Halo Wars 2 is the sequel to the already 8 years old Halo Wars. It was a long wait for both RTS and Halo fans, but after just a few minutes you can feel the wait was well worth it. Boy oh boy what a sequel: Easy to pick-up and hard to master mechanics, polished controls, a compelling campaign and bunch of extras to deliver replay value and and multiplayer.
Halo Wars 2 review
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developers: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows (tested)
Halo Wars 2 is set 28 years after the events of Halo Wars. While it would be a nice idea to pick up the original to have some background, it is definitely not a must. The sequel picks up with the crew of the Spirit of Fire coming out of a cyrogenically induced slumber to a universe that’s passed them by. If you are a fan of the franchise, you will be glad to know that the timeline is now close to the events of Halo 5. Captain Cutter and crew have woken up outside of an Ark facility, which is one of the locations responsible for the creation of the titular Halo. This is also where they find the main enemy of the game: Atriox, also knows as The Brute.
He is introduced and hyped up with fantastic cinematics I won’t spoil. For review purposes, it is enough to say he split off from the Covenant and made his own army. He is also messing up with something called The Cartographer… and his army, the Banished, seems to be omnipotent and able to teleport to any place in this universe. Nasty guy.
The best thing Halo Wars 2 has to offer is the gameplay. It features deep mechanics and the whole package is a blast to play, to watch and to hear. The version I got to test was for PC, so I can’t talk much about the controller mappings, but for the old mighty mouse & keyboard everything works as you may expect. It is easy to toggle between bases and units, to form groups, make use of skill, to quickly select all units on screen, on map or specific units, to traverse the map and to handle the camera. The tutorial is short and concise and focuses on this, while the campaign will teach you the basics of how to counter specific types of units. The map is well polished and very hard to get lost into. It highlights important units and events while delivering impressive special effects. I can’t think of any flaw, and we are talking about an RTS where many things can be hard to handle.
The campaign does a fantastic job to teach you the concept of base building and unit upgrades, which in turn pours into the various multiplayer modes in a pretty organic fashion. Most importantly, in the 12 or so missions you will never feel they are similar. You can play them solo or in coop, with different achievements and medals for each. You can also activate Skulls, which will affect either the aesthetics of the game or the gameplay itself, reducing or improving the final score. The campaign also gets progressively complex as you advance through the levels, and found myself in really complicated situations on Normal difficulty.
Unit micromanaging is fun and important at the same time. Each unit will gain veterancy as they successfully defeat enemies, and will earn starts, making them stronger. Experience will also earn you leader points, which in turn are used to learn useful defensive, offensive and support abilities. You can turn battles upside down with a well timed healing, cause havok with a well placed nuke, or try to turn the tides summoning units right in the middle of the heat.
The game itself is pretty deep, while also being easy to learn. You only have two kind of resources: Power and Supply. You will be able to summon structures at specific locations, often around bases, and the number of available spots will be tied to the base. You will use the same type of resources to upgrade abilities and units, summon infantry, vehicles and air units, upgrade structures, etc. Having a specific amount of spots to summon structures will also be a challenge in later levels, where you will need to summon a steady amount of units to battle while also defend your multiple bases. It is really hard to land a sweet spot of Power & Supplies per second to overcome specific challenges and achievements, and that is where the beauty of the game is. Then you have additional modifiers like garrisons to better protect your infantry, and multiple levels in the terrain to provide better vision and offensive advantage. Nothing fancy or new, but everything is well polished and works flawlessly.
The multiplayer portion of Halo Wars 2 feature a decent number of modes, like vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, and 3 vs. 3 varieties. You can opt for more traditional RTS multiplayer deathmatches, wherein you’ll battle it out with an opponent in an attempt to wipe them from the map. In Domination mode you have controllable map spots that generate points for whatever side manages to keep them captured. Rounding out the standard multiplayer selections is Strongholds, where each side will attempt to build and maintain as many facilities as possible on the map within a time limit. There’s a number of customizable options, along with ranked and unranked variations, giving players a decent amount to do.
And then you have Blitz, a special multiplayer mode that removes the concept of base building and resource gathering from the equation entirely. Instead, you are in charge of a leader unit, and a deck of cards built from unlockable packs (which can also be purchased – micro-transaction alert). Most cards in your deck represent units like Scorpion tanks, Grunts, UNSC soldiers, and so on. Worry not, I was able to get decent amount of legendary cards by just playing the gaming, without spending a single cent, but it is worth to mention the mechanic is there.
Halo Wars 2 is one of the best RTS out there. It is packed with content on both the multiplayer and single-player side. It ensures replay value with a bunch of extras and coop. It comes bundled with a worth playing campaign, top quality cutscenes, and an amazing soundtrack and special effects.