Halo Infinite ranked is challenging, gripping, and at times utterly devastating. It is, in every way, a hyper-concentrated version of Halo Infinite multiplayer, highlighting both the best parts of the game and the areas in desperate need of improvement.
In Halo Infinite ranked, you spawn in with just a battle rifle, rather than the assault rifle and pistol combo standard for Arena. You and three other players must work like a well-trained Spartan army to defeat enemy players in bouts of Capture the Flag, Oddball, Stronghold, and Slayer, and every match feels more tense than the next. There are no vehicles here, just the occasional power weapon, and any attempt to snatch it will likely cost you.
Halo Infinite ranked may not be for everyone, and it may need some serious updates like the chance to choose playlists or a better way to see your stats, but it is still the purest Halo experience. The first night I play it, the hours slip away as I sweat through tense Slayer matches and I notice the stirrings of a familiar feeling. Just like my struggle to hit level 50 in Halo 3, I feel the beginnings of a ranked obsession creeping up the back of my neck. It's had me in it's grip for over a week now – I log on every night and grind out some ranked matches to try and pull myself through to the next tier. Halo Infinite's competitive play has high highs and low lows, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Halo Infinite ranked is like the concentrated essence of Halo. There are no large-scale maps and no vehicles, and the only game modes you'll play are ones that demand teamwork or a very impressive K/D ratio. Every spawned power weapon kickstarts an intense firefight, and map movement becomes almost as important as your accuracy.
You'll know a map inside and out after just a few rounds of ranked play, because you'll learn its layout the hard way – not knowing a sightline or a waypoint that an enemy can use to get behind you will almost always result in a swift death. Ranked play also forces you to master the basic Halo mechanics: headshots, melees, and grenade tosses. Almost every ranked match begins with a flurry of frag grenades exploding all around you, with players alternating between hucking them at you and taking potshots with the battle rifle. Ah, the battle rifle.
I'm a practicing member of the church of the BR, so I was ecstatic to play my first Halo Infinite ranked match and see that your only starting weapon is the mid-range rifle. The three-round burst weapon demands accuracy and can be a little difficult to get the hang of, but once you do, you're nigh unstoppable. The BR is Halo.
You know you're playing a tough team in a ranked match when you can barely aim down the BR's sight before your Spartan winces away from the scope. If you can't use the BR, you can't play ranked. But once you learn the ins and outs of the weapon, switching over from ranked to play Big Team Battle or Quick Play will have you searching maps for the rifle. Like most of Halo, the skill ceiling is high, but climbing closer to it feels dangerously powerful.
The way the ranks work in ranked matchmaking is frankly confusing. To start off, you'll do a series of ten placement matches to determine where you fall on the Halo Infinite ranks scale, which starts at Bronze and goes all the way up to Onyx. You'll play the same game modes once you're officially placed, presumably with players that are in the same rank – although that seems to be a bit of an issue at the time of writing.
Recently, Pro Halo player Ricky Spanish took to Twitter to say, "Would be nice if Infinite ranked matches were actually meant to match all players of similar rank with each other instead of doing dumb team balancing. Can't even play with other ppl without having people put in the game who are def out of their territory." A Halo community manager responded, promising the 343 Industries team is "looking into reports of matchups like this."
Matchups aren't as confusing as how the rank scale actually works. At the moment, I'm currently in Platinum 6, one level away from entering Diamond 1 – each named rank has six number placements within them. But how much my rank adjusts after each match seems to vary greatly, with certain matches affording me an incremental increase after a win and others nearly dropping me out of Platinum 5 after a loss. We only know that your rank improves "when you perform better than expected," so it can be assumed that major detractions are the result of you losing a match 343 thinks you should have won.
But if the current matchmaking is focusing on team balancing rather than matching players up of similar ranks, as Ricky Spanish suggests above, then the way you move around those ranks makes even less sense. It also opens up the door for frequently mismatched teams, an absolute boon when playing objective-based matches – which you can't opt out of.
The trouble with choice
And therein lies the biggest issue with Halo Infinite ranked, which is indicative of the larger issue plaguing the Halo Infinite beta: you can't pick your game modes. Right now, Halo Infinite lets you jump into three playlists: Quick Play, Big Team Battle, and Ranked Arena. There's no way to narrow down the game modes within those playlists, which is absolutely devastating when playing ranked.
Objective-based, four-aside game modes are notoriously difficult, and Halo Infinite ranked doesn't buck that trend. Without proper communication or strategy, a Capture the Flag match can quickly become a blowout if the other team has even a loosely gathered game plan. At the moment, I'd say the vast majority of the ranked matches that I lose are objective-based; some are almost no contest, like losing Oddball two-to-nil or barely breaking double digits in Stronghold matches. It's incredibly frustrating, and even more so when my level indiscriminately tanks afterwards.
Hopefully, when the Halo Infinite beta ends with the official launch of the game on December 8, the inability to choose game modes will end with it. Some players prefer to showcase their abilities in strategic objective modes while others just want to show off their K/D ratio in Slayer. Allowing room for choice is what makes multiplayer games so widely appealing, especially when they're free-to-play like Halo Infinite. There is so much variety in Halo across traditional Slayer matches and objective play that many players end up specializing in one over the other. That's why choice is so necessary in ranked matches, where a Slayer aficionado like myself is forced to compete in Oddball matches.
Halo Infinite ranked multiplayer represents a stripped-down version of 343's excellent gameplay, which can be incredibly engaging and exciting. It lures you in with the appeal of its battle rifles and smaller-sided matches, but like a siren it drags you to its depths with its lack of choice and muddled ranking process. There is gold to be mined in Halo Infinite ranked, and it'll be a helluva lot easier to find it when 343 addresses a few game-wide issues. Until then, I'll be playing it until the wee hours of the morning, whispering curses under my breath so as not to disturb the neighbors. Who am I kidding, I'll probably still do that after the updates rollout...