Halo Wars 2 takes place in the year 2559, 28 years after the events of the original Halo Wars. When you and your crew awake from cryosleep on the UNSC Spirit of Fire, you soon discover that a lot has changed and despite the UNSC forces sacrifice in the Covenant war, humanities existence is still under threat, perhaps even more so then ever before. Led by Captain James cutter, after seemingly putting an end to the Human-Covenant War, they find that the Spirit of Fire lies above the Ark, a place where the legendary Halo Rings were forged.
However, upon investigating the Ark, a team of Spartans encounter their newest and most deadly threat yet, an alien group known as the Banished, led by a fearless, dangerous relentless leader; a Brute called Atriox. Atriox was once a loyal soldier of the Covenant, but after learning that he is expendable just like a lowly Grunt, he finds their disrespect to be more than just distasteful and his burning hatred towards them turned into a hatred to all those that posed any kind of threat and he will stop at nothing to ensure that he and his Banished will reign supreme and that their dominance begins with wiping out what remains of humanity.
I’m what I call myself, a casual RTS fan. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Command and Conquer series from back in the day, as well as the Lord of the Rings ‘Battle of Middle-Earth’ series, but I’ve never really been hooked on the RTS genre, then I have with other genres. So when the original Halo Wars released in 2009 for Xbox 360, it offered the casual fan such as myself, that just so happened to love the Halo series, an opportunity to get reacquainted with the genre.
As Halo Wars was an RTS game designed for the console, unlike the many PC RTS games available, it came with its limitations. The strategy was there if you wanted it and even on the most basic level, you still required some strategy to win most encounters, but in most cases you could get by in a more streamlined kind of way. So in 2017 we have the long awaited sequel in Halo Wars 2 and while the game has evolved in many aspects, it still retains that pick up and play style that appealed to so many console gamers back in 2009.
If you want a game that requires you to be a tactical genius to win matches, then you might be looking in the wrong place, but if you (such as myself) do not have a PC capable of playing the more enhanced RTS titles out there, then there’s not many other options available to you. This in some ways could be seen as a negative, but let’s get this right, Halo Wars 2 is not an RTS designed for PC and then ported to console, it’s a console RTS that has been made available for PC. And what really works in the games favour here, is that both the developers 343 Industries and publishers Microsoft are well aware of this, nor do they shy away from that fact.
From the get go it will be hard not to be impressed with Halo Wars 2 CGI cut-scenes, they not only look absolutely stunning, but the voice-acting and motion capture is among the best you’re going to see today. Of course this level of detail doesn’t quite transcend during gameplay, but what it does do is tell you that epic cinematic-level story that has reached such a high standard over the years within the Halo universe, and Halo Wars 2 is certainly no exception.
On the battlefield itself, Halo Wars 2 does look fantastic, even when you zoom-in to see that action at close inspection and even during the many frantic moments within its campaign, the action also runs rather smoothly too. And as superficial as visuals maybe, it all adds to the overall immersion of the experience and when considered with the beautifully rendered cut-scenes, Halo Wars 2 does a superb job entrancing you into its world.
In terms of a gameplay aspect, as I’ve already touched upon, Halo Wars 2 has a very streamlined approach. In most cases you can win a battle by building the largest horde of soldiers and vehicles possible, and have them bulldoze their way into enemy camp. But there are some exceptions during the campaign when you’ll have to change your approach and it’s during these moments that I fully welcomed the trial and error approach. Most missions will last you around 30-60 minutes at a time (for me at least), but some will require you to replay as you figure out the best approach to win.
As well as building a stupidly large army, knowing what structures to build, infantry units to develop and vehicles to send out on missions will be key. It will be easy just to think that the biggest base will win you the game. It might do in many cases, but if you build the incorrect extensions of your base during the wrong battles, ultimately in the long run, it might just cost you the game. This is more evident when later in the campaign, when the big baddies come out to play and can run through you base like a soggy sandcastle on a wet day on the Blackpool pleasure beach.
One mission in particular that I appreciated was I believe during the second Act, it was a simple case of surviving an enemy onslaught for 30 minutes. This mission was intense and had me counting down the seconds on the 30 minute timer, taking it down to literally the final few seconds before I was able to claim victory. While some of these moments may be few and far between, it’s certainly a moment that will stay with me and when I recommend Halo Wars 2 to friends and readers, this moment (as it is now) will always be brought to the forefront of conversation.
One aspect of strategy that you will have to rely on is your special abilities. Leader Powers will require you to hold down LT to bring up a wheel of powers, from healing your units, to calling in an airstrike and more. However, once used, you will have to wait for them to recharge before you can use them again, so utilising them at the right moments can be vital to turning the tide of the battle in your favour, or even against. You infantry will also have special powers with the press of the Y button. This can be used to take over vehicles such as tanks for your Spartans or for your infantry to throw weapons such as grenades and so forth, depending on how you develop your units.
Online, most battles will playout much like it does in the campaign. The first person to build the best base and biggest army will win in most cases then not. It’s somewhat basic then what you might expect, but it’s still fun none the less. However, Halo Wars 2 does introduce an all-new mode into the series called Blitz. Blitz is a dose of the gameplay that you come to expect from any battle in Halo Wars 2 here, only that it’s infused Real Time Strategy mechanics with Deck-Building strategy. It sounds like an odd mix, but it’s one that works surprisingly well.
In Blitz, building the best base and biggest army will not always guarantee you victory and if you’re looking to get away from that aspect in Halo Wars 2, then Blitz could be an ideal mode for you to try out. Each card depending on its type and level, will offer you a modifier, whether that be resources, more powerful attacks to potentially match-changing infantry or vehicles specials. Knowing when and how best to use your cards will in most cases then not, decide the victory.
RTS and Deck-Building aside, the premise of Blitz is relatively simple. You along with your opposing player will fight for the right to control zones. You can only earn points when you have control of the zones and the first player to reach 200 points will claim victory. When I first heard of the Blitz mode, I thought of it as nothing more than a gimmick that only sounds good on paper, but after sampling it for myself, I honestly believe it’s the best way to play Halo Wars 2 online, whether that’s against a stranger or a heated battle against a friend, most matches should bring a tension and a level of strategy that some other modes might not. The only snag that I have with Blitz is that it favours micro-transactions, so you might struggle online against those with deep pockets and money to burn.
I must also add, that along with the beautiful cut-scenes and well acted voice-cast, Halo Wars 2 also offers a sublime soundtrack, one that more than lives up to the standards that one might expect from this acclaimed series. The soundtrack is composed by Gordy Haab, Brian Lee White and Brian Trifon, both of which have worked with Halo War 2’s audio director, Paul Lipson on previous Halo projects, such as Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and this level experience was paid dividends and then some. The soundtrack of Halo Wars 2 plays superbly with your emotions during not only its cinematic moments, but also during epic, heated battles.
In conclusion, its perhaps unfair to compare Halo Wars 2 alongside such games as the Total War series on PC, but considering what the Halo Wars series is, an RTS series designed for console, that you can play on PC, Halo Wars 2 is an enjoyable RTS title that will not only please many Halo fans, but its more relaxed approach might even appease even the hardcore RTS player, looking for something a little more casual. In truth, if you’re restricted to the Xbox One, you’ve not got a great deal of choice open to you. But if you’ve been tempted to venture into the world of Real-Time Strategy at any point in your life, then Halo Wars 2 could very well be your perfect entry point into this long-running and popular genre.
+ Easy to pick-up and play
+ Feels natural on the controller
+ Highly detailed maps
+ Decent story
+ Sublime soundtrack
- Not as tactical as most PC alternatives
- Many missions lack genuine strategy