Halo Wars 2 is a must play for gamers who love Halo and is an impressive look at where the Halo series as a whole is heading.
But for those not familiar with the Halo Universe or not a fan of RTS games you might want to sit this one out. Halo Wars 2 is a fun game to hop into and play a few rounds but I didn’t find myself getting lost in the multiplayer or singleplayer missions like I would in older RTS games.
It’s been a while since the Halo universe has shown us a new threat and the Banished, a mercenary organization and a splinter faction of the former Covenant Empire that rose to power after the conclusion of the Human-Covenant War are a welcome addition. The organization is led by the Jiralhanae warlord Atriox who is a total badass and is unfortunately pushed to the sidelines in an otherwise fairly decent story line.
Like traditional RTS games such as Command and Conquer and Rise of Nations, Halo Wars 2 shines during its cutscenes. They are absolutely breathtaking and help elevate the single player campaign experience. For those of you who played the first Halo Wars, you once again take control Captain James Cutter and the crew of the UNSC onboard the Spirit of Fire. The crew wakes up 28 years after the first game stuck on the Ark where Atriox and his warriors have taken over.
I plowed through the single player campaign in about 8 hours (not accounting for the few times I had to re-do a level because the game would freeze) and enjoyed the experience but was quickly bored by the repetition. Seeing the story unfold via cutscenes was my main motivation to keep going. I quite like these characters and am bummed we don’t see more of the big bad Atriox. I think the single player campaign could have benefited from either A) A Banished Campaign B) A few prequel levels and cutscenes to flesh out Atriox’s rise to power.
Essentially Atriox and his clan were used as frontline soldiers in the Covenant military and were thrown into battle to die. Every time they would fight, his team would all face death expect for him. This continued for years until he broke off and started his own mercenary division called the Banished. He’s a beast and I’d love to see him explored more in future titles or DLC.
The campaign is fairly simple on Normal difficulty and I never felt like I was going to lose, but upping the challenge to Hard or Legendary made the battles significantly more intense. I did find though that I wasn’t put under much pressure to get my troops moving to the enemies doors until I had a full team. I could sit back and build an army without worrying about anyone coming to fight me.
The controls are as smooth as butter and work splendidly on the Xbox One controller. It’s a pretty easy game to get a hang of on the surface but I highly recommend you doing all the tutorials (you’ll get an achievement) as it will make it easier for online play and harder difficulties. I’m quite amazed at just how well the game’s controls handle. If we start to see more RTS games on consoles moving forward I expect most of them to steal these controls. They are very good.
The exceptional controls also pose a problem, however. Because in order for them to be so simple the gameplay is a little bare. There isn’t exactly much to do or build and it feels like an HD remake of an old 90’s RTS game. Granted I haven’t been a big RTS gamer in years but I loved how much I could build in games like Age of Mythology and Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun. This is where a Banished storyline would have come in handy to make up for the lack of things to build with just one playable faction.
The multiplayer opens up the game a bit more as you are able to choose sides though I found both sides were fairly similar. There’s a number of game modes to choose from including Deathmatch, Domination, Strongholds and a big new addition called Blitz. It’s a combination of Deathmatch and a card game with a 12-card deck. Buildings are removed and you’re left to assemble and play the perfect hand. I found myself taking an aggressive approach and deploying my strongest units first really helped. I’d suggest finishing the story mode before hopping into Blitz as you are given a number of card packs upon completing the game.
I got worked during most of my online matches and would like to spend more time learning and using the Banished. There are plenty of modes to participate in and getting into games was a quick and enjoyable experience. The Blitz microtransactions are a big turn off as players who spend more money will surely continue to kick my ass, but to be fair, Microsoft does provide quite a number of free cards for playing the game. If Blitz takes off, this could be a huge cash cow moving forward.
A big problem I found on both multiplayer and singleplayer is that bugs plague this game and will hopefully be fixed with a future patch. A number of times during the single player campaign I was forced to restart my game because it had frozen on the load screens. Quite a number of environments would warp and cause serious lagging forcing me to restart the mission. Multiplayer matches would slow down to a snail’s pace at points and it became extremely frustrating trying to operate the camera or play a card. These can be fine-tuned in the coming weeks but just a heads up for players jumping in right away.
Technical glitches aside I’m curious to see how the game is received on the Xbox One. There’s a number of reasons I can think of why we don’t have many RTS games on consoles and one of them I believe is that they just aren’t wanted. I’ve never heard of a demand for more console RTS games or even a sequel to Halo Wars. The original Halo Wars is the best selling console RTS of all time and it will be interesting to see if Halo Wars 2 reconnects with those fans and buyers. The story here and the level of detail with characters does have me excited for Halo 6 and I’m very excited to see where 343 Industries takes us next.
Halo Wars 2 is a love letter to the series and it seems like 343 Industries have finally gotten a grasp on the franchise. Halo Wars 2’s single player story is lightyears better than both Halo 4 and 5 and Halo fans will love the multiplayer and storytelling. There are tons of Halo easter eggs littered throughout the game like old Halo Characters using older Halo tech and it truly feels like a Halo game produced by Bungie.
If you’re just buying Halo Wars 2 for the singleplayer you’re better off waiting for a sale but if you want to go all in on multiplayer and love Halo this game is going be right up your alley.
If you want to hear me talk more about Halo Wars 2 check out the Game Moose Podcast.