Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: 343 Industries and Creative Assembly
Review platform: Halo Wars 2 was reviewed on Xbox One with an early access code provided by Microsoft
Release date: Feb 21, 2017
Halo Wars 2 is an exciting game and once again proves that real-time strategy experiences have a place on consoles. The original Halo Wars was good but it had its problems. The gameplay was simplistic and I didn’t feel that sense of urgency in the campaign that is present in Halo Wars 2. Lastly, the voice acting was flawed as it didn’t sound natural. Halo Wars felt like a good first step but needed refinement to say the least. Halo Wars 2 fixes almost all of those issues and offers a thrilling campaign despite some cliche moments. What’s surprising is how Halo Wars 2’s story trounces Halo 5 in every way.
Halo Wars 2 takes place more than two decades after the events of the first game. The crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire have been cryogenically frozen this entire time but are thawed when they come across the Ark. Yes, the same Ark Master Chief encountered during Halo 3 used to manufacture Halo rings. The structure is overrun by a faction of the Covenant called the Banished and it’s up to Captain Cutter to uncover their plans and put an end to their leader, Atriox.
While the story is exciting and the ending shocking, there are certain moments during the campaign that vexed me. For example, during the beginning of Halo Wars 2, you know you have to defeat Atriox but Captain Cutter gives an unnecessary speech when he doesn’t even know what he’s up against. He comes across as a dolt in that scene. Secondly, some of the Spartans are voiced in such an irritating and uncultured way that they remind you of simple soldiers. If we go to the novels, Spartans, like Master Chief, are not only trained in the art of combat, but they’re also learned individuals. Banal dialogue detracts from their mysticism.
I’m not sure who was in charge of the voice acting but clearly that individual wasn’t familiar with Halo’s lore or bothered to delve deeper into it. I can see the person’s thought process now…“Let’s just put any old voice in there. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a strategy game.” It’s a shame that such a minor issue detracts from the campaign because it feels like a gash right in the center of a perfect painting. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting sounds natural, but I have an issue with how certain characters like Alice are showcased.
Going back to the campaign, it plays more along the lines of a top-down action game. While many of the twelve levels require you to build bases and gather resources, you mostly take control of amazing vehicles and other characters. Without giving too much away, towards the end you’re handed the reigns of vehicles gamers have always wanted to control in the Halo franchise. Halo Wars 2 is filled with surprises which longtime fans will love.
Halo Wars 2 offers two main multiplayer experiences: your standard multiplayer real-time strategy match and Blitz. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a fan of drawn out battles and spending that much time on the traditional multiplayer mode was a chore. People who enjoy games like Civilization VI will probably love it but I like fast-paced gameplay. Luckily, Blitz is absolutely amazing and quite possibly one of the most significant additions to real-time strategy games in decades.
Blitz is more like a card game than a real-time strategy game because you have to play the right hand at the right time in order to win. Think of it as Gwent but you actually get to control the soldiers. The objective is to destroy your enemy’s base by using a variety of cards. These cards grant you everything from resources to soldiers.
What I love most about Blitz is its unpredictability. In regular real-time strategy titles, you construct your base and gather resources. You know what to expect because you’re on a similar playing field so it’s just a matter of attaining a certain milestone before your opponent. Blitz is more like gambling. You don’t know the hand your opponent will play so you do the best you can. I would recommend starting with low-level units to gather resources and then play your stronger cards to surprise the enemy. Going completely bonkers in the beginning always ends in disaster.
UNSC and Banished forces feel distinct from one another in multiplayer mode. Even though many units have unique abilities on either side, there is always a way to counter them. I never felt like I was ever at a disadvantage when I played as either the UNSC or Banished. While I admit that the Banished are quite cool—so to speak—looks aren’t everything. The game is definitely fair when it comes to balancing the two factions.
Halo Wars 2 is without a doubt a gorgeous game when it comes to textures, lighting and particle effects. Unfortunately, the title only runs at 1080p 30 FPS on Xbox One. If you own Halo Wars 2: Ultimate Edition, you’ll notice that Halo Wars: Definitive Edition runs at 1080p 60 FPS on the console. I would’ve liked to see that increase in frame rate but it doesn’t hinder gameplay because the controls are tight and easy to use. I just found it odd how the Definitive Edition gives us 60 FPS gameplay but the new title feels like a downgrade.
Overall, Halo Wars 2 is a fantastic game which proves that the Halo universe is filled with rich stories to tell. Why this campaign couldn’t have been the plot of Halo 5 is beyond me but it’s great. Aside from certain nuisances like the character voices or narrative missteps, Halo Wars 2 elevates real-time strategy games through the addition of Blitz mode. Every Xbox One owner should play this game. To end this review, I’ll just say that the wait for Halo 6 got even harder because I can’t wait to see what happens next in the galaxy.
During Halo Wars 2’s campaign, you’ll be presented with numerous optional objectives which are impossible to complete in one go. You’ll have to play the story—and particular missions like the tower defense level—multiple times in order get them all. While some challenges are simple and involve exploring every corner of the surprisingly large maps, others like keeping certain units alive are much harder. Only those who truly understand Halo Wars 2 will be able to accomplish this. Not only does this enhance replayability aside from the fantastic multiplayer offerings, it also gives you a reason to go back to the campaign.
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