The second season of Halo Infinite had a “bumpy” start, as admitted by 343 Industries’ head of creative Joseph Staten. It launched on May 3 with new challenges that don’t track properly, new modes buried in playlists as big as a Halo ring, and more glitches than a Cortana AI. Some inventive new content aims to cut through these issues, but it isn’t sharp enough make to an incision into Season 2’s deep-rooted problems.
The content I’m referring to is Last Spartan Standing: a 12-player free-for-all mode that takes place on a Big Team Battle map called Breaker, where players have five lives before elimination and gain XP from kills, assists, or looting the corpses of other players. Certain XP thresholds then reward levels, with each rewarding a new gun.
To be clear, Last Spartan Standing is not a battle royale take on Halo, but it is the shot in the arm the game so desperately needed. The mode completely shifts how you engage with firefights, map layout, and even the sparingly placed grenades and power-ups.
Players are forced into a more conservative playstyle; beating out the competition requires scavenging for better equipment and knowing when, and not, to engage. Constant awareness of remaining lives whilst playing is vital, as having one or two extra when down to the last few players could be the difference that leads to victory.
Unlike other free-for-all modes, Last Spartan Standing isn’t solely about getting kills, as assists can help players out too. 100 points are rewarded for a kill and 50 for an assist, with some levels reachable with an extra assist instead of a whole kill. This means that players can engage in ongoing firefights from a distance – keeping themselves safe – and still get a solid reward in the heat of a match.
The map size, layout, and item placement also create an interesting dynamic, as depending on what weapons and equipment you have, another player may have the home field advantage depending on the location. In these scenarios retreating is the best option, and figuring out where on the map best suits your loadout – smaller rooms benefit from the shotgun and assault rifle for example – to maximise your chances is also a big help.
In regular matches of Halo Infinite this doesn’t matter as much. You’ll spawn in, grab a weapon off a nearby wall and go headfirst into the fray. In Last Spartan Standing however, the XP rewards mean you need to earn that weapon, and the limited lives make it ill-advised to dash in without scoping out your opponents. Getting that first unsuspecting hit or a bit of area control with a well-placed grenade can give you a much-needed edge. These two rules still apply to regular matches in Halo Infinite of course, but Last Spartan Standing makes them all the more important.
Whilst an excellent addition to the game, right now Last Spartan Standing can only be played on new map Breaker, while the weapons earned and equipment that spawns in don’t change either, making the whole mode stale far too fast. Players can only queue solo too, which makes sense to prevent cheating, but team-based variants could go a long way in keeping the mode fresh. Hopefully 343 is testing different maps, guns and pick-ups for Last Spartan Standing, as it desperately needs them.
Despite its current shortcomings, Last Spartan Standing proves that Infinite – as a free-to-play and evolving title – benefits from new ideas. If more game modes that turn Infinite on its head are in the works, the game could be looking at that longer shelf life it’s so desperately trying to find.
Sadly though, Infinite’s six month-old scars run deep, and Last Spartan Standing isn’t a quick fix for them. Some challenges in Season 2 are straight-up broken and not registering progress, whilst others are still forcing players into matches they don’t want to play, or to commit to tasks in those matches that ruin their time playing the game.
Let me explain exactly why this is such a huge problem: Challenges are the only way to get XP. Challenges are random. Some challenges force you into specific game modes or actions. Some game modes are buried in massive playlists, and some actions strong-arm players into playing the game a certain way.
This means that after the daily “play any match challenges” are exhausted (rewarding a measly 50 XP after the sixth match of the day) players are forced to play the game a certain way just to level up. Still. Six months since launch.
There are challenge swaps and double XP boosts that make these problems somewhat manageable, but these are quick, temporary fixes to larger issues.
I say all this from a place of love. The core moment-to-moment experience in Halo Infinite is well and truly excellent, and one many free-to-play games can only dream of. Infinite’s issue from day one hasn’t been with what makes Halo well, Halo, it’s that the game doesn’t support itself well enough with its progression systems and game modes, even though Infinite offers one of the best multiplayer experiences on the market.
It’s not that 343 doesn’t care either, the openness of the developers with players categorically disproves that. It also has nothing to do with the team’s focus on “maintaining a healthy work/life balance”. Halo Infinite‘s problem is that it still doesn’t respect those who want to engage with progression in the long-term, making it incredibly difficult to incentivise a dedicated playerbase. This issue runs so deep in the game’s design that until it changes, no amount of entertaining and inventive modes will elevate Halo Infinite to where it wants to be.