It was 2009 when the the first installment of the Halo Wars series came to us via Xbox 360 and many fans of the series have been craving another installment or two ever since.
So here we are eight years later, getting ready to help Captain Cutter lead your team against the newly introduced Alien faction named ‘The Banished’. With 343 Industries now at the helm, Halo Wars 2 has the potential to be considered an early contender for Xbox game of the year.
Breaking down Halo Wars 2 has been a little bit of a challenge for me, as all I have wanted to do lately is sit down and replay the levels that I scored poorly on. However, you came here for a review and I’m going to give you one. So let’s set the scene, Halo Wars 2 happens in the year 2559, which happens to be 28 years after the events of the first war and shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians . Since then, the members aboard the UNSC ship Spirit of Fire has been floating around in cryosleep, until they are awakened for duty. After receiving a distress beacon from a nearby planet, the team rediscovers Isabel, the ship’s logistics artificial intelligence. She will aid you in your quest to take on the Banished.
Halo Wars 2 offers a vast collection of gameplay modes including Skirmish, Multiplayer, Campaign, and its newest game mode blitz. Now, fans of the Halo series will be excited for the PvP multiplayer as it still carries a whimsical, high energy battle style which we have all come to love. Skirmish is both fast and exciting while offering both solo and co-op attempts at beating A.I opponents. The campaign is fairly straight forward, offering you a good balance between the many scenarios you would face in the multiplayer and an in-depth story with far too many cut scenes.
Blitz, on the other hand, was the biggest surprise of the game. Here I was, clicking on what I thought was going to be another rush-the-objective style game, only to find that it’s actually way more in depth. Halo Wars 2, like many other popular game franchises has added a card based game. While I can hear you groaning from over here, just hear me out. The game concept is simple, control all three objectives the longest and win the game. The hook is that you get a small starting team of three combatants and no base to build more troops if your team dies in combat. Enter the aforementioned cards. These cards allow you to spend your in game energy points to purchase combatants throughout battle. The cards you pick for battle are available to you as long as you want, and each time you start at game you have the ability to modify your deck. Each player can only bring a maximum of ten cards into each game and as far as I can tell, there is no value limit. Card packs can be both purchased and earned throughout game play and some cards belong to different leaders. While this does limit your ability to make an incredibly overpowered deck, it forces the players to attempt different play styles. Now while I was only able to play this mode a few times, I noticed that your units will level up when you receive duplicate cards and bringing in a good balance of cards to battle is key.
Speaking of balance, Halo Wars 2 operates under a well constructed rock-paper-scissors combat system. This meaning each type of character in the game can easily beat one type of enemy and lose to another. Typically the three types are soldiers, ground vehicles, and air support. Early on in the game, I got frustrated when I failed to pick up on the fact that my choppers were being taken out by soldiers and I had to quickly change both my unit production and strategy.
Halo Wars 2 also provides franchise fans both nostalgia and familiarity when it comes to both game and sound design. From the gritty feeling of watching a cut-scene aboard a UNSC ship to the vibrant and colourful in game animations, there is very little to complain about when it comes to this aesthetically pleasing title. World design is both fluid and smart giving players options for both defending their own bases, while also strategically attacking their opponents. This paired with the exceptional sound design, Halo Wars 2 will be an enjoyable experience for any player that wants to escape reality for a few hours.
Another key component to any good game, including RTS titles, is how reactive and natural controlling the game feels. Without fail, I found myself reaching for a mouse all while forgetting I had a controller in my hand. This faded quickly though, as the gameplay style really concentrates on your abilities to comfortably play the game. This is a refreshing change from other console based RTS titles, as after a few hours I didn’t even remotely miss using a mouse. This was done by putting smart hotkeys on the d-pad, utilizing the bumpers and triggers for menu options, and of course using A and B for action controls. I really wish I had a complaint about the control scheme, but I don’t.
Value wise, Halo Wars 2 comes in hot with the need to continue to play. I mean, I’ve had access to this game for nearly a week and all I do is play it. My squad hasn’t seen me online since I’ve started playing because it’s just too addictive. The campaign alone offers a continued need to beat personal scores, while the multiplayer continues to pit you against both friends and online enemies. With Halo Wars 2, coming out with both a standard and an ultimate edition for Xbox One, it’s safe to assume that there will be many goodies along the way, including DLC and of course purchasable card packs through the Microsoft store. I would highly recommend springing for the ultimate edition as it comes with extra cards and really makes the beginning of your blitz experience more enjoyable.
All and all, what else can be said about a game that offers an enjoyable campaign and a vast multiplayer experience that will keep you coming back for more? Try it for yourself and attempt to write an article about this game while you so badly just want to go back to playing. Now, If you’ll excuse me, I have some banished bases to take out!
This review is based on a Ultimate version of Halo Wars 2 was provided to NXTGEM by the publisher.