Well, I can hardly believe I’m typing this but it’s been a whole year since Halo Infinite launched. It seems like only yesterday that the Multiplayer mode was shadow dropped mid-conference, and I distinctly remember my surprise and elation at the “Out Now!” announcement. This was ahead of the main game being released, nonetheless I was amongst those scrambling to download it and get a first glimpse at the next step for the Xbox’s flagship franchise.
For those who read my review of the full game of Halo Infinite, you’ll be familiar with my thoughts around how much fun the multiplayer was despite the single player campaign falling a little flat. It really was brilliant, and I had the most fun with the PvP since Halo 3. However, after playing it for a good few hours and completing the single player campaign, I wasn’t really compelled to go back to Halo Infinite. As I have grappled numerous times with on TheXboxHub Official Podcast, I really felt Halo Infinite had a player retention problem and was at risk of being forgotten. As such, it gathered virtual dust on my Series X for several months.
Recently, I found myself diving back into the fray for no particular reason other than I wanted something to play for short bursts of time. To my surprise I ended up really enjoying myself as much, if not more than the first time around. It’s hard to explain, but Halo Infinite walks the perfect line between players being able to show off their skills, but not as much as to make it inaccessible to others. The variety of weapons helps level the playing field too, and the physics provide plenty of laughs. Getting blown across the arena by a rocket launcher whilst spinning in the air is never not amusing.
Of course, Halo Infinite has come in for some criticism for reasons such as progression through the battle pass being an absolute grind thanks to a meagre XP system and lots of optional paid extras which will cost you more than the change knocking around in your wallet. It’s a good job then, that 343 Industries said they were listening and committed to acting on player feedback. And lo! The Winter Update has finally arrived.
We have certainly been kept waiting, and arguably 343 have been pushing their luck slightly. However, I’m very much of the school of thought that holding out a little longer for quality content is perfectly acceptable, because we’ve all seen occasions where the opposite has produced some pretty horrendous results (I’m looking at you Grand Theft Auto Trilogy).
Possibly the most important statement of intent regarding the Winter Update is that it’s totally free to owners of Halo Infinite, or those who have it installed through Xbox Game Pass. There’s no premium battle pass rubbish where you have to pay to play and unlock the best gear, in the Winter Update the 30 tier version is totally free for all.
Leaving multiplayer aside for a moment, it’s great to see new life being breathed into the single player campaign with the introduction of co-op play. Arguably this should have been available from day one in the current generation, but better late than never as they say. Co-op has always been a Halo staple, and is immensely fun either locally or online (although only the latter is on offer here which is a disappointing omission). Zipping around Halo Zeta with your mates sounds like the perfect environment for co-op play too thanks to the more open world slant this time around.
Long overdue, and very oddly absent from the initial release, is the arrival of mission replay too. I was baffled when I discovered this wasn’t an option originally but its addition makes me much more likely to jump back in as I can easily target my favourite segments without completely starting over. Gladly, there’s also a bunch of new Xbox achievements to coax me back too, totalling 420 Gamerscore altogether.
Back in the arena, XP now reflects player performance. This not only makes progression easier, but also rewards you for playing well which makes a difference. It may sound like a given, but I can’t tell you how much of a slog levelling up was in the beginning. It didn’t directly detract from my enjoyment of the game but did fail to hook me and keep me coming back for more. Between this and less specific challenges that offer more XP, levelling up and unlocking battle pass items feels much more attainable.
The other major update is the arrival of Forge mode beta, which is essentially a powerful map maker tool. I’m not particularly creative (and have something of a patience deficit), but I am looking forward to seeing what the community can come up with. Features like these are the ultimate way to keep a game fresh and interesting, so I’m very excited to see just how comprehensive this becomes.
There has also, as ever, been numerous weapon rebalancing tweaks to keep things fair and competitive. These things are always in flux, but it’s another positive sign that player feedback is being listened to.
The Winter Update is big, bold and just what Halo Infinite needs. There’s far too much to go into here, but I’ve picked out what, for me, the most important elements are. Given the level of reflection the team at 343 Industries have clearly done since Infinite’s initial launch with this update, it has partly restored faith in this lifelong Halo fan that the adventures of our Spartan heroes are not done yet. Indeed, one positive thing about gaming today is that if a game has issues at launch, there is always an opportunity to make changes.
Indeed, the developers have teased shorter seasons and more regular content drops, along with “bigger things to come” which I can only hope (and pray) means single player DLC. As fantastic as the Multiplayer is, for me Halo has always been about epic, solo adventures. As PlayStation have proved this year, despite some naysayers, solo campaigns are very much alive and well and make for some of the very best gaming experiences out there.
A few weeks ago I was sceptical, even worried, about the future of Halo. Rather ironically, despite the name, I felt as if the franchise’s days were numbered. However, this Winter Update for Halo Infinite has given me hope and underscored 343’s commitment to the game. I still firmly believe there’s nothing quite like it. This is a franchise that means so much to so many, so here’s hoping it endures; infinitely.
If you haven’t yet downloaded Halo Infinite, you can grab it from the Xbox Store, playable on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.