It’s an interesting year to be a Halo fan. Two polar opposite Halo experiences exist as live games with continual content updates. On one end of the spectrum, you have Halo Infinite, a free-to-play shooter with a battle pass and an active professional scene. On the other end, there is The Master Chief Collection, a fully featured and remastered archive of every Bungie Halo game that includes fan favorites Forge mode and Custom Games. Each game serves different audiences, but if you look at the last six months worth of updates you’d see the MCC is clearly getting more love.
In its inaugural year, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was universally reviled by casual players and pros alike. The multiplayer was busted, to put it kindly, and even six months after launch tournaments were being cancelled due to the matchmaking not being in an acceptable state. Beginning in 2019 and throughout 2020, 343 Industries began rolling out the games to PC players and it didn’t take long for it to reach parity with the Xbox version. In a retrospective of the game’s development, the studio told Game Informer this gradual release allowed 343 to “learn its lessons one title at a time rather than all at once.”
At E3 2020, the public’s first look at Halo Infinite crashed and burned, leading 343 to delay the game out of the Xbox Series X|S launch window. But by the consoles’ first year, Infinite was a rousing success. A compelling free-to-play multiplayer ecosystem and the best Halo campaign 343 has ever produced made it the first GOTY worthy Halo in years. But after Infinite’s initial success, enthusiasm for the game began to stagnate. Seven months since launch and campaign co-op, Forge, and custom game modes all have yet to be added to the franchise’s flagship title. Instead, the only significant update Infinite has received since the campaign was released is Season 2: Lone Wolves, which adds some new maps and modes to the mix.
In the meantime at the same studio, The Master Chief Collection has ditched modern conventions like seasons and battle passes – something it embraced in the early days – and it is the best it’s ever been. And in April, the MCC received a slew of features including Flood Firefight, cross-platform Campaign Co-op and new Skulls.
Nearly eight years after its release, the collection is still getting substantial and expansive new features. Floodfight in particular is a brand new game mode for Halo 3: ODST, a game released in 2009!
This indicates that, at least as far back as last year, 343 was positioning itself to have two exclusive Halo games on the market but not have them be in direct competition. Of course to some extent they always will be, but the updates rolled out this year make it clear where the heads of the Master Chief Collection developers are at.
It is inspiring that a 12 year old game can get such a substantial new mode. Between Floodfight and Campaign cross-play, the MCC’s April update places emphasis on a simple nostalgic concept: playing Halo with your friends.
In fact, it feels like the community for the Master Chief Collection is at a critical mass. With cross-play between PC and Xbox, and every single Bungie Halo at the fingertips of anyone with a Game Pass subscription, playing Halo with other humans has never been easier. For some Halo fans with friend groups scattered across console and PC, a long-time pipe dream of playing custom maps online or co-op has become a reality with the MCC – and that’s an itch Halo Infinite just can’t scratch.
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Variations on modes like Infection and Grifball that began in Halo 3 still proliferate the Custom Games multiplayer lobbies in the MCC. For years, dedicated players have been honing their creation skills in Forge, Halo’s one-of-a-kind map creator. Often it creates monstrosities, but finding the proper balance of pandemonium is key to making an enduring game variant in Halo. These modes can be chaotic, often frustrating at first, but they all need to be intuitive.
343 adding new gameplay modifying skulls and new variants of Firefight this many years into the Collection’s lifespan almost feels like a reward for this dedication. The creativity that fans have shown in the Forge for nearly a decade in the MCC is being repaid with tools that allow them to find new ways to play the games they love. The features added to the Master Chief Collection this year shows an understanding of the audience still playing it – as does the addition of co-op between PC and Xbox players.
Halo Infinite’s campaign makes a large structural divergence from the campaigns of Halo’s past. With a larger area to navigate and giving Master Chief an unwieldy grappling hook to navigate it with, it’s easy to see why putting more than one player character in that sandbox would be a development hurdle. Still, campaign co-op is as in the DNA of Halo as the Needler or the Warthog and its absence in Infinite is felt. Removing split-screen from Halo 5 was upsetting, but launching Infinite without co-op and without Forge made the game feel incomplete.
Looking at the recent offerings it is easy to see which game is getting more significant updates. In the same six months, the Master Chief Collection has seen unprecedented creative content updates while Halo Infinite has seen delay after delay. But what happens once Infinite finally adds Forge and co-op? What incentive will there be for 343 to add yet more content to MCC?
There won’t be – aside from holding on to the goodwill of the players. But goodwill only lasts so long. Sometime — sometime soon — Halo Infinite will become what it was promised to be: the ultimate Halo game. At that point, no amount of goodwill can stop the Master Chief Collection from going the way of the dinosaurs. So let’s enjoy this strange little miracle while we can.