After the original Halo Wars successfully mixed the popular first-person sci-fi shooter series with the real-time strategy genre, Captain Cutter and the Spirit of Fire are back to face a new threat in Halo Wars 2. Developed this time around by 343 Industries (Halo 4 and 5) and Creative Assembly (Total War), this latest entry in the console RTS series has players engage in a new action-packed campaign, and face off against other players online in multiplayer and the all-new Blitz mode. But does this long-awaited sequel have what it takes to be as good as the first?
Halo Wars 2
Developed by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly / Published by Microsoft Studios
Available on the Xbox One and PC.
*Review code provided by Microsoft Studios
Halo Wars 2 has the Spirit of Fire, the UNSC warship that was the focus of the first game, reactivating years after the events of the first Halo Wars and Halo 5: Guardians. After a distress signal from the Ark draws their attention, the crew, led by Captain Cutter, go down to assist only to find that the Ark has been invaded by Atriox – a powerful Brute who was formerly part of the Covenant – and his forces. With one warship full of humans taking on a large army hellbent on destruction known as the Banished, the Spirit of Fire must win every battle in order to survive and protect the galaxy from the new, growing threat.
The story in Halo Wars 2 is an entertaining new chapter in the series, developing a fun and thrilling tale throughout the game’s twelve main missions. Telling a story of survival full of swift action, sacrifice and guerrilla tactics, the adventures of Jack Cutter, Professor Anders and Forge are entertaining throughout, and they’re backed by some of the best and most cinematic cutscenes available so far in the series. The Banished also make for some compelling villains, adding a new twist to a familiar enemy to keep them interesting throughout.
The game is also pretty gorgeous to look at, with the Ark presented in a whole light as players explore familiar locations from a top-down perspective. The detailed environments capture the essence of the series with the mashing of familiar natural landscapes and alien structures, and the character models are fantastically designed and beautifully animated, and hold up even as you zoom in to take a look at the unfolding action. Going to war in the Halo universe looks great.
When it comes to the gameplay, players coming in from Halo Wars or other RTS games should feel right at home as it remains virtually unchanged from the original, save for a couple of new additions or tweaks to the UI. The control scheme is simple and streamlined with players being able to navigate the map, select troops and issue move commands. Troops and combat units attack any enemies that are in close proximity, which takes away some of the micromanaging required in more complex RTS titles, and it’s great as players can click to concentrate on high priority targets or focus on movement to carefully evade AoE attacks or retreat from losing engagements. Some units also come equipped with special abilities that can be used to turn the tide of battle, which are also simple to execute. Finally, Commanders also have access to special abilities that can assist in critical moments, such as healing or requesting air strikes, which can make the difference between success or defeat. The systems are simple and friendly, and couldn’t have been better for a console RTS.
Base building and development is also an integral part to Halo Wars 2, but once again it’s simplified with easy construction rules and systems. Players can build a base and expand its functions and production by adding supply pads and generators (which produce the base materials need to construct everything else), as well as adding structures to create ground units, vehicles and airships, and research facilities in order to improve the stats and abilities of units and vehicles. While other RTS games usually give players a set amount or limited stores of energy and resources to create units and structures, Halo Wars 2’s pool is infinite as long as players have the structures to generate them, giving players plenty of options to create units, make mistakes and regroup without fear, which is fantastic. It’s a great way for newcomers to get in on the action without worrying too much about production.
The main campaign is great, allowing players to take control of the UNSC as they fight the Banished on multiple fronts. Campaign objectives vary from destroying structures and capturing objectives, to surviving with limited units until building a base and fending off waves of foes. The missions are action-packed and the variety of objectives keeps it thrilling throughout. The campaign goes by quickly, but it’s full of fun and memorable moments.
Halo Wars 2 also comes with Multiplayer, both cooperative and competitive. Two players can tackle the main campaign together, or fight each other to see who’s best in gameplay modes sure to entertain those looking for more action aside from the main campaign. Deathmatch has players compete until one comes out on top, while Skirmish has players take on A.I. There’s also Domination and Stronghold, which has players capture and hold locations to gain points while battling against each other. Commanders can fight others in 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3, and also tweak the game options to create custom matches, so there’s plenty of fun to be had here. Additionally, players can take control of the Banished here as well, adding some new strategies to the mix.
Blitz is the biggest addition to multiplayer, playing akin to a collectable card game, with units and abilities being summoned with cards collected from completing missions and challenges or bought in the store with real cash. Players get to build their deck according to their strategies, and then face off against others. It’s a fun gameplay mode that changes up the experience quite a bit as players have to manage resources and follow unique rules, further adding to the game’s replay value and challenges.
The problem with Blitz however is that it can be unbalanced. Players can use one card of each type, and collecting repeats levels up the existing card, increasing HP, damage and more. This means that players who invest in buying or acquiring more cards will be stronger than someone who doesn’t. It’s not an equal playing field and it kind of promotes pay to win, and first timers will usually be steamrolled by frequent players due to the advantage.
Ultimately, Halo Wars 2 is a solid sequel and excellent console RTS that should delight fans of the series and genre. The campaign is fun from start to finish, and the multiplayer options are great. While Blitz mode is unfortunately a bit flawed, the rest of the game is an enjoyable, action-packed time.