Real-time strategy games have been one of my favorite genres for a very long time. From the days of Command and Conquer to StarCraft 2 I have put months into getting as much out of each game as I could. Needless to say, I was eager to get my hands on Halo Wars 2!
Set 28 years after the events of the first, Halo Wars 2 sees the remaining crew of the Spirit of Fire awaken from cryosleep above the Ark. Last seen in Halo 3 (2007), the Ark is a Forerunner super construct and the birthplace for the Halo rings. After receiving a UNSC distress signal on the Arks surface, Spartan Red Team consisting of Jerome, Alice and Douglas, head down to investigate what happened. Arriving at the source of the distress beacon Red Team encounters Atriox, leader of the Banished. The Banished were once members of the Covenant that had fallen or broken away from the teachings of the Covenant Prophets. Realizing that Atriox is using the ark to build up his army, Captain Cutter and the rest of the Spirit of Fire crew realize they need to stop him if they want to have any chance of returning home.
Halo Wars 2 is a RTS so players control the battlefield from a top down camera perspective. As with most RTS games, players must gather resources, build bases, train units and defeat the opposing armies. Unlike most traditional RTS games, Halo Wars 2 is basic. Resource gathering is done directly from your base, base building and building in general is limited and unit variety is low. This is, in a way, Halo Wars 2 greatest weakness and strength; the simplicity invites new players easily into the RTS genre while at the same time reducing the strategy involved to beat most levels. Halo Wars 2 also carries on the ability to use Leader Powers introduced in the first game. Leader Powers are a battle changer, a single use of certain powers at the right moment changes the entire battle for better or worse.
Halo Wars 2 features a very minimal and clean UI. On screen, you will find a mini map, current resource count, total population count and unit selection. Fitting with the tone of Halo Wars 2, the UI is designed to give you as much info as possible in a minimal fashion.
Like the rest of Halo Wars 2, graphics are clean and simple. You won’t see the most detailed units or levels but from the Arks Forerunner structures, forests, beaches or desserts everything just looks good. Blur has once again returned to do the cinematic for Halo Wars 2, and like the previous Halo games they have worked on, they are drop-dead gorgeous.
Halo Wars 2 features a campaign and numerous multiplayer game modes. Campaign has four difficulties spanning twelve missions with varying objectives and collectibles. Multiplayer is the real star in Halo Wars 2: traditional deathmatch and domination modes are here to test your mettle against other players. What is possibly the greatest addition to Halo Wars 2 is the new Blitz multiplayer mode. In this mode, players choose from one of the six leaders, do not have bases, and must capture resources on the map to call in additional units to help capture three control zones. Unit selection is important in Blitz and not having the right unit based on your enemy’s units can lead to failure. Blitz also has a Fire Fight mode for players looking for the PvE experience over PvP.
What it could it have done better
Halo Wars 2 is unfortunately plagued with unit pathing issues. Units just do not go exactly where you want them. The limited building, resource system and unit variety might also be a huge turnoff for more veteran RTS players. Unit management on controllers is also cumbersome compared to using a keyboard. My two biggest issues with Halo Wars 2 are weak story and a lack of matchmaking for Blitz Firefight.
Despite laying the groundwork for a solid RTS entry for all players, Halo Wars 2 mars itself in catering to simplicity. While many will find the campaign on higher difficulties hard, challenging, frustrating, or even downright unbalanced, the depth just isn’t there like other games in the genre. Blitz will keep me coming back for more but the rest of Halo Wars 2 just makes me want to play other RTS games.