Halo Wars 2 Review
It’s been 8 years since we last saw Captain Cutter and crew aboard the Spirit of Fire in the original Halo Wars. At the end of the last decade, Halo 3 was one of the most popular games on the Xbox 360. Even after the Halo Trilogy had ended, it was clear that there was still a huge universe to explore. People were clamoring for a new anything Halo, and most expected the next game to be another First Person Shooter, just like every other game in the series. Then Microsoft Game Studios did the unexpected. They partnered with Ensemble Studios, best known for the Age of Empire series, to create Halo Wars, the first Real Time Strategy game in the Halo universe. Halo Wars was widely praised by critics for bringing an RTS to consoles and making it accessible to people who might not have much experience with the genre. On the other hand, many people bought the game expecting it to be another fast paced, action shooter game. After the dust had settled and the confusion dispelled, a community of Halo Was lovers kept the game going until the end of the 360’s popularity. As the Halo series famously made its transition from Bungie to 343, and from the 360 to the Xbox One, no one expected a new game in the Halo Wars IP. But now, with Creative Assembly at the helm, the Spirit of Fire is ready to renew the fight on Xbox One and Windows 10.
The campaign begins 28 years after the end of Halo Wars when the crew of the Spirit of Fire wake up from cryosleep. Unbeknownst to the events that have transpired since around the time of Halo 3, the crew expect to fight Covenant, except now the Covenant have been replaced by an even deadlier foe. Enter Atriox, a massive Brute, and his army of ex-Covenant who make their home on the Ark.
Atriox (center) and his merry band of Brutes
Playing alone, or Co-op with a buddy, you assume control of a variety of characters as you traverse the Ark to hunt down Atriox and his generals. In the each mission of the about 8-hour campaign, players are tasked with base building, learning leader powers and completing objectives like destroying enemy bases, rescuing prisoners and fighting super powered bosses.
The levels are short, only taking about half an hour to complete if you take your time. However, additional objectives can be completed by exploring every nook and cranny. Each level has a Skull, which modifies gameplay, and Phoenix Logs, which provide backstory. With a little bit of practice and understanding of unit types, even an RTS newbie can quickly amass an army and breeze through the story.
|Defending this beach isn’t quite as simple as it seems|
It seems Creative Assembly, has closely followed how Ensemble Studios crafted the Halo Wars’ campaign. A hallmark of Halo Wars was the jaw-dropping cutscenes that fleshed out the story and brought some small scale action aspects to a supersized war game. Halo Wars 2 features cutscenes which are equally as pretty and add depth to characters like Captain Cutter.
Halo Wars 2 features mostly the same cast of protagonists. Fan favorites Sgt. Forge and Professor Anders return alongside Captain Cutter. New AI, Isabel, replaces Serena, and the Spartan Red Team, fills out the major characters.
The story is standalone, so you do not need to have played Halo Wars 1 to understand what is going on.
Where the campaign does lack some replayability, Multiplayer is fleshed out with 5 game modes and various ways to play. The newest and most hyped addition to multiplayer is Blitz. Blitz is a hybrid game mode consisting of one part deck building and one part domination. Each leader you choose to play as in Blitz has their own unique cards which are played onto the battlefield by spending resources. Cards can be either units or special abilities that have the potential to turn the tides of battle. Once on the battlefield, units are used to capture 3 points on the map. The more points you control, the more score you earn, and the first to 200 score wins. What generally ends up happening is a somewhat a mix of skill and luck. You could play a couple devastating Wraith units, but unless you draw and anti-air Reaver unit, your opponents Vulture is going to pick you apart. Further strategy is added when supply drops fall on semi-random points on the map. Getting to these before your opponent does means you can play more powerful units and secure points easier. Blitz can be played with up to 6 players for some truly massive battles and mixing leaders can lead to some unique strategies.
|My aircraft and vehicles made short work of my opponent’s infantry|
After each game, experience is tallied and level-ups are rewarded with a Blitz pack. These packs have a chance of containing new cards which can be added to your deck, and duplicates add strength to cards you already have. Halo Wars 2, like many other multiplayer games nowadays, features the ability to purchase Blitz packs for real money. All cards however, can be obtained in-game.
|Leveling up rewarded me with a new power for Atriox|
The other Multiplayer mode which will get a lot of play is simply called War. This is a standard RTS match which can also be played with up to 6 people. Two teams, starting on opposites sides of the map build bases, claim resources on a large map, with the end goal of destroying all enemy bases. Just like in Blitz, each player selects a leader before battle. Each leader has unique powers which are unlocked for killing enemy units and building more bases. Active leader powers include dropping ODST units from the sky, calling Glassing Beams down on enemies, or healing rings to keep units topped off. Passive leader powers can help you build upgrades faster or give units additional capabilities. Picking a leader is more than just deciding which faction’s units you want to use. In Halo Wars 2, more emphasis is put on playstyles rather than unit combinations.
|Upgrading infantry is Cutter’s specialty|
Design and Music
New units like Nightengales and Blisterbacks have been added to the already large roster of war machines. Still, some units which were present in Halo Wars 1 are conspicuously missing. Where are the Hawks that were so much fun to use? Surely they should still be around somewhere in the Spirit of Fire’s hangar, right?
The Multiplayer maps in Halo Wars 2 serve their purpose. Teleporters, energy bridges, and mini bases dot the landscape. However, some of the charm and intricacies of previous maps such as Fort Deen are missing from Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars 2, like all other RTS games, is meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Shortcuts are easier and setting control groups makes zipping around the battlefield a breeze. However, using a controller works fine as well. The game is simple enough to be played without any major problems whichever way you choose.
One of the best parts of Halo Wars was the music. Everything had a great theme. From the menu music to the victory screen, each frame was dripping with sweeping orchestral music. To this day, Spirit of Fire and Through Your Hoops remain as some of my favorite video game tracks. That’s not to say Halo Wars 2 doesn't have some great music. Songs like the Main Menu theme are catchy just as humm-worthy.
Halo Wars 2 serves as a good successor to the original. Even 8 years later, the characters and units are just as fun to control. Creative Assembly has crafted a game which stays true to the Halo and Halo Wars IP, while also telling a story that stands on its own. Multiplayer is easy to get into and hard to master. If you allow yourself to get sucked in, you will be thinking about new strategies and builds for hours.
- Reviewer played Halo Wars 2 on PC