The latest Halo Infinite roadmap is here, and so is the now-familiar cycle of emotions provoked by an update from 343 Industries. It goes something like this: excitement at a fresh collection of Halo Infinite news, reservation as you start to parse through that news, pleasant acceptance of a few good tidbits of information, worry as some of the updates start to seem a little concerning, then disappointment once you realize this is all you’re getting for the next six months to a year.
The latest Halo Waypoint update (opens in new tab) was especially upsetting in that regard, as we learned that season 3 is being pushed from November of this year to March 2023 and that 343 Industries is abandoning Halo Infinite split-screen co-op altogether. Naturally, players feel like the goal posts have yet again been moved – the fact that the couch co-op cancellation was quietly squirreled away in a 30-minute update video doesn’t help either. The most frustrating thing about all of this, however, is that Halo Infinite could be a great game – I just don’t want to wait for all these promised improvements anymore.
RIP couch co-op
Halo 5 Guardians was the first Halo game to launch without couch co-op, with 343 scrapping the mode in part to ensure the game could reach 60fps. But a Halo game without split-screen co-op is a Halo game only in name, and fans of the franchise were vocal in their disappointment. As such, 343 Industries loudly and declaratively responded to the backlash. Studio founder Bonnie Ross took to the DICE Summit 2017 stage and discussed what the team had learned from the debacle. “It’s incredibly painful for the community and for us,” she said. “It erodes trust with the community as the community is part of our world-building … I would say for any FPS going forward, we will always have split-screen.”
In July 2020, then-studio head Chris Lee doubled down on Ross’ promise, saying “we will have split-screen and we will have co-op when we launch Halo Infinite.” Halo Infinite’s launch was soon pushed back to 2021, and when it did launch, it did so without campaign co-op or Forge, which were delayed until at least May 2022. Then, in March 2022, both modes were delayed again, with 343 admitting that Infinite’s open world was presenting “big challenges.”
Players can (and should) be understanding of the rigors of game development, especially when you consider the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent shift to a work-from-home model. But the issue isn’t with what’s being provided – it’s with what’s being promised, and how those promises keep shifting.
343 Industries’ latest spate of updates is fairly transparent, and that’s partly what’s so frustrating. It’s not that past updates or conversations with players have seemed to obfuscate the truth, but that the truth keeps shifting, with long gaps between each adjustment. And it’s not just split-screen co-op that’s been a victim of shifting goal posts, but also Forge, matchmaking, online co-op – really the entire Halo package.
While testing out the Halo Infinite network co-op beta in July, I realized that it was incredibly difficult to find people to squad up with. The Halo Discord was ignoring my requests and none of my friends had access to the beta yet, so I pinged a question over to Xbox asking whether or not the mode would have matchmaking at launch. A representative responded: “Online matchmaking will not be available with final co-op. We encourage you to continue to use the Halo LFG and the new Discord voice call feature on Xbox to find players to party up with as you continue playing the beta. ” This is all fine and dandy, but here’s the rub: when were we going to learn that this incredibly useful feature was absent?
Then there’s the issue of repeated delays when it comes to multiplayer seasons and updates in general. In April, I wrote that Halo Infinite’s status highlighted the need for clear live service roadmaps, as players had grown confused and frustrated at the lack of concise information. At that point, after months of silence, we were finally told how long Season 2 would be, that campaign network co-op was coming in August, and Forge would drop in September (or maybe November, it wasn’t clear). Since then, we’ve lost split-screen co-op entirely, network co-op and Forge were pushed to November, Season 2 was extended to almost a year, and Season 3 was pushed back five months. And still, the vagueness persists – I had to watch a 30-minute video to learn that split-screen co-op was canceled.
The most painful part is that Halo Infinite is a good game with rock-solid gunplay and frenetic, fun multiplayer that feels like it honors the franchise. Even jumping back into the campaign a few months ago was thoroughly enjoyable, though I wish I could have done it with my partner beside me and a few empty tinnies between us.
Halo Infinite’s better qualities are mired by inconsistent messaging and what seems to be a top-down issue, where higher-ups may be writing checks the dev team is struggling to cash. In February, I wrote that Forge would help Halo Infinite tap into a community of creators who could create new maps that would help keep online play fresh and potentially take the pressure off of the dev team. With no Forge in the mix, online play is getting stale fast, especially since we’ve only gotten two new maps since the game launched nearly a year ago.
Halo Infinite has so much potential and a passionate fan base that wants, desperately, for this game to have a shelf life as long as the others in the franchise. For a while, players just wanted consistent updates on what was to come. But with so many features delayed or outright canceled, even with the latest roadmap in my hands, I have to wonder how much of it will actually materialize. Will we ever get a robust Forge roll-out? Will Season 3 last just three and a half months? Most importantly, will I run out of patience before this game finally feels complete?
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