It’s been eight years since the launch of Halo Wars on the Xbox 360, the perfect companion for those who wanted to experience the Halo universe from a different perspective. Clearly there was enough of a demand for a sequel and we finally have it, and thankfully it’s better than ever.
Halo Wars 2 features a lengthy story campaign as well as a comprehensive multiplayer, one that introduces a new variant to the RTS world in the form of the card based Blitz mode, more on that later.
Having spent three hours playing the game at a preview event early last month, I was excited to get my hands on the retail build of the game and really get into the campaign and its new story arch within the Halo Universe. Our review will remain spoiler free, so there’s no need to worry about reading on!
Taking place after Halo 5: Guardians, a new enemy threatens the Halo universe, and the only thing standing between extinction and humanity is the brave crew on board the Spirit of Fire, led by Captain Cutter. Halo Wars 2’s story feels much more accessible than than Halo 5 did, and I really enjoyed it. Each mission feels completely different; some require you to break down the opposition’s defences, while others require you to defend against waves of attacks. The final mission type involved capturing various points on the map, and as the story progresses the missions become quite intense, making for a fantastic experience.
The key to winning any battle in an RTS is how you manage your resources. Halo Wars 2 is no different, with the most important being power and supplies. Everything you build requires a set amount of each so it’s crucial you manage both well and efficiently, lest you’ll fall to the superior numbers and upgrades of your opponent.
Early on in the game you’ll learn about building your base, then adding generators and supply pads, before building other buildings such as garages, barracks and armories. As you would expect the garage deals with vehicles, the barracks create the infantry, while the amoury helps with improving weaponry. These can be upgraded over time, improving the health, power and capabilities of your units.
Managing everything via your controller is really simple, the RB manages which units you want to select, a single click will highlight local units while a double click calls all units. LB allows you to move across the map quickly, which is useful if you have units spread out. Certain units, such as spartans have special moves which can be activated using Y. The best move is the ability to hijack a wraith, which can make a big difference when the enemy starts to push you. You can single out different groups of soldiers or equipment if you need to move them away from a larger group, for example, using snipers to scope out cloaked enemies. It could have been really easy to mess up the control system but I felt comfortable almost instantly.
As the leader of the group, you have Leader Powers that can be activated and recharged during battle. These range from restoration drones that repair units within a certain area to Archer missiles, which can be devastating if used correctly. As the game goes on you’ll be able to make use of ODST drops, instant turrets and more. And with the Leader Powers being upgraded on the fly if you have the resources, they can prove to be a valuable card up your sleeve if you need to make a big push or quickly turn the tide.
I played the campaign through on normal difficulty, I did play some missions on Heroic and things really ramped up. Thankfully you can bring in a co-op partner to help manage the workload. I love the subtle touches in the game, the conversations that the AI have with each other while fighting and watching the machinery at your base build the equipment you require.
Playing against the enemy is one thing, but playing online against humans is a different ball game. Halo Wars 2’s multiplayer has a bunch of modes to play through. Skirmish allows you to fight across all the environments and multiplayer game modes with as many AI and co-op friends as each mode will allow. Strongholds is probably my favourite mode, in which you’ll need to capture and control the most bases when the round’s timer stops. There is also Domination and Deathmatch modes to take part in too. Deathmatch is brilliant if you want to see the pain in your opponent’s eyes as their base is turned to rubble.
Matches can take anything from 20 to over 60 minutes, and sometimes you may not have the time to get that involved. That’s where Blitz comes along. Blitz puts a twist on RTS gameplay by combining card-based strategy with RTS combat. Your card deck is your army in Blitz, you can choose a leader, that come with their own unique abilities, then build your deck in preparation for battle. On the battlefield, matches last no longer than 20 minutes and can be over in as little as 5. It’s a brilliant way to get in a couple of matches if you’re short on time, yet you still need to be very tactical to win.
As you would expect from any Halo title, the presentation is superb. The musical score had me mesmerised from the beginning, as did the audio in battle – get zoomed right in when you can so that you can hear all the workings of your units. The graphics are excellent, again in battle there’s plenty of detail to look at, although the maps never really jumped out at me as much as they might have done from a first-person view. The cinematics are sensational, it’s really getting hard to tell the difference between live action and CGI cinematics, Blur who worked with 343 Industries and Creative Assembly will no doubt very pleased with their work.
Apart from struggling with the higher difficulties I never experienced any major problems with the game, I had one crash but that’s likely down to the Preview Program. Halo fans new and old must play this, the battles are intense but hugely satisfying when you come out on top. The story had me gripped from start to end and I’m having a real blast perfecting my rather rusty RTS skills online. Halo Wars 2 is well worth your time.