Halo Infinite multiplayer is doing free-to-play the right way

Halo Infinite will reimagine Halo multiplayer as we know it. 343 Industries is offering the social side to its upcoming Xbox Series X game as a free-to-play standalone experience for the first time in the franchise’s lengthy history, and that can only be a good thing. 

Since Halo 5: Guardians released in 2015, the landscape of the multiplayer shooter has drastically changed, with free-to-play battle royales like Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone surging in popularity. That’s why the decision to take Halo Infinite free-to-play makes sense from an industry standpoint – but when 343 first announced its plans, long-time Halo players were naturally very concerned. How do you take something as iconic as Halo multiplayer and make it as accessible as a Call of Duty title without compromising its unique gameplay brand?

When a Halo Infinite multiplayer overview debuted during E3 2021, it managed to clear up any concerns in just under 13 minutes. The gameplay looks fresh and fun while still feeling uniquely Halo, and the approach to a more democratized version of free-to-play was apparent. It’s infinitely clear that 343 Industries has taken the extra year of dev work to figure out a nuanced way to approach the free-to-play shooter – one that doesn’t have a pay-to-play scheme and maintains the immaculate vibes of a shooter so iconic it spawned its own subculture. It seems 343 has taken the core Halo ethos and upgraded it for an industry trending towards the battle royale – basically, Halo Infinite has figured out how to do free-to-play the Halo way.

The Battle Pass 

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: 343 Industires)

If you give consumers a product for free, you have to figure out a way to get money out of them. For most free-to-play games like Apex Legends and Warzone, that means offering premium content like seasonal battle passes that players can purchase and then progress along, unlocking cosmetics, weapon blueprints, and currency along the way. Both of those titles also have separate storefronts, which allow players to make one-off purchases of armor skins, weapon skins, and more. 

While most of the time this currency exchange offers up wholly cosmetic items, that’s not the case with games like Call of Duty: Warzone, where players can purchase Operator packs with unique weapon blueprints that offer a leg up on the battlefield. The term ‘pay-to-play’ was never shouted louder than in the case of Warzone’s controversial Roze skin. The difficult-to-see matte black skin offers a clear gameplay advantage and was available as the final unlock in a specific season’s Battle Pass. Players who couldn’t progress along the Battle Pass in time (or those who simply didn’t want to), just bought all of the tiers until the Roze skin. And to add even more insult to the knife an unseeable Roze puts in your back, Warzone later offered the skin as a standalone purchase in store.

Halo Infinite multiplayer will simply not have shenanigans like this. Just like with the Halo Master Chief Collection, Halo Infinite Battle Passes will never expire. That means there will be no time-consuming grind to get to content further along the pass, like the one I’m currently engaging in with Warzone (at the time of writing, there’s 16 hours left in Warzone season 3 and I want all of the ’80s mixtapes). 

“The Halo Battle Pass will never be taken away from you. What I mean by that is once you buy it, it’s yours and it does not expire,” says lead player investment designer Christopher Blohm. “In future seasons you can purchase old battle passes as well as the current pass and choose which battle pass to put your  progression towards.” This offers both casual and hardcore players a chance to get a cosmetic they’ve been eying, without punishing the former for not having 3-4 hours a day set aside for gameplay. But wait, there’s more. You’ll never see an item in the Halo Infinite Battle Pass in any sort of storefront. So no one will be buying the thing you just worked hard to earn. 

Halo 3 but make it modern 

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: 343 Industries)

Battle passes with cool skins are great, but any self-respecting Halo fan would trade shiny armor for gameplay that feels as good as Halo 3 without any unnecessary filler. What makes Halo multiplayer fantastic is the result of a very specific formula featuring sandbox elements, fast-paced gunplay, and flashy colors. But the gameplay must be treated like a volatile chemical compound – adjusting this formula even the slightest can have drastic consequences. Remember when Halo 4 introduced sprint?

From the Halo Infinite multiplayer overview trailer and the subsequent Halo Waypoint blog post, it seems like 343 Industries is (rightfully) using Halo 3 as its multiplayer muse. Halo Infinite’s sandbox will be “punctuated by the addition of Halo 3-esque equipment”, or limited-use items that you’ll have to scavenge in order to get the competitive advantage. 

Those items include the Threat Sensor, which will send out an AOE radar pulse; the Repulsor, which can deflect projectiles; the Drop Wall, which creates a single-sided shield; and the Grappleshot, which will let you gain high ground or grab objects from far away. Don’t worry, Legacy Halo equipment like the Overshield remain. Halo’s “fair start” ideology is what makes Halo multiplayer so fast-paced and frenetic, as you’re forced to seek out the higher-powered items on the map and potentially die for your efforts.

As a person who cut their teeth as a somewhat competitive shooter player on Halo 3, this recent look at Halo Infinite multiplayer is incredibly promising. There’s the familiar movements of classic Halo, with Spartans strafing and jumping to get better positioning. There’s the almost tactile melee animations seen with the slamming of the Gravity Hammer and the slice of the Energy Sword. There’s the iconic Halo vehicles that have been updated to take area-specific damage, offering us a chance to try and drive a three-wheeled Warthog through a firefight. All of it looks like a polished and updated version of Halo 3 – it’s like that scene in Transformers when Bumblebee transforms from a ’76 Chevrolet Camaro to the modern Camaro concept. 

A new generation of Spartans 

Halo Infinite

(Image credit: 343 Industries)

But no matter how often the old Halo mainstays like myself yell about how good Halo Infinite’s multiplayer looks, there needs to be a way to bring in new fans. That’s where the Academy comes into play. If you’ve spent time playing other free-to-play games and gotten used to their gun feel and gameplay, jumping right into a Halo title may be incredibly jarring. You don’t aim-down-sight as often as you would in Warzone, and you’re not as nimble as you are in Apex Legends. Asking players to jump into this game cold is the gaming equivalent of the Polar Plunge, and 343 Industries is apparently well aware of that. 

The Academy is a practice mode led by the fictitious Spartan Commander Laurette that will let players hone their skills and find their way around Halo’s highly-specific weapons and environments. You’ll be able to drop into the Academy for target practice, or for the first time ever, face off against Spartan-shaped AI bots. You can adjust their skill level and customize your loadout so that what you learn in the Academy can have the most practical application in the highly competitive world of Halo multiplayer. 

Imagine Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is a carrot dangling in front of players who are mostly unfamiliar with the franchise. That carrot will look good if it’s free, but it’ll look even tastier if it comes with different toppings (the Battle Pass) and sides (game modes), and you’ll be making a more informed food choice if someone explains its nutrients to you beforehand (Academy). And it’ll be damn near impossible to resist the carrot if it’s served on a gleaming silver platter (the gameplay itself). As a longtime Halo fan, I can’t wait to eat this carrot, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of carrot-curious people who feel the same way. The analogy’s over, go get ready for Halo Infinite. It drops this holiday season.

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