Monday’s surprise launch of the multiplayer portion of “Halo Infinite” came with a surprise of its own: It’s a massively popular online game that went live with barely any technical issues.
That’s not to say issues don’t exist. Just Monday night, I had audio completely drop off in the middle of a match. Another incident saw me in an infinite loop of connecting and reconnecting, my only escape being to quit the game completely. And a number of players complained of hitting a blue screen error upon booting up “Infinite” when the surprise beta went live. But by and large, players seem impressed and happy with how the game runs. “Halo Infinite” was famously delayed from its original planned launch date in late 2020, and developer 343 Industries did not take that time for granted.
For millions, the launch of a free-to-play “Halo Infinite” multiplayer beta may as well be the launch of the game. While the campaign releases Dec. 8, the Halo series has maintained its popularity over the last 20 years due to its strong online and competitive communities. A new Halo game that recaptures that old magic still holds a lot of value for fans. And considering that, anecdotally, friends of mine who never wanted an Xbox before Monday are now changing their minds, I’d say that, so far, it’s a runaway success.
The “Halo Infinite” multiplayer gameplay hasn’t been a mystery for a few months. Hundreds of thousands of players participated in “test flights” in September and October, including longtime Halo influencers, and they have repeatedly come away with positive impressions. This final release, technically a beta in advance of the Dec. 8 launch date, builds on that positivity thanks to smooth performance on Xbox and PC platforms, as well as lag-free online play. That’s important, because though 343 Industries is specifically calling this multiplayer build a beta, it includes all of the maps and modes that will be available on day one when the full game rolls out, so it’s basically the final product players can expect in everything but name.
Here are our takeaways after a few months of playing the test flights on and off and one day with the final multiplayer launch.
What ‘Halo Infinite’ gets right
- Sprinting has been a divisive addition to recent Halo games. Classic competitive players (myself included) have always appreciated and preferred a slower pace. That way, every firefight is a free-flowing battle of gunplay and positioning, since everyone moves at roughly the same speed. But in “Halo Infinite,” the game’s 10 maps feel balanced and large enough for faster movement. Sprinting now just feels like an additional tool kit for players to access, whether they’re shooting or dodging bullets.
- Every map so far is very solid, particularly the maps for Big Team Battles, from the brooding Brute structures of Deadlock to the Seattle-tinged forests of Fragmentation. Deadlock, in particular, works well both for Big Team Battles overall and the smaller, PvP engagements that flare up in different corners of the map over the course of a match. Much of this is due to great map design that keeps the landscape easy to read and near symmetrical — while also changing just enough to keep players on their toes.
- The guns don’t just feel good — they sound good too. The clang of the battle rifle gives each shot real weight and power. Halo games, even the original Bungie five, are famously uneven in their treatment of the game’s arsenal. Sometimes, the weapons leaned too realistic; other times they were too cartoonish, like the submachine gun’s popcorn rattle in “Halo 2.” “Halo Infinite” finds a happy medium between distinctive and powerful. Even the lasers have some oomph to their pew pews.
- “Fortnite,” the game that popularized the seasonal pass of rewards, only gives you a few months to earn rewards. In “Halo Infinite” (and “The Master Chief Collection”), seasonal rewards can be earned at your leisure at any point. This is a great quality of life feature, and 343 deserves praise for this, though the battle pass also factors into one of the game’s most glaring faults.
What needs some work
- While the map designs are solid, the aesthetics often leave something to be desired. Every map is either some sort of industrial interior (a rocket base or a factory) or outdoorsy in a way that mirrors the woods of the Pacific Northwest. “Halo Infinite” takes place on the very Earthlike Zeta Halo installation, which would explain all the pine trees and grass. But past Halo games made effective use of a variety of biomes. The first “Halo” had the cold, wind-swept expanse of Sidewinder, while Avalanche, one of the best-designed and most fun maps in “Halo 3,” came with snow particles kicking up off players’ feet. Moving around the maps feels great, but even a simple change of scenery would do wonders.
- The various playlists seem determined to force players to try a variety of modes. But candidly, there needs to be a Slayer-only playlist, where players can choose to engage only in deathmatch-style games. Early signs of 343 Industries’s mastery of the Halo formula were in its strong support of “The Master Chief Collection,” which allowed players to enter into playlists customized to their tastes. I don’t know why that feature is missing here; I hope it’s added eventually. Still, the selection of game types in the default playlist are almost all great, including the low-scoring and strategy-heavy Capture the Flag, which feels like the soccer of Halo game modes. But Oddball, wherein teams compete to hold a ball for the most amount of time, is a bit of a momentum killer with two rounds needed for teams to win. The mode is a welcome way to change up the pace, but two rounds is too long for what the game entails.
- This may be the biggest complaint I’ve seen out of the Halo community: Experience progression is way too slow. Currently, the only way to progress through the season pass is to complete challenges. Forget your four-kill “Killtacular” streak; that was good for bragging rights and little else. Most Halo players just want to play the game how they like. But the current challenge-only approach restricts their ability to do so and gain rewards in the season pass. “Halo Infinite” shouldn’t ignore the reality of modern multiplayer, where every second invested by the player nets them some sort of progress. Perhaps it could be tweaked so that attaining certain achievements or kill streaks can net bonus experience. But right now, winning — or even dominating — a match doesn’t actually count for much.
Finally — and I don’t list this as a con since the game’s signature creative mode, Forge, is scheduled to be added later — I hope custom playlists and modes are made available to the public. While the game already provides ample content, past games saw lively communities stick around for years, even well past a console’s expiration date, thanks to the community’s contributions in creating new ways to play. “Halo Infinite” will live up to its name if it allows for player expression and participation.
You can expect The Post’s final review of “Halo Infinite,” its multiplayer and its campaign in the coming weeks. But for now, it’s time to bask in the warmth of a large-scale, popular online game that was able to hit the market without the usual sad routine of chaos and confusion.
The latest video game news and reviews
Launcher is the home for video game coverage from The Washington Post. Follow us on Twitter, subscribe to Washington Post Gaming on YouTube, and read us daily at Launcher.gg.
A decade later, ‘Skyrim’ modders are now developing their own games
‘What’s ‘Wordle’?’ and your other ‘Wordle’ questions, answered
Xbox has its own nail polish now, as gaming companies welcome beauty deals
Academics want to preserve video games. Copyright laws make it complicated.
The 10 best video games of 2021