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The surprise launch of Halo Infinite‘s (mostly excellent) multiplayer mode was somewhat compromised by the game’s Battle Pass and XP systems which left some fans wondering if Infinite‘s developers were trying to softly encourage players to spend money on the shooter’s microtransactions.
At launch, Halo Infinite only allowed you to acquire XP (which is used to unlock tiers and items on the Battle Pass via gameplay) through daily and weekly challenges. Because Infinite did not allow you to acquire Battle Pass XP by simply playing matches (as is the case in many other games with a Battle Pass), unlocking new tiers and items proved to be a painfully slow process.
The Halo Infinite team promised to address those complaints and recently made good on that promise by revealing several fixes they’ve made to the previous Battle Pass system.
While the team admits that this isn’t the final version of the game’s Battle Pass (and that more improvements are on the way), these changes certainly make Infinite‘s Battle Pass much more “user friendly” than it was before. It’s still significantly “slower” than other Battle Passes, but it is a step in the right direction.
Yet, even Halo Infinite‘s “improved” Battle Pass shows us why it’s time for the era of Battle Passes to come to an end.
There was a time when Battle Passes felt like the “great microtransaction compromise” in the age of loot boxes and predatory pay-to-win tactics. Not only did Battle Passes typically focus solely on cosmetic unlocks (which have long been preferable to unlockable in-game advantages so far as microtransactions go), but they allowed players to unlock those cosmetic items by simply playing the game and earning XP. The basic idea was that you had the option to spend either time or money on Battle Pass items and that the items you did unlock wouldn’t offer any competitive advantages and seriously affect the gameplay.
To be fair, Battle Passes are still a better microtransaction option than some of the alternatives we suffered through before. In fact, Battle Passes allow some developers to release their projects as free-to-play titles that will likely be supported by “whales” or enough people making an occasional microtransaction purchase. Battle Passes represented a step in the right direction, and there are good ideas developers can mine from them to this day.
However, the principle of the basic Battle Pass system has been compromised in recent years by two notable factors: the way Battle Passes are affecting the ways that games are designed and the way that they’re affecting how games are played.
Part of the reason why Infinite‘s Battle Pass feels so odd is that the game already has a Spartan customization option that, in its initial form, simply feels like a lesser version of the customization options in some older Halo games that didn’t have a Battle Pass. While there are some truly impressive cosmetics that you can unlock via the game’s Battle Pass, many of the earlier unlocks are just slightly different shades of existing colors and other items that just feel like they should have been available in the base game.
Not only is it annoying to grind through early levels of the Battle Pass slowly just to unlock largely unimpressive cosmetics, but those early unlocks show how Halo Infinite is one of those games that was seemingly designed with a Battle Pass in mind. There are some Battle Passes where the pass feels like an expedited way to work towards items that were always meant to be unlockable, but Infinite‘s Battle Pass feels like the result of the developers needing to decide which core customization elements they were going to lock behind a paywall and which they were going to make available to everyone.
In fact, one of the first major Halo Infinite updates doesn’t nerf some of the game’s most powerful weapons or improve the matchmaking system; it fixes the Battle Pass. There’s a degree to which any game that has a Battle Pass (or similarly prominent microtransaction features) exists to serve the Battle Pass and must be updated, and potentially made, with the needs of the Battle Pass in mind.
That brings us to the other problem with many modern Battle Passes. There are gamers who say they do not care about Battles Passes, and I know they’re being honest because I’m one of them. Cosmetics are nice, and I’ll certainly use them if they are there, but they’re not something I generally go out of my way for.
However, the fact of the matter is that there are quite a few gamers who do care quite a lot about unlocking cosmetics (and interacting with the Battle Passes they’re often associated with). Battle Passes assign a time and monetary figure to these items, which pretty much automatically makes them valuable even if you don’t personally care about them all that much. Besides, just look at how quickly people reacted to Infinite‘s Battle Pass problems compared to how they’ve discussed pretty much every other aspect of the game so far.
The idea that Battle Passes allow you to unlock items through the natural course of play is undone by the fact that Battle Passes do not support “natural play” among those who really care about them. When people start measuring the value of a Halo match by the XP it rewards them with rather than the experience of the match itself, that means that they’re going to start valuing and analyzing pretty much every other aspect of the game differently. When that analysis is coming from people who have proven that they’re more open to caring about a game’s microtransactions and unlockables, it just makes sense that developers and publishers are going to take their feedback closer to heart and start making adjustments and decisions with that feedback in mind.
The sad truth of the matter is that I do not know what the best alternative to Battle Passes is aside from eliminating such microtransactions entirely (which just isn’t going to happen no matter how bad we want it to). I suspect that the next best alternative involves disassociating Battle Passes with “the grind” as much as possible and offering players more ways to get the items they really want, but that’s certainly not a perfect solution.
What I do know is that Battle Passes are starting to loom so large over modern games that even those who genuinely don’t care about them are starting to be affected by their impact on game design and how we play games.