It's easy to forget, but Halo: The Master Chief Collection had some phenomenal growing pains. 343 Industries spent close to a decade turning around a broken collection of remasters so that, by the time the games finally came to PC, the package could be what it was always meant to be: all of Halo, exactly as you remember it.
So why is the studio set on trying to turn The Master Chief Collection into a shoddy live service game?
It can't be understated what a cool thing the MCC is. I've been playing regular weekly Halo sessions with pals for a good few months—and for a bunch of nostalgic 20-somethings, it's magical. We're largely playing Halo 3 like it's 2007 all over again, throwing together custom maps, but at any point we can hop on over to Reach, or Combat Evolved, or any other mainline Halo game (sorry, Halo 5). By the end of last year, with all 5 games on PC, the MCC felt complete.
But 343 didn't see it that way. Shortly before wrapping up the PC ports, the developer started adding its own little touches to the games. Cosmetic skins for weapons and vehicles, previously cut armour for Reach, entirely new sets for Halo 3, and that game's first new map in over 13 years.
To 343's credit, these additions are all entirely free. But they crack the time capsule, bringing with them a sense that 343 doesn't entirely know what it wants to do with the Collection. Weapon skins are garish, if ultimately easy to ignore. But many of 3's new armour parts are pulled from Halo Online and 4, games that speak in such a wildly different design language, suit designs that feel more Power Ranger than walking tank.
The new map, Waterfall (also pulled from Halo Online), isn't just a bit ugly—it's a bad map, flat and boring and missing the deliberate focus of the rest of Halo 3's arenas. Lately, 343 has pulled from more obscure spin-offs (ever heard of the Fireteam Raven arcade game?). The mish-mash of styles leaves the whole thing feeling a bit like Halo 1's ambitious SPV3 mod—if still somewhat less chaotic.
These unlocks are gated behind a battle-pass style tier list. To begin with, this wasn't so bad. With unlock tokens dropping every rank or upon completing challenges, you'd grab new stuff fairly regularly. But new "seasons" of unlocks drop every couple months. There are now six ladders of unlocks to climb—plus a new "exchange" selling unique items at higher costs. With tokens still dropping at their old rate, trying to acquire any higher-tier rewards feels deeply tedious—and that's from someone who plays the game almost every weekend.
Maybe I'm just being a weird Halo purist. And in most cases, I can ignore it. Hell, 343 even added a "New Skins" toggle to turn off some of the more brazen armour designs. At the end of the day, Halo still plays like Halo, and when I'm running someone over in a Warthog I don't much notice what their armour looks like.
But I hate the idea that it wasn't enough for The Master Chief Collection to simply exist. Preserving (almost) every Halo game in one place as fantastic PC ports that restore online play to entries that had long since gone silent is an incredible achievement—but someone, somewhere, decided it needed all the faff of contemporary multiplayer games. Progression systems, unlock ladders and daily challenges, all in service of driving engagement.
You know what engages me while playing Halo? Playing Halo. Goofing around on custom maps, John Wick'ing each other with silenced pistols, or the simple pleasure of punting two pals out of the sky with a Banshee. I'm having more fun with Halo than I ever did as a teen, but it's in spite of all the strange, half-hearted changes 343 keeps making to it.
The studio did a fantastic job bringing these games up to date, and for that, I'm more than grateful. I just wish it knew when to call this fight finished.