Halo Infinite's Squad Battle is a vital dose of nostalgia
Halo Infinite has had a rough time winning back players over the course of its elongated seasons. Slow, barren content drops have plagued the game's multiplayer for some time now. But surprisingly, the game is enjoying a much-needed course correction. So what exactly makes playing Halo Infinite a more compelling prospect right now? The answer is simple: Squad Battle.
But before we talk about that, we need to talk about Forge mode. This iconic mode is what Halo players have been using since Halo 3 to create their own custom maps. Infinite's version is the most robust toolset yet, and while it's arguably less accessible for the average player, professional Forgers can create some incredible things in the game.
Forge was always going to be the escape route away from drip-fed content and empty seasons, and Halo Infinite is finally utilising it to add real meat to some of its playlists. Alongside new 4v4 maps, a suite of community creations has been introduced into matchmaking through Squad Battle, which takes remakes of classic maps and slaps equally-classic 8v8 big team gameplay on them.
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Squad Battle feels like a fun new take on a tried-and-tested formula, rather than the mixed bag of Halo Infinite’s original 12v12 carnage.
Squad Battle removes the unbalanced vehicle drops and replaces them with standard spawns, meaning more players get to enjoy them at a regular pace. The maps are of higher quality too, and it’s hard to even know they were created in Forge just by looking at them.
Rather than being funnelled down tight lanes to a near-certain demise in your Warthog or Wraith on maps like Breaker, Fragmentation or Scarr, you’ve got room to actually drive around and have fun. These vehicles should feel powerful and impactful, not like paper-mache targets for enemies to abuse. The remade maps are the perfect playground to properly test these toys without being forced to regret getting in the driver’s seat.
It’s not perfect - shock grenades still make vehicles a nightmare to pilot sometimes, and the sandbox is still missing a bit of variety and polish. Banshees explode when confronted with a light breeze, the Hydra lacks a sense of impact which leads to a lot of frustration when you die to one, and some games can turn into stalemates. But at its core, Squad Battle is what Halo fans want from larger-scale combat.
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Halo staple Valhalla returns as Vallaheim, and it’s a solid addition that looks completely indistinguishable from a dev-made map. There’s certainly nostalgia here, but the sandbox helps it feel fresh at the same time.
The Waterworks remake is an instant highlight. This map is pretty under-appreciated - it’s a Halo 2 classic, but was never officially remade. It serves as a wide open cavern for players to duke it out with all kinds of vehicles and weaponry, and its size allows for both sneaky plays and huge vehicular killing sprees.
Then there’s Exiled, which proved back when it came out in Halo 4 that 343 is capable of producing maps on par with Bungie’s classics occasionally, and the chaotic Rat’s Nest is a surprisingly great addition too. Only the more unbalanced Kusini Bay feels like a bit of a miss, but avoid One Flag stalemates and it’s still a lot of fun sometimes.
With Squad Battle’s five current maps, the new Scarr and Forest maps for regular modes, Plaza remake Solitude and even a re-imagining of Countdown from Halo: Reach, we’re looking at 9 new maps released for main playlists during season 4. That’s almost more than the entirety of Halo Infinite’s map post-launch content for seasons 1, 2 and 3 combined. The devs are even adding exclusive community-made maps into the 2v2 playlist and Super Fiesta, bolstering the amount of content across game modes of all kinds.
It’s important to remember season 4 also brought Infection back, and it’s definitely worth trying out. The speedster zombies are a bit too overpowered, especially when some get to be invisible and shoot shroud screens at you to obscure your vision even further, but it’s still fun to play every now and then. If you’ve been away from the game for a long time there’s more to experience in Season 4 than any prior season.
Keeping content coming
Live service has not been kind to the Halo franchise, and neither has its management. We’ve seen excruciatingly slow content drops, narrative retcons, broken promises, a studio restructure and more. It’s unlikely Halo will ever transform back into the gaming powerhouse it once was.
Perhaps now we should settle with the fact there are still developers and community members working hard to deliver great content to the players. It took a long time to get there, and a lot of faith has been lost over the years, but the game still has a solid player base thanks to free multiplayer and crossplay between Xbox and PC.
Now Microsoft needs to do a much better job of highlighting the game’s newfound strengths. Infinite was completely absent from the huge Xbox showcase in June - it’s clear that Starfield was the main focus, but not even giving a small trailer to the most iconic Xbox franchise when so much effort is being put into improving the game feels like a slap in the face to both the devs and the players. If people don't know what's being added to the game, they're not going to come back to play it.
Infinite has turned things around with its multiplayer, and while it can’t repair every bridge broken, it can continue to add content and make sticking around worthwhile for longtime Halo fans and casual players alike.
With the Forge community creating an all-you-can-eat buffet of maps, and rumours of a fully-fledged Firefight mode returning to sate the PVE fans, it feels as if we’re on the brink of Infinite finally living up to its name. We'll have to see if 343 can continue these improvements in Season 5.
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