Live-service games live and die by their progression. Obviously gameplay is important, but I remain unconvinced that casual audiences are logging in to Fortnite’s seasonal updates to scrutinise the patch notes in search of balance changes. The real meat comes with the battle pass, something Epic Games has crafted into a standalone game in itself, ripe with skins, cosmetic items, challenges, and crossover events that are constantly shifting to keep you invested.
I return to Apex Legends and Fortnite on a seasonal basis to see if the battle pass stands a chance at pulling me in, encouraging me to stick around and play with friends. The general gameplay formula doesn’t do much for me unless I’m in the right frame of mind - because of that, the structure of live-service games is essential to my investment in them. The unlockable items dangling on the stick in front of the EXP treadmill need to be alluring, otherwise I’ll switch the machine off and walk away.
This is where my gripe with Halo Infinite - which might be my most anticipated game of the entire year - comes in, with the recent technical test offering a bitter taste of the live-service experience. 343 Industries celebrated the recent playtest with a miniature battle pass featuring a selection of cosmetics and items. They won't carry over to the full release, yet still provided us with a fantastic incentive despite the limited number of maps and game modes right now. It’s just a shame that all of the colour variants and armour plates are so dull, a thorn in the side of Halo Infinite’s ambitions to become an unbeatable free-to-play shooter.
Given this fact - that Infinite’s multiplayer is going free-to-play - we’ll likely see free and paid variants of the battle pass moving forward. They aren’t seasonal anymore either - players will be free to choose which battle pass they want to pump experience into if there’s a certain skin or item they want to unlock. It’s an innovative approach to the model, and one that highlights the predatory ways other games use FOMO to steal your time or hard-earned cash. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other games adopt in the future. I just hope these battle passes have enough imagination to keep the majority of fans invested, because different shades of power armour and fancy shoulder pads won’t be enough to keep me grinding away. The gameplay should be enough in itself, because I love Halo to bits, but it will be a crying shame if the accompanying spoils manage to underwhelm.
I think Fortnite has spoiled me, with Epic Games morphing its metaverse into something so extreme that everything else pales in comparison. If the Halo Infinite we see today launched in 2015 it would have broken boundaries, since the live-service model hadn’t yet evolved into an all-encompassing monolith built around licensed properties and unorthodox storytelling that continues to shift the landscape of the medium. Unfortunately, I don’t think Halo Infinite can lean into the same level of absurdity as Fortnite, at least not without sacrificing the substance of a universe filled with characters and lore that a lot of fans take seriously - although technically you can make Master Chief dab in Fortnite right now, so perhaps that sanctity has already been lost.
The closest comparison to Halo Infinite’s eventual battle passes is likely something like Call of Duty: Warzone and its annual releases. Each of them incorporate characters from past campaigns and treat them as signature offerings. Captain Price and Ghost were huge pulls for Modern Warfare, while Black Ops Cold War once again honed in on nostalgia until the well ran dry. Halo Infinite could do the same, and has dozens of games, novels, comics, and short films to pull from if it really wants to make some deep cuts. That being said, 343 Industries will need to do the legwork to make sure these references are obvious to both new and familiar players, otherwise it risks alienating those who will be jumping into the series for the first time. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but if the battle passes want to stand out, they need to do more than offer generic visual updates and stale customisable armour.
NetEase called it a bug, but others called it a feature.