It's been quite a month for Microsoft, hasn't it? For a long time, there's not been much in the way of new stuff to play on Gamepass - and then along comes November and they go ahead and drop the twin bombshells of Forza Horizon 5 and the multiplayer beta for Halo Infinite - the Fat Man and Little Boy of the year's first-party releases. I like the fact that they're two very different games that I can play side by side - but since my uninstall of Destiny 2, Halo has been providing me with my first-person shooter fix... and I'm frankly gobsmacked by how much fun I'm having with it.
I bailed on Destiny 2 for a lot of different reasons - but one of the main ones was the state of the PvP side of the game. The Crucible had been subject to the law of diminishing returns for me for a long time - with the balance of fun and frustration offered by the mode finally tipping the scale too far in the wrong direction for me to carry on subjecting myself to it. There are only so many times you can run around a corner and be shotgunned by a sliding invisible Hunter - or one that appears from vertically above you - before you really start asking yourself uncomfortable questions about your life choices. Looking around for something to replace it, while also wanting something that I could engage with in a much more casual way than Destiny has come to demand, I couldn't help but look at Halo. It's a series I've got a lot of history with - although the multiplayer has always been the bit of the game I've engaged with the least over the years.
Well, all that's about to change - as the only part of Halo Infinite that's currently available is the multiplayer. And it's absolutely wonderful. I'm having more fun than I really dared to hope for - and it's due in no small part to it being all the things that Destiny 2's Crucible isn't anymore.
Watching a lot of new players - and paying particular attention to how they die - you see what makes Halo stand out so much from the other shooters that now occupy the free-to-play space - we have to remember that this game is, to some extent, going to compete with the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and any other season-pass driven offering. Halo, quite simply, doesn't feel like any other first-person shooter I've played in a long time. Instead, it feels like a throwback to an earlier age.
It feels like you remember Halo feeling - which is to say that it feels like a wonderfully updated version of a 20 year old game that's been led into the modern age. Where so many contemporary first-person shooters favour twitch reactions and a ridiculously short amount of time required to take down an opponent, Halo feels slower and more considered. Retreat is an option - and often a viable strategy. Gunplay is at the core of the combat. There is no countdown to a super power that can be unleashed, no melee attack that can take down an enemy in a single hit from half a map away. There is no double jump, no dodge that turns you invisible. There is you, a shield, a couple of guns and grenades, and your position on a map. It encourages more tactical thinking - and the longer time-to-kill allows it to play out in every encounter.
The other deciding factors in most encounters come down to weapon knowledge, map positioning, and using grenades effectively. Grenades in Halo can kill, or drop a shield opening a player up to a (comparatively) rapid dispatch. Learning how a grenade will bounce, which grenades will stick to surfaces and their respective blast radiuses can often be the deciding factor in the outcome of a battle - and it's nice to be playing something where they form a useful offensive and defensive option again.
You'll notice I'm comparing it a lot to Destiny here - and I suppose that there are two reasons for that. The first one is probably obvious, and that's that it's my main point for comparison because it's the shooter I've played most in the last 5 years. There have been a couple of others, but they've all been brief flash-in-the-pan experiences in comparison to Bungie's magnum opus. The second one though is because the two games share a lot of DNA. Let's not forget that Bungie were responsible for the best of the earlier Halo games, with Halo 3 and Halo Reach arguably being the zenith of the franchise so far. Halo Infinite feels like a callback to those halcyon games - but also to the days when Destiny was new, when gunplay was more important, the time to kill higher... and the Crucible wasn't overrun with hand cannons, sniper rifles and shotguns. Where time has worked to inherently unbalance Destiny 2, with different players equipped with different weapons with different perks - and more recently armour with different stats and mods - Halo Infinite starts every round with every player equal in terms of equipment. The battle rifle I'm firing at my opponent behaves in exactly the same way as the one he's firing at me - so if I die first, I have only myself to blame. What I'm finding is that every single time I die (which still happens quite often!) I'm able to see what I could or should have done differently. It's never as simple as "that player who killed me was mid super and there was nothing I could do," which is how it feels it so often breaks down while playing Destiny 2.
Halo Infinite doesn't have a meta and to me, that feels like a good thing. It will likely develop one in time - but as long as equipment is gained only by picking it up at spawn points in the Arena you're playing in rather than selecting what you run before you go in, I think it'll remain as flexible as it feels now. Obtaining better weapons is a matter of knowing when and where they spawn, and playing well (or smart) to be the first player to reach them. Each weapon has its place in your arsenal - some are best against shields, some against armour. Some are best at range, some close up - and by giving players the constant opportunity to swap out weapons and adapt their playstyle to them, what 343 Industries have constructed here is like a version of rock, paper, scissors... but with very big guns.
Once you're comfortable with the various weapons and how they work, you'll start to play around with the items you can pick up on the battlefield - all of which are a lot more fun that is immediately apparent. The repulsor, for example, can be used to deflect a rocket or grenade - but it can also be used to bounce a vehicle back into an enemy, or to dunk an enemy off the map. Using the grappling hook to escape an encounter is nearly as much fun as it is to hijack an enemy in a flying vehicle that spawn in the Big Team Battle (12 v 12) mode.
Is it perfect? Of course not. While matchmaking is rapid, the process of assembling a fireteam can feel fiddly. From a progression perspective, there's already been a lot of online grumbling about the speed of progress you'll make in the battle pass. It's slow - but I'd argue that if you're playing Halo Infinite for loot, you picked the wrong game; there are plenty out there that will scratch that particular itch way more effectively. The best thing to take away from the game's 'problems' are that they are things that can be fixed comparatively easily. The fundamentals of the game - the bits that really matter - are already working wonderfully. For a game to launch as highly polished and working as well as this one has, is something that's increasingly unusual in the current era of video games. So far, so good. For now, I feel like I've found my new go-to first-person-shooter, and I'm having an absolute blast. Roll on the campaign.
Have you been playing Halo Infinite on Gamepass? What do you make of it? Let me know on Twitter!