When Microsoft announced Halo Infinite during its Xbox Series X presentation back in 2020, the company clearly intended the newest entry in the long-running series to be its flagship launch game. However, the game received a surprise delay from its November 2020 launch window only three months before its planned release. This pushed the launch an entire year down the line, with the free-to-play multiplayer mode finally going live in November 2021.
While Halo Infinite quickly became one of the most-played games on Steam, reaching over 200,000 concurrent users during its first week, its popularity has waned considerably in the intervening six months. Developer 343 Industries has struggled to keep the game relevant in the face of its live-service competitors, like Apex Legends and Destiny.
The latest patch, which introduced the second season of the battle pass, has soured some players. Many enthusiasts who hoped for the second season to revitalize the game’s lagging player base were instead greeted by bugs, changes that no one asked for, and the elimination of some speedrunning strategies that have all soured the community.
Microsoft Needs Halo to be Huge
Microsoft is locked in a red-hot console war with Sony right now. The Xbox Series X has been a success so far, and Halo Infinite is a big part of that. The game was included in Microsoft’s extremely popular GamePass service, which helped propel its early numbers considerably. Everyone who already subscribed to the service dropped in to check out the latest entry in Master Chief’s ongoing adventures.
However, Microsoft needs Halo to do more than just make a splash in its first month of release and then fade into obscurity. The series is Xbox’s flagship, and it needs to compete with Sony’s titles, like God of War and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The PlayStation 5 has outsold the Series X, and Sony seems to have a stranglehold on the home console business.
The Halo TV series, which streams on Paramount+, has drummed up some excitement for the aging timeline. It’s evident that Microsoft has poured a lot of energy into promoting its flagship series to keep up with Sony’s undeniable momentum in this console generation.
Some analysts rightfully note that Microsoft doesn’t solely rely on selling Xbox consoles to keep its video games profitable, though. The Game Pass model allows users on PCs to access a wide variety of Microsoft titles, too, in addition to indie games and third-party releases. These days, every Windows PC is basically an Xbox hooked up to a monitor.
That doesn’t mean the company wants its marquee franchise to flounder in the face of newcomers like Fortnite and Apex Legends, though. Infinite’s second season, called Lone Wolves, has introduced a new game mode called Last Spartan Standing to hopefully recapture some lapsed players who prefer battle royale games over team-based arena combat.
Last Spartan Standing Stumbles Out of the Gate
The Last Spartan Standing mode sounds intriguing on paper. It pits players against each other in a tense free-for-all, where each Spartan has a limited pool of lives in an everyone-versus-everyone melee. This attrition-based combat should sound familiar to any players who have dipped their toes into battle royale titles like Fortnite, which featured huge pools of players battling to be the last one standing.
Last Spartan Standing does what it sets out to do in the moment-to-moment gameplay: it’s fast-paced and tense, with each player scrambling to stay ahead of the rest of the field. Spartans can level up as they score points and unlock better equipment to aid in their goal to become, well, the last Spartan standing.
There’s just one small problem: when you run out of lives, you’re left to spectate the match until its conclusion. The game offers a pop-up suggesting that players who have been defeated can leave the lobby and still record progress on their daily and weekly challenges, thus keeping players from getting bored watching other people play the game they sat down to enjoy.
Except for some players, this hasn’t been the case. Many Halo fans have noted online that they’ve left Last Spartan Standing matches only to see their challenge progress vanish, leaving them nothing to show for their time spent in-game. Many fans have already complained that the daily and weekly challenges can be a pain to complete, and they’re the only way to access in-game cosmetics without spending real-world money.
Removing Skill Jumps
Last Spartan Standing’s issues aren’t the only black spot staining the new patch for players, either. Many hardcore Halo Infinite fans have noted that the new patch has taken away a complicated technique known as skill jumping. Skill jumping involves falling from certain distances and crouching as you hit a ramp to get a massive amount of momentum and scale buildings you normally can’t climb over.
In competitive multiplayer matches, skill jumping is a commonly used skill among the best players. It’s a thrilling scene in a tense match when a stellar Halo player bounds over a building by timing a jump perfectly and bouncing off a ramp.
Developer 343 Industries removed most of these skill jumps, with the latest patch reading, “Velocity gained from landing into a slide on a ramp has proportional reduction based on fall height.” Further, it notes that the company is “[r]emoving or adjusting collision on small props and thin ledges.” This essentially eliminates an entire layer of strategy that pro players have developed over the six months they’ve spent mastering the game.
Many players are frustrated with this change, as it seemingly came out of nowhere. The developers didn’t discuss these changes with the community beforehand and offered no commentary on why they would remove these high-level techniques.
Speedrunning Gets Hit, Too
343 Industries didn’t stop at pulling skill jumps out of the multiplayer mode, either. The company also patched out elements of the single-player campaign that allowed players to commandeer a powerful Pelican vehicle. This trick allowed speedrunners to quickly zoom through a portion of the campaign and served as a fun reward for players skillful enough to push Infinite to its limits.
Likewise, 343 Industries removed an interaction between the grappling hook item and plasma coils. Previously, pulling a plasma coil with your grappling hook while standing on it would send you flying through the air. Speedrunners would use this trick to skip massive parts of each level, shaving precious seconds off their time.
By patching out these features, as well as other interesting loopholes in the game’s physics engine, players argue 343 has made the game more boring. They argue that Halo is at its best when players are allowed to play in its physics sandbox and discover fun exploits and hidden secrets. This is the cornerstone of the franchise’s emergent gameplay loop, after all.
Hardcore Players Speak Out
Halo’s most diehard fans spoke out regarding these changes, saying they don’t seem to help anyone. Professional players won’t stomp newbies with skill jumps, they argue, because Infinite’s skill-based matchmaking system already keeps players grouped up based on their performance. If a newcomer enters a match, it’s unlikely they’ll bump into any veterans who can bounce around the map using skill jumps.
Likewise, the removal of speedrunning techniques has rubbed many players the wrong way. They argue that the single-player sandbox doesn’t even impact other players, so balance changes within the campaign just don’t make sense. Some have accused 343 of making arbitrary changes to make the game fit a vision that differs from what the players want.
“Why, when the game has so little content as it is, do I feel like the most passionate and dedicated part of the fanbase is being attacked without proper reasoning or transparency?” says Halo professional Alexander “Shyway” Hope. “Why can’t the focus just be on adding content and fixing existing issues that are truly preventing this game’s success?”
All of this is compounded by the frustrations some players have experienced with the game’s real-money store and in-game cosmetics. Several fans note that grinding for some challenges in the battle pass is extremely time-consuming, and some feel like this is on purpose. After all, if you get frustrated trying to earn a cosmetic without spending money, you might break down and buy an XP booster for real money to hasten the process.
What Can 343 Industries do?
The developers have stated they plan to address the Last Spartan Standing mode to prevent players from losing their progress on challenges. However, 343 has remained silent regarding the removal of skill jumps and speedrunning techniques as of the time of this writing. It’s unclear if they plan to reintroduce these elements amidst player outcry or if they’ll keep the sandbox in this new state.
Some players have expressed frustration with the company but argue that Halo Infinite is extremely close to being an ideal live-service game. Many have noted that the second season introduces a lot of things to love, like the new Catalyst multiplayer map and a much-requested Slayer mode that starts players with the beloved battle rifle weapon. The question that remains is whether 343 can bring the long-running series back to the center of online gaming as it was in 2004. Or in 2007… or in 2010. Really, Halo has a long history of being a top contender, so it’s unusual to talk about it like it’s an underdog. Can 343 right the ship and put Halo back where it belongs, or is the fan-favorite franchise finally out of steam?