Friday, January 27, 2023

I played 400 hours of Halo Infinite multiplayer – here’s why I stopped

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Last year, I was beyond excited to play Halo Infinite on PC when it launched. I never had the opportunity to play a new game in the series with a keyboard and mouse, as during my peak Halo years, the game was Xbox-exclusive. However, although Halo Infinite is currently the most played multiplayer shooter in my Steam library, clocking in at around 400 hours, I have barely touched it for three months and counting.

As much as I’ve now gone off Halo Infinite, the core gameplay is still the most fun I’ve had with an FPS game since Halo Reach. There’s just something that clicks with its straightforward gameplay loop, but hard-to-master skill set. One of my friends, who I’ll refer to as a ‘dedicated Spartan’, used to play competitively, and soon I was asking him how to up my game and improve my K/D ratio. With his advice a new skill ceiling felt attainable, and that was exciting.

I soon knew the maps like the back of my hands. The first batch were mostly great, though Recharge has the blunder of having a line of sight from points B and C. Any match that takes place in Streets or Behemoth is usually a good time, provided the team is on the same page.

After those first few weeks, though, cracks emerged. My group began moving on to newer games. It happens, especially with free PC games, but the beginning of the exodus coincided with the release of the campaign. In a truly bizarre set of circumstances, the campaign’s launch broke Big Team modes for the entirety of the Christmas season. What’s more, the weekly challenges were still requiring players to accomplish feats only feasible in Big Team. Soon it was just me and the dedicated Spartan left. At that point, he was still having some semblance of fun, but it wouldn’t last, as the cheaters reared their ugly heads.

Halo Infinite multiplayer issues - two Spartans shooting at offscreen enemies in a snowy forest.

Aimbots, which automatically position the reticle on enemies, are thankfully rare in Halo Infinite, but wall-hacking is not. For those not in the loop, it gives the user x-ray vision, showing if someone is coming around a corner, so you know precisely where and when to shoot. Of course, pro players lead into corners and have their finger on the trigger at all times, but with enough exposure, it’s easy to see if the player who just eliminated you before you could react was hacking, compared to simply being a sharp shot.

The worst part of it all is that, when I was playing, there was no way to report cheaters. Community feedback is valuable in exposing wrong ’uns, but it also has more positive implementations in games, such as singing the praises of teammates that save your bacon with a quick like. The fact nothing exists here is troubling.

I was willing to forgive these shortcomings if the second season was any good. It began during the summer and was heavily focused on free-for-all modes: a huge mistake. These were always the least popular modes in Halo, and rumour has it, they were featured as a testing ground for a foray into battle royale games in the future. My dedicated friend didn’t bother buying the season pass, and honestly, I’m not sure why I did either. I quit three weeks later, clocking in at just under the 400-hour threshold.

Halo Infinite multiplayer issues - two Spartans trying to capture a flag. Cyan is diverting attention while orange runs with the blue flag.

That was it for a few months, but in recent weeks, campaign co-op was made available to everyone. I’ve since returned, and while it’s still brilliant fun (there’s nothing funnier than confusing a blundering boss with a big hammer by standing on top of different doorways), I’m unsurprised to report that it’s filled with bugs, such as being unable to spend Spartan Core points on upgrades or audio issues interfering with Discord calls that otherwise work perfectly with every other game. The mid-season multiplayer update didn’t impress much either.

To fix things, first and foremost, some time should be spent stripping the game of the in-house anti-cheat feature that doesn’t work, and just spend some money applying Easy Anti-Cheat. I realise this means giving more money to Epic Games as games such as Fortnite are competitors in the free games market that Halo Infinite multiplayer is going for. However, the Easy Anti-Cheat website lists Xbox Game Studios, the Halo Infinite publisher, as one of its partners. It’s clear that Microsoft has a working relationship with Epic Games, and if it means getting rid of the aimbots, wall-hacks, and other prolific cheaters that run amok, then it’s worth the investment.

Halo Infinite multiplayer issues - a yellow Spartan with a circular helmet standing on top of a hill overlooking the forest.

Once a proper and robust anti-cheat solution is implemented, we also need the fun game modes to return. There’s so much potential with Halo Infinite’s upcoming Forge mode that I’m probably going to stay away from this game mode until it launches, when I can jump back in properly for game nights. I mentioned earlier that Halo Reach was a formative part of my gaming habits in my 20s. You’d think that the bulk of it was spent in Big Team, but actually, it was messing around with wacky game types. Grif Ball, where two teams with hammers play a mixture of football and hockey, will always be simple and chaotic fun. Now imagine it with the grapple shot, and you can see why I want it to return.

It’s not just Grif Ball, though, and thankfully it seems like Forge Mode may revive some familiar faces. Favourites of mine include Rocket Race, where you and a buddy drive through courses on a Mongoose as the second player makes the vehicle jump gaps by firing rockets. Creators also experimented with obstacle courses, where people race to the finish to avoid picking up letters that spell HORSE. Perhaps Halo Infinite will pop these in a playlist with the ability to keep score.

So brighter times may be on the horizon, and it’s not too late for 343 Industries to resolve the main issues I have with Halo Infinite. Will the game recover player numbers back to the 250,000+ players on Steam? No, of course not. However, by fixing things that are broken and returning to the fun, silly modes that make Halo games of old so fondly remembered, it has a chance of at least improving its popularity if it embraces its more creative side.

Numisteamone

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