Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2 Review Darryl Linington
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User Rating: 8.5 (1 votes)

Halo has forever been a trendsetter. Debunking the misconception that first-person-shooters (FPS) games will never be playable on console the series’ first, Halo: Combat Evolved, proved it could. All the while setting the golden standard for basically every console FPS that followed. Released in 2001, it gathered a massive cult following and does so to this day, with one of the most recognised and iconic game protagonists ever, Master Chief. They gave us Spartans, Brutes, Energy swords, a memorable and captivating Universe but most importantly, an emotional experience throughout the series.

Halo didn’t stop there, however. Being the trailblazer it is, it rather successfully brought another genre of unassailable doubt to console: Real-Time Strategy. Hitting our screens in 2009, Halo Wars was a fresh and invigorating experience which aptly put many naysayers to rest. Built on a modular base-management platform and introducing a surprisingly intuitive control scheme, Halo Wars as a real-time-strategy {RTS title), felt oddly natural on console. With this success, however, came another golden standard which very few games could match… Until now.

Halo Wars 2 Review

I give you Halo Wars 2 – seriously, the irony writes itself. Coming in as the 8th Microsoft Play Anywhere title, Halo Wars 2 is playable on both the Xbox One and Windows 10 at the cost of a single purchase. Progress is saved across both platforms allowing for seamless continuation on either platform regardless of where you played last. Playable with either your controller or mouse & keyboard (Windows 10 Only) you once again take command of the two returning factions, UNSC and Covenant, now in the form of a rogue state known as the banished. With a story-driven campaign in the boots of the UNSC, you face numerous challenges of defending bases against waves of enemies while micro-managing troops, resources and tech upgrade across 12 missions.

Taking place 28 years after the events of Halo Wars, and shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2 continues as the crew of the UNSC warship Spirit of Fire awaken from cryosleep after the war between humanity and the military alien alliance known as the Covenant has ended. Aboard the Spirit of Fire, which has been declared lost with all hands the crew, its Captain, James Cutter, and Professor Anders find themselves at the Ark, a Forerunner installation that manufactured the Halo rings.

Without much to go on as Serina, the Spirit of Fire’s AI, had to terminate herself before succumbing to rampancy, (a fatal condition an AI deteriorates to over the course of their short lifespans) the crews Spartan team, Red team, embark upon the Ark to investigate a UNSC signal originating from its surface. They quickly come across a UNSC research facility and find Isabel, a UNSC logistics AI, warning of a rogue Covenant faction known as the Banished who have recently invaded the installation. Led by the Brute warlord Atriox, who rose to power following the Covenant’s demise, and accompanied by the Brute General Decimus and the Elite Shipmaster Let ‘Volir, the Banished are a formidable foe with an ambiguous agenda, on a pragmatic war path of raiding and conquest.

Developed in unity by 343 Studios, better known for every Halo FPS since Halo: CE Anniversary and Halo 4, and Creative Assembly, the guys behind the Total War franchise and Alien: Isolation – Halo Wars 2 is a phenomenal sequel which improves on every aspect of its predecessor and then some. In particular, the storyline – Now even though the Halo Wars 2 campaign might not seem canon to the Halo universe, since it’s hard to believe that a rogue entity like the Banished and especially their sovereign leader, Atriox, has never been mentioned before. It’s easy to argue that the period during the very end of the Universal conflict and possibly just following it would be the perfect period as to when Atriox formed the Banished. It’s sensible that they’d not be viewed as a colossal threat initially, but rather an internal issue the Covenant would deal with, eventually. This fits in perfectly with the pace of the Halo Universe and adds a level of freshness to series.

Halo Wars 2 Review

Bar the magnificence which is the Campaign, which mind you can as the former, be played either solo or in co-op, the Multiplayer aspects of Halo Wars 2 literally scream replayability value! Featuring the much loved skirmish matches like Deathmatch, centred around the complete and utter elimination of your opponents, and territorial modes like Strongholds and Domination, focusing on map control and sharp unit management, multiplayer remains familiar and rock solid. Based around modular base building with fixed defences and no walls, you have to micro-manage every aspect of your progression through your tech tree and upgrades as you simultaneously build a military force with tactical supremacy. Following a standard rock, paper, scissors dynamic all unit types of which there are 3 clear variants have their strengths and weaknesses well balanced against each other. Land Vehicles are powerful against Infantry yet weak against Air Vehicles, while Infantry is powerful against air and so on. Featured within the two primary factions, UNSC and Banished are 3 Leaders per faction. Each with their own strengths, abilities and Leader Powers, adding great replay value to the multiplayer side of Halo Wars. But that’s not where it ends, Creative Assembly have added some spice to the mix in the form of Blitz.

While the generic Multiplayer modes as named above still remain prevalent and a must have, Blitz adds a much needed quick action filling our Halo Burrito has been lacking all these years. Introducing the ever popular trade-card mechanic, of collecting card packs and building increasingly powerful and strategically balanced decks. You can now partake in action packed node control battles across maps where base and resource management is out and tactical unit deployment is in. Each unit or ability is represented in the form of a card in your deck. These range from ground troopers and vehicle reinforcements to elite cards with Leader abilities and unique units like Sgt. Forge’s Warthog. Starting each round with 3 random cards from your chosen deck in hand, you deploy your units the cards represents to the field as the played card is then replaced by another random card from your deck. Each card has an energy cost – the more valuable, read: powerful the card the higher the energy cost – This energy is automatically collected during the round as you play the objective and your opponent, but can also be harnessed by destroying and harvesting energy supply drops which land at random throughout the round. Playing for the control of 3 nodes across the map, each rewarding you with capture points, ala-Battlefield, you compete to reach a total of 200 capture points, which will win you the round.

Cards are obtained in many different ways, you can easily get some from simply completing the 3 initial tutorials. While further acquisition requires the completion of each of the campaign missions and the levelling up of your Service Record, which acts as your in-game rank. Each tutorial, campaign mission and Service Rank reached, rewards you with a single pack of 5 cards. Each card can either be unique and add to your ever growing decks or be a repeat drop and instead level up that card making it both more powerful and resilient when deployed. DLC, so far only when in the form of new playable leaders of which there are 6 standard, will also reward you with Leader specific card packs. Beyond that and to a much disliked practise the only other way to obtain card packs is through micro-transactions – Frowned upon as it may be, lady luck plays a big role in which cards you receive and thus these micro-transactions don’t promote a Pay-to-Win culture.

Blitz also features an AI mode, which can be played solo or cooperatively, named firefight which works similarly to vanilla Blitz, the only difference being that the AI attacks in increasing more difficult waves as the round progresses through the token difficulties from Easy to Legendary.

All in all, Halo Wars 2 does itself as a sequel a lot of justice. Stunning visuals accompanied by quality audio and a great score sums up a beautiful experience. Bringing familiar but improved concepts to an alienated console genre, it’s a must have for strategy fans on the Xbox One and a no-brainer for PC players – who may consider it a dumbed-down RTS, but could not be more wrong. If anything Halo Wars 2 very easily opens up the argument of Console RTS games to other developers who will hopefully jump to the challenge and start growing the genre across the board.

Halo Wars 2 was reviewed by Jacques Du Plooy

Edited By: Darryl Linington
Contact: Darryl@techitout.co.za
Follow @TechITOutMedia on Twitter
Follow @DarrylLinington on Twitter

Editor of Tech IT Out. Former radio host of Cliffcentral.com. Former Editor of IT News Africa and ITF Gaming. All round techie, gamer and entrepreneur. For Editorial Enquiries Contact: Darryl@techitout.co.za or via +27788021400.