Well it’s been a little over a week since the Halo Infinite Multiplayer suite shadow dropped at Xbox’s birthday party, and a lot of us at Seasoned Gaming HQ haven’t slept since. It’s been an absolute blast to play and it fills my heart with such joy just seeing my Xbox live friends list, and all but one of my social feeds (get with it, LinkedIn) absolutely filled with Halo goodness. Now, I’m not here to do a deep dive into all the details as to why Halo Infinite is an absolute blast, as that is coming soon in Seasoned Gaming’s in-depth Halo Infinite review. Instead, what I am here to talk about is a topic that is of major concern and dominating the online multiplayer discussion within the Halo community…the Battle Pass.
Halo has a long history as a multiplayer game, and has offered player expression by way of Spartan customization since day one. Longtime fans, which make up the bulk of the initial Halo Infinite player base, have had a precedent set that is unfortunately in juxtaposition of the battle pass era of multiplayer progression. What started as simply choosing an armor color in Halo: Combat Evolved eventually escalated to choosing, get this, TWO colors in Halo 2. All jokes aside though, the system did make major strides in the next few entries in the series, culminating in what many believe to be the best customization the series would ever see in Halo Reach. Reach allowed you to unlock credits and ranks as you played which would unlock new, unique armor pieces as you climbed the progression ladder.
All of this was handled in-game with no micro-transactions, loot boxes, or battle passes. Giving players things to chase presented a lot of choice into how they presented themselves. While I agree Reach’s system was great, it also existed in a different time, and the reality is that it’s just not sustainable anymore in a major AAA game. Let’s also not forget that Reach’s system came at a cost as the multiplayer experience had a paid entry fee and the player base was fractured more and more with each additional map pack that was sold. There is a reason why multiplayer games are often free to play now, and why paid map packs went the way of the dodo.
With all that being said, even with the above being true, we can’t ignore that Halo Reach, and the Halo titles before and after, happened. Therefore a lot of what players are feeling right now is valid.
Halo Infinite was rightfully praised when it made the bold decision to release its multiplayer as a stand-alone free to play experience, but there was always the looming question as to how they would choose to monetize. To no surprise, they opted for the battle pass strategy, which after being popularized by Fortnite, has been a staple in seemingly every free-to-play game on the market since. So, if Battle Passes and free-to-play are the peanut butter and chocolate of multiplayer gaming, then what is the problem with Infinite? Well, there are a few things. Most of the issues can be broken down into three categories: Diversity, Flexibility, and Attainability.
Diversity: Ever since Halo 3 there has always been a large amount of different armor options to chase via in game means, and a lot of it was available as soon as you booted up the game or was handed out very quickly. Most people I know have played Halo Infinite for 30+ hours at this point, and almost everyone is running around with the same stuff, with only small variations here and there.
Flexibility: In the small amount of armors that you do unlock, the different pieces and even colors, are locked to specific “Spartan-Cores.” So while you may have unlocked a cool armor coating (color) that you want to use, you might not be able to use it on the specific armor you want to.
Attainability: Progress made towards unlocking what is available is done very slowly and can sometimes be too reliant on things outside of your control, halting progress even further.
OK so we’ve identified the problems, what is the solution? Well, if you polled the people voicing their concerns, all signs point to the issue being the battle pass, and its challenge based approach.
Currently how the battle pass works is that while you get a small amount of XP by playing any match (a feature that was added post-launch as a way to treat the issue while they work on a cure), the majority of your XP comes from completing challenges from a long list that refreshes each week. There are a lot of problems with how this is implemented, so there are of course a lot of people asking for it to be removed and to change to a match based XP system, similar to Halo MCC.
While I agree with the logic that brings them to that conclusion, I actually think there is a more nuanced approach to fixing Halo Infinite’s progression problems, and that involves saving the challenge system, not killing it. I believe a primarily challenge based XP system can work, and in fact is the best way to handle progression in a service-based game. If you don’t believe me just look at Apex Legends, a game in which I believe has a perfect system for progressing a battle pass. So how do we get Halo Infinite in its current state to a point where we can move the discussion back to how good the game is, and not how bad the progression is without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
Believe it or not, this is more of an issue in the moment, and I don’t think will require much action from 343 above what they already have planned. Of course, providing higher quantity unique armors and attachments in future battle passes is something everyone wants to see, but it is something they already alluded to. As they said it was one of the main reasons this season had been extended and season two was delayed. On top of that, there is some neat stuff in the current battle pass, the fractured events have some really cool spartan cores (Yoroi <3) that are available for free, and news from the Infinite campaign previews show us we will be able to unlock more customization options for multiplayer in the campaign as well. This problem is one that we just have to wait out and it should fix itself. Moving on.
For starters, armor coatings need to usable across all spartan cores. There are glitches in the Halo Waypoint app that allow you to see mismatched coatings and cores already, so it seems like its less of a technical challenge and instead more of an an aesthetic one. I get that part of the reason the coatings exist in their current state is to provide much more curated color options, that better match the different armor sets they are being applied to, but that should not come at the cost of flexibility. I would rather have the option to put a coating on a skin it wasn’t designed for, and have it not look as good, over being in the situation many of us are in now.
The same principal applies to armor attachments, although I think this one is a more slippery slope as they have to be able physically fit on armor in a specific way. I would be open to a system where common and uncommon attachments were universal and epic or legendary ones were core-specific. That way we still have player choice, and the art team at 343 can still have lots of creative freedom to give us awesome looking attachments like the sword belt in the current fracture event.
This is the big one. Before I jump in with my proposed solutions here, I just wanted to take a moment to reiterate the golden rule of creating a service-based game, since Halo Infinite is after all a game as a service. That golden rule is: “It’s OK to let your players go.” To further explain this rule I want to share an interaction that happened a while ago at a GamesCom event where a fan of Final Fantasy XIV (one of the most popular service-based games in the world right now) asked the game’s Producer Naoki Yoshida (Yoshi-P) what he recommends players do when they feel they are losing motivation to log in every day. They wondered what they can do to force themselves to continue playing when they have exhausted the interesting/ enjoyable stuff in the game. To this he said:
Yoshida: “It’s alright not to play it every day. Since it’s just a game, you can stop forcing yourself if it’s hard on you to keep that up. Rather, it’ll just pile up unnecessary stress if you limit yourself into playing just that one game since there are so many other games out there. So, do come back and play it to your heart’s content when the major patch kicks in, then stop it to play other games before you got burnt out, and then come back for another major patch. This will actually make me happier, and in the end, I think this is the best solution I can answer for keeping your motivation up for the game.”
This is so important as so many games, especially service based games, try and implement retention mechanisms to keep players logged in out of fear they might get hooked on another game and not come back. These retention mechanisms end up doing the opposite of what they were intended to do though, as people get burnt out and can no longer find the fun. This is something that plagues World of Warcraft and Destiny 2, and some of these principals seemed to have found their way into Halo Infinite.
Here are some examples of this:
- Weekly challenges are only handed out four at a time, even though theoretically you would have already completed some of the upcoming challenges if they were “active” at the time.
- Some weekly challenges are based on things others do, or involve modes you can’t reliably play which slows you down.
- Special Event challenges are locked behind non-event ones as a means to slow you down.
- Special Events cannot be completed in the week they’re active no matter how long you play. You will need to come back several times, on specific weeks, if you want to progress all the way through
Intentional or not, all of these things will slow down your progression and lead to negative experiences. A few examples include needing to capture three territories in a big team battle match, but playing two hours of BTB without a single one of them being total control. Or needing to stop an enemy’s killing spree, meaning you have to have an opponent go on a killing spree in the first place, and then make sure you are the one who kills them, despite having no reliable visual queue to know which opponent is on a killing spree. 343 Industries needs to know that “It’s OK to let your players go”, if a player quickly chews through the battle pass, unlocks the seasonal content, and feels the urge to play something else. Let them. Instead of looking at it as a lost player, look at it as an opportunity to win them back with your next release or season. I guarantee you that player will be more excited to jump back in after time away than they would if they were drip fed content from season to season.
I know all of this sounds bad, but the important thing to remember is that all of this is not an inherent problem with having a challenge based system. It’s just an implementation problem, and it’s a whole lot easier to refactor an implementation, than it is to build a brand new system from scratch. So there is a pathway out of the darkness here.
Step One : Fix the Challenge Requirements
Challenges are the core to progression in a challenge based system, obviously, so they should be the first thing to fix. The most important part of these, especially for weekly challenges, is that they are based entirely around the people completing them. They should rely on the individual players actions and what is in their control. If you can’t control what modes you play, then instead of capture three zones it should be capture three objectives (flags, zones, seeds, ball time, etc). Since you can’t control if an enemy goes on a killing spree, the challenge should then be for you to go on a killing spree yourself. Having challenges that rely on the actions of other players, and/or rely on getting into a game mode that you have no control over, leads to playing games that make you feel like you are no longer progressing, and artificially increases the time it takes to complete them.
A Note on Challenge Swaps: I know that challenge swaps exist and if you find a bad challenge you can swap them out but this is more of a band aid solution as challenge swaps are finite (pin intended) and could easily result in getting another bad one. They should also only be used to flip out those more experimental daily challenges I mentioned above, the weekly challenges need to find the balance of being something that takes a good amount of investment for the level of reward you get as well as be something that can be progressed in most matches you play. aka they should not need to be swapped.
Step Two : Make Challenges More Challenging and Rewarding
Yesterday I played halo infinite for approximately two hours and completed six or seven weekly challenges, thus gaining about two battle pass levels and three event levels. There are problems on both sides of this. Weekly challenges in their current form are too easy to complete, and their rewards are right in line with their difficulty. They need to be something that will conceivably take a casual player a few days to a week to accomplish and reward them significantly for their time investment. It feels a lot better to get 30 kills with a Commando for 1500 XP than it does to get 5 kills six times for 250 XP a pop. This of course will also need to be supplemented with daily challenges so that you are still always progressing to some degree. These need to go beyond simply completing one match (although I know this is a temporary solution). Daily challenges are actually a great place to incorporate more experimental or RNG reliant challenges like the aforementioned “stop a killing spree” as long as they are few and far between, because if you are unlucky in that session there will be a new challenge tomorrow.
Step Three : Encourage and Reward Simply Playing Well
One of the biggest complaints surrounding a challenge based system is that people are not playing the game to win, they are playing the game to complete challenges. This can often result in players running head first into the entire enemy team because they need three more melee kills instead of lobbing a grenade or calling for backup, effectively ruining the match for players who are playing the game as intended. With the current implementation this is effectively incentivized as you will get your 50xp for the match win or lose and gain even more XP if you complete challenges along the way, regardless of how much they lower your teams chance at success. Full disclosure: I am guilty of this, although never in a ranked game!
This is clearly a problem and is an important one to fix, especially if you want to convince people who are skeptical of a challenged based system to change their minds. While the perfect solution would be to have one that takes into account how well you played in terms of kills, assists, objectives, medals, etc, something that deep would take time to get right. A great short term solution would be to simply reward your team for winning a game with bonus XP. If given the opportunity to make slight challenge progress and gain bonus XP by winning instead of tanking your team to complete the challenge, I believe most players will chose the former.
And that’s really all there is to it! Easy peasy. Now copy and paste the above and FileSaveAs ProgressionFixed.jpg 343! I’m joking of course. While I firmly believe everything I suggested is a realistic solution, making games is very difficult. Launching a new game, on a new engine, on six different devices, on a beloved IP that is under the world’s biggest microscope, during a global pandemic is very, very difficult. Hopefully this is some valuable feedback that perhaps someone at 343i can see or even perhaps help fans of Infinite see that it’s not all doom and gloom. The whole progression/ battle pass issue is more of a bad haircut vs a crippling disease. Something that can, and likely will, be fixed over time. Until then, see you on the battlefield Spartans!
P.S. if any of you are currently on a killing spree and are not on my team, let me know!