Last Spartan Standing isn’t Halo’s battle royale, but it probably should be

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Since Halo Infinite’s announcement, there have been rumblings of a Halo battle royale. This week, Halo Infinite season 2 brought with it a new story chapter, two new maps, and Last Spartan Standing—a free for all elimination mode that’s the closest 343 has come to parachuting 100 spartans onto an island.

Cards on the table. I don’t think Halo Infinite needs a battle royale. Despite being the terminal Apex-liker on staff, I don’t even like battle royale that much, bouncing right off PUBG and Fortnite. Halo is very much its own kind of shooter, with its own unique rhythms and flow, an arena shooter built from a wonderfully playful sandbox of weapons, vehicles and equipment.

But even if Last Spartan Standing isn’t a battle royale in name, it’s very clearly an attempt to hit many of the same beats. An elimination mode where you acquire better weapons as the match shrinks, Gun Game style, with a circle that closes on the final few combatants.

It is an attempt to capture the essence of battle royale with the tools Halo already has at its disposal. And honestly? It doesn’t work.

Slayer royale

Here’s how my experience of Last Spartan Standing has gone. You start on a decently-sized map, wandering about with two pistols looking for targets. If you’re lucky you’ll see one first, get a kill, and upgrade to a mangler. If you’re unlucky, someone will see you first and get the upgrade. Now you’re behind on weapons, a life down, with only five left.

The map slowly thins out from 12, to 10, and below, as players stumble into ongoing fights or chip at each other from a distance. Battles rarely last more than a few seconds, and eventually only four players are left standing. It’s now that the ring arrives, very slowly, to encroach on the remaining players. The survivors likely have shotguns, and the game very suddenly slows right the hell down as players rat, popping out only to nap nearby powerups.

In one game, I watched the final two players stand practically next to each other, refusing to budge for almost ten minutes.

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As an experiment, Last Spartan Standing is interesting. The kinda neat custom game you’d expect to find in a private match. But as a fully-featured mode, I’m not sure it holds up. Fights in Halo are over too quickly for prolonged engagements, getting lost for a minute can leave you behind the weapon curve, and while I appreciate adding power-up drops to direct the battle, it can often feel like players are untouchable if they manage to consistently snag an overshield.

LSS is also missing some of Infinite’s wilder weapons, promoting you through a fairly rote lineup of pistols, assault rifles, commandos and shotguns. It’s easy to imagine, in place of Overshields or Active Camo, the game dropping a limited-use energy sword, battle rifle, or one of the more creative equipment tools like grappling hooks or repulsors.

King of the hill

I don’t think a Halo battle royale is a bad idea on the face of it. When Fortnite hard pivoted from unpopular tower-defence-RPG-quest nightmare to world-consuming battle royale, it did so by realising its building mechanics could fit effortlessly into the PUBG mould. Respawn was extremely careful in how it slowed down Titanfall’s pilots for Apex Legends, ditching wallrunning while retaining the fundamental core of what makes movement in those games work.

A flying spartan (with grappling hook)

(Image credit: 343 Industries)

Halo itself is a game about finding powerups and learning weapon spawns in a sandbox of chaotic, physics-driven toys. It’s easy to imagine a world where 100 spartans drop onto a ringworld, scavenging gear and armour to take each other out in oddly-floaty firefights. It just requires full, ground-up commitment in figuring out what parts of Halo could work in a battle royale, and what would need changing.

There are rumblings of a proper, ground-up Halo Royale being developed over at Certain Affinity, of course. And maybe it’ll do the concept justice, bringing a Halo twist to a genre we’re still unable to move on from. Hopefully, Last Spartan Standing is a proof-of-concept Certain Affinity can learn the right lessons from. I don’t really want a Halo battle royale—but if we have to make a Halo battle royale, let’s at least do it right.

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