Halo Infinite's multiplayer season two has finally arrived, and the results are about as mixed as anticipated
Halo fans have had to deal with a lot of disappointing news lately from 343 Industries - despite delivering an amazing game in Halo Infinite, 343 has consistently bungled the multiplayer "game as a service" functionality and players have been starving for new content ever since the game was released six months ago.
343 has consistently acknowledged their shortcomings and has promised that things are being worked on and will improve in the future, but as time has passed their incredibly slow work rate and some rather baffling decisions has the studio losing their audience at a rather steady pace.
After finally publishing a road map for upcoming Halo Infinite content drops, fans were once again disappointed - not only would the second "season" of content for multiplayer not deliver as much content as fans were hoping for, but similar to the first season's extended timeline it will be another six months before the next season arrives, rather than the intended three-month cycle that the game originally intended.
Not only that, but the long-awaited addition of co-op still doesn't have a firm release date but is slated for some time in August (that is, if it isn't delayed again), a full nine months after the game launched; Forge meanwhile, which was expected to premier in the beginning of season three, has a beta test coming in September, meaning a full release isn't likely until approximately a year after the game launched.
The second season has been out in the wild for over a week now and the new additions (and some unexpected changes) have had a somewhat mixed reaction to say the least. What follows is my experience and thoughts on season two.
Any new content is good content when it comes to Halo Infinite's rather limited multiplayer offering, and on that front there are two new maps and three new modes to dig into.
Although the arena playlists technically offer seven maps to choose from, two of them are absent from ranked play and frankly feel as if they were intended for a mode with larger team sizes such as five or six rather than the standard four, knocking the core maps players will be playing on down to a dismal five.
Those five maps may all be excellent, but there's no doubt more stomping grounds are desperately needed as even hardcore players grow tired at the lack of variety.
On that front Catalyst serves as not only an additional arena but does well to serve up some visual flair, with both it and Big Team's Breaker serving as the best looking maps in the game that visually stand out from the core arenas.
Catalyst's battleground is quite different from the other arena maps on offer, but not really in a good way - in terms of gameplay, Catalyst seems to have a bit too much going on and just doesn't seem to be as fun to play on as the game's other core arenas, which is a shame because it's the first map in Infinite that I don't particularly like.
Not that it's bad per se, it just isn't as good as what has come before it, though that may be more personal taste as many other reactions have been quite positive.
The other new map, Breaker is a godsend for the similarly content-deprived Big Team Battle playlist and offers a layout that is very different from the other BTB war zones.
With the three launch BTB battlegrounds all sporting a very similar aesthetic and playstyle, Breaker spices things up by offering a much more varied approach to map design that also transports Spartans to a desert setting that is not only visually impressive but offers a much different flow for its chaotic matches.
It is definitely the highlight of season two's new additions and also serves as the lone map for season two's flagship new mode: Last Spartan Standing.
Featuring a 12-spartan free-for-all that blends elements of Call of Duty's Gun Game with battle royale-inspired components, Last Spartan Standing certainly brings something different to Infinite even if it isn't going to capture the gaming world by storm.
Though I personally prefer squad or partner-based approaches to battle royale game types, the solo approach works well for this mode's smaller scope. Last Spartan Standing isn't quite the camp-fest you find with many BR modes either, especially since players have six lives to use up before they're eliminated and the map isn't overly huge.
Every player starts with a Disruptor energy pistol and the Sidekick handgun, with better weapons only earned through reaching new "levels" by getting kills or assists - reaching the first level will replace your handgun with a Mangler, the next level will replace your Disrupter with an assault rifle, the next gives you a Commando rifle, then a Bulldog shotgun and finally the coveted Battle Rifle, with each level taking an increased amount of XP to reach.
Later into the game killed players will also drop bonus XP orbs that grant extra XP to level up, but collecting these orbs takes time and triggers an audio cue that alerts nearby players, creating a risk-reward element that's standard in BR modes; similarly, drop pods periodically land on the map in random locations that grant classic Halo powerups (either an Overshield or Active Camo), but given the pulsing green light that identifies the pods, going for one can result in getting picked off by nearby players also looking to gain the advantage.
The only other "loot" that adorns the battlefield are grenades which can be collected from equipment pads located across the map or from downed opponents, and with weapons being entirely XP based and not dropped on deaths, it puts a bit more emphasis on player performance rather than how lucky you are in finding randomized loot.
Thankfully the BR traits don't turn Halo into a timid match of who can hide the longest; without looting being a core component, and the comparatively small map and player count, Last Spartan Standing matches tend to be pretty brisk and more akin to a slayer match with a bit more strategy mixed in.
Unfortunately having it playable on just one map makes it a mode that doesn't seem like it will have much staying power - it's one thing for a proper battle royale game to only have a single map, but those battlefields are absolutely massive and have other elements at play in order to keep players coming back.
If other Big Team maps are added into the rotation though, it could find a home amongst players and at the very least it does well to add some variety to Infinite's multiplayer suite.
Season two also brings with it the return of Land Grab, which is essentially a mix of classic Halo gametypes Territories and King of the Hill.
Specific to the Big Team Battle playlist, games feature three zones located on the map and the first team to capture each zone is awarded one point, with that zone being "locked" until all other zones are captured - once all three zones are capped, a new "round" starts with three new zones to capture and this continues until one team scores its eleventh point.
It's a fun and often hectic gametype that adds more variety to the BTB offering that plays just as well on the old BTB maps as it does on Breaker.
Another addition to Big Team Battle is the inclusion of the campaign's weapon variants; previously the special weapon variants seen in Infinite's campaign were nowhere to be found in multiplayer, but with season two, 343 has updated the vaults located on BTB maps to include these variants and claiming one to use is a treat.
Previously these vaults, which require a player to "hack" them open by staying in their vicinity for a brief period of time while their AI companion opens the doors, featured a random assortment of power weapons/equipment to reward players - now, players have much greater incentive to go for these vaults as they include awesome variant weapons not found anywhere else in multiplayer, such as the Duelist Energy Sword or the explosive Volatile Skewer.
Rounding out the new game modes is the returning classic King of the Hill which is the lone new gametype for arena playlists. Though its inclusion has been long awaited given its odd exclusion from Infinite's launch, it bizarrely makes some adjustments to the classic mode that are rather head scratching. More on that in the "Bad" section below, but even with the ill-advised changes, it still is fun to play and again adds variety to the core playlists.
Season two also came with a welcome update via the return of Rumble Pit - previously, players who wanted to play classic free-for-all game types in Infinite had to be content with free-for-all slayer matches, while Halo's classic Rumble Pit has always included other modes such as Oddball and King of the Hill.
This new version of Rumble Pit adds in fun variants such as Ninja Slayer (everyone gets an energy sword and grappleshot) and Vampireball (Oddball but the skull-holder gets the power of one-hit kills and leeches shields off of enemies) which are a blast to play.
The variants are a welcome inclusion and bring the fun of classic Halo custom games and the Action Sack playlists of old to the modern era, though a similar playlist for team play would certainly be welcome - a Rumble Arena playlist could easily replace the new King of the Hill playlist since KotH is already in both Quick Play and Ranked Arena.
As for season two's new Battle Pass, 343 has vastly improved the custimization content offered in its 100-levels and added plenty of free items as well, something that was sorely lacking in season one.
Not having a standard/overall progression system still really hurts the game, but at least this new Battle Pass doesn't feel like a rip off - it also adds credits in a similar manner to many other free-to-play titles' Battle Passes, with players that complete all 100 levels having enough credits to purchase the next Battle Pass at no extra cost (or you can simply spend those credits on other cosmetic items from the store if you'd prefer).
The new Banished AI that's available for players to unlock is a particular highlight and here's hoping we get more humourous AI companions in the future - it'd also be a great way for celebrity voices to make an appearance similar to how Call of Duty throws in celebrity actors to their Zombies mode. Who wouldn't want to play a game of Halo while Samuel L. Jackson quips about that headshot they just landed?
Continuing on the topic of the new Battle Pass, while the pass itself is a vast improvement, like everything 343 seems to bring out after Infinite's launch, it comes with new issues alongside some disappointment.
Progression is the same as season one's and once again features a heavy emphasis on challenges which tend to just annoy players more than anything - 343 has promised proper per-match performance-based XP in the future, but it of course isn't ready yet.
Though the challenge-based system can often be annoying, the bigger issue here is that once again season two will span six months - for regular players, it will take a month or two to complete the Battle Pass, leaving 4+ months without any new content to keep them going or anything to progress in besides the occasional weekly event.
Cross-core customization will also make a lot of players happy and some of those changes (specifically for helmets, visors, and armour coatings) were expected to arrive with season two's launch, but with all of those pieces still being core-specific it looks like we'll have to wait until sometime later on during season two for any of those improvements to be made.
What's especially confusing about the cross-core functionality is that modders on PC have already implemented cross-core customization months ago and have it working near-perfectly just by altering what 343 already put out (see above picture for an example), so it should be quite easy then for the developers to implement, yet just like everything else 343 has promised it's constantly being pushed to a later date.
Although new maps are of course most welcome, and Breaker in particular is excellent, the fact that we're six months post-launch and have only two additional maps for a "live service" game is just pitiful.
The game launched with a record-low amount of battlegrounds for a Halo game already - and unlike say Halo Reach which launched with the same amount (7 Arena and 3 Big Team maps), Infinite is still lacking Forge meaning the base maps are the only thing players can play on and they can't be altered.
343 to this point had always been great at providing plenty of content - Halo 5 in particular had more maps to start with not to mention a fully-featured Forge mode and Warzone which had its own set of larger maps to boot.
What's most ridiculous is that there's a simple solution to add more maps quickly - remake classic Halo maps.
These don't even need to be fully realized remakes with all the visual flair that traditionally comes with it - they can essentially just be Forge-style creations with basic looks but the same layout, leaving visual improvements or overhauls for the future after there's a solid amount of content out.
Though some may say "well there's the Master Chief Collection to play those maps in", and that may be true, but there's a reason old maps are recreated in new games so often, and it isn't (solely) laziness - with new gameplay mechanics, weapons, equipment and so forth, those maps are given a new life while still offering the same classic fun they were known for.
Recreating the classics removes the need for prototyping, virtually eliminates the design phase, and drastically cuts down on playtesting requirements so it really is a no brainer for 343 to focus on this until there's a more sufficient content base for the game - but of course, that would be the smart thing to do and the heads at 343 seem determined to annoy their dedicated fanbase as much as humanly possible.
As far as playlists go the new additions are all welcome, but one annoying limitation that really should be altered is allowing parties for Rumble Pit and Last Spartan Standing.
Prior Halo games always let players party up even in solo-playlists - as getting a full lobby to play custom games is typically difficult for people (not to mention the sad state of custom games in Infinite right now), people often want to mix things up and there's nothing better than taking a break from killing randoms alongside a few buddies to killing your friends instead.
In one of many baffling decisions, 343 continues to not allow this, claiming that players will team up in free-for-all modes and ruin things - considering past Halo titles, this doesn't seem likely and frankly the majority of players simply want to be able to play these modes with their friends.
Considering neither FFA playlist is ranked either, it really shouldn't be a problem - for Last Spartan Standing, they could perhaps turn off spectating for partied-up players or limit spectating to only players in their party to help stop those issues, but instead they've taken the lazy route and just removed party-play entirely.
An even more ridiculous decision though is 343's changes to the classic King of the Hill mode.
KotH is a staple in shooting games and has been a beloved gametype in Halo since the original game released - why on earth 343 thought it needed changing or why they found it important to take precious development time to make modifications to a mode nobody wanted changed is beyond me.
Instead of counting every second a team spends controlling the hill as a point, 343 has opted for a pseudo-round system that just makes scoring more frustrating and less intuitive.
Now, when a team controls the hill, their team's progress bar slowly fills; once it's full, their team earns a point and a new "round" is started, with a new hill appearing somewhere else on the map to start the process in from scratch.
Though on paper it isn't a huge change, it is annoying to essentially see your progress wiped out at the end of each hill and the simple, classic format works far better - the fact that they spent actual dev time implementing such unneccessary changes to a mode nobody wanted changed is just downright baffling.
Perhaps the dumbest and worst change 343 made in its multiplayer season two update was actually to the game's campaign.
While it isn't surprising to see some campaign fixes thrown in given that a large patch was going out for the game anyway, it's what they "fixed" that is simply bizarre.
Since the game's launch, players have explored every inch of Infinite's open world and have discovered a variety of "glitches" that are a ton of fun to use - many of these were things that the dev team was aware of before the game launched and purposely didn't fix as 1) they don't break the game or detract from the experience and 2) they are a lot of fun for players.
These exploits are also in the game's campaign and thus aren't detracting from other players' experiences like it would if it were in the multiplayer portion.
This includes things like fusion coil jumping (basically you can use the grappleshot in conjunction with throwing fusion coils to rocket yourself around the map) and the "tank gun", which involves players getting an invisible weapon that is actually the Scorpion tank's main cannon and is a blast to blow shit up with (and is seemingly a nod to Halo 2's scarab gun, which was hidden in several levels and was extremely overpowered).
These "glitches" (and the tank gun in particular seemed to be an easter egg rather than a glitch) have been a great source of fun for Halo players since the game's launch and have inspired all sorts of whacky Youtube videos and freakish displays of skill (and luck) through their usage, and I haven't seen a single person wanting these exploits to be removed.
I also haven't seen a single person present a case as to how removing these things would benefit anybody (it is in the single player campaign after all, so if you don't want to use them you certainly don't have to and without Youtube most people wouldn't even know they exist as they're not exactly things you're likely to do by accident).
Despite all of this, 343 in their infinite wisdom decided to remove most of those exploits from the game's campaign, without providing any reasoning behind it either.
The tank gun? Gone. Many of the grappleshot flying glitches? Gone. The awesome ability to pilot a Pelican dropship? That's gone too.
Not long ago, Halo Infinite was released and received many glowing reviews (including my own) in large part thanks to 343's unflinching committment to fun - six months later and 343 is actively removing that fun from the game.
The developers have already been forced to state they'll be returning some of those things in the near future after the wave of backlash they incited, though when they'll patch those things back in or if they'll all come back is still anyone's guess.
How on earth anyone on the team thought that was a good idea I'll never know, and what's more astounding is that the showrunners at 343 are taking development time away from content creation and meaningful improvements to intentionally remove fun from their game.
Six months post-launch and with constant delays and drawbacks on promised content, the people running 343 have its developers wasting time making needless changes to classic game modes like King of the Hill and removing things people have been having tons of fun with - it's almost as if they want people to turn to something else.
As 343's management continues to make blunder after blunder, one wonders just how amazing Halo Infinite could be if they had more competent leaders. After all, the game went through development hell and managed to be fantastic on release, with the biggest issue simply being not enough content.
If the executives at 343 can get their shit together and listen to the community rather than the corporate types that clearly don't play their product, they could return Halo to the top of the gaming world where it belongs.