When Halo Infinite was first released to the public a year ago, there was some genuine belief that the game would shake up the FPS genre by making Halo a top contender again. After all, Battlefield and Call of Duty's newest entries at the time (Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty: Vanguard) were both generally considered to be mediocre while Halo Infinite's gameplay was almost perfect. Alas, while Halo Infinite was capable of drawing people in, the game has had trouble retaining players. In fact, outside of the two maps included in the recent Winter Update, 343 Industries has only added one new map to the core playlist since launch. Most people would consider that to be completely unacceptable and would rightfully find other games to occupy their time.
Fortunately, it seems as though 343 Industries has finally awoken from their slumber with Halo Infinite's Winter Update. While the new battle pass is decidedly shorter than the ones offered in previous seasons, no one can deny that the Winter Update lays the groundwork for some critical features. Chief among these features are Campaign co-op and mission select, which frankly should've been in the game at launch, but better late than never as the saying goes.
The multiplayer XP and challenge rework is also a nice touch, but the real long-term draw of Halo Infinite's Winter Update is going to be the addition of Forge mode. While it is still in its infancy, the new Forge mode looks like it might be a far more powerful tool than its predecessors for those who are itching to create custom maps and modes.
There's already more than a few interesting community maps and game modes floating around on the internet if you want to take a look at what the new Forge can do. Needless to say, this gives 343 the opportunity to integrate the best community maps and game modes into the official rotation, hopefully freeing up some of their time to work on other projects.
On the other hand, Halo Infinite's Winter Update does very little to stem the existing dissatisfaction surrounding the game. As promising as Forge is, its benefits are realistically only going to be realized in late 2023 as it will take time for the community to familiarize themselves with the new tools. Furthermore, if (and that's a big if) 343 does decide to occasionally add community maps into the official rotation, they will ideally need to playtest these maps, which also takes time. None of this is going to be good news for those who are looking for a reason to come back to the game today. It's definitely not encouraging that one of the two new Winter Update maps was temporarily removed due to crashes.
Naturally, this will cause people to wildly speculate on why Halo Infinite is in the state that it is in right now. Some will blame the shift to seasonal content, and while the addition of battle passes and seasonal content would naturally put a larger strain on the developers, it's certainly not the full story. If anything, one can argue that 343 has adapted to the era of battle passes relatively well (map selection notwithstanding) given how there are no shortage of free and paid cosmetics.
Plus 343 has done a decent enough job of introducing new game modes and shelving unpopular game modes as needed. For example, the battle royale lite Last Spartan Standing game mode introduced in the Lone Wolves update was removed simply because people weren't playing it. It's a smart move in this day and age, as it's pointless to waste time and resources trying to save something that people aren't attached to.
That being said, this does make Halo Infinite's lack of new maps even more bizarre. There wasn't any singe-player DLC to take up valuable developer time or new PvE modes or anything of the sort, and even if 343 is purposefully slowing down development to avoid crunch, we are still looking at the unavoidable statistic of three new maps in a year.
While it's hard to deny that developers in general are under more pressure than ever before, at some point even the most patient and understanding consumer will move on. Ironically, the rise of Xbox Game Pass likely doesn't help as a game from a completely different genre can now steal your very valuable player base.
Hopefully, 2023 is a better year for Halo Infinite as the FPS genre is sorely in need of some kind of competition. The Winter Update is a good start, at least for the long-term prospects of the game. Incidentally, if it took a lot of developer time to implement the Winter Update's core features, then it's probably for the best that it has been such a slow year for Halo Infinite. Better to get these relatively large core projects out of the way first and have them in a stable state before focusing on things like maps and cosmetics. Other multiplayer games, such as Rainbow Six Siege, had similarly rocky releases only to enjoy a resurgence of popularity once all the problems were resolved. People won't be happy about it now, but if it results in a better game in a year or two, then it's a small price to pay.