Halo: The Master Chief Collection is an incredible package, but like any great hero, it has an Achilles' Heel. Matchmaking. Post-launch, what appeared to be solid and stable matchmaking descended to a mess of interminable wait times, broken parties and hilariously unbalanced teams. 343 Industries were quick to apologies and have been working around the clock to sort things out, culminating in a 1400 MB patch yesterday that promised to address the major issues alongside a host of minor tweaks.
So does it work?
That's not a "no," because the minor tweaks work pretty well. Most noticeably of all, the UI is now buttery-smooth and lightning fast to navigate, bringing up options and menus at a blistering pace. I didn't have a problem with the interface before, but credit where it's due, the whole thing feels much snappier and more intuitive to browse.
Achievements seem to have been sorted, though interestingly Halo awarded me one that I don't think I actually earned, and matchmaking workflow has been improved. Now we're notified when players have been found and connections are being made, which is nice. Better yet, I now don't find myself being booted into a 'party of one' after a match, unable to enter matchmaking again until the game removes me from a game session I didn't actually create, while players and parties now stick together reliably. The campaign-side tweaks are all welcome improvements too.
Unfortunately, though, matchmaking is still broken - and the patch appears to have made very little difference on that front.
Perhaps 'broken' isn't the word. Tantalising, teasing and coy might be a more appropriate term. The problem is that matchmaking sometimes works, often very quickly, and just enough to stop you quitting the game outright in favour of 'just one more try.'
In my experience, matchmaking times seem to vary depending on gametype. Team Slayer works speedily for me post-update, but I can't get a game in BTB at all. This could be due to differences in population size depending on the time of day (though I tested it in the early morning -- afternoon American time -- and today), but more likely dumb luck, since Reddit and the Halo Forms are alight with reports of matchmaking working differently for everyone regardless of geographical location, connection or gametype. Some players are able to leap straight in, others are waiting for 40 minutes or more.
Unbalanced teams are still a problem, since Halo: The Master Chief Collection is still overly keen to start a match with an uneven number of players, while I've personally encountered an odd error in Halo 2 maps post-patch, which sometimes stops me respawning for a minute or so (stuck at 'respawning in 4 seconds'... 4 seconds... 4 bloody seconds). And yet, occasionally, I'm shooting straight into a balanced game within a couple of minutes.
The patch has certainly improved the experience for some players, but from what I can see, it's down to luck more than anything else. Inconsistently broken may be better than completely borked, but it's arguably an academic difference.
So What About The 10/10 Review, Jon?
As you may already know, I awarded Halo: The Master Chief Collection a 10/10 score in our two-part review. I stand by it. We don't run score updates here at Dealspwn, and more to the point, the game I reviewed in the state I reviewed it in earned that score. I'm still kicking myself for not waiting longer after delaying the score at embargo -- more fool me, I suppose -- but as a reviewer I can only review the game I've got and I made the call.
I'm also slightly bemused and even a little irked by some of the more hyperbolic comments I'm seeing in Reddit threads and tweets, some of which call this the worst game launch in history. Let's get a little perspective here, folks. Not only does The Master Chief Collection deliver four magnificent campaigns, great co-op and custom games, but I have been able to get stuck into multiplayer and played a great deal of it. There's so much brilliant content here -- meaningful, excellent content, not just a grinder -- that I'm still convinced of value for money for those who love Halo's freeform campaigns and infinitely replayable combat sandboxes.
But that isn't an excuse. I've updated the review with a bright red unmissable advisory warning and will consider what to do next. Suggestions are welcome. For now, I'll continue checking in on the state of matchmaking and the multiplayer in general as 343 continues to issue new updates and server-side fixes.