Developers: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC (Windows 10)
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
The real-time strategy genre is always one that has had some problems when it came to being released on consoles. While on PCs the genre reigned for quite some time, these games never quite made a successful transition outside of a few rare exceptions. One of these was Halo Wars back in 2009 but despite being a unique twist on a beloved franchise many thought that Microsoft would never dabble in the genre once again. However eight years later paired with Creative Assembly Halo Wars 2 is prepared to launch on assault on console as well as PC this time around.
Twenty eight years have passed since the events of Halo Wars and the crew of the UNSC warship Spirit of Fire have spent almost the entirety of that time in cryosleep after previous events left them with no quick way to return to humanity. After all those years pass the crew awakens from their sleep to find that their ship has seemingly appeared at the Ark, a Forerunner installation that fans will be quite familiar with. As for the crew, with no knowledge of what has transpired since their time in cryosleep, Captain James Cutter sends a small group of Spartans down to investigate a UNSC distress beacon.
After finding the remains of a base plus an AI unit that is willing to fill them in on what they have missed, the crew learns that the Arc is now the base of an overwhelming foe by the name of Atriox. Once a member of the Covenant war force Atriox led a rebellion and established his own force known as the Banished. The Banished were such a powerful force that, as described in a cutscene, the Covenant at the height of their power could do little to touch his forces.
With such a powerful force looming in space and the majority of the human race having no knowledge of the Banished, Captain Cutter and the crew of the Spirit of Fire make it their mission to put a stop to Atriox here and now before they can threaten their homes. Although Halo Wars 2 does a great job establishing just how much of a threat Atriox and his army are through gorgeous cutscenes, the actual events that players see take place are simplistic in nature when it comes to a war themed game.
This is primarily due to the fact that story elements only really appear between missions and while there a number of great speeches and outstanding looking moments throughout the story that will keep players hooked to see what will happen next the actual writing is fairly simplistic in nature and might leave some fans disappointed. It also doesn’t help that while twelve story missions does feel like a satisfying number considering the amount of optional objectives and skulls you can unlock to increase the challenge, the ability to see the Banished’s story in some form would have been a boon to the game.
For an RTS game players will find that Halo Wars 2 is quite accessible on consoles as the developers have done their best to make sure that some of the most essential elements are as easy to handle as possible. This includes being able to select singular units with a tap of the A button, hold A to create a circle to select units within it while being able to move the reticle around with the right analog stick, or if you simply want to get everyone together you can tap RB to select everyone on screen or double-tap RB to select every available unit.
When commanding units they will move with the press of an X button and will immediately begin to attack any enemies that are within range. Certain units will have special Y abilities that may have to be researched beforehand at base but these abilities work on small cooldowns and consist of everything from throwing grenades, firing a gauss cannon, and more. The actual units come in quite a few varieties, especially outside of story mode where both sides of the conflict can be controlled, but each unit breaks down into a triangle formation of strengths and weaknesses such as vehicles being weak to air support and infantry being weak to vehicles.
Even swapping between areas is quickly managed through the D-pad as pressing certain directions will immediately swap the player either to their main base or forward base, one of their active units, or to a conflict. Base production is easy to manage as well with there being predetermined locations to set up a base that will come with a limited number of slots that allow for various troop types to be created with certain buildings or creating supply pads and generators to increase the two resources in the game, supplies and energy.
Most units in the game require some of these resources and doing things such as researching upgrades for your soldiers, upgrading the base or a unit, and even building defensive turrets will rely on resource management. This can be especially true when it comes to troops as players will usually be limited to 80 at a time with some special types costing far more than a simple unit of marines/grunts. Taking part in combat players will also acquire leader points that can be used to unlock leader specific abilities that range from being able to call in healing drones, an airstrike, specialized units, and more at the cost of resources and can occasionally turn the tide of a pitched battle though you will want to use these cautiously as they also feature long cooldown timers.
Many of the available game modes in Halo Wars 2 can be handled in the same way with players being able to play entirely against the AI in skirmish matches should they choose or even partner up with friends online to take on AI. The real challenge comes from competing against other players though and thankfully there are a satisfying number of modes to enjoy here. This includes matches of Stronghold that provide players with massive amounts of resources and pit players against one another in a race to see who can take down bases the fastest, Deathmatch that is fairly standard for an RTS, and a domination mode that tasks players with capture certain zones with troops.
The real standout mode in this section comes in the form of Blitz mode. Unlike the other modes players are not tasked with managing a base of any kind but instead use a hand of cards that can be built for all of the commanders available in the game. These cards require supplies to summon and can instantly warp units or trigger leader powers wherever the player is targeting that isn’t limited by the “fog of war.” This is a quick paced game mode that tasks players with holding control points and is a blast to play with friends or even against the AI in what turns into a horde type of mode.
It is worth noting that Blitz Mode does make use of card packs to build a deck and while a number of cards are available at the start and there are various missions that can be completed that reward players with packs and in-game points, it may run the risk of being unbalanced in the future.
Visuals & Audio
As mentioned earlier, one of the first things that must be mentioned here is just how amazing the cutscenes in this game look. While there are only a handful here and there, they are used as the primary storytelling tool and Blur has made sure that these are exceptionally well-handled. The actual combat may not look too exciting at a distance but when zoomed in onto a conflict you’ll see certain units react in various ways and perform special maneuvers depending on what they are fighting against, something that makes for a far more exciting looking game than simply watching units shoot at each other. This is especially true thanks to how detailed the looks of certain units, especially large vehicle types, look on the battlefield and in combat.
The soundtrack features plenty of great musical tracks that fit with what fans expect from the Halo series and the voice work is also managed nicely. This is even true when it comes to ordering troops around as there is enough variety to their command lines to prevent them from sounding repetitive unless you choose to spam orders in quick fashion.
Halo Wars 2 streamlines a number of mechanics that makes it easy for fans of the series as well as potential newcomers to the RTS genre to pick up and play while enjoying a solid experience. The story is unfortunately fairly simplistic in nature and doesn’t really feel like it has a whole lot of impact in the grander scheme thanks to the way certain events are handled but those looking for a satisfying RTS will be pleased with the gameplay mechanics here. With a solid multiplayer that offers a variety of different modes, including the fun fast paced Blitz mode, Halo Wars 2 sets itself up as a solid console RTS and proves that the genre can still handle quite well on a home console.