Enough is enough, Halo: Master Chief Collection. This is getting ridiculous.
That Halo: MCC's multiplayer matchmaking is still a muddled mess several weeks after release is frankly unacceptable. We've given 343i a lengthy spool of rope, and they've been allowed a fair bit of slack from the gaming press, but this was supposed to be the flagship title of the winter. And for all of the talk about what a great content package it is -- and it really is a cracking content package even as an offline game -- the fact is that Halo's multiplayer has always been just as much of an important part of the formula as the expansive, game-changing singleplayer/co-op aspects of the series, if not more so.
This was supposed to be the triumphant end to a year in which the Xbox One has really turned itself around, largely thanks to the efforts of Phil Spencer and his team; and what better series to deliver than Halo? Microsoft and 343i got everything right, delivering an outstandingly well-priced and well-balanced collection designed to (re)introduce a new generation of Xbox fans to the Master Chief and his exploits.
Everything except the matchmaking.
Looking about on Reddit and N4G and the various comment streams across coverage of 343i's debacle, many have asked why the likes of Driveclub and Assassin's Creed: Unity came under such heavy fire while Halo has been given the benefit of the doubt in many quarters. With Driveclub, it's important to note that the game's unique selling points were all tethered to that online experience. Driveclub was a game marketed, previewed, and centred around the connected experience -- without it, the game was simply impossible to review and disappointing to play. Assassin's Creed: Unity was a Uplay-stuffed singleplayer game that released in a broken, shambolic state, filled with bugs that any decent QA department would have surely rooted out, with all signs pointing towards a game that could have desperately used a few more months in development.
It's perhaps important to recognise that Halo: MCC fits in between the two, straddling singleplayer and multiplayer, seeking to be a one-stop content drop, but doing so on the multiplayer side by trying to balance out a huge number of maps from games built in different engines. But we're not in the habit of making excuses for developers or publishers when it comes to this sort of thing -- this is a disaster for everyone: Microsoft, 343i, Halo fans and prospective buyers. It's all the more galling that server and matchmaking stability seemed absolutely fine ahead of launch when they eventually turned it on -- and this is in a home environment, not at a closed-network review event (more on that later today) -- before buckling under the pressures of the public launch.
If Halo: MCC has been given extra leeway, perhaps it's because the collection itself is masterful, and it's offline/co-op content is vast. By the vast majority of accounts, it is an insane value package that should have emphatically underlined the Master Chief's legacy and importance to the Xbox brand. It should have been the crown jewel in the Xbox One's winter lineup. In a way, and this will surely get debated in the comments, hope is what has led many to give 343i a little more time. To be fair to them, the communication has been fairly good as well. 343i have apologised unreservedly, owning up to the mistakes with clear language that remains respectful of their fanbase rather than insulting the intelligence of consumers with vague waffle.
But does that really make a blind bit of difference here?
Not really in my book. People want fixes, not words. The fact remains that the Xbox One's flagship game is still pretty dead in the water when it comes to its multiplayer. With genre alternatives like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, and Far Cry 4 out there, not to mention a slew of other big budget headliners in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Sunset Overdrive, and Smash Bros, Halo: MCC will find itself losing traction very quickly, especially at this time of year. Let's not understate this: Microsoft biggest launch of the winter has gone up in smoke. One of the biggest reasons to buy an Xbox One this Christmas is thoroughly broken, and the panic patching has led to new issues as well.
On a personal level, I was so ready to buy an Xbox One and invest in a very Merry Halo Christmas. But now I'll be waiting until 2015, and I don't imagine I'll be alone.
There are lessons to be learned from this. The first is that consumers will not sit idly by and accept the release-now-fix-later culture that has been brewing. There's simply no excuse for it. Destiny, for all of its flaws, was a game that used extensive alpha and beta testing to help identify issues and carefully prepare for launch as well as fuelling the hype train. That Bungie's successors have failed and flamed out with Halo: MCC so spectacularly this winter is exactly what Microsoft would have wanted to avoid. Could extra time have helped? Should a multiplayer beta have been issued earlier in the year? Bonnie Ross has spoken of "unexpected issues", but if you don't run tests you can't find errors. 343i and Microsoft could have been more prepared.
Again, communication is key. Could they have split the release -- singleplayer and co-op out now, multiplayer in beta with a full release to come? One would imagine so. They could have put some rather interesting price plans in place, and extended the hype beyond the initial release. Terminology creates understanding -- you can forgive things in betas that you won't for a final release. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but there must have been alternatives.
The situation as it stands now is dire. Microsoft and 343i need this fixed as soon as possible. And although they might hope that a working Halo 5: Guardians beta might divert some attention, there's simply no real way around this problem. It needs mending, and mending now, otherwise it threatens to undermine Microsoft's comeback momentum, and continue to seriously damage the 343i brand and that of Microsoft's flagship franchise.