Halo series hits Steam as DirectX 12 comes to Windows 7

Microsoft, what are you even doing? Two interesting-but-probably-unrelated bits of PC gaming news came out of the Redmond complex early this week. The most exciting part is that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is not only coming to the Windows Store, but in fact it's also hitting Steam. Most folks anticipated that when Halo finally did make the jump, it would be a Windows Store exclusive, so seeing it show up on most PC gamers' selected storefront is a treat to say the least.

The Master Chief Collection includes the Anniversary Editions of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, as well as revamped releases of Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo 4. 343 Industries—the current stewards of the Halo series—says the collection represents "67 campaign missions plus more than 120 Multiplayer maps," including the bonus maps from Halo:CE's PC release.

The company also assures buyers that this version of the collection isn't going to be a lazy port, either—Ruffian Games and Splash Damage are assisting with the conversion, and the store page promises full mouse and keyboard support as well as "4K UHD and HDR" capability. In its own press release, Microsoft assures fans that the games will be updated to 60 FPS even when the original titles were locked to 30. There's no word on whether they'll be able to exceed that mark, but given the company's course corrections in that area with patches to Gears of War and Forza, we think it's likely.

There are still many unanswered questions about the upcoming release. The Steam store page says that the game will require a Microsoft account but doesn't explain the purpose. We don't know if the account will be required to play the games' campaign modes, nor if online play will require an Xbox Live Gold subscription as it does on the Xbox One. Likewise, we don't know if the game will support cross-play with players on the Windows Store version or perhaps even the Xbox version.

343 Industries says that the game will include all of the features of the Xbox version, but it's believable that the PC release may not support local multiplayer. We can at least assume that it will probably include the alternate game modes like co-op and "Firefight." We're also curious whether it will be delivered as a UWP app (and thus exclusive to Windows 10), or whether it will support older OSes like Windows 7. We've reached out to Microsoft with all of these questions.

Speaking of Windows 7, though, it turns out that DirectX 12 can in fact run on the nearly decade-old OS after all. In a post on the DirectX Developer Blog, Microsoft and Blizzard announced that the latest patch (8.1.5) for World of Warcraft brings the game's DirectX 12 client to Windows 7 gamers. 

This announcement raises all sorts of questions, the biggest one being simply "why?" I feel like I can probably answer that one for you. World of Warcraft may not be as popular as it once was, but it still commands an audience of millions of players, and a probable plurality of those players are positioned in Asia—China, to be specific. It's hard to find exact numbers on this topic, but Warcraft has always been huge there, owing in large part to its early availability among the PC-only gaming market of early-2000s China.

This may come as a surprise to those who haven't played it, but despite its lo-fi aesthetic, World of Warcraft (like other MMORPGs) has always struggled with consistent performance. This is because scenes can contain an enormous number of entities, which then creates a sharp single-threaded CPU performance limitation due to API overhead. Switching to DirectX 12 has led to performance upgrades of 50% or more for some WoW users after a round of multi-threading optimizations came last October, and so it's no surprise that Blizzard wants to extend these benefits to more of its user base.

Note, then, that some half of Chinese PC users are still on Windows 7. Hmm. We're speculating here, but the pieces fits together rather neatly. One does have to wonder whether Blizzard's decision to adopt DirectX 12 over competitor Vulkan was motivated by anything other than convenience. Vulkan, after all, was supported on Windows 7 from the start, and implementing it wouldn't have required Microsoft's involvement.

For its part, Microsoft says that DirectX 12 on Windows 7 isn't exclusive to Blizzard, and that the company is already working with "a few other game developers" to bring their DirectX 12 games to Windows 7. Of course, the company is also quick to note that it won't work as well as on Windows 10 due to "a number of OS optimizations."

As for the upcoming Halo release, 343 Industries says that the games will be rolling out separately, with Halo: Reach coming first for PC gamers. However, the company hasn't given us a release date or price yet, so if you're interested, follow the title on Steam and wait impatiently for more info like the rest of us.

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