OK, I realize that Overwatch isn't the shooter du jour right now. In fact, Activision revealed at a shareholder meeting recently that it has lost tens of millions of monthly active users across its properties, and that no doubt includes Overwatch, Blizzard's popular hero shooter. While it no longer grabs the same kind of attention it did at its peak, the game remains wildly popular, and has a big Overwatch 2 beta kicking off as I'm writing this.
Recently, rumors emerged that Halo Infinite was in fact prototyping a mode similar to Overwatch, which was ultimately scrapped. Some have pointed blame at this scrapped game mode for the lackluster state of Halo Infinite's live service, which has become notoriously anemic for new content, as Twitch viewers and streamers alike abandon the game in droves.
A little while ago, we revealed that Certain Affinity is working on a battle royale-like mode for Halo Infinite, which could bring it to modern audiences who grew up around games like Fortnite. Yet, I find myself more intrigued by the possibility of a Halo hero shooter mode, which alas, doesn't seem destined to be in this timeline.
What happened to hero shooters?
Despite the fact Overwatch has slipped out of headlines, it still remains vastly popular. We have no idea exactly how many monthly active users it has, but YouTube channels, Twitch streams, and the subreddit are still very active. Many fans are perhaps simply waiting for Overwatch 2, which kicked off into beta this week.
For a brief moment, it felt like hero shooters like Overwatch were going to become commonplace, but as time went on, it felt like there wasn't enough room in the market. Similar games like Quake Champions, Battleborn, and LawBreakers failed to set the world on fire, and Overwatch itself fell out of the conversation, until now.
When Blizzard announced its Overwatch 2 PvP beta, the page for beta sign-ups crashed all of Battle.net. The beta is about to begin as of writing, and as a result, Overwatch has over 50 times more viewers on Twitch than Halo Infinite. Overwatch remains wildly popular, and it certainly seems like hero shooters could still have a place in a shooter world dominated by Fortnite, Apex Legends, and CoD: Warzone.
What was Halo Infinite's "Overwatch" mode exactly?
While details are scant, we have some idea of what 343i was planning for Halo's "hero shooter" mode, which ultimately never came to be.
In reports from Halo watcher @Surasia4 on Twitter, corroborated by our own sources, it seems that 343i was prototyping a gameplay format similar to Overwatch for Halo Infinite in the early days of the game's development. You'd play as character operators, who have unique abilities and powers, similar to games like Overwatch or Rainbow Six Siege. In the picture above, you can see some early concepts of how different heroes might have functioned, with a character who seems like a "heavy," and another with a tablet.
343i prototyped both arena-style games and big team battle with these hero operators, before the idea was ultimately scrapped in favor of a more traditional formula. Our sources indicate that this was one of many prototypes that 343i tested for Halo Infinite, as is standard in game development, all taking place within game development time allocated and budgeted specifically for prototyping.
Now, we have Halo's standard modes, alongside the 12v12 big team battle modes, and a battle royale-like mode on the way in the form of Project Tatanka from Certain Affinity. As someone who isn't big on Halo, I can't help but feel like this scrapped Overwatch-style mode would have actually made the game more compelling to me.
Haloverwatch would have been cool
I don't think 343i should have totally upended the formula for decades-long fans who expect a certain type of flow from their Halo gameplay, but a Haloverwatch hybrid optional side mode sounds incredibly compelling to me as someone who finds standard Halo fairly boring. It could have brought Halo a new audience that it seems to so desperately need.
Halo's progression systems and customization is painfully dull in my view compared to games like Overwatch, which have very fun character-oriented skins and emotes that tie into each hero's personality and personal story. It would have been cool to have a stealthy hero that played like an Elite, maybe the Arbiter himself. What if they added a playable Lek'golo heavy? Or explored some of Halo Wars 2's wackier heroes like Yap Yap the Destroyer? It feels like there could have been far more room for creativity and unique gameplay to free Halo from its tried-and-tested formula, and through fear of alienating longtime fans, they ultimately avoided creativity in favor of maintaining the status quo.
I have to ask: "Why not both?" Microsoft can certainly afford it, although sure, I suspect actually having the right people in-house to build a truly creative and unique (and balanced) hero-oriented mode is probably above 343i's skillset right now. But perhaps there's a future, after Activision Blizzard joins Microsoft, to explore the full potential of the Halo universe beyond its tried-and-tested gameplay flow.
What's for sure is that Halo Infinite needs something, and needs it fast because if viewership on Twitch and Steam stats are any indication, even Halo's most hardcore fans seem to be bored with everything Halo Infinite offers today.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!