Halo Wars 2 Review

By Lexley Ford, 2 years ago
The original Halo Wars was developed by Ensemble Studios and released back in 2009. It was built from the ground up and designed with a controller in mind, proving that the Real-Time Strategy genre could work on a console. With the groundwork laid out for them, Creative Assembly has taken the reins. They've set out to put the Halo universe back into the hands of the strategists with Halo Wars 2 and prove that RTS is a console-friendly genre once again.

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Set 28 years after the events of Halo Wars and shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, the crew of the Spirit of Fire awakens from cryosleep to find themselves in orbit around the gigantic Forerunner installation, the Ark, with no real explanation of how they arrived there. The ship's onboard AI, Serena, has long since decommissioned herself after reaching the established 7-year lifespan for UNSC AIs. After responding to a signal from a UNSC research facility on the installation's surface, Spartan Red team recovers another AI named Isabelle who, luckily, has extensive knowledge of the events that have occurred since the time that the Spirit of Fire went missing.

It is here that they encounter a splinter group of ex-Covenant known as the Banished, a group so brutal that even the combined might of the Covenant weren't able to deal with them at the height of their power. Lead by the vicious and unrelenting Brute Chieftain Atriox, the Banished will stop at nothing to destroy all who stand in their path. Atriox easily overpowers the team of three Spartans in their first encounter and forces them to make a tactical retreat. Without any way to escape or call for help, and unaccustomed to backing down from a fight, the Spirit of Fire’s crew begins to fight back and wrestle control of the Forerunner installation from its unwelcome inhabitants.

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It all seems just a little too convenient with an all too timely sense of deus ex machina, but it does quickly set the scene for the upcoming battles and establishes exactly what is at stake, even if it does so a little thinly. The plot is detached from the story of the main series' entries, done so to not step on the toes of the galaxy-spanning, fate of humanity plot from the FPS titles, but that doesn't mean that it isn't as fleshed out. As the conflict between these two sides intensifies, it feels like a true battle of wits between two experienced commanders. The story take place over 12 missions, which for a strategy title isn't very many. Unfortunately, it also culminates in a rather frustrating cliffhanger, although whether this will lead onto another sequel or the upcoming campaign DLC is yet to be seen.

The “rock, paper, scissor” combat system from Halo Wars is still present. Core infantry is most effective in combat against aircraft, aircraft is effective against vehicles, and vehicles are effective against infantry. This only applies to the core units in each group and, like it's predecessor, Halo Wars 2 features an extensive number of counter units that are specifically designed to be an effective counter to certain units. The new Sniper unit and flame-thrower wielding Hellbringers, for example, are best deployed against other infantry units, while the Wolverine is an anti-air vehicle. A few new unit types are introduced that fill in these requirements, but most are easily recognisable from the first title.

Halo Wars 2: Defend the Base

There is a much greater reliance on using the right units for the job and utilising a diverse force that is much more capable of attacking and defending locations. Over-reliance on a handful of unit types can leave your force vulnerable to an unexpected counter attack of units that you are not prepared to combat. Halo Wars 2 isn't more difficult than it's predecessor but it does punish poor troop choices far more severely, making it so that players must think about their actions more carefully, scout out enemy locations before engaging, and prepare for any eventuality.

Each mission has a varied number of optional and bonus objectives that add some replayability and change the ways that each battle can be approached. You still manage your resources, train troops and choose which upgrade to purchase from your base, but the required buildings can only be constructed on a finite number of locations, which limits the number of buildings you can construct. This forces you to prioritise which structures are the most important for any given situation and often requires to you make a few necessary sacrifices. Even with a number of new features, units and structures, Halo Wars 2 still maintains the streamlined and action focused feel of the original, meaning that it still feels as accessible. However, this may result in people finding it stripped down in comparison to most PC strategy titles.

Halo Wars 2: Clash at the Water

Like its predecessor, Halo Wars 2 manages to map an almost full compliment of RTS controls onto a controller with most actions requiring only a single button press. The battlefield is navigated using the left analogue stick, while the right is used to zoom and rotate the camera. Once again, it’s hard to be precise with selections using an analogue stick instead of a mouse, but it's not impossible. The options to select local units and select all units are now assigned to the same button with either a single press or a double-tap respectively, and leader powers are selected from a wheel while holding the left trigger. Halo Wars lacked the ability to create custom groups of units or queue unit orders, which has thankfully been rectified. Holding the right trigger allows for some of the more advanced controls to be accessed. While holding the trigger, holding a direction on the D-pad assigns selected units to that group. A single press of the same direction will select the previously assigned group and a double-tap will focus the camera on the group. Only four groups can be created at a time, which is more than ample and it never seemed necessary to have more than this at any point.

The multiplayer modes from the original return largely unchanged although they are joined by Blitz, a fast-paced mode that replaces the usual base-building mechanics with a card-and-deck system for unit deployment and randomly spawning resources. Players aim to take control of the three capture points; doing so fills a capture meter located at the top of the screen. The card based system can often make matches feel luck based and it doesn't give players as much control over their unit deployment as other modes do. It does increase the speed at which matches take place, with a typical game taking between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. Blitz offers a unique twist to the usual competitive RTS scene and one that is more accessible to new players. Cross-platform play between players on Windows and Xbox One isn't available, but as the PC controls are more suited to the genre, it ultimately would lead to Windows players having a distinct advantage.

Halo Wars 2: Heavy Crystal

The title's 57 achievements are split across the three main aspects of the game: Campaign, Multiplayer and Blitz. As to be expected, there are the usual achievements for completing each mission of the campaign, as well as for completing the campaign on Heroic and Legendary difficulties. The bulk of the achievements are linked to the game's multiplayer and blitz modes and they provide a very varied number of challenges, so there is plenty to keep players occupied for a while to come. They range from the simple Natural Intelligence awarded for playing a Skirmish match alone against only AI opponents, to the slightly more tricky You've got a case of the Birley which requires you to recycle your base in the first 5 minutes of a 1v1 match against a Legendary AI before winning. There's also the time consuming Jackpot for playing a total of 777 Blitz over any number of matches.

Summary

Creative Assembly has taken the groundwork set out by Ensemble’s Halo Wars and improved on some of the areas that were lacking in the original, all while still keeping the game accessible and easily playable using a controller. It feels as if the campaign has been released in an unfinished state, but it still offers a decent amount of action and a compelling story. The relatively low number of missions, the unsatisfying conclusion and the fact that 343 Industries and Creative Assembly have already announced that campaign DLC will be coming in the near future can't help but leave a bitter taste in the mouth. The new Blitz mode adds a different approach to the RTS combat to which we have become accustomed, and the shorter, more action-oriented, matches give newcomers and veterans alike something into which to sink their teeth.
4 / 5
Halo Wars 2
Positives
  • Compelling story.
  • Easily accessible RTS.
  • Blitz adds a different, and fun, approach to the RTS genre.
Negatives
  • Relatively low number of missions.
  • A frustrating cliffhanger of an ending.
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 20 hours commanding his troops through the campaign, numerous skirmish matches and a handful of blitz games. 21 out of the possible 57 achievements were earned. A Play Anywhere review code was provided courtesy of the publisher. While the reviewer played on both platforms, the Xbox One was the primary platform for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).