Eight years ago, the first Halo Wars released on Xbox 360, combining the RTS genre with console gaming. Halo Wars offered a different take on the Halo universe and since the initial release, a group of fans asked for a sequel. 343 Industries and Creative Assembly listed to this demand and created Halo Wars 2, releasing on Xbox One and PC. It’s a game not everybody has been waiting for so is it worth getting? Time to delve deep into the Halo lore and find out!
The Spirit of Fire is our only hope
Set eighteen years after the events of Halo Wars, we follow Captain James Cutter and the remaining crew on the Spirit of Fire lost in space. The ship went missing in action years ago and lost all contact with UNSC bases. Everything changes when the ship picks up a signal from The Ark, a Forerunner artificial world created to make the iconic titular rings of the Halo franchise. The Ark has fallen to the hands of the Banished, a group of enemies led by the fierce brute Atriox. Atriox managed to take over control by force and managed to assemble an army of Banished, including not only Brutes but also Covenant forces who kneeled before their new leader. Atriox is an iconic enemy and perhaps the most powerful character you’ve ever faced in a Halo game. The story follows Captain Cutter and his team in a final fight to stop Atriox before it’s too late.
It’s an interesting campaign and right from the start you’ll understand that Halo Wars 2 wants to deliver a true Halo experience. The story has a lot of connections with the main game and the vulnerable AI you manage to rescue at the start of the game, will point out some interesting facts during the campaign. Everything about Halo Wars 2 breaths Halo. The music, the menus, the lengthy cut-scenes, everything you would expect is there. This means it’s a great game for the Halo fans, even if they aren’t really into the RTS genre. Halo Wars 2 offers an interesting story that’s definitely worth playing.
A strong presentation
Right from the start, it’s clear that the developers wanted to create one of the best looking RTS games on the console and they really succeeded in this. It’s a genre that didn’t improve over the years that much, visually speaking, but Halo Wars 2 definitely looks great. Halo fans will be more than happy to see their favorite characters and environments returning in this one. Of course, never expect the same level of details like in Halo 5: Guardians, but for an RTS game, it certainly looks great most of the times.
RTS filled with great Halo moments
Although we’re very pleased with its graphics, it must also be said that the environments are often too empty. An extra tree or rock wouldn’t hurt and some character models might have needed just an extra pixel to really look like they should. That being said, the game has a strong presentation and Halo feeling over it from start to finish. So it’s clear that this is a game worth playing for the Halo fans since it lives up to their expectations, but what about the RTS gameplay? Is it any good?
RTS for the console gamer
Bringing the RTS genre to consoles isn’t an easy task. Those who play RTS games on PC know there’s a lot going on at once. You need to create your base, gather enough resources, scout the environment for enemies and defend your base from those enemies. In Halo Wars 2, this process is simplified so that console gamers won’t have that much trouble in maintaining control. The creation of your base, for example, is very basic. Bases are modular with pre-made modules for resource-gathering and troop training. The gathering of resources happens automatically but you can help out by gathering the resources that appear on the map. Of course, you can also upgrade your base and units using the streamlined skilltrees and other handy tools that make it very clear what a certain upgrade does.
Managing and controlling your base isn’t the main goal in the game, exploration is. This means that Halo Wars 2 plays more like Starcraft II rather than classic RTS games like Age of Empires. As said before, it’s your job to scout your environment for enemies and take them out. At first, the game starts off rather easy, giving you control over a small group of Hero characters. These are much stronger than the traditional ones and play a crucial role in the story. Battles are fought in one place and you advance by pointing out where you want to go on the map, easy as that! Mission after mission, things get a little harder and battles will be fought in multiple places at the same time. It’s here where you’ll struggle as a console gamer.
Switching from group to group isn’t that hard since it’s mapped to your D-pad but the issue is the camera that doesn’t seem to be fast enough. This will get in your way during the more intense battles where you’ll need to switch between the different battle zones as fast as possible. It’s nothing game breaking and you’ll get used to the camera speed after a couple of rounds but it’s something to take into consideration before you start the game. That being said, this is the only real issue I noticed with the controls. Aside from the camera, controlling and managing your troops is easy since the shoulder buttons enable you to select a certain group without any problems.
The campaign lacks innovation
The biggest concern I had with the solo campaign was that it never did something I haven’t done before. Sure, it’s very cool and the cut-scenes are extremely epic and Halo worthy but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the missions themselves lacked innovation. Most missions had me chasing enemies and the only thing I needed to do was defeat them before they could kill me. There are missions that try a different approach and play more like a tower-defense game but those are rather rare. The biggest problem is the missions where you have to create a base and create certain troops in the right order to win. The only problem here is that you don’t know this order before it’s too late. It’s extremely frustrating to lose a battle because you picked the wrong unit first. These missions are too much trial&error and not that great to play.
So is it a boring campaign? Not at all and I’m sure a lot of you will enjoy it from start to finish. Just be warned that the game likes to play it safe and it doesn’t dare to innovate the set RTS rules and missions. If you’ve played Starcraft II for example, you’ve already played most of the Halo Wars 2 missions.
Multiplayer saves the day
Of course, a game like Halo Wars 2 demands a muliplayer mode and the developers got you covered! The focus in the multiplayer matches is once again fast action instead of base building. Domination and Stronghold or the two more traditional modes and lean heavily on the action aspect. In Domination you must control the most points in order to win, a rather straightforward mode and perfect for your quick daily fix of Halo Wars 2. Stronghold adds a little more strategy to the session and starts off with each player controling a ready-made based filled with resources. You can try the more sneaky approach or try to defend your base as long as possible but after multiple matches, we learned that attacking the enemy right from the start will most likely end in a victory. Stronghold plays more like a traditional RTS but again, base managing isn’t as important as in other games in the genre.
The real star of multiplayer is without a doubt the Blitz mode, a mode that finally dares to innovate. Blitz combines the best of RTS and mixes things up with elements of a collectible card game and MOBA games. Instead of creating and destroying bases, you have to take over certain control points using cards from your deck. Using special cards, you can increase the power of your units or activate devastating attacks. The only problem is that those will cost energy, energy that you’ll need to find in your environment since you won’t get enough from defeating enemies. This is where Blitz gets really good, you’ll need to divide your cards between the control points and points of interest on the map. Managing and combining the right cards in the right place will eventually lead to victory.
Blitz is a very addictive mode and is extremely fast-paced. Each round will take around ten to fifteen minutes to complete so it’s the ideal mode to play when you don’t have that much time. You’ll need to get used to the system at first but once you do, you’ll want to play this mode over and over again. By completing missions in campaign mode, you can unlock more powerful cards or, if you can’t wait, you can buy them using real money. Blitz has the potential to become the most played mode in Halo Wars 2 for sure!
Halo Wars 2 offers a great RTS experience on Xbox One but comes with its limitations. It’s not the deepest RTS on the market and focusses more on action and gorgeous cut-scenes. That doesn’t take away the fact that it’s an extremely enjoyable game and fans of Halo will definitely enjoy all the extra lore Halo Wars 2 has to offer. The campaign doesn’t innovate enough to really feel fresh but the Blitz multiplayer mode makes up for this lack of new ideas. If you’re a fan of Halo or RTS games, this one is certainly worth giving a shot. It’s not the best in its genre but it comes close for sure!