Will it hold once America wakes up?
Halo: The Master Chief Collection's matchmaking is an object of shame, embarrassment and ridicule, both for 343 Industries and us reviewers. The fortnight since launch saw Halo's new guardians apologies, grovel and make all the right noises, but fixes were slow and stumbling, especially following a massively-hyped patch last week that addressed practically everything EXCEPT the state of matchmaking.
However, in the wee small hours of last night (UK time), 343 quietly slipped out another Halo: The Master Chief Collection update weighing in at 523MB. With few hopes and low expectations, I summarily download the file and tried it out.
Ooh. Hey. Whoa. I don't want to jinx anything, but from what I've experienced post-update, this unassuming new patch actually makes an enormous impact. Sadly, it also sometimes does something weird and stupid just to keep us on our toes.
You can read the patch notes here, which contain familiar promises. "Improvements to the way the matchmaking system handles player matching." Right. "Improvements to the team selection process to improve team balancing." Uh-huh. "Resolved a variety of miscellaneous stability issues to improve overall performance." Okay. Excuse my apathy, but we've heard it all before.
Except this time it looks like 343 has actually delivered, at least, where it counts. Matchmaking wait times.
I tried out all the Gametypes and found, to my intense delight, that I was matchmaking and joining games within 2-4 minutes. Team slayer, two and a half minutes. Big Team Battle, three minutes. Halo 2 Anniversary, less than two minutes.
Excellent. Better yet, the team balancing now seems to be balanced! At one point I saw The Master Chief Collection attempt to start a Team Slayer match with nine players... then stop... then find a tenth Spartan before continuing with map voting. So far every match I've played post-patch has been balanced, barring those who decided to ragequit. UPDATE (15:11 BST): Contrary to this, I was just thrown into a 7 vs 1 Team Slayer match after two big parties were thrown together. More work needed.
So far, so long-overdue good news then, only that's not the end of the story. As you've no-doubt sussed by the title and introduction, Halo: The Master Chief Collection is still far from fixed, and these improvements come complete with some bizarre new problems.
First off is an annoying and serious bug that can group all players into a party in a new multiplayer lobby screen and assign a leader, rather than actually starting map voting and continuing to a game! Sometimes it then leads to a match, otherwise it just sits there while everyone eventually quits... and sometimes the leader can take their new party into a totally different gametype! This doesn't happen every time, but to encounter it more than once in the few hours after the patch suggests that the problem is widespread and therefore unacceptable.
I also found that, every once in a while, the Master Chief Collection was too eager to start a new match without replacing new players. After a quickly-found and thoroughly enjoyable blast of Team Slayer on Halo 3's Last Resort, for example, us four remaining players were effectively thrust straight into map voting for the next game!
And, on occasion, I also found matches failing to load, booting back to map select, then loading a totally different map and starting the game. Weird.
So once again we find ourselves having to berate 343 Industries for not fixing The Master Chief Collection outright, and once again take them to task for not stress testing their product before launch. But at least, for now, I can finally report some forward progress and significantly faster matchmaking.
The big test is yet to come. America will wake up in a few hours, consume an enormous amount of Turkey and then get online. As we saw with the intial release of The Master Chief Collection, it's the load that seems to affect Halo's matchmaking most, and we have yet to see whether this new update can handle the strain once the biggest worldwide audience hits the servers.
We'll find out soon enough.