Halo Wars 2 Review
"Return of the RTS"
Halo Wars is one of my favorite real time strategy series having found its odd place on Xbox 360 nearly a decade ago and bringing with it the best take of the genre on consoles to date. After all this time we're brought back to the action in a new era where the Halo RTS delivers not only on Xbox One, but also on PC where the genre is truly at its best. Halo Wars 2 picks up about thirty years after the events of the first game with the Spirit of Fire awakening from a long slumber to the sight of The Ark. This mysterious and well known Halo Forerunner structure is most certainly drawing with its scale and majesty. The crew headed by Captain Cutter once more sends down some scouting squads and Spartans to take a look at a UNSC distress signal. This is where things open up and we meet a lonely AI named Isabel that warns the Spartans of the dangerous Atriox, a leader of this new threat called the Banished. Apparently there was this deadly Brute that broke off from the Covenant carrying various factions from that group and leading a separate crusade against their leaders.
The story is largely told through absolutely stunning Blur cinematics that will surely hold up for many years to follow just like those done in the original Halo Wars. The story is also followed up by narrative being delivered during mission briefings and during gameplay segments. The goal of this campaign is to rally your small group of troops and deliver blows to Atriox's core resource supplies along with his army in order to loosen their grip on the holy Ark. This creates a chain where you get a glorious cinematic followed by some levels with narrative in-between and that structure is followed through the story. I quite enjoyed the general story finding it to be a nice self-contained experience aimed to universe building and it does tie in heavily to the future of the Halo story. I did however encounter some glitches while playing including times where things would get stuck or an enemy would be dead yet still somehow alive. This happened a couple times and while not a huge deal, they were noticeable enough that I thought they should be mentioned. Halo Wars once again delivered with a solid narrative brought together with characters that you care about. The missions had decent variety offering a number of scenarios and it was intriguing experience growing the legacy of the first game. The campaign can also be played in single player or with a coop partner with both offering a fresh way to play the story.
While Halo Wars 2 aims to be more accessible to those that might not be adept at RTS games, there's still the completely competitive side of the game. This brings the traditional modes that serious players would engage in for intense matches. The first mode featured here is Deathmatch where various team sizes of your matchmaking choices attempt to destroy enemy bases. This is done by capturing points on the map to grow your forces, researching advancements and then making a move to take the enemy out. In all modes the game allows various choices for playing as maps can accept matches of 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 with a wide variety of environments to battle it out on. The second mode is Domination where the goal is to capture and hold towers to score similar to Deathmatch, but with an objective thrown in. The middle ground and third mode is Strongholds where both sides have unlimited resources with the objective to hold the most towers at the end. While this sounds somewhat more casual in comparison to the other competitive modes it's highly stressful and requires great balancing between how you use the pool of units available.
Blitz is the new casual mode taking a page from Halo 5's REQ packs by adding Blitz cards that can be earned while playing or bought as microtransactions. These card packs allow players to create their own custom decks for each faction and leader which in turn can create some wild battle scenarios. In regular Blitz, matches are quick paced where you're attempting to capture and hold key positions on the map. You do this by collecting energy around the map and using this to unleash better troops. This mode also allows multiple players as with the competitive area featuring 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 matches. This mode can be fun providing quick matches, yet I found that things would often get one-sided once players with better decks unleashed their rare cards. At times the opponent would get multiple scarabs which does indeed completely change the tides of the war.
In Blitz Firefight your decks are carried over for a solo or cooperative experience. Firefight is a traditional survival mode featured in past Halo titles and part of that history is brought forward. Similar to regular Blitz, the goal is to control the map against waves of AI enemies across multiple distinct zones. The difficulty grows as you progress through waves and you're attempting to survive while also gaining the best possible score. This is a nice addition to grow on the Blitz area and while not too creative it does provide an extra area of gameplay to enjoy solo or with a friend.
Being an RTS you control the field from a zoomed out overhead view with some options for adjustment. The game looks fantastic bringing in great smaller details for units and solid environments that capture the distinct wondrous Halo feeling of being on a Forerunner installation. Despite the amount of chaos present the game usually holds well though I did notice an occasional screen tear and times where the action would freeze the screen for a momement. These weren't honestly a big deal showing up only a few times while playing on Xbox One, but again something to mention. The PC version runs very well with multiple options to adjust the graphic settings and it performed solid while not being too demanding. Performance aside the controls work amazing on console and even better on PC. I found the scheme for both to be intuitive and an improvement over the original game's setup.
At its core the gameplay is relatively the same to the original with a large change being the addition of power. In the original you have resource points or basically credits that are used to buy units, leader abilities and to research things. That is basically the same this time around, but with power added which is a new resource to collect in the world and this offers an extra layer to competitive play. The amount of units has also grown supplying much larger battles and a greater theater of war during the campaign. This also means that the particles at play are bolder and there can be an exciting amount of explosions or shots going off at once.