Aim Assist Could Cause Trouble in Infinite for PC
Before I start this article, I want to be clear that this entire post is from the perspective of a passionate fan, and not one that is looking to put down 343 at every opportunity. I think Halo Infinite is very good, and is extremely close to being the game the Halo community has been wanting.
I am very sorry for the “doom and gloom” title, as well. However, I do not feel it is an overstatement.
Aim assist is a tricky conversation to have. Keyboard & mouse players (abbreviated KBM from here on) do not receive aim assist (in most games). Instead, their input method has a much higher skill floor and ceiling, meaning while you have to put in more work, the rewards are greater. Contrasting this with controller input, which is far more accessible but with a lower skill ceiling, it makes sense that controller would need some sort of assistance to keep it not only competitively viable, but fun to use. Ultimately, I feel that both inputs can and should be balanced with each other so that everyone gets a fair shot in a competitive environment.
If you’ve ever tried to kill a team mate in Halo (we’ve all been there, even just messing with friends), you know what it’s like to not have any aim assistance on controller. It’s hard, unfun, and really just overall a pain. I would never suggest that controller not have any form of assistance at all for this reason. However, the current form of aim assist on controller is doing most of the aim for the player, and it’s absolutely absurd that it’s so strong in a crossplay environment.
Aim Assistance: What does it do?
This short developer commentary on Halo 5’s aim assist shows more than text could ever describe. But there are three main components I am going to break down here. They aren’t bad on their own, and I actually believe that these are brilliant ways to make controllers feel better in an environment where crossplay isn’t a factor.
Bullet Magnetism – Helps bring shots closer to the target. Effectively gives controller players a wider area in which their shots will land on or near their target.
Reticle Sticking – Slows down your aiming reticle when on target so that you don’t accidentally sweep past your target.
Reticle Tracing – My own name, as I haven’t seen anyone naming this outright. Keeps your aiming reticle on the enemy as they move around.
These three parts work together to make controller input feel better. And being completely honest, they are very smart ideas that really made Halo feel great on console. 343 should be proud of their achievement.
If you’d like to see how this aim assist is tuned in Halo Infinite, Phlosio captured some footage here.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that these accommodations were made in a controller-only environment. Competing against another input method was never a consideration, and didn’t have to be until Master Chief Collection came to PC. Honestly, controller dominating the game came as a surprise to most people. Previous attempts at crossplay (Shadowrun 2007 comes to mind) showed that mouse players destroyed pad users. Of course, these older games did not afford controller users the same accommodations they have now. Over time, console-focused companies like 343 would continue to evolve controller input into what you see today. More help for controller players means a smooth experience for their players. For a while, this was fine.
In the current crossplay environment, the higher levels of controller aim assist create a frustrating experience for new KBM players, but also dumbs down the higher level experience. Honestly, why would a PC player spend time and money on Halo, when there’s a ton of other games that won’t punish the KBM user? And controller users aren’t bad players, either! They’re perfectly capable of higher aiming skill, it’s a matter of no current developer challenging the player in this way.
Within the current Halo Infinite flight, the Assault Rifle is one of the strongest weapons. It isn’t hard to aim (for any input), and has great damage with medium range. So long as you can trace your target, you’re going to be putting out a lot of damage. Combined with the reticle tracing mentioned above, controller play against a KBM user simply becomes a matter of holding RT and strafing a bit to stay on target. Most of the sandbox doesn’t even factor in, in most cases it’s simply just not needed. And until we see what HCS has in store for competitive play, this issue might even affect the best of the best.
This video demonstrates the differences perfectly. The commentary from a top level controller user and #6 on the HCSS top 25 Halo players of all time list is really hammers the point home. Apex Legends is a great example of a game that makes controller player much easier in comparison to KBM, and this video shows exactly why. I find it difficult to write this off as a “skill issue” when one of the best Halo players of all time is even commenting on the problem.
Aren’t you just mad about losing?
No! I’ve even written on this very site about the importance of a loss. However, I have a huge issue with an empty loss. A match that was decided solely by input method, in my view, is one that is hardly worth playing- win or lose. I don’t want to bully controller players into submission, just as I’d like my weapons to work consistently (looking at you, Halo 3 PC.)
I’m also of the opinion that having the game do so much work for you dumbs down the overall experience. A huge part of many games like Counter-Strike, StarCraft, or any fighting game is learning the inputs, systems, and learning to operate them under pressure. When the game aims for you, it removes the pressure and tension of the competitive environment. After all, what do you have to lose if you weren’t that invested in the first place? And how much room does that leave for player expression? Fighting game players put in a ton of practice for incredible results, Halo players are capable of incredible things, too!! This investment is what makes tense competitive moments exciting!
I believe that just by making some small tweaks, you can properly support controller players, keep KBM competitive, and create a lot of room for player expression in Halo. More importantly, you can create an investment in player skill that no other console shooter currently has.
What do I propose as a solution?
This is where I exercise extreme caution, as I don’t want to ever overstate my knowledge on any subject. When it comes to game development, I recognize it’s far more complex than people realize. I want to raise awareness on the issue and promote conversation, and provide feedback to 343i in a positive and helpful way.
However, if I were to suggest changes, I’d have two propositions.
On the practical side: tone down the reticle tracing. Helping players get on target, and even giving them a slightly larger area to hit their target is fine. However, watching the reticle literally follow enemies without any sort of input is way too much.
If I were creating my own crossplay shooter: I would have “input advocates”, two groups of players/developers that focused on the balance of each input. One group would focus on using KBM, the other would be on controller. The two groups would work together to identify where they feel the “opposing” input is too strong, and where they need a bit of help to stay competitive. The idea being through enough conversation, you’d eventually reach a point where each input feels equal (or at least equal enough to not be frustrating). For all we know, 343 may already be doing this, though after MCC and now the Infinite flight, I still have my concerns. I may end up seeing if we can’t organize a discussion like this on our Discord. I’d love to see where the conversation goes.
I sincerely hope this post comes across as friendly and encouraging. I’m very much excited for the full launch of Infinite this December, and I can’t wait to see everything 343 has in store for us. I’m just hoping for some changes in the name of better competition. ⚓
Note: I do see that a lot of players online are struggling to get aim assist to turn on. This isn’t the intended behavior, and this article is referencing the intended behavior of aim assist.