Games like Halo Infinite and Warzone are demonstrating the best and worst of battle passes

Let’s all try to meet in the middle, I guess. battle passes have been around for about a decade now – the earliest I could find was Dota 2 doing it in 2013, but I’m sure there were variations on it before – and publishers have clearly been pushing this idea hard over the last few years, with the DLC model cropping up in dozens of mainstream games and no sign of stopping soon.

Now we easily recognise the standard battle pass: a buyable string of achievements or an XP-based progress bar which steadily unlocks various extras. New cosmetics, new guns, new tools, new options, new emotes, new… well, whatever your game wants you to care about. I don’t object to this idea in theory – the notion of gameplay tasks with in-game rewards all basically comes down to being a small DLC pack. It’s just a shame when it feels more like a grim obligation than a chance for further fun.

Speaking of, many battle passes recently have seemed kind of underwhelming, or occasionally just exhausting to look at, even before you’ve bought them. And considering just about every other game that comes out is a games-as-service experience created basically to push the battle pass, I looked through all those in my library and listed some basic dos/don’ts.

1. Be useful, or fun, or both

Warzone Cooper Carbine loadout

(Image credit: Activision)

Let’s start with the big one: part of my problem with the recent Bloodhunt battle pass is that it’s largely all cosmetics, and not even interesting cosmetics, like dressing up as classic Hammer movies Dracula or the Count from Sesame Street. It’s all minor deviations on the standard theme; jackets, hair colors, and t-shirts, so you’re spending money to earn the chance to look slightly different – assuming anybody even notices how you look when you’re leaping over nighttime rooftops two hundred feet away. If you are emphasizing cosmetics in a battle pass, they should be outrageous and fun! An actual statement, not just… punctuation.

Alternatively, do the smarter thing and go functional. The Call of Duty: Warzone battle passes often get this right, as they usually include at least a couple of entirely new guns. And that’s because the best reward in any game is always more gameplay. Not bigger numbers or a change in wigs, but the chance to do something new and have a different experience. New weapons that require new playstyles and serve new purposes in-game are a good example of that – you don’t want to go pay-to-win, but provide some interesting alternatives to the gameplay model.

2.  Don’t clog it with garbage

Halo Infinite clippy

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

We know you do this on purpose, publishers – when a new battle pass rolls out, half the time it’s full of boring consolation prizes that exist purely to fill the space between the big stuff. Who out there really cares about sprays? About banners? About icons? Few players, I’d wager, and publishers know damn well that’s the case, but apparently we have to eat our vegetables anyway. Same goes for Halo Infinite, providing five hundred variations of knee pads before you can get that one that sets your head on fire.

But it doesn’t even make sense now, at least as far as I can tell. This tactic of filling games with pointless flotsam… well, it wasn’t good, but it did make a nasty kind of sense when done for loot boxes. We all grimly understood it was to dilute the chance of getting anything actually worthwhile, so we’d buy more loot boxes out of frustration until we got the special pants we wanted. But the battle pass doesn’t have that random element, so it’s just there to fill space, like throwing filler text and pointless qualifiers in an essay until you finally reach the word limit. But put the effort in, fill your battle pass with something more meaningful, and more people will be inclined to buy it. 

3. Take off the time limit

Fortnite Battle Stars Season 7

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Look, I’m a busy man, Fortnite. Lots of cheese to eat out of the fridge and all that. And sure, I’d love to earn the right to look like Anton Chigurh or Bruce Forsyth, but I have other things to do right now, because life’s complicated and I have to buy more cheese. I’m available to play next month, but the battle pass is over by then – purely because that’s the arbitrary point at which you decided to take it away from me, no matter how much I pay for it. Could I not just… have the thing I bought? Seems a bit mean to penalize players for not working hard enough when they paid you for the privilege.

You know who didn’t take the pass away from me? Marvel’s Avengers. For all the faults with that game, I respect it for acknowledging that once you own a battle pass, it’s yours, forever. Arguably that’s because the game tried to sell you one for every character, so it understood that completing them all in a timely manner was chronologically impossible, but hey – if I buy the upgraded Black Widow progression track, I know it’s mine. It’s frustrating to have something taken away from you, and the obligation to crack it before a random time limit only makes it feel like work – and if we fail, it feels like we’re not getting our money’s worth. Whereas if we keep the pass, it’s a fun little project we can enjoy throughout the game forever. That’s not a bad thing.

4. Let it pay for itself

Halo Infinite Season 2 Lone Wolves Battle Pass rewards

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Enough battle passes do this that it’s become normalized and should probably be standard practice – whatever in-game currency it took to pay for this battle pass should be paid back if the player progresses far enough through it, at least in part. 

For example, Warzone, Fortnite, and Apex Legends all give you Cod Points, V-bucks and Apex Coins respectively for pushing through their passes. A good idea; it’s effectively rewarding player loyalty and progress, and can make for a nice little “rolling” situation where your ultimate reward completing one pass effectively pays for the next, or provides a chance to buy other treats. And if you don’t provide currency, you need to be sure that what’s there is especially worth the effort and the cost, as there’s no consolatory currency to provide an implicit refund.

5. Try to avoid making the best items non-compatible

Apex Legends Control

(Image credit: EA)

This follows on a little from point two, but if you’ve got a couple of really good skins in, say, Apex Legends, then it’s time to make some difficult choices. You can’t wear both at once, so one has to go in the cupboard while the other gets time to shine. 

But why not permit both? Break up character skins into sections for more customisation options – a new set of armor could actually be five different pieces we can mix and match. Despite Halo Infinite’s individual armor pieces often being a bit dull, I like that I can jumble them up for a unique look (well, as unique as you can get when everybody looks like competing action figures). Combining items and cosmetics of any kind is a fun way to emphasize player individuality and creativity, and means that the majority of battle pass earnings don’t end up just clogging up space in your locker. And again, it provides players more encouragement to buy and progress through them.

If you’re looking for something new to play, why not check out our ranking of the best online games you can jump into with your friends.

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