Halo 3 is coming to PC. Eight years after Master Chief’s last great multiplayer playground hit the Xbox 360, it’s coming alive, for free, on the PC–but not at the hands of Microsoft. Or Bungie. In one of the strangest things to happen on PC this year, Halo 3’s protracted PC birth is coming from a group of modders transforming the free-to-play, Russia-only beta Halo Onlineinto their favorite Halo game.
For years, Halo was a crucial console-exclusive system-seller for Microsoft. When it finally came to the PC again earlier this spring but was region-locked, fans moved fast. They created Eldorito, a mod that cracked the Russia-only restriction within a week of Halo Online’s reveal. Named as a portmanteau of El Dorado, the name of the Halo Online executable, and Dorito, Microsoft’s favorite corporate sponsor, Eldorito has been programmed over the past few months by a group of between ten and twenty modders. Because Halo Online is built over the top of a more-or-less complete version of Halo 3’s engine, the Eldorito modders have been working to pull what they really want from the shell of Halo Online: Halo 3 on PC. I spent a week chatting with one of the modders to learn more about a project that, for better or worse, is the only version of Halo we’re likely to get on PC any time soon.
When asked if releasing a mainline Halo game on PC would hurt Xbox One sales, the same source issued a non-answer. “It’s about delivering on the right Halo experience to meet expectations for PC gamers. We’re excited to be bringing Halo Wars 2 [a sequel to Halo Wars, the 2009 RTS] to both Windows 10 and consoles in fall of 2016. Additionally, PC gamers will also be able to stream gameplay from Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One to their PC using Windows 10.”
Basically: PC gamers are welcome to play Halo on PC, as long as they purchase an Xbox first. That seems to suggest that, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, Halo on PC really would have an impact on Xbox sales.
Microsoft’s largest gaming platform, Windows, is still a second-class citizen to Xbox. Every new feature of Windows 10 for gaming is Xbox-branded or related. I understand that Xbox-as-a-braaaaaand is a big thing they’re putting lots of money into, and the Xbox hardware and software has worked better together than any other Microsoft product, but it doesn’t make it any less absurd to shovel console and computer playing together into this one brand. Keep gamertags and achievements in your programs, Xbox streaming is interesting, but no other developers or publishers are going to use your gamertags and achievements on Windows after the Games for Windows Live fiasco.
I almost wish that Microsoft would at least more actively try to destroy Windows for gaming to force Valve’s hand to move to Linux & SteamOS instead of this death-by-a-thousand Xbox-huge blunders like this Russian-only Free-to-Play Halo. It feels like Microsoft thinks that Windows gamers can’t be trusted with the full experience if it isn’t streamed from an Xbox.