A quick search on Halowaypoint.com shows me that I played 13,100 online matches of Halo 2 on the original Xbox. If we estimate that the average Halo 2 match lasts 10 minutes, that would equate to over 2100 hours played. While I don’t expect to be impressing anyone with these numbers, I hope that I’ve at least made one thing clear: I’m a huge Halo fan. I’ve purchased every single major Halo game released to date, and I’ve put an obscene amount of hours into almost all of them. I should be excited for October 27th 2015; I should be eager to play the first Halo game made from the ground up for an 8th generation console; I should be convincing my friends that now is the time to get an Xbox One, but instead I’m wondering if Halo 5 will be the first game in the series that I skip, and here’s why:
- Halo 4 sucked
With Bungie leaving Microsoft to become a 3rd party developer, the reigns of the Halo franchise were handed off to 343 Industries, a team formed by Microsoft Studios and headed by several former Bungie employees. They were given the task of developing an entirely new Halo trilogy, and in November of 2012 they released their first game, Halo 4.
At the time of its release Halo 4 featured some of the best graphics on the Xbox 360. Master Chief had more dialog and character development than all previous Halo games combined. The campaign was decent, and the Spartan Ops mode was an interesting addition. With all that said, any positive feelings I had towards the game instantly evaporated the moment I went into my first multiplayer match.
Why are there no longer weapons and powers ups strategically scattered around the maps? Why are there instantaneous respawns? Why does getting several kills give you the ability to call down one of three random items from the heavens to appear right in front of you? Why can people see through walls!? All these questions and more raced through my head during my first couple of matches of Halo 4’s multiplayer. The only answer I could think of is “343 Industries doesn’t want Halo to be Halo anymore”. Gone are the days of strategically holding points on the map and timing the respawns of power weapons; welcome to the age of praying to the gods above that your completely randomized supply drop gives you something better than the supply drop of the player on the other team.
I played thousands of matches in every prior installment of the series, yet I quit after just 264 matches of Halo 4’s multiplayer. It’s not about “failing to adapt” either, my Kill/Death ratio and Win/Loss ratio were far above those of the average player, but winning just isn’t fun when the game sucks. While Halo 4 did sell north of 9 million copies, the masses share my opinion of the game, and it’s shown clearly in how quickly the online community dissipated. For years after their release, both Halo 2 and 3 managed to have tens of thousands of players online at any given time of day, yet after just a couple of months Halo 4 struggled to stay above 10,000 active players at any given time. 343 attempted to freshen up the series with all their unneeded additions, but in the end all they did was alienate a large portion of their core fans.
- The Master Chief Collection is an abomination
On the morning of June 9th 2014 I did not own an Xbox One. On that day, during their E3 press conference, Microsoft announced something I thought was only a pipe dream: The Master Chief Collection. An anthology including Halo 1 through 4, with various updates and new features including all four games getting up-scaled resolutions and improved frame rates, dedicated server support, and most importantly, each of the four game’s multiplayer modes would be playable on Xbox Live, in their original forms, untouched. Seeing as Halo 1 was never Xbox Live compatible, and Halo 2’s online support was deactivated years ago, this re-release is a diehard Halo fan’s wet dream. On the evening of June 9th 2014 I purchased an Xbox One.
With my hype levels reaching near critical levels, on November 11th 2014 I bought a game which I was sure would be the only multiplayer shooter I’d need for this entire generation of consoles. What I actually got was an abomination. After spending a couple of hours downloading a 20 gigabyte patch, I tried to play some classic Halo 2 multiplayer, only to find out that the game was not functioning as intended. I was lucky to find a single match after well over an hour of searching, and when the system finally put me into a game, the teams were uneven and it lagged horribly.
It’s now been over 7 months since the game’s release, and it’s still not the game we were promised. The game’s multiplayer is still using peer-to-peer hosting, as the dedicated servers have never worked properly. There are only 3 ranked playlists, and the match making system seems to match players at random, as level 1 players are put in games with level 20’s and 30’s, leading to extremely uncompetitive games. While searching for a match by yourself doesn’t take long anymore, searching for a match with a party of friends can still take ages. And this is after several gigabytes worth of patches that attempted to fix this utter mess of a game.
When given the green light on such an ambitious project, one would think 343 Industries would handle the Xbox’s most famed franchise with the respect it deserves, and release a finished product. Instead, they outsourced a large portion of the work out to smaller developers (Ruffian Games, United Front Games, Saber Interactive, and Certain Affinity), and then gathered up all the code on one disc, obviously failed to do much testing, and proceeded to release the game to the public. Since then we’ve received countless apologies from various 343 and Microsoft employees, but the fact remains that over half a year has passed since its release and we still have a broken game.
- Halo doesn’t feel like Halo anymore
Despite Halo 3 being a huge critical and fiscal success, it faced something Halo 2 never really did: true competition in the FPS space on Xbox Live. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare took the CoD series out of the 1940s and into the modern era, and the reception it received sent shockwaves throughout the video game industry. However, it was not all doom and gloom for Halo. While CoD4 did out sell Halo 3 in the grand scheme of things, we have to remember that CoD is a multiplatform title while Halo games are exclusive to only one console, and Halo 3 outsold CoD4 on the Xbox 360 by nearly 3 million units. The Halo community was stronger than ever, and Halo 3 did battle with CoD4 every week for months, as the two games traded places back-and-forth atop the list of most played games on Xbox Live.
Going forward, Bungie had to decide if they were going to stay the course, or steer their series into uncharted waters. Unfortunately, they chose the latter. While Halo 3 took small and careful steps forward with the series’ formula, Halo: Reach took several gigantic leaps away from Halo’s core mechanics, introducing several game changing aspects. Armor abilities and reticle bloom took the series so far from its roots that it was nearly a different game entirely, and it hasn’t been the same since. Reach pushed the series to the edge, and Halo 4 kicked it right off mountain. The once proud series now lives in the shadow of the game it foolishly tried to imitate. Formally a pillar of the MLG circuit, Halo has all but vanished from the competitive scene, and to add insult to injury, Call of Duty reigns as undisputed king of Xbox Live.
Taking inspiration from your competition is all well and good, but when you compromise the identity of your product in the process its clear you’ve taken it too far. 343 Industries has claimed Halo 5: Guardians is going to be taking the series back to its “arena shooter” roots, but the beta for the game left much to be desired. While it seems to be correcting a lot of Halo 4’s missteps, the new game has a lot of issues of its own (ADS/Smart Scope, Insta-kill ground pound, announcer calling out weapon respawns instead of players timing them, etc…). 343 Industries’ track record leaves me pessimistic , but I hope they’re able to take a step back and look at what made the original trilogy so successful. Halo has always been about players spawning on the map as equals, all wearing the same armor (aside from insignificant cosmetic differences), having the same starting weapons, on a perfectly even playing field. Let other games have classes, unlockables, and kill streak rewards, but leave Halo as it was intended to be: a deceptively simple game built around nothing but situational awareness, positioning, and skill.
-Matt De Azevedo