Halo from a different perspective.
Real-time strategy games on a console; the idea has been preposterous for years. Very few games in the genre have ever made a blip on the radar when it comes to console releases. Halo Wars is still considered one of the few to really nail the mechanics while still being playable with a controller, so when Microsoft announced a sequel was coming, there was certainly an audience excited for the genre to return. Having spent ample time with the follow-up to the most improbable sequel this year, I can say that Creative Assembly has once again nailed the feeling of the genre, while still managing to make it work on a controller.
I cut my RTS teeth on StarCraft, still one of my most-played games of all-time. I love the genre, but have found very few games that match the level of fun I had with Blizzard’s original title. Halo Wars works because for those that remember, the series actually started out as a strategy game, as opposed to a first-person shooter. The units are designed with the genre in mind, and transitioning it feels like a no-brainer.
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
The sequel once again follows the crew of UNSC Spirit of Fire. The game begins with them waking from a 28-year cryosleep, as the team finds themselves now in the current timeline of the Halo universe. Imagine their shock to learn of the events that have transpired since their last mission. The game begins with them receiving a distress signal from an Ark in their vicinity from the UNSC, as they investigate they discover a new and powerful foe named Atriox, who has indeed set a trap for them.
The story is fantastic, and once again the cinematics are some of the best I have ever seen. The team at Blur really knows how to craft these cut scenes. The story assumes a lot of knowledge of the Halo universe, so for those coming in fresh, expect to be asking plenty of questions. It does do alright on its own though, and having at least knowledge of who the Spartans, Covenant, and Brutes are really helps, but man the presentation is simply unparalleled.
Very little was shown of the campaign before launch, which led to plenty of speculation on its quality. I can safely say after plowing through the entirety of the missions that fear should be left at the door. This campaign is excellent, and it slowly introduces players to the mechanics of the game, while also remaining interesting throughout. It is rarely the same scenarios. Sometimes I was leading a squad of Spartans, while other times I was amassing an air-based squad to take various points on the map. There are even boss battles that work a lot better than expected. This game is fun, and it is worth mentioning the entire campaign is playable in co-op.
The campaign features 12 missions and lasted about seven hours in my playthrough, which feels a little shorter than the original game, but still plenty lengthy. It never overstayed its welcome, and outside of one mission, rarely threw too much at me.
Being an RTS though the real bulk of the game comes in its multiplayer, and Halo Wars 2 brings both old and new ideas to the table. Standard deathmatch and domination modes are once again present, as well as a mode called Strongholds. This mode basically gives players unlimited resources and tasks them with building the biggest army the fastest. It is a frantic mode that actually ended up being my favorite of the pack. I loved being able to build what I wanted, and relying on strategy of attack rather than resource gathering.
Of course this would not be a modern Microsoft game without a mode that contained decks of cards. The new Blitz mode feels similar to Warzone from Halo 5, in that it gives Microsoft another reason to sell us card packs through microtransactions. Blitz mode has been a feature for the sequel and it is actually a clever way to play the game for those willing to spend the time to build solid decks.
Each player has a deck of 12 cards, and can customize up to 18 decks (three for each commander) if they so choose. The hook here is that each commander has specific cards only they can play, so it becomes a balancing act. What is neat is that the game takes on two roles depending on if I was playing against someone else, or the AI. Against another player it was much like a normal RTS game, gathering resources and playing cards, but against the AI, it felt more like a horde mode. Either way it was fun, and earning new cards is addicting, which is precisely why MS is selling packs of them. Of course they can be earned in-game, and packs even drop while playing campaign, which is a good lead into the mode.
Blitz mode feels like the most fleshed-out feature in the game, which is fine as it is fast and fun, but also an easy way to sink plenty of money in if players get hooked.
Visually the game looks great. The planet where the maps take place is reminiscent of the universe, and outside one particular mission, the frame rate holds up extremely well. The game is also a Play Anywhere title, meaning those wanting traditional mouse and keyboard controls are in luck, as purchasing one version of the game digitally gives players access to both, complete with cross-save functionality.
Halo Wars 2 is a great sequel, and being a fan of both the genre and the original game, I am extremely happy with how it turned out. Sure there is a clear microtransaction-heavy mode thrust into the mix, but when it is this fun I don’t mind. Besides, I don’t get competitive enough to get hooked on buying the cards. Add in co-op and the ability to play against solid AI and the package feels complete. Those craving that real-time strategy feeling that has been almost non-existent on consoles for a long time are in for a treat with Halo Wars 2.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.