The story of Halo in 2022 is a tale of two cities: Halo Infinite’s struggling modern live-service title with a potentially promising future, available in parallel with a thriving, active history of its best years in the form of The Master Chief Collection. A year in with Halo Infinite and it’s clear which game is more healthy, alive, and managing to deliver a kind of “live service” for Halo; it isn’t the shiny new game, but rather the collection of a decade of the shotter’s series.
2022 was another year where we could most directly access Halo’s influential and memorable legacy through the fully-featured Halo: The Master Chief Collection, despite Infinite’s much more recent release. Plagued by delays, a lack of enticing new features, and the crushing loss of split-screen, Infinite somehow still feels like the less immediately exciting prospect. Not only that, but this year MCC continued to see new features added to these classic games. So while it’s nice to have a brand-new game like Infinite to play, Halo: Combat Evolved, 2, 3, ODST, Reach, and the polarizing 4 are now all there, playable on PC and Xbox in ways they never were. And multiplayer for all these modes is active and highly playable.
The older campaigns are well-preserved in MCC. That’s been true for a couple of years now (after a disastrous launch), but it got even better in 2022. This year saw more new features added: Collectible mini games, unexpected levels of mod support, and modes that never existed before, like a Flood Firefight variant for Halo 3: ODST. And there’s more to come: Halo 4’s campaign, originally released a decade ago now—along with its PvE mode “Spartan Ops”—are expected to get a full theater mode in the near future, and 4 just received some new skulls to find this month. The MCC is a wild, living legacy that keeps active, and advances an entire decade’s worth of genre-defining shooters—the very games that so many want to relive in Infinite. Want to jump into the glory days of Halo 3 on Xbox Live? MCC’s got it. Want to play through seven fully-featured campaigns? They now run at higher framerates and resolutions than the originals could ever dream of. Want a varied, populated, “live service” of a Halo game? That’s what MCC actually has.
At least once a week, I will rotate through multiplayer matches in MCC. I’ll select every game (Reach through 4) and cross them off in the “Match Composer” (an MCC feature that lets you choose which games you want to play, with the number of players you want to play with, and in what modes). It’s a fun way to play. Some nights I end with a winning streak in 2007's Halo 3. Other times, the 2010 prequel Reach dominates the evening. Sometimes, Halo 2: Anniversary proves that it was sorely overlooked. And some nights, Combat Evolved reveals that, yet again, it’s one of my favorite shooters of all time—and there I am, dipping back into the 2001-era campaign for the millionth time. And sadly it’s what Infinite can’t provide. In MCC, lobbies are always full, matchmaking times are short, and the games are stable. This is Halo for me in 2022.
Halo Infinite struggled to offer a similar vibe this year. It’s only now, in the last month, that it’s starting to feel like there’s momentum. After a year on Xbox and PC as a live service title, Halo Infinite received five new maps to join its 10 from launch; but they came at a painfully slow pace. Season two of Infinite’s live service didn’t arrive until March of 2022, five months after it launched. And season three isn’t expected until March of 2023 after it was surprisingly delayed.
Still, the game hasn’t been sitting on its hands—as much as it might too often feel like it. Halo Infinite has finally received online co-op for its single-player campaign, ‘though that took nearly a year to arrive, and split-screen co-op (a staple of the series’ history) has been permanently canceled. Forge, Halo’s map-making tool, has also finally arrived by way of a current open beta accessible through Infinite. And the most recent update brought with it a remixed Halo 3-era map and a custom games browser.
Logging into Halo Infinite in December of 2022 feels much better than it did in 2021. But it’s been a long, often silent wait for content to be drip-fed in. Still, there’s promise: Playlists regularly rotate in and out now; the XP system has been overhauled to reflect performance in fairer and more fun ways; the custom browser has nice surprises; there’s upward momentum for sure. But it’s slow. And so it often feels very tempting to forget the flashy new graphics and movement mechanics of Infinite, and just go back to MCC. I often do.