Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2, the RTS mashup of 343’s Halo and the fantastic minds at Creative Assembly has finally arrived. After a few years of speculation and hype, the game is up for judgement.

Though there are a few bits and bobs that need a look into and perhaps a patching, Halo Wars 2 is at its core a solid game. The controls function well even in high stress situations where you’re beginning to panic, or lose a trade during a firefight.

The hotkeys for jumping around the map to get to different locations (an element which was in the original) is a key factor in this. Micromanaging both units and your base economy is made to be far easier, simply by pressing a simple button. Adding to this is the ability to create control groups, further spreading ease and adding help to creating tactical decisions, such as ambushing units or distracting the enemies armies.

Following from that there seems to be a wider range of valid tactics available. The first game seemed to be basic in the sense of to win you must spam or rush. The second installment expands on this without taking away the ‘rock-paper-scissors’ style than people seem to love. There seems to be more of a sense of balance to it, spamming one unit won’t win you the game against someone who knows what they’re doing. This means to be at your most effective your armies will have to be a varied mix of unit types to cover more areas of countering.

An addition to the debunking of rushing would be the new resource system. I personally prefer it, as it means you won’t be seeing people at max tech level with a full army of scorpions using powered turrets in a matter of minutes.  It gets you more involved with the base management side of the game. As you progress through tech levels you will find it easier to make new bases so you can afford the better units and upgrades more effectively.

A point I am slightly disappointed in is the lack of interesting upgrades. Most units merely have one and in most cases all that does is add their second ability. I would have preferred to see the more interesting side of things, making your units look and feel cooler and more powerful is one of the aspects I immensely enjoyed in the first game, yet its something that does seem to be lacking here.

Pathing can also be an issue as at times your men will do exactly what you tell them to, but other times they’ll turn a simple straight line into a 13 mile hike. At times this can be quite funny, watching a squad of Grunts spin in a circle after asking them to move forward about an inch, leaving you with a lasting smile. However, in the heat of battle when you order a unit to attack something specific and they respond by full pace running to the other end of the map? This can be extremely stressful for you.

Leader powers make a return and boy did they get an upgrade. Take the second or third useful ones and then add them to a collection of ten and you have the new powers system. This is both for the UNSC and Banished players as opposed to the original game, where it was only accessible by the UNSC. Each leader has different abilities meaning you should pick wisely and play to your strengths. The powers menu is also easy to access, allowing you to use it with ease in and out of combat.

Hero units also make a return, but not in the same vain as the original. The system seems to be better balanced, with each leader having their own individual units. For each UNSC leader you have a different member of Spartan Red Team whilst the Banished have different champions. Every one of these is equally powerful and threatening as they are well balanced and fair.

As a whole, in fact, both armies seem to counter each other well. Each having their strengths and weaknesses, but one is not more powerful than the other. This is good, considering in the first game one main concern was that the Covenant seemed considerably weaker than the UNSC. Being able to play as either armies and having even combats makes things so much better.

The other flaw I have with it, although it may just be me, is just how aggressive your units are. I’ve had several situations whereas I’ve had an army waiting to be at max strength, then an enemy scout unit runs past their line of sight so my units proceed to follow them half way across the map. Moving to fight enemies in close proximity is fine but chasing them across the map as if I’d given them an attack order is a bit much.

The multiplayer works really well. The servers are good even from launch and as stated earlier the armies and leaders are all balanced well enough to bounce off each other. The other game modes are also fun to play.

I have developed a special place in my heart for Strongholds. A game type where all you need to worry about is building an army to battle your opponents and holding more bases than the enemy team, all before the timer runs out. It’s fast paced, exciting and a fun change from other modes, it’s definitely the one I’d choose to play if I was feeling for something a bit more light hearted.

Other than that there’s Deathmatch, your basic annihilation game type where your only task is to outsmart your enemy and destroy their bases. Its in this mode where the game truly shines, as it gives you that proper RTS feel of true tactics and skill.

“… the big bad ass Atriox, the Brute that defied the covenant and managed to pillage worlds, felt utterly underused”

And finally we have Domination. This is as simple as holding more objectives than your opponent to score more points, where the first to reach the max score wins. Personally I’m not a fan of it, usually the game ends before you can get out really exciting units, but this is all down to how good the other players are. If you’re against someone who’s as good as you, expect some tense battles.

Finally we have Blitz and Blitz Firefight. Now when this was announced, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it, in fact I was quite convinced I would find it dull. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by how addictive and entertaining it is. Building a deck of cards and using them to play units and abilities in a very fast paced point-control game type is genuinely thrilling. Its intensified by how quickly you can jump into a game and play, usually lasting around the 5 minute mark. You may not think its your cup of tea, but I insist you must at least try it if you own the game as you may be surprised.

Blitz Firefight is in the same vain, however instead of going up against players, you must hold the points for as long as possible against ever increasing waves of AI units. It’s fun, but not really something I would keep going back to. After a few games it lost, it started to loose its spark.

Halo Wars 2’s campaign mode boasts an adventurous plot. You’ll see ‘familiar’ faces return, who after the events of the last game have been drifting through space for 28 years. This has somehow given some characters a makeover – the miracle of cryo-sleep I guess.

It has a strong start, with an explosive and exciting first few missions, each with amazing cinematics by the fantastic animators at Blur Studio. Straight off the bat it gets you involved with this new narrative, and strengthens your connection with both old and new characters.

Throughout the entire 12 mission campaign there are 7 cinematics, which may seem like quite a few but keep in mind one is the games opening and the other is the closing clip. This made the story lack punch and it got to the point where I nearly lost near enough all connection to the characters. I’d finish a level and it would throw me into the next, without giving you a sufficient break to take in the danger that the crew of the Spirit of Fire were in. They swap this instead for a few voice overs pre-mission during the loading screen.

Its truly such a shame as well, because the cutscenes that are in there are stunning, and completely have me hooked. It feels like it was a big misstep to not have more.

More so than that, the big bad ass Atriox, the Brute that defied the covenant and managed to pillage worlds felt utterly under used. His biggest part is in the first few minutes of the game, aside his small part towards the end, the most you hear of him is a voice over two or three times.

Through all this, however, the missions were fantastic. A few missteps here and there but all round it was quite brilliant with the variation of types they had. Without going into too much detail, I found the campaign extremely fun to play. The last mission lacked a bit and the ending is fairly abrupt, but other than that it’s solid. Something I really wouldn’t mind playing again and probably will. The missions are challenging without being impossible and it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a line of glorified Deathmatch games. In fact there are some points where doing the bonus objectives became almost an obsession.

One last thing I’m very happy they kept is the ability to play the game with a friend on Co-Op. It’s always been something in the first game that I enjoyed doing, and trust me its even more so enjoyable in this one.

Graphically, Halo Wars 2 looks brilliant. It’s something I wasn’t sure about to begin with, but the direction in unit and map design is gorgeous. True, the graphics aren’t at the highest standard, but they don’t have to be to make the game so damn pretty. Upon first seeing it I did think the Banished units looked slightly too cartoony, but either they’ve touched them up or they’ve grown on me because now I couldn’t imagine them any other way.

The inclusion of microtransactions and being able to buy card packs just feels greedy and something that’s going to annoy a lot of people.

Halo Wars 2 Review Conclusion

All in all I really enjoyed Halo Wars 2 despite the minor issues it has, most of which can be fixed by upcoming patches. If you enjoy RTS games, Halo Wars 2 is worth your money.

4/5

We tested Halo Wars 2 after purchasing the game and it’s available now for the Xbox One and PC.

Check out our Best Games list for Xbox One.

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