First Impressions: Halo Infinite Season 2

With the start of its second season of content, Halo Infinite makes strides toward rounding out its content with new maps and game modes.

First Impressions: Halo Infinite Season 2
Source: 343 Industries

To quote perhaps one of the most notorious theme songs of all time – that of Star Trek: Enterprise – it's been a long road getting from there to here. After a protracted first season, Halo Infinite Season 2 arrived on May 3 with a handful of exciting new maps, game modes, and events.

While I've been fairly content with the state of Infinite thus far, a vocal portion of the fanbase has been disappointed with the dearth of content available. Players understandably desire campaign co-op and Forge modes, which typically release with the game upon release. There are also fewer multiplayer maps and game modes, and fan favorites may be buried in too general a playlist. I won't litigate the issue; there's an abundance of feedback on social media as it is. Rather, I'd like to present my optimism by highlighting the additions that the newest season of content has to offer.

Source: 343 Industries

New maps

Catalyst

We have two brand-new maps available now. First off is Catalyst, which features in most of your regular arena playlists. This map is a tight, symmetrical Forerunner structure with ample opportunity for vertical combat. If you're a fan of the classic Halo multiplayer maps, you'll enjoy the architectural design here. There are plenty of narrow hallways where you'll find your weapon drops, which open up to wide junctions, which themselves are overlooked by platforms that run along the edges and down the center of the map. You'll want to watch your footing, as you can easily slip and fall to your death.

Personally, I found the symmetry of the map a bit disorienting and the weapon racks too visually inconspicuous, so it may take a while to get your bearings. I'd recommend playing the map in a low-stakes environment, such as Bot Bootcamp, prior to jumping into PvP. Additionally, the Pulse Carbine, which has thus far struggled to attain widespread viability, really shines on this map. I've yet to find one game mode where this map doesn't enhance the existing rotation, as it truly stands apart from the other arena maps.

Source: 343 Industries

Breaker

Next, we have the larger of the two maps, and my favorite as well: Breaker. This map is only found in the Big Team Battle (BTB) playlist and the brand-new Last Spartan Standing playlist (more on that later). This map is situated with wreckage outside an industrial facility that's blanketed with sand. Breaker is crafted to curate numerous different high-stakes encounters across its two game modes. On one edge of the map, there's a thin overhang that provides a clear line of sight to most of the map; this visual range comes at the cost of very little cover and multiple flanks (including a gravity lift), though it does offer two vents to slide down if you need to retreat.

Directly across from the overhang and dividing the map in half is a giant laser canal. It offers some decent equipment and a relatively safe path to several regions of the map, but beware of the laser. Even if it doesn't kill you directly, the noise it generates will give opponents cover to sneak up on you from any of your flanks. On opposing sides of the map, you'll find ship remains, which provide greater cover and platforming areas to clamber. And between it all are highly vulnerable spaces you can take to get between points of interest; cross through here at your own risk.

Source: 343 Industries

New game modes/playlists

Last Spartan Standing

With Last Spartan Standing, we get Halo's foray into the burgeoning field of battle royale (it's Free-for-All Attrition under the hood). My exposure to battle royale games is fairly limited out of preference. However, LSS fixes a lot of my personal misgivings about the format. The first change worth noting, and the one which I most appreciate, is the fact that you get not one but six lives to last you through the match. This works to multiple benefits: it helps reduce some of the variances in the game (by which I mean the final rankings better reflect the true skill of each player), it reduces the number of times you're jumping in and out of matches, and it encourages more aggressive combat.

That last point is further complemented by the in-game weapon rank system. Last Spartan Standing largely eschews the weapon scavenging system prevalent among other battle royale games in favor of something closer to Escalation Slayer. As you earn points for kills, assists, and AI drops, your weapon loadout will progress. You start the match with a Disruptor and Sidekick. After 100 points (1 kill or 2 assists), you'll be able to replace the Sidekick with a Mangler. Subsequent ranks will cost more points and replaces the oldest weapon in your loadout with the newest, in order of Assault Rifle -> Commando -> Bulldog -> Battle Rifle.

The usually-underwhelming Commando is now given a place to shine, as it will likely be the only medium- to long-range weapon most players obtain. Since you obtain better weapons by leveling up, you won't find any weapon racks on the map. Note that you'll need to manually level up at a time of your choosing, as 343 wanted to avoid situations where your weapons change unfavorably in the middle of a group skirmish (or in case you want to hold onto the Sidekick for a while longer, as many do).

One change to the dominant paradigm in Halo game modes is that you won't spawn with grenades in your inventory. Instead, you'll need to scavenge grenades from the spawn points scattered across the map (the type of grenade that spawns at a given point is randomized). You're going to want to expose yourself minimally in this game mode, so having some grenades will help reduce the necessity of chasing a player out in the open (and may even help you safely poach a kill). Since long-range weaponry is (rightfully) scarce, grenades provide the earliest and most consistent form of lethal reach, so I recommend prioritizing these each time you spawn.

Source: Dot Esports.

When a player is permanently eliminated from the match, their AI will drop at the point of death and can be claimed for experience points commensurate with three kills. Be VERY careful when attempting to claim these; not only will you be left wide open to attack for several seconds as you press and hold the button/key to claim the AI, but the locations of all AI drops are broadcast to the entire lobby, effectively putting a target on your back. If you're behind on kills and need access to more suitable weaponry, these can help even the playing field. If you're ahead, consider camping out nearby to catch any unsuspecting Spartans off-guard.

Other small observations include:

  • Each match features 12 players. I think it hits right around that sweet spot given the size of the current map available, but larger BTB maps may benefit from more players
  • Equipment such as Grappleshot and Drop Wall sparsely populate the map. Look out for flashing green lights falling from the sky; while they would appear to be weapon drops, you'll actually find Overshields or Active Camo
  • Be aware of the danger zone (read in Archer's voice), a standard element of battle royale games that make growing portions of the map inhospitable as the match wears on. I found it difficult to see the boundaries that outline where the encroaching lines would stop, and the boundaries are variable in each match, so just be on the lookout as things start heating up
  • Take full advantage of the game's audio. Wearing headphones will help alert you to enemies nearby. Conversely, consider walking while crouched on noisy surfaces so nearby enemies won't suspect your presence
  • Be wary if you find yourself among the last players in the match. You may find that the surviving players have more than one life remaining, and if the danger zone occupies most of the map they may respawn relatively nearby

At the time of writing, Last Spartan Standing is only available on the new Breaker map for the duration of the current multiplayer event. Generally, all the other BTB maps will be part of the playlist, but I think the new map will stand apart in this game mode until newer BTB maps become available. It will be interesting to see how the format develops over time, especially with custom games (I'd like to see how this mode would play out with exclusively Covenant/Banished weapons).

Source: 343 Industries

King of the Hill

Perhaps my favorite of the newly released game modes, King of the Hill makes its Infinite debut with a few changes to the classic game mode. As you might expect, a circular territory spawns at various positions of the map (fixed locations for ranked, mostly random for social). Your team needs to maintain control of the hill for a cumulative period of time in order to score, where the winner is declared after reaching three points. If unoccupied, the time it takes to claim the hill is minimal. If contested, the hill will stop awarding meter progress until the zone is solidified by one team or the other. You can maintain control of the territory for a brief period of time even if none of your team members are standing within the boundaries (provided no opposing players contest it), but it will revert to a neutral, unoccupied state if left unattended for too long.

Behemoth stands out among the existing maps for this game mode. With long-range weaponry like the Battle Rifle and Sniper Rifle, coupled with the open map design, no territory ever feels out of play for even a moment with matches often coming down to the wire.

Symmetrical maps tend to play out best in this game mode, so the new Catalyst works out fairly well. For other maps, asymmetrical Battle Rifle and vehicle spawns can be an occasional pain point. Because the hill moves around on the map, it's not always an issue and on average would not be oppressive. However, because the game ends after three points and the matches feel (anecdotally) more contentious, this could be a relevant factor in a match decided by smaller margins.

You'll find King of the Hill featured among the Ranked Arena, Quick Play, and Bot Bootcamp playlists, as well as its own standalone playlist.

Source: 343 Industries

Rumble Pit

I'll be honest: I found Free-For-All (FFA) in Halo unbearable mere days ago, and that's coming from a person who played that game mode exclusively in Modern Warfare 3 (yes, it's been that long since I played a multiplayer FPS game online for any significant amount of time). I generally enjoy the 1v1 fights in Halo, and I just found it irritating having people fire from behind halfway across the map in the middle of a skirmish. But now with the Rumble Pit playlist, which consists exclusively of FFA modes, they have become some of the most chaotic and exciting formats in the game.

No longer limited to just basic slayer, we've got several variants in the rotation. First off is Fiesta FFA, which is simply Fiesta + Free-for-All. It fixes one of the issues I have with vanilla FFA, which is that there weren't enough good weapons to go around and they depended too heavily on your spawn locations. Now it feels like everyone has a fighting shot in these matches (unless you keep getting double plasma weapons, in which case I'm sorry).

There's also Vampireball FFA, which is just Oddball with two major changes. The ball carrier can melee kill in one hit, making you more of a threat (which is necessary, as you're defending yourself from seven enemies instead of four, with no teammates). The more interesting change, however, is the fact that killing an enemy with the skull restores your shield 50%, and even grants you an Overshield if you would exceed the maximum threshold.

Source: 343 Industries

Another game mode featured in this playlist is Ninja Slayer. Everyone gets unlimited Energy Swords and Grappleshots. What was once relegated to weird encounters found occasionally in Fiesta matches is now an entire game mode unto itself. Unfortunately, Rumble Pit only includes two maps where this game is available, so the odds of ending up in one of these matches are quite low. It's for that reason I haven't actually gotten to try the game mode yet. But it sounds fun.

Last is the most laughable and ludicrous of the lot: Rocket Repulsors. It's Oddball FFA, except everyone spawns with two frags, Repulsors, and – pause for dramatic effect– unlimited SPNKR rocket launchers. You may wonder "How am I supposed to maintain possession of the skull while I've got up to seven other players simultaneously firing rockets from any given range and the ball's location is telecast to each player's HUD?" I'll just tell you now: you won't. Most players die within a few seconds of picking up the ball (and that's being generous).

I've yet to play a match where someone scored the winning total before time ran out. Some matches ended with the top-ranked player only credited with holding the ball for as little 35 seconds (I say credited because fractions of a second show on your scorecard, but aren't reflected in your actual score). Now if this game were designed to be properly balanced or competitive, I would have a few recommendations for how to improve the game. But any time I gave the idea any thought, I reminded myself this game mode has no such aspirations. It's meant to be unmitigated madness; it delivers, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

That said, I wish the activation time for the Repulsor equipment was quicker and telegraphed better visually (which I could say the same for other equipment as well), as its viability would be more of a game-changer.

Other additions/changes

  • Online multiplayer will have a handful of rotating playlists. Rumble Pit is currently online, but other new playlists on the way include Land Grab (a multi-capture zone mode akin to King of the Hill) and Elimination (Attrition without shared respawn pool). Playlists from previous Halo entries such as Social Slayer, Social Skirmish, Team Snipers, and Team Doubles are also on the docket
  • Attrition has been added to the Quick Play and Bot Bootcamp playlists. In case you missed the limited period where Attrition was featured in a season one multiplayer event, it's essentially a team slayer with a shared pool of limited respawns. It's a shame the game mode isn't featured more prominently in the available playlists
  • I also believe I spotted Shotty Snipers in one of the playlists, but I haven't gotten to play it yet
  • With the new season comes a swathe of gameplay changes and bug fixes. Most notably, there's no more 1-shot beatdown with the Mangler (RIP). For a comprehensive list of all changes, check the release notes
Source: GamesRadar.

Closing notes

One thing that stood out to me as I dipped my toes into the new content is that fewer players are going AFK during matches. Players appear more engaged with the new content, though it's impossible to determine at this point whether that will sustain for the duration of the new season. As more niche playlists proliferate, and especially once Forge tools become widely available in September, everyone will soon be able to play Halo the way they most desire. With the start of its second season of content, Halo Infinite makes strides toward rounding out its content with new maps and game modes. It doesn't mark a complete arrival, but it's a juicy nugget of things to come.

Despite the various issues that have plagued the game since launch, Halo Infinite is still wicked fun to play. Sure, I'd love more cosmetic customization options, and if I had my way I'd remove Commando and Stalker Rifle from the Tactical Slayer playlist and remove Launch Site from nearly every playlist without hesitation. There are still some changes that I believe would foster a more enjoyable gameplay experience, as certain weekly challenges encourage sub-optimal gameplay, force players into game modes they don't enjoy or depend too heavily on RNG. But I'm reminded of yet another TV reference from the show Community (it would seem I tie everything in with the television I watch):

"There is skill to it. More importantly, it has to be joyful, effortless, fun . . . It's TV; it's comfort. It's a friend you've known so well, and for so long, you just let it be with you. And it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day, or phone in a day."

Halo has been a pillar in gaming since the first game debuted in 2001. For many in the community, myself included, Halo is uniquely regarded. Over the years, the games have evoked awe and wonder with their campaign modes, fostered friendships over multiplayer, and provided a creative outlet for their audience that few manage to achieve. As fans, we've had it quite good. It's out of this appreciation that I'm willing to be deferential to 343 for a while longer. The industry is constantly evolving; 343 faces a difficult task wherein they must cater to the grassroots player base while simultaneously not just adapting to but driving and leading innovation in the industry as it did in its heyday. As players, it's important not only to provide constructive feedback but also to celebrate the victories, big or small. The start of this new season marks one such victory.

The ongoing Interference multiplayer event is active for May 3-15, so if you're itching for additional cosmetic options and wish to test out the new Last Spartan Standing mode, now's the best time to get started.

Source: 343 Industries