbie is fun, but unlocking it in a linear path makes it difficult to envision the "perfect look" and work to achieve it.
It'd mean so much more if, instead of unlocking some random shoulder guard because I got to tier 11, I had to complete unique challenges to get a cool samurai helmet. I'm essentially describing Call of Duty's system for unlocking gun camos, a progression ladder that annually inspires millions of people to grind that game for a year and manages to coexist with a separate battle pass. And before 343's monetization department has a heart attack: you can still sell those overpriced skins!
Anyways, Halo update is good. I'm having fun. I hope 343 harnesses this momentum and turns Halo Infinite into one of those feel-good comeback stories a year from now.