Halo Infinite is in better shape today than it was at launch. Developer 343 Industries moved quickly to resolve frictions at the heart of its progression system, and to expand the suite of matchmaking options available, but it still feels like Halo Infinite is struggling to reconcile the free-to-play framework that has been erected around its arenas.
I think concerns surrounding Halo Infinite's long-term viability are fairly weighted. 343 was recently caught trying to charge $8 for the color blue – a business decision that may well join The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion's Horse Armor in the annals of Xbox Live infamy. It wasn't just the cost that rankled many in the community, but the additional limitations on the use of Rare Armor Coatings – armor permutations are compartmentalized between each of the Spartan Cores. That, and the inability to earn store credits through the premium Battle Pass.
It was the perfect storm that arrived at exactly the wrong time. Ongoing matchmaking issues have essentially rendered Big Team Battle unplayable for many since the holidays, and the Fracture: Tenrai event hasn't exactly eased concerns that Halo is a suitable fit for live-service. And yet, despite all of this, I'm still regularly playing. Ranked crossplay may be infested with cheaters, my Spartan may look as boring as the day they emerged from the academy, and players' inability to understand the ruleset of Oddball may continue to infuriate, but I'm having a great time. There's something so intrinsically enjoyable about Halo Infinite's play that I'm finding myself willing to forgive a lot.
343 will no doubt be banking on that being a feeling shared widely throughout the community. Change is coming, but the big ticket items are going to take a while to manifest. In the short term, head of design Jerry Hook says that players will continue to see "changes to how we package and price items in Halo Infinite", and that 343 "will be trying new things throughout the rest of the season so that we can continue to learn and improve for the future."
Luck of the draw
Okay, so the 'Lucky Blue' armor coating may have, as luck should have it, inspired change, but when will we see it? Hook says changes to the storefront will begin rolling out imminently, but we'll have to sit tight for other changes to the free-to-play platform. He went on to explain that "Credits will be earnable in Season 2's Battle Pass," adding that this means "you will be able to earn Credits as part of your Halo Infinite progression."
This is the right decision for Halo Infinite. It's following in the footsteps of Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite: Battle Royale, and countless other free-to-play games on the market – rewarding you with store credits for playing the game and completing challenges. That the ability to purchase items and cosmetics from the store without needing to resort to opening up your wallet wasn't there from day one is a little baffling, but it's good that 343 is approaching its first stab at a live service with agility.
Here's the problem though: Season Two is still months away. Last year, the studio announced that it was extending Season One before it had even begun – delaying the release of S2 until May 2022 at the earliest. That's when campaign co-op is set to arrive too, with Forge mode (the creator tool which should alleviate concerns over a lack of maps and modes) not scheduled to launch until Season Three – whenever that should be. As 343's head of creative Joe Staten noted last year, these big features could slip further into 2022.
"Yes, we are extending season one. So our goal still remains what I said before, which is to ship campaign co-op with season two and Forge with season three. But those remain goals. Those remain targets. And we can’t commit to any hard dates right now, because as we’re seeing with this multiplayer beta, other things might move up in the priority stack for us."
If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it's that 343 is clearly willing to put in the work to make this free-to-play platform succeed. The studio is making the right promises and appears to be receptive to fairly offered feedback and criticism. From my perspective, I hope the team is able to look at the vitriolic response to the Lucky Blue armor coating and counter-balance it against the rabid response to the Cat Lovers bundle and the 'Purrfect Audio Epic' Helmet Attachment contained within – a $10 unlock that let Spartans wear cat ears.
There's a lot of cat-eared players running around in Halo Infinite's tightly contested arena games right now. From that we can surmise that players are willing to purchase cosmetics in a Halo game, so long as there's value in the premium permutation – at the very least, it'll be a fear of missing out on cool looking cosmetics that ultimately drives players into the store, through the battle pass, and into a rotation of returning daily to complete daily. Ultimately, the long-term viability of Halo Infinite will depend on how these decisions – changes to store pricing, variety of cosmetics offered, the ability to earn Credits through the battle pass – are received by the community. The question now is whether players will be willing to wait for the changes to arrive.
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