I could spend all day talking about what makes Halo Infinite great but not necessarily superb, but, when you're in the thick of it, the faults that create that distinction are hard to notice because it's just really fun. While playing, I found myself giggling with murderous glee after successfully wiping an enemy team all on my own; laughing as I nonchalantly chucked a fusion coil and accidentally splattered an unseen player; and roaring support for an ally as they successfully held the line long enough for our team to secure an objective and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The experience of playing Halo Infinite is joyful, and what more can you ask for when it comes to a free-to-play online multiplayer shooter?
But, to reiterate, Halo Infinite isn't without its flaws. Most notably, its challenge-based progression system feels unrewarding and keeps the game's coolest-looking cosmetics locked behind dozens of hours of an unfulfilling grind. But 343 Industries has stuck the landing on what matters the most, as Halo Infinite feels good. Firearms shoot with a nice punch, and your Spartan's movements are smooth. And although not every map at launch feels like they're going down in Halo's hall of fame as all-time favorites, there's a welcome variety to them, allowing the seven currently available game types to play out in wildly different ways depending on which map you're playing on.
Similar to Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the narrative basis for Halo Infinite's multiplayer is a Spartan training program. With both Master Chief and the UNSC Infinity marked as missing in action, and the threat of Cortana still at large, Spartan Commander Agryna leaves you behind at a secure facility that's tasked with training the next generation of Spartan IVs. It's up to you to work hard and grow stronger in preparation for the coming fight.
The multiplayer feels like old-school Halo, but tweaked to better fit the modern FPS playerbase that has fallen in love with shooters that accentuate their solid gunplay with smooth movement and quick-to-deploy abilities. Halo Infinite leans into the traditional rhythm of the series' firefights--it's a dance that will feel familiar to long-time fans, but it also now feels wholly unique in today's shooter climate with the longer time-to-kill rate. Though fights can be ended quickly with the right weapon (or just having vastly superior numbers), most don't on account of each Spartan's rechargeable shield, which divides combat into two distinct parts. While shielded, you can take more risks and utilize weapons that take longer to have an immediate payoff (like the Plasma Pistol, which can be charged to fire a more powerful shot), but when that shield is gone, you're vulnerable and the need to take more evasive maneuvers (or pull out a faster-hitting weapon, like the fully automatic MA40 Assault Rifle, to outpace your opponent's shots) increases. If you can last long enough, your shield will recharge, reverting you back to the first phase.
As all players are tied to these constraints, fights are typically less about what weapon you have and more about how you choose to use it. A charged Plasma Pistol shot will decimate an opponent's shields faster than the MA40, but if a player with the MA40 can move side to side fast enough and avoid the loose lock-on of the Plasma Pistol, they can land enough hits to break that shield first, and the MA40 tears through unshielded targets significantly faster. Halo has consistently been a game of skill that rewards players for fighting intelligently and knowing how to best defeat an opponent, and Halo Infinite sticks to that trend.
Equipment compliments the gunplay, with every piece of equipment being useful in some way, and most being useful in different ways from mode to mode. For example, Repulsor, which sends out a shockwave to knock back everything in front of you, is great for flinging vehicles off cliffs in Big Team Battle, but can also save your life from a surprise grenade in Ranked Arena. Brief cooldowns, limited uses, and the need to collect them keeps each piece of equipment from being incessantly spammed, ensuring skilled use of firearms remains the key component to Halo's in-match meta.
Halo Infinite's movement mechanics pair well with the game's firearms and equipment, encouraging fast and aggressive play. The ability to slide after sprinting is especially noteworthy, as you go just far enough and just fast enough to quickly turn tight corners for both offense or defense. It feels as essential to combat as strafing or jumping when it comes to avoiding shots, and correctly timing a jump to go into a lengthy slide to swing around a corner and surprise your opponent by shooting them from a lower angle than they were expecting is fulfilling.
Of the new-school shooter mechanics that make their way into Halo Infinite, the ping system is the only one to really fall short. Halo's core formula wasn't built with a ping system in mind, and Halo Infinite isn't restructured to address that fact. The ping itself isn't very informative--though it thankfully does tell squadmates how many enemies are at a location, it doesn't provide context when pinging a place on the map. That can make it tricky to discern whether a teammate is saying to go to a spot, defend a spot, or attack a spot. Putting the ping on the D-pad on a controller also makes it hard to use the mechanic in the midst of a fight. Given how many objective-based modes are in Halo Infinite, a ping system is a smart idea for helping teams coordinate their efforts. However, the existing system isn't all that helpful or easy to use, and since so few people use it, players aren't conditioned to take heed of it and largely ignore it when their allies do happen to use it.
When you're ready to fight, there are four available playlists in Halo Infinite's multiplayer. Bot Bootcamp hosts an assortment of 4v4 modes, but set in a PvE setting, allowing new faces to test and improve their skills prior to diving into online matchmaking. Quick Play and Big Team Battle are Halo Infinite's two casual online multiplayer playlists--the first includes the game's assortment of 4v4 game types, while the second is 12v12. And finally, Ranked Arena presents competitive variations of what's found in Bot Bootcamp and Quick Play, pushing you to go up against similarly skilled players in attempts to rise in rank.
As Halo Infinite's multiplayer has launched in open beta, not all modes are live in the game. Elimination, for example, is absent. At launch, Halo Infinite has seven modes: Total Control, Stockpile, Oddball, Strongholds, Capture the Flag, One Flag CTF, and Slayer. Save for Slayer, all of the modes in Halo Infinite are objective-based, where securing the most kills isn't the goal for winning the game.
The challenge of how to achieve these objectives adjusts to which map you're playing on, which is dependent on which playlist you're queuing into. Bot Bootcamp, Quick Play, and Ranked Arena feature smaller maps, most of which incorporate twisting corridors that prioritize remaining hyper aware of your immediate surroundings and staying ready to pop off in intense firefights. Big Team Battle takes place on significantly larger maps, all of which encourage smart player rotation--being a good shot is still important, but knowing how to most efficiently get from point A to point B is even more critical, as you can be spawned a long sprint away from the objective that needs you.
It's an altogether solid library of maps. There are a few that make me groan in exasperation whenever they pop up--notably Highpower because of how unfairly overpowered the Wasp is on that map and Behemoth because its wide-open layout and inclusion of vehicles isn't a great fit for the 4v4 playlists. Overall though, Halo Infinite has kicked off with a welcome diversity of fun arenas. Bazaar and Recharge are my two favorites, featuring prominent open middle spaces for those brave enough for a hectic shootout, while the outer rims of both maps encompass multiple levels of hallways and rooms for those looking for a longer but typically safer trip around the map. Fragmentation is also really fun--you can't go wrong with a Halo map that's two bases sitting across from one another in a long canyon.
Halo Infinite also builds on the series' collection of firearms, adding an assortment of new guns to obliterate, melt, zap, and crush your enemies to death. The core conceit remains unchanged: Alien weapons vaporize Spartan shields while human firearms tear through the unprotected fleshy bits. But there are a few more enjoyable considerations to keep in mind this time around. For instance, the Shock Rifle can disintegrate a target with a headshot, but sending a beam into a Spartan's chest can cause the electricity-based shots to arc to additional targets, damaging nearby enemies. The weapon's shots can disrupt vehicles too, stalling Warthogs or causing Banshees to fall from the sky. Most of Halo Infinite's new weapons are similarly designed, featuring secondary effects or fire modes that, when strategically used, lead to satisfying results.
Fan favorites like the Energy Sword and M41 SPNKR return, rounding out a total roster of 20 firearms, two melee weapons, and four grenade types. The sound design for these weapons is superb--even if you can't see an enemy, you can immediately identify what weapon they're using based on the sound it's making. The shots fired from each gun and the appearance of each grenade are also visually distinct (less so for the human weapons), which helps you identify what you're up against in case a louder sound is masking the trademark noises of your foe's weapon.
This all helps ensure the outcomes of firefights lean towards skill as opposed to luck. In the few seconds that a fight lasts, visual and auditory cues can tune you into what your foe is using against you, informing how you can respond to beat them. It wouldn't be a Halo game without luck (or hilarious misfortune) also playing a part, and that's present too. I've had a fight where I won, breathed a sigh of relief, and then a destroyed Wasp fell out of the sky and crushed me. These sorts of deaths of comedic misfortune aren't what you'll usually endure though, and for the most part, the better player (or just the player who better knew how to use the environment to turn the tables to their advantage) will come out on top.
But again, save for Slayer, getting kills isn't usually the most important goal for a game. And even if Slayer is all you want, you're currently out of luck. There are no game type-specific playlists in Halo Infinite at launch. Instead, 343 Industries has chucked Halo Infinite's assortment of modes and maps into each of its four multiplayer playlists and you're randomly thrown into one mode depending on which playlist you pick. So, for example, going into Quick Play might put you into Slayer on Bazaar, and then into One Flag CTF on Launch Site in the next match. Beyond going into Custom Games and making your own playlist, there's currently no way to curate what you specifically want to look for beyond whether you want to play 4v4, 12v12, or 4v4 ranked.
I can certainly see the appeal of it. Without this format, I doubt my friends and I would have regularly played or even tried many modes beyond Slayer. But as it happens, we've come to really like Infinite's Oddball, Capture the Flag, One Flag CTF, Total Control, and Strongholds modes. This current playlist format ensures that every player gets a healthy dose of every mode. If you've never touched Halo in your life, Infinite is a continuous sample platter to give you a taste of what's on offer, helping you find new favorites to enjoy.
There is a downside to this though. You'll notice I didn't mention that my friends and I fell in love with Stockpile. That's because we don't like Stockpile. We don't want to keep playing Stockpile. Lugging each battery across the map is slow, stalling combat as players carry a battery a few feet, toss it forward, and die. And then the next player on the team repeats the process to move the battery a little further. It's essentially a much slower variation of Capture the Flag, and with teams needing to capture five batteries to win a round, it can feel like matches are going on for way too long. Halo Infinite is just a better game when players are running around and shooting, not slowly walking around with glowing batteries and being shot to death in seconds. But there's no option to filter out Stockpile. We could just stick to Bot Bootcamp, Quick Play, and Ranked Arena, but that's not a constructive solution, as we still want to play Big Team Battle's other exclusive mode, Total Control. Ultimately, there's no real way around it--Halo Infinite's lack of playlist curation means that you'll occasionally be put into modes that you may not want to play, which can be frustrating, especially if you don't have too much time in your schedule and just want to play what you want to play. A sample platter is a great starter for an evening, but at some point you just want to call over the waiter to put in an order for your favorite meal.
It really doesn't help that in-game progression is also entirely tied to completing daily and weekly challenges, and several weekly challenges are tied to playing specific modes. For example, completing challenges to kill an enemy flag carrier can only be done if you're put into Capture the Flag or One Flag CTF. So you can queue into Quick Play in hopes of getting a match in either mode, but you might be put into numerous Slayer and Oddball matches first.
Since there's no guarantee you'll be in a position to kill someone who steals your flag (save for camping the flag's spawn point), or that your team's flag will even be stolen, you may wind up having to queue again and once again wait to be put into the mode you need to play in order to progress in the battle pass. It's very frustrating, especially if the matches you're playing in the meantime aren't doing much towards your in-game progression. 343 Industries has at least added a repeatable daily challenge where completing a match earns you some XP, so no match is a total wash. But given that that daily challenge only nets you 50XP each time you complete it and you need 1000XP to level up in the battle pass, progression is still largely tied to weekly challenges where rewards range from 200-400XP.
So, as fun as Halo Infinite is to play--and, admittedly, doing well can be its own reward, especially if you have friends to hype you up after a great match--skillfully playing objectives and just being a good teammate isn't rewarded through the progression system. Though the potentially grander implications of this aren't suitable for a review (there's no way to tell if weekly challenges will ultimately influence players to play more selfishly and pursue their own progression over ensuring victory), the immediate consequences are worth discussing. As it stands, it's incredibly tedious to earn anything in Halo Infinite, short of dropping real-world money and buying battle pass levels or cosmetics from the in-game store--not an especially compelling solution.
Despite these issues, however, I keep coming back to the fact that Halo Infinite is just fun to play, with or without those rewards. Halo Infinite's online multiplayer takes everything that is good about Halo and amplifies it with the faster pacing and abilities of more modern-day shooters. Not every new mechanic and feature fits Halo's established formula--the ping system isn't very good, and tying all in-game progression to daily and weekly challenges leads to an unrewarding system. But the sound design is spot on, the maps are good, weapons hit with a gratifying kinetic energy, and the game rewards skill. Even if it's still in open beta, Halo Infinite's multiplayer is already a great free-to-play shooter.