halo infinite lone wolves

Opinions

Halo Infinite Season 2: Has Free to Play Been Working?

May 7, 2022

By: Anson Chan

More Info About This Game
Developer
343 Industries
Publisher
Microsoft Studios
Release Date
December 08,2021 (Calendar)
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)
 
 

When Halo Infinite was officially released in December 2021, it seemed like 343 Industries basically caught a unicorn. Halo Infinite's solid gameplay mechanics combined with a free to play multiplayer component encouraged people to flock to the game in droves. It certainly didn't hurt that Halo's closest FPS competitors imploded overnight. There were some valid complaints about the slow and unrewarding grind to unlock cosmetics, but these issues have more or less been addressed at this point. In spite of all these advantages, the recent release of Halo Infinite's second multiplayer season, Lone Wolves, feels like 343 forgot that they had a unicorn in a barn somewhere and they just remembered that they should probably let it out to do unicorn things every once in a while.

While it's hard to deny that 343 Industries could be handling Halo Infinite better in terms of map release frequency and adding "core" features, it's also hard to condemn them entirely given the quality of Lone Wolves' content.

The most obvious shortcoming is that it took almost half a year for 343 to add two new free maps to Halo Infinite. Needless to say, this is a glacially slow pace for any modern multiplayer FPS. For reference, Halo 5 received 11 free new maps four months after launch, a number of which were for the Big Team Battle playlist that wasn't available on release day. Meanwhile, Halo 4 got six new paid maps four months after launch.

 

halo infinite battle pass credits
Time to feed that crippling cosmetics addiction

Officially, 343 says that Halo Infinite's bizarre lack of new maps is because they want to focus on "team health."  If we are to take this statement at face value and assume that 343's workers are being treated well, then that's great news for the long-term health of the game. The lack of new maps remains unsatisfactory, though understandable if this is the case. Alas, it's hard to dance around the fact that the game still doesn't have a level select feature, co-op, or Forge either. 

That being said, it's hard to think of any other major issues that are affecting Halo Infinite at this time outside of certain annoying Challenges. There's no shortage of cosmetics anymore with the launch of Season 2: Lone Wolves. Those who bought the battle pass will have access to up to five visually distinct and beautiful armor sets. If you don't want to spend any money, you aren't that far behind with access to up to three of these armor sets.

 
 

343 have also added a fair number of classic and completely new game modes too, helping offset the small number of maps to some degree. Last Spartan Standing is a particularly noteworthy addition introduced in Season 2, functioning as an intense battle royale-lite that (with some minor tweaks) can be expanded upon in future seasons. 

Of course, none of this really means anything without people to actually play it. According to Steam ChartsHalo Infinite had an all-time peak of 256,619 concurrent players on Steam. Prior to Season 2's release, that number dropped to just about 3,000 people. The interesting part is that after Lone Wolves launched, you can see a sharp spike back up to 20,000 players. The retention on subsequent days is also fairly consistent, with similar patterns prior to Season 2, suggesting that it is indeed a content issue that is hampering Halo Infinite's growth.

 
 

We can compare this to a game like Apex Legends where you can see periods of inconsistent growth and decline. Such ebbs and flows more or less match up with major in-game events or updates, leading to a variety of possible conclusions. For instance, one can infer that Halo Infinite's periodic events in Season 1 weren't flashy enough to create the same kind of concurrent player spikes. One can also assume that Halo Infinite's more gentle population decline is a sign that the core gameplay is in a good state and that people like the game itself. Alas, unless developers give up-to-date player numbers, this is little more than guesswork. 

halo infinite armor
Tacticool space gear never goes out of style

However, it should be kept in mind that while Steam Charts' numbers may be an accurate representation of Steam's player base and can thus roughly be extrapolated to the PC userbase as a whole, it doesn't provide any info on other platforms or launchers. As an example, one can view Halo Infinite's population decline on Steam as a disastrous sign that the Halo franchise is dead based on such data. But such data doesn't take into account those who play on console, which is Halo's home turf. And what of those who migrated from Steam to the Xbox consoles and PC launcher because Halo Infinite's campaign is available on Game Pass? It would show as a decline on Steam, yet the individual might very well still be playing the game.

This idea is reinforced by True Achievement's player charts which imply that Halo Infinite is one of the most consistently active games on the Xbox platform, holding its own against other FPS and battle royale giants, most of which are also coincidentally free to play (take note, those who suggest that Halo Infinite would be in a better state if you had to pay to play the multiplayer). If True Achievement's data is to be believed, then this means that Halo Infinite is just as dead a game as GTA V and only slightly more dead than Elden Ring, two super dead games with no players whatsoever. 

While it's hard to deny that 343 Industries could be handling Halo Infinite better in terms of map release frequency and adding "core" features, it's also hard to condemn them entirely given the quality of Lone Wolves' content. The battle pass and periodic event cosmetics have generally been very good thus far even for free players, and Last Spartan Standing is a fantastic idea with room for expansion. There's plenty of game mode variation too if you count the Season 1 additions, and most of the maps since launch have proven to be relatively well designed. 

 
 

If personal anecdotes are to be believed, Halo Infinite is certainly far from dead given the speed at which one can find games (on the East Coast of the United States at least) and how frequently you can run into players who very clearly spent real money on cosmetics. All things considered, if the biggest complaint one can have about Halo Infinite is that there isn't enough of it, then the complaint may as well be a compliment. Not as good a sign for 343 as a developer overall, though this is definitely a situation where the efforts of the workers themselves should be separated from the actions of their company.