Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
Photo by Erik Mclean / Unsplash

On November 15, 2021 on the 20th anniversary of Xbox - Halo Infinite Open Beta dropped. It launched with multiplayer and it was free!

On December 8, 2021 it officially lost the "Open Beta" tag and campaign launched for $60 price tag so I want to dig into the experience and review from a Halo player that has played ever single major Halo since the beginning.


Maps

On release day, Halo Infinite launched with 10 maps which is pretty close to the base limit that most Halo games launched with. However, lets talk about that 3 of them were specifically for Big Team Battle.

One of the other maps then (Launch Site) was not in competitive so that left us with 6 maps. However, a few weeks into the game one map from that pool was removed entirely from competitive (Behemoth) for being absolutely hated. Spawns were disgusting in it, so it took between 3-4 sets of team kills before pulling a flag in objective was feasible. So now we are at 5 maps for competitive play - which becomes quite boring.

So I find with my luck that a few days of playing between work and writing this blog, I play on only 3/5 of the 4v4 maps and only 1/3 of the 12v12 maps. This is of course luck of the draw, but just leads to aggravation - I don't want to play the same map especially not 3 times in a row.


Free to Play

This model has become quite popular over the years where anyone can obtain the game for free. In app purchases exist for cosmetic items of all sorts - in Halo this becomes like colors, AI sounds, emblems, armor, etc.

These items can be obtained one of two ways presently:

  • Unlocking them via the Battle Pass
  • Buying them

For most games this is a classic behavior that you don't have to buy anything and can simply play to unlock items. For Halo Infinite on release that was NOT the case. Folks were beyond upset that you could play hours of the game winning and receive zero XP. This is because XP was isolated to only a pool of limited challenges which could require you to be in a specific playlist.

So then imagine once you finally unlock a new level and you get a reward and chances are you get a "challenge swap". A literal reward that allows you to swap your challenge to something else in case you don't want to play the random rolled challenges given.

I'm not honestly sure how this left the 343 office without being forced by some executive on the promise of more financial engagement, so lets look how quickly changes were made to please an upset user base.

  • (+2 days) 343 adds +50XP per game, boosts last 1 hour vs 30min
  • (+15 days) 343 changes XP, 1st game +300XP, 2-3rd game  +100XP, then 3-6th match +100XP, then +50XP for all others
  • (+29 days) 343 removes odd challenges and introduces easier challenges.

I just can't figure out how anyone thought playing the game and winning and doing amazing resulted in 0XP on release day. What happened to the older Halo's of progression? How is this better? I'm just constantly at a loss of understanding.


Crashes & Regressions

Imagine this - you are playing the game and it just crashes out. You lose experience and you upset the experience for every other teammate. You have a thousand dollar video card and top of the line computer - what is the reason?

You suffer with hundreds of others disabling random features, uninstalling higher quality resource packs, turning off Steam features. Just to hopefully stop the crashing.

Just when you finally slow the crashes disabling every possible feature in your computer - your teammate just crashes and the experience sucks.

https://leafapp.co/player/iBot/matches

Since I do build Leaf in my free time I can just export my game history filtering by "left" games. I know since I've never willingly left a game, all my games that show as "left" are crashes.

So I've played 1,208 matches of Halo so far and I've crashed out of 13 games. That seems pretty good since I took the steps to attempt to resolve this as much as possible. However, the February update that came out regressed something and I now crash more often now which is part of the reason I play this game less and less now.

So with my 1,208 matches lets check how many of those games were:

  • I crashed: 19 games - 1.57%
  • Other left/crashed: 339 games - 28%
  • No one left/crashed: 850 games - 70%

That is simply insane - almost 30% of my games had a missing player due to leaving or crash. That in a 4v4 is a literal game winner or loser depending on which side you fall of the missing player(s).

So why don't I try the new larger "Big Team Battle" that pits 12 vs 12 Halo players against each other. Too bad early December something manifested in the game that was never apparent during the early November playing.

You would launch into BTB and one of the few would happen:

  • You would lag out immediately
  • The games would start 1v3, 4v2, 1v5 in a playlist meant for 12v12
  • The games would never start (waiting 5+ minutes loading)

343 with the holiday and 2022 nearing basically said (summarized) "we have no idea whats causing this, we added some logging and will be back in 2022"

I couldn't believe it. The large break from work I get every year and my 2nd favorite game mode is busted.

So on January 19, 2022 (which is a month later) an update comes out to fix BTB and guess what? It fails at it.

https://twitter.com/ske7ch/status/1483882268892352512

Have video games gotten too complicated and companies too large to produce a AAA game and expect it to be stable on release?

I keep vaguely remembering this Bloomberg article and thus quote:

The staffing at 343 was also unstable, partially because of its heavy reliance on contract workers, who made up almost half the staff by some estimates. Microsoft restricts contractors from staying in their jobs for more than 18 months, which meant steady attrition at 343.

This seems tough for the video game industry. Since chances are that some of those contractors have become subject matter experts of a certain part of a game engine or feature.

Another month passes and the early February patch finally resolves BTB for me. At least it didn't take a few years like Halo MCC to fix. However, this is the same release that led to an increase of crashing for me so the hope was further lost.


Priorities

What bugs me the most is every release I'm hoping to see changes for one the following:

  • Fixing the crashes
  • More ranked playlists (Slayer, Objective, HCS, Doubles, FFA)
  • Correcting the imbalanced ranked games
  • Releasing all game modes that are presently in game, but hidden (VIP, Assault, Infection, Attrition, KoTH)
  • Releasing Forge
  • Releasing Co-Op
  • Halo Waypoint Stats

However, this is what we actually get:

  • A new limited event with a new gamemode that will go away
  • Adding playlists that should have been there on day 1
  • Events with new armor/colors - purely visual

While we've heard news on the Co-Op front - it was bad news as it was delayed. Don't worry though, the brand new cosmetic "core" that will require you to re-earn armor and paint for a different spartan will be releasing on time.

I don't blame them that you work on the things that make you money, but at the end of the day. If you are bleeding population - why not fix the things people are complaining about?

https://steamdb.info/app/1240440/graphs/

This graph is just flat out sad. I want to like this game. I want to play this game. The weapons feel great and when it works - it works well. It just rarely works.

For comparison, we can look at Apex Legends which I see a lot of Halo professionals also play.

https://steamdb.info/app/1172470/graphs/

Apex has a reverse graph that is actually swinging up with players compared to the bleeding Halo Infinite.

Which person out there said - "You know what, I want more cosmetic changes before anything else?"

I know I sure didn't.


Ranked Balance

So if we ignore the actual issues that prevent me from playing the game. I decide to play in the morning before work.

https://leafapp.co/game/ec7e18dd-62bf-4e38-b263-4f01acbef426

I actually win! Which is odd, because lets look at this game:

  • The estimated MMR was ~100 difference
  • Why is there a Gold 6 on enemy team?

So we beat a team we were supposed to beat while they have a person that is almost 600 points beneath me. That is insane. At least in Overwatch they prevent folks that far apart from playing together.

It feels the game knows what I should be ranked (MMR) and no matter how I play - it wants me to be where it thinks I should be. When I finally climb out of that hell - I can lose hours of progress for 1 loss which just breaks me. We recently got a developer post that dug into these details a few days ago, because of tons of community complaints about this.

I read it and I don't feel better, because it just tried to explain the reasoning why things are the way they are. I honestly don't care if the system is working as intended for x,y,z if most people think its garbage.

https://leafapp.co/game/1b96baed-6635-4d8f-9774-40b7248b5204

Though, lets talk about this game above.

  • Objective play does not help your stats, according to 343 itself, only kills/deaths so I should not play the objective and instead lose and do well in killing to help myself.
  • Why is a Gold 6 in this lobby. You have to climb all the way through Platinum to reach Diamond. Why Gold?
  • Why did my teammate who ended up placing Diamond 1 go 8 and 24 and still place in Diamond.

It's just depressing beyond belief.

So lets pivot away from me for a bit and grab a professional player Snipedown. Who I remember from the early Halo days.

https://leafapp.co/player/Snipedown4965/matches

This is a professional player playing solo that happened to lose or crash every game he played in a multi-hour gaming session yesterday.

He plays at a positive level with an insane accuracy in every game yet loses. So lets take a look at the last lost that caused him to go offline.

https://leafapp.co/game/07da0865-bbf9-4c7b-bab1-de3dc731d5c6

This game looks depressing. The MMR is near aligned, but not a single teammate of Snipedown could go positive holding a sub 1 KD ratio. Not to mention one teammate played so poorly at 7 kills and 23 deaths.

Don't worry though, Snipedown won't lose any CSR for this loss since he did great.

Why do these games keep happening? If they happen for me and they happen for a pro, then I can estimate its happen for all.

Most readers will tell me to just stop playing and I should really do so, but imagine a game you've been playing for 20 years. Every single Halo that is released - you have to give it a shot.

So for my final ranking example. I decide to play BTB and did amazing with 51 kills. This isn't odd in BTB because the game gives me players that are still learning how to move. It isn't fair - I'm not even sweating in BTB and easily drop 40 kills a game.

https://leafapp.co/game/3428bff1-67e1-4074-9e2a-1a9e0160ebb1

So I play a bunch of Social games (no ranks) and do pretty well. I'm affecting my perceived skill even though I'm not playing comparable players.

So then what happens is when I decide to go back into Ranked, the game thinks I'm better than I am.

https://leafapp.co/game/0b4ff72c-b8a8-4f0a-9795-ecaf4305e231

I had Lethul on my team who is a professional player on Sentinels, the team that won nearly every Halo 5 event and got rated the #2 best player of all time.

Why am I matched with this professional? Did the game think I was good after I beat noobs in social over and over?

Thankfully having the 2nd best player of all time on your team leads you to a victory. All of his teammates (ie me) went negative, but we still won.

This doesn't seem right no matter how I look at it. I'm happy we won, but this match-up should have never happened.


Closing

Season 2 is approaching under the motto of a "live service" Halo game, but instead I'm just hoping for a fixed game.

I can't understand how older Halo's can launch on release day with features that this game still does not have released.

I'm not in game development so I'm properly just not understanding the real reasons behind everything. What I can assure readers though from Steam graphs and personal experiences is - this game just sucks right now and I hope that changes.

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