This week, Halo developer 343 began testing Halo: The Master Chief Collection Season 8 content for Halo 3 and Reach, giving players their first taste of new "alternate universe" armour skins - and it's fair to say they've sparked quite the debate within the community.
Season 8 of MCC is called Mythic and showcases Halo "in a deliberately divergent way", 343 franchise and narrative writer at 343, Jeff Easterling, said in a post on Halo Waypoint.
He's not kidding. Each of the new armour sets for use in Halo 3 multiplayer within MCC is focused on "reimagining the core Mjolnir armour as alternate universe amalgams based on legendary ancient warriors", including Greek and Norse mythology. We're playing as Spartans, after all!
"We know it's wild," Easterling said. "We know it's 'out there'. And we think it's pretty neat."
I'm getting a For Honor and Skyrim vibe from the whole thing. Here's a snippet of what's available:
As you'd expect, some Halo fans have reacted with surprise at these new armour skins and said they're not in keeping with the Halo universe or what a Spartan should look like. Halo has for years now offered armour customisation, but it's largely in-universe customisation options that fit within the lore of Halo's time and space. But these new armour sets, as 343 says, are "alternate universe".
Whatever side of the realism debate you land on with this, the Halo community has had its fun this week with plenty of memes. Here's a snippet:
Imagine being a new Spartan, you've gone through years of training, dozens of surgical procedures, you're finally being deployed and this freakshow introduces herself as the squad's medic from r/halo
The new armor is horrendous and doesn't fit the halo lore. What the hell 343 I miss the bungie era of halo like this from r/halo
I wasn't sure about the Season 9 armor, but with the right combinations it can look amazing! from r/halo
"As a big fan of all manner of media, I've always personally enjoyed when a beloved franchise can be viewed through a unique lens, applying different themes, styles, eras, and more to create unexpected new experiences," Easterling continued.
"Moments that can sit alongside a 'core' universe and give you a fresh little detour while keeping all of your beloved existing fiction and details neatly intact. Whether it's a samurai take on Star Wars or a steampunk take on Batman, seeing familiar elements given a wild and far-out twist can simultaneously give you a fun new thing to enjoy while also helping you appreciate the core reasons of why you love the original thing in the first place. The upcoming season for the MCC does just that, and also helps set the stage for more fun experimental themes to come in the future in this and other venues."
I think that last line is key, and worth further analysis: "The upcoming season for the MCC does just that, and also helps set the stage for more fun experimental themes to come in the future in this and other venues."
To me, these new armour sets are setting the stage for Halo Infinite to offer more "wild" customisation options. The multiplayer portion of the upcoming shooter is free to download, remember, with a battle pass and all the rest you'd expect of a live service. As Call of Duty has shown, even so-called modern day military shooters meant to offer a gritty, grounded virtual splice of life as a solder go off the rails when microtransactions are concerned. Realism be damned when there's a silly skin to be sold!
And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. This approach to skins feels like the natural next step for Halo 3, which, 14 years after it came out, took a page out of the Fortnite playbook and added back bling.