Halo Infinite is not in the Top 10 Most Played Steam Games. In fact, at just over six months old – and its fan-favorite multiplayer component completely free and available on Steam – Halo Infinite doesn’t even top the top 50 games with the most concurrent players. Or the top 100.
As of this writing, Halo Infinite ranks 286th “Best Game” according to Steam Charts. It’s bouncing up and down the chart, of course – the highest I saw it hit yesterday was 255, I think? – but in the past 30 days, its peak concurrent PC count hasn’t even topped 8,000 players, though at its peak last November it had more than a quarter of a million. According to the same tracking site, Infinite’s lackluster concurrent peak count is down 50% from last month alone. And that’s a problem.
Before you start writing your angry retort in the comments: yes, I know, concurrent player count is far from the only metric we can use to measure the success of a game, especially when that game is a console exclusive for many years. It is, however, perhaps a symptom of Halo Infinite’s chronic malaise and indicative of a disgruntled playerbase.
You don’t have to know much about Halo or even love it to appreciate its legacy as one of the most influential games in the world. It has long been at the forefront of FPS innovation and spawned many user experience improvements that modern shooters take for granted, including matchmaking and playlists. And while there’s a stubborn segment of the population that refuses to believe that a murder simulator shooter like Halo can offer much in the way of storytelling, few can deny that the franchise has fused together in incomparable ways. a meaty shooter with compelling characters and a detailed world close to our hearts.
But when series creator Bungie bowed out with the (awesome) Halo Reach and development moved to Microsoft company 343 Industries, things seemed to change. Halo 4 and 5 – which I’ve enjoyed immensely and collectively spent thousands of hours with – have done fairly well with reviews, but player reception has been mixed and a bit less forgiving.
Infinite’s debut, on the other hand, was well received by critics and fans alike. It features a gripping open-world approach that redefines the series’ single-player experience. Its satisfying multiplayer beta was everything I expected from Halo MP. So why is this the only Halo game in the last decade that makes me want to uninstall and never come back?
The problem for me isn’t Infinite’s campaign (although I still miss the co-op) but rather its uneven multiplayer. Although it’s completely free-to-play for the first time in the series’ history, players have been struggling with the same old things since it launched over six months ago – we’re knee-deep in Season 2. Yes, 343i has always acknowledged, apologized and promised to fix Infinite’s issues. His patch notes and updates were humble and candid. But it’s time to accept that these are no longer start-up problems; they are fair problems. And many are now so blatant and horribly impactful that even the most ardent fans have a hard time ignoring them.
I detailed my frustrations with Infinite’s second season at length earlier this year, and not much has changed, which in itself is a stunning accusation. I’m still jumping on console and dealing with cheats on PC because there’s no way for me to disable crossplay. Progress still feels extremely slow at best, and just plain broken at worst. I find myself playing against the same (much higher) ranked players repeatedly, perhaps because the server population is so sparse and the player base has shrunk. My challenges seem to like Last Spartan Standing, but I don’t. Oh, and did I mention cheating already? I did it? OK. Well, I’ll say it again because it’s still bad.
All of this is frustrating. Add the long-term lag and out-of-sync issues, and it becomes painful, untenable…and painfully untenable.
And look, Spartan supersoldiers may have been deliberately designed to stifle empathetic responses, but that’s not the case. I sit at a computer writing all day, and even I’ve struggled to acclimate to the abrupt change of working from home full-time; I can’t imagine what it was like for a studio as large and complex as 343i to move into remote game development. We all know that Infinite went through a costly and tedious overhaul during its development. Many of us think that, despite numerous delays, it was released surprisingly poorly.
Despite numerous fixes and promises since then, multiplayer’s slow start has been compounded by a leaky pipeline of new things to do and a great campaign truncated by missing features that don’t arrive fast enough. I still love the pace and punch of his gunplay. I still like the grappling hook. The open-world campaign was interesting, if not entirely compelling. But without more maps, less cheating, and better stability, those things aren’t enough. Not anymore.
Six months later, it still feels like Infinite was developed from the ground up with co-op and community in mind, but released without the features needed to achieve it. The shooter is dressed and presented as a games-as-a-service offering, but isn’t releasing new seasons or limited-time side events fast enough. From long queues to join matches and the same old names popping up in lobbies, I now fear the game won’t even be able to retain its current player base, let alone make a dent in the game. one of its service game competitors.
This, in turn, forges (pun unintentionally) another horribly vicious circle. I don’t want to play the campaign because I’ve completed it, there’s not much else for me to do and I still can’t replay missions I’ve already completed with a Spartan companion by my side. And I don’t want to play MP because I’m regularly matched with the same (often higher ranked) players over and over again, many of whom I suspect of cheating. And where is the fun in that? I’m a firm believer that no premium game should rely heavily on user-generated content, but I even miss Forge; at least some community-designed environments would break up the monotony of map rotation, even if 343i – disconcertingly – still doesn’t let us choose which multiplayer modes we play in.
On a less bitter note, my friends at Digital Foundry have just tested Halo Infinite’s co-op campaign, albeit in beta, and call it “superb fun”, which sparks a desperate seed of hope in my weary heart. of the battle. The pivot to an open-world campaign has undoubtedly brought additional – perhaps even unforeseen – technological challenges to Infinite, and it’s to the studio’s credit that, seven months later, it hasn’t given up. in defeat but continued.
As DF explains, this won’t be entirely seamless as there will be “certain points of no return” which will reset the positioning of all players, and may make it feel like “the game was artificially bringing us closer together”, but follow that with the words “it was like a classic Halo co-op experience” is, quite frankly, all I care about. No, it’s not ideal that it’s taken this long for what has, so far anyway, been a key part of the Halo formula, but I’m glad it’s finally here. Better late than never and all that, huh?
How long the rest of the missing content will take to arrive, of course, remains to be seen…and I can’t really help but worry that it’s all too little, too late to win back the goodwill of a fervent but naturally community. frustrated.
This piece is part of our State of the Game series, where we check out some of the biggest running service games to see how they fare. You can find many more pieces like this in our State of the Game hub.