The free cosmetic awards in “Halo Infinite” can be obtained in two ways. The first is advancement through the game’s battle pass, which includes the traditional free-or-paid tracks that reward you when you “level up” by accumulating experience points by fulfilling in-game tasks like “complete four ranking battles” or “kill an enemy Wasp three times.” The second is to complete all possible tasks in a week to receive the weekly Ultimate reward, which is a cosmetic item that appears to be unavailable elsewhere.
At first glance, the second one appears to be a fun notion. After you’ve completed all of the other weekly tasks, you’ll be presented with the last capstone challenge that will reveal your weekly Ultimate. This is a more difficult task with a higher payoff of experience points to put you to the test.
The problem is that the challenge system, in general, is a hassle, and the Ultimate challenge is especially so. It brought a large time-crunch of irritation to “Halo Infinite” instead of presenting an interesting trial to defeat and gain a fantastic prize. Finally, it’s a fantastic example of why 343 Industries’ entire challenge system needs to be overhauled.
During the Fracture: Tenrai event, the ultimate goal was to rack up five killstreaks in Fiesta matches. Fiesta is a fun mode that immerses you in Slayer games with randomly generated weapons and gear. Every time you respawn after a death, you get a fresh set of gear. You might get lucky and start with a rocket launcher and a sniper rifle, or a Gravity Hammer and Skewer, depending on your luck. You wield a Plasma Pistol and a Needler at other times. With opportunities to steal weapons from fallen players or re-roll your gear after you die, the model is based on luck of the draw.
I sighed as soon as I saw the capstone challenge. I’m not a great Halo player, but I’m also not a bad one. The problem with chasing killstreaks was that I knew it would take a long time for me. Because there’s a better-than-zero chance you’ll start a life with a rocket launcher or some other destructive power weapon, streaks may be easier to obtain in Fiesta than in other modes. There’s also a fair chance you’ll round a corner to square battle against a player, only to realize too late that they too carry a rocket launcher, lowering your chances of survival dramatically. As a result, many of Fiesta’s moments are chaotic coin flips that don’t play well with the challenge system. And, unlike the other tasks in “Halo Infinite”, capstone challenges do not allow you to use one of your swaps to locate something more manageable. You’ve got to keep going.
The point is that five killstreaks can be difficult to come by, even after completing 15 earlier tasks during the week. I just had two days left to unlock the Ultimate award when I completed the capstone task. So not only did I have to collect five often-difficult-to-obtain medals in Halo games, but I also had a restricted amount of time to do so. If I failed, or if I had to take a break, or if anything came up that prevented me from playing a couple of hours of Halo, all of that time would be squandered to some extent.
I eventually made it through and got my killstreaks, but not without a lot more frustration than I had anticipated. Challenges, on the other hand, do not add excitement to Halo Infinite; they create irritation. I began to sweat if I had a string of three or four kills in Fiesta. My blood pressure rose every time I managed to rock a gathering of foes only to have one last individual come with a sword. When a round finished and I hadn’t managed to string together a killstreak, it seemed like time had been wasted rather than time spent having fun. The assignment was more about showcasing failure and making me furious about bad luck than it was about challenging me.
There’s a case to be made that challenges can help you improve your “Halo Infinite” skills. I achieved a killstreak by meticulously camping out in the tunnel beneath the middle of the Live Fire map with a Gravity Hammer, waiting for attackers to come into the area so I could ambush them in close quarters. That technique was diametrically opposed to how I normally play Halo, in which I aim to stay close to teammates and kill adversaries with crossfire or sneak around for a flanking attack. To gain that streak, I believe I improved my ability to use melee weapons more sensibly than usual.
That challenge, on the other hand, had the impact that many players complain about with the system: it stopped me from playing the game to win and instead encouraged me to play the game to achieve my own goal. I didn’t use the ping system to identify enemy positions, and I didn’t stick with a group to aid them to stay alive by team-shooting enemies. I sat quietly in my corner, waiting for prey to fall into my trap. Other challenges emphasize using specific firearms or vehicles to score kills, which can encourage players to overlook what it takes to win a match in favor of achieving their personal objectives. Individual tasks that do not align with team directives cause friction, which degrades the overall experience.
Apart from the fact that it sometimes feels disrespectful of my time, what I despise most about the challenge system is that it acts as a major talent gatekeeper. While top-tier Halo players won’t blink an eye at a requirement for five killstreaks, it’s a major roadblock for a guy like me. I occasionally obtain killstreaks in battles, but rarely consistently, so I knew five streaks would require a lot of matches—and a good piece of a Sunday, as it turned out.
Even worse, there are plenty of Halo fans who enjoy the game but will recognize a necessity for five killstreaks—or any number of other challenges—and realize they’re out of reach. In my typical Halo rotation, I have a few pals who, for whatever reason, aren’t particularly good kill-getters in this game. Their kill-to-death rates aren’t particularly high. We’ve been having a lot of fun as a group in “Halo Infinite” because there are so many ways to make up for the disparity. Sticking together and combining your shooter efforts, nabbing a ton of assists rather than a ton of kills, may make a significant contribution to a team. You can be the designated vehicle driver, gaining a valuable talent that unquestionably aids in match victory but isn’t recorded on the scoreboard. You can also focus on the objectives, amassing power seeds in Stockpile or rushing into crucial Stronghold grabs that can determine whether your team wins or loses.
Even if they aren’t popping off and piling up 20 kills in every battle, I have buddies who do all of these things, and they are vital to our squad. Many challenges, though, are out of grasp for them.
The goal of challenges in “Halo Infinite”—giving players something to strive for while keeping them in the game as much as possible, both to keep matchmaking player counts high and to encourage microtransaction spending—can be accomplished just as effectively without them. People should be rewarded for their time spent playing Halo, not for bringing a specific ability to the game. Instead of forcing you to use specific firearms or vehicles to achieve arbitrary kill requirements, the game should encourage you to interact with it in a variety of ways and with a variety of talents. It should encourage players to spend more time with the game while simultaneously recognizing the amount of time they’ve already put in. It should also avoid creating situations that encourage people to blame their teammates for not playing the “correct way” when they lose.
I’m sure 343 has a vision with the challenge system, but I don’t think it takes into consideration a lot of facts like how people play these games and how much time they have to spend, or the variety of different types of play and skill levels within them. The developer has already made changes to the game’s progression mechanism, allowing players to gain experience points for playing matches rather than merely completing objectives. But the system doesn’t need minor tweaks like awarding a little amount of XP for simply playing—it needs a complete overhaul of how challenges work and what they add to “Halo Infinite” as a whole.
In the first two weeks of its multiplayer beta, “Halo Infinite” has been a refreshing burst of mayhem. But, as it stands now, I’m not sure I’ll ever engage with the advancement or challenge system again unless it’s completely revamped. It doesn’t add to the game’s enjoyment; in fact, it often detracts from it.