Developer: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: PC, Xbox One
Tested on: Xbox One, PC
Halo Wars 2 – Review
Fans of Halo Wars silently wept when the servers of the first game went online, not only because they would never be able to experience grand multiplayer battles anymore, but it wasn’t clear if there would be a sequel either. After a wait of seven years, Microsoft finally came to its senses and they blasted Halo Wars to the next generation, namely on the ‘Microsoft’ platform. We skipped calling it an Xbox One exclusive, as those who buy the game will be able to play it on both their Xbox One, as well as on Windows, which is actually a very sweet deal. Microsoft is granting gamers this formula with their latest ‘exclusive’ titles, and we can only commend their actions. That being said, let’s focus on intergalactic warfare from now on.
We fast-forward to shortly after the events in Halo 5, to a still unknown spot in our universe for the crew of the Spirit of Fire. The captain, Cutter, and his crew have been in cryosleep for a few decades and when awoken, they see a giant UNSC installation before them, floating in space, which is called The Ark. Happy to see their beloved allies again, they will soon find themselves in a world of hurt, as the UNSC installation is swarmed by ‘The Banished’, which were originally the cannon fodder for the Covenant, which was beaten only a few years prior. The Banished, under the command of Atriox, a brutish warlord, clearly will not stop when they find the origin of our species, and before we are all submitted.
The story is rather simple in this RTS title but still with a very cinematic feel thanks to extremely good-looking cutscenes. The game gives you more than enough information to work with, and it feels like a rather typical Halo story, albeit without a plot that seemingly revolves around one character alone.
Visually this game is extremely impressive and it shows us what the Xbox One is truly capable of. Even though you’ll probably look at the game from a fairly zoomed out perspective nearly all the time, the amount of details that are still visible, even then, is quite stunning. The vibrant colors, in combination with the well created areas are a perfect playground for your somewhat ‘comic book’-like forces, which don’t always look extremely realistic when looking at our own vehicles or what we consider to be futuristic, but they fit perfectly in the Halo universe.
When playing this title on the PC, you’ll notice it will strain your gaming rig quite a bit, if you can only ‘barely’ handle most of the modern titles. That being said, the game should work fine, with a fair amount of quality loss, and it will probably prevent you from zooming out too far, as it would not allow your PC to properly process everything onscreen. In this scenario, the Xbox One version will satisfy your needs a lot more, even though playing on PC might be tempting for its mouse and keyboard controls.
After being greeted by one of the most cinematically sad tracks, which simply takes your breath away, you’ll get a more adventurous but equally cinematic soundtrack during the other portions of the menus, as well as the in-game battles. The latter however gets overshadowed by the sounds blazing gunfire, explosions, cries for help and other miscellaneous sounds you’d hear in the midst of a futuristic war.
Halo Wars 2 is just like its predecessor an RTS game to the score, albeit somewhat simplified to make sure console gamers can get the most out of their controller-based strategy game. You’ll have two substantial formats to choose from, namely the one where you’re able to build up a small base and units like in traditional RTS titles, but also a mode which combines said RTS elements with card game mechanics, where you can choose to ‘play units and/or abilities’ when you have acquired sufficient resources for the card(s) you want to play.
The single player mode, be it the campaign or random skirmishes, will always drop you in a specific environment, in which you can set up your base (safe for a few story missions, in which you just roam around with a few characters). The game doesn’t allow you to build your base wherever you please, as you’re limited to a building plot, that is only available on fixed locations. Some maps allow you to build more than one sub-base, but overall it’s your first base that will probably serve as your headquarters for the remainder of the mission at hand. When building your base, a few smaller plots around it will become available, to harvest supplies and/or power, which will in turn allow you to upgrade said structures, your main base which will then grant you with more building slots, research new weaponry and perhaps most importantly allow you to build new units. The latter is also bound to a population cap, meaning you can only build units until your max population is reached, with the cap swinging from 80 to 100. This doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to build that many subordinates, seeing pretty much all of them already consume two or more spots. If you want to build more when the cap is reached, you’ll simply have to wait until some of your units are inevitably killed in the many battles to come.
In the Blitz mode, you’ll throw the base building mechanics out of the window and opt for a card game-like base, which allows you to pick a commander for your deck, out of the available lead character and different races, and from here on out, you can opt for a premade deck, or one that is customized to suit your playing style. Playing through the campaign and leveling up your account is already a key necessity for those who want extra card packs, but don’t want to pay actual money for them. Those who love the Blitz mode can invest actual money to buy cards, which may or may not lengthen the fun this mode has to offer. Nonetheless, your cards can be played if you have enough supplies in-game, and seeing you don’t have a base, you can’t gather said resources automatically. You’ll have to roam the map in search of containers with supplies. The Blitz mode is also always played in a ‘dominion’ format, which means you’ll have to claim control over specific areas, and only when you control more points than your enemies, you’ll start gaining points. Nonetheless, the enemy can always come an nab those territories away when your forces dwindle in numbers.
It’s fairly obvious that controls play a vital part in a game such as this, and that controlling an RTS-type game isn’t always that easy with a controller. Nonetheless, Microsoft clearly made use of their knowhow in order to make the overall experience quite pleasant. Even though nothing can beat a mouse and keyboard setup, such as on the PC version, the Xbox One version is still very pleasant control-wise.
Some may feel that the game is hampered due to its very simplistic mechanics, and this is true to a certain extent. The normal modes are somewhat lacking in freedom when it comes to building and the freedom thereof, due to the assigned building locations, the limited building options and so on, but the quite rapid gameplay makes sure this doesn’t make the game dull. You’ll constantly be managing your forces, and building new ones for those that will surely perish during the many battles to come. Nonetheless, if we have to be completely honest, the meat of the game can be found in the Blitz mode, which proves to be the most fun and competitive mode online, simply because of the short length of the matches and the rapid gameplay.
What Halo Wars 2 may lack in complexity, it makes up with great gameplay that has you on your toes the entire time. Outside of the flashy and intense combat sequences, you’ll be able to enjoy a very cinematic soundtrack and stunning visuals, which make this game a perfect showcase of what the Xbox One is capable of. While this game is certainly worth its asking price, fans of very deep strategy titles will probably not find what they’re looking for here. Newcomers to the genre, those who simply love Halo and all its spin-offs, or those who love a fun and fast paced card game on the side, will absolutely love this one.