Surprise—a new Halo came out this week! Master Chief might not return in earnest until December 8, but in celebration of the series' 20th anniversary, 343 Industries launched Infinite's free-to-play multiplayer a little early, as a treat.
Now, we've had two years of The Master Chief Collection to warm us up. But Infinite isn't just the first new mainline Halo entry in six years (after the poorly-received Halo 5), it's the first to launch on PC at the same time as Microsoft's flagship consoles. A bunch of us have been putting the hours into Halo Infinite's multiplayer this week, and it's time to ask:
Is It Good?
Nat Clayton, Features Producer: It's good Halo! It's ultimately hard to tell how much of it comes down to burning out on Halo 3 over the last few months, but Infinite feels like it may be one of my favourite multiplayers of the series yet.
Infinite's technical tests already showed us a game that felt sharp and focussed while still retaining a lot of the goofy physics nonsense that keeps Halo feeling "Halo", and that's only been strengthened with a full pool of maps and weapons. But what hits me most is how good Infinite feels on a purely tactile level. There's a little bit of Respawn to Infinite's character control—enough to excite my Apex-addled fingers while still retaining a weight reflective of your tank-like super-soldier. Running and gunning in Halo has never felt this good.
Lauren Aitken, Deputy Guides Editor: Halo Infinite multiplayer is solid. It gives me big Halo 2 and 3 lobby vibes, and I've had a wonderful time yeeting myself via the man cannon to melee unsuspecting Spartans in the back of the head. It's obvious that 343 Industries understood and appreciated the feedback from various technical tests as the shooting feels concise, unburdened and just really damn fun.
One of the key things I've personally appreciated is the custom control set up for the Elite Series 2 controller—using the rear triggers and setting it up for my tiny hands makes a substantial difference in longer sessions, such as consecutive Big Team Battle matches. It's so good.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: To me, there's no question: Halo Infinite is the best that Halo has ever played. Building on some good work in Halo 5, 343 clearly labored over the tiniest details of Infinite's gunplay and movement. The guns feel incredible and I've even done a 180 on the new color-coded shield system from earlier technical tests. I'm no longer mistaking enemies for allies and I love how the new shields have a harsh glow indicating when they're about to pop. I have some gripes for sure, but it'll be tough going back to MCC for a night of Big Team Battle after touching Halo Infinite.
Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief: It's my first Halo since '07 and I'm enjoying it. I do wish some of the weirder stuff that I remember like Rocket Race and the Forge editor at large were in there right now, though. Halo's floaty physics remain one of its stars.
Nat: I fully expected Halo Infinite to be on fire when it launched. It still might, as far as the campaign is concerned, but overall the multiplayer beta has been pretty rock-solid. I've had maybe one full crash and a pesky server issue on the first night, but by-and-large I've had no problems connecting to, and playing, matches.
That said, audio appears to be a pressing issue at times. Halo Infinite is a noisy game, Spartans and AI and two separate announcers speaking over gunfire and explosions and vehicular nonsense, and I've found weapon fire often doesn't register in larger matches.
Evan: It runs well, which is the bigger deal, but Halo could look better. The lighting, detail, and overall fidelity of stuff seems just a half-step behind what we've seen in other games this year.
Morgan: Like Nat, the early tech tests made me a bit nervous for this multiplayer launch. I had some significant framerate issues in those tests, but the 4v4 arena mode has been silky smooth this week. The larger Big Team Battle mode ran a lot worse on my older CPU, but one upgrade later and that's feeling great too (my Ryzen 5 2600 3.4Ghz was getting long in the tooth I suppose). I have had a few crashes while playing with friends that stung a bit, especially because you can't rejoin a match you've left.
Morgan: I'm a bit obsessed with how good Halo Infinite's guns are to shoot. Every weapon I've tried so far feels carefully considered and fills its own role. That's especially true of the standard human guns like the pistol (called the Sidekick now), the assault rifle, and battle rifle. Hats off to 343 for finding a version of the standard pistol that feels punchy and precise without overshadowing the role of its bigger cousin, the battle rifle.
In an FPS landscape where games either let you build your own loadout or find random guns on the ground, Halo Infinite is a great reminder that there's a third, possibly better, method of gun distribution from the arena shooter days of old that splits the difference: curated weapon pickups. I forgot how fun it is to learn where to find the Needler on the map (there's always one somewhere) and try to keep it for the entire match. I also appreciate that non-power weapons now appear in tidy, wall-mounted weapon cases with a handy progress bar telling you when it'll respawn. Genius touch!
And the sounds. Boy howdy, just listening to a match can give me goosebumps. Every single important action in the game has its own distinct sound effect—the sharp bounce of a frag, the pop of a broken shield, the gratifying "bleep" of a kill confirmed, or the even more gratifying "bleep boop" of capturing a flag. The game is constantly telling you things with your eyes and your ears, which makes it a lot easier to keep up with the chaos than in past games.
Nat: The assault rifle is good now. But I also adore that all the alien weapons feel more, well, alien than their human counterparts, often coming with alternate fire modes and unique mechanics. The shock rifle isn't just an alien sniper rifle—a few well-placed shots with it can also disable vehicles!
Infinite's equipment lineup is also really strong, and I'm not just saying that because the grappling hook whips. It's a happy medium between Reach's armour abilities and Halo 3's chaotic lineup of trip-mines, power drains and flares that would often (comedically) screw you over as much as your opponent. I'm less sold on Infinite's vehicles, however. With the possible exception of the Ghost, everything feels a little too floaty, a little too flimsy, and it's a bummer that the real heavy-hitters like Scorpion tanks and Wraiths rarely make an appearance.
The Halo 3 Warthog is basically the best a car has ever felt in a game. Infinite's chunky war jeep just doesn't quite cut it.
Lauren: I will never, ever tire of stab-punching people in the back of the head with the energy sword.
Maps and Modes
Nat: Infinite launched with a pretty sparse collection of maps and modes. But to the game's credit, they're almost all bangers. Smartly designed, densely layered, working pretty flawlessly with every gametype. Even big team maps like Fracture (Infinite's version of Halo 3's Valhalla) feel more interesting than previous iterations, with winding passages and routes that mean you're not left helpless without a vehicle.
If I have a complaint it's that the maps are a little dull to look at. Neon-tinted Kenyan arena Streets notwithstanding, most maps either take place in drab UNSC facilities, or forest valleys plucked straight out of the Pacific Northwest. These are Halo staples, sure, but so are luxurious alien cruisers, temples hidden in overgrown forests, long-buried Forerunner catacombs, and Blood Gulch—all of which are absent from Infinite's destinations.
Lauren: The maps are very well designed though as Nat says, a little samey to look at. But it doesn't detract from their individual layouts where weapons and items are consistently well-placed, and there are enough hiding spots and vantage points.
Morgan: Ditto. Halo Infinite's maps are a nice opening salvo, but 10 maps split between Big Team Battle and Arena (so really just a handful each) just isn't enough for me. Maybe I'm feeling spoiled by Call of Duty: Vanguard's 16 launch maps, but it's one of the smallest map pools at launch for a Halo game. And with such limited choice, do we really need two big forest-y ones? How 'bout a nice big sand pit along the lines of Halo 3's Sandtrap? I'd like that.
I hope there's a whiteboard at 343 somewhere that just says "MORE MAPS" and is underlined at least three times.
Nat: I do also worry that 12v12 might be too big for Halo, too. And while more structured than prior Big Team Battles, that structure is necessary to control the absolute chaos of 24 players going ham on these maps. But that structure means more fun toys like tanks and aircraft rarely come into play, something I'd at least like to see changed in more aimless bloodbaths like Team Slayer.
Even then, though, I'd probably rather play a tight, focussed game of Strongholds or Oddball on one of the smaller 4v4 arenas over this absolute carnage. If I'm being truly honest, I've never been huge on matchmaking in Halo, but Infinite has put the work in to make even the stalemate-prone CTF feel well-paced and dynamic.
Lauren: It is disappointing but unsurprising to see a battle pass—both a premium and free version—in Halo Infinite. It's been a point of contention in the community as progression is too slow and the rewards feel a bit stale. 343 has promised to keep tweaking it during the rather lengthy first season, so we'll see what state it ends up in. But yes, I have bought the premium pass.
Nat: 343 is slowly making tweaks to the rate of progression, yes, but that battle pass still sucks. It's a toughie to solve—I love Infinite's take on the Halo aesthetic, but armour parts are generally just a bit boring on their own, and make for unsatisfying rewards after grinding out challenges. That my go-to helmet in Halo Reach is all the way up at level 55 is a bit of a sour note, too.
Tragically, I did buy the premium pass, though I somewhat regret it now.
Morgan: Oof yea, I bought it for work purposes and I'm not sure I would've otherwise. I'm definitely unhappy with the challenge-only method of leveling up a pass (I remember Apex Legends went through its own headaches with progression speed). Challenges are fun to work toward, but I also want to move the needle by playing however the hell I want, ya know?
I will never be passionate about individual shoulder pads on my spartan, but I've read a lot of reasonable criticism about how restrictive Infitnite's customization is compared to the older games. It is wild that you can't just select any basic color for your spartan anymore, and even weirder that specific armor pieces only work on the exact armor "core" you're wearing. It's a confusing mess, but I also love the look of my Master Chief-green fella. 343 is very good at rendering scuffed metal, it turns out.
Evan: One of the first things you unlock is an armored forehead. I didn't actually receive this though, because I haven't paid for the battle pass. It's a funny reminder: "Oh right, this decades-long multiplayer franchise is free now."