Real-time strategy (RTS) is one of the biggest holes in what can be construed as any console’s heart. For the most part, strategy games on console are extremely rare occurrences. This is partly due to how the play style is better suited to a mouse and keyboard versus gamepad. Even so, good RTS games, even on PC, are difficult to find. Besides StarCraft 2, the only ones that jump to mind from recent years are Supreme Commander and Tom Clancy’s Endwar. Both of those released almost a decade ago. A decade! Thankfully, I can now bring your attention to Halo Wars 2.
At first glance, Halo Wars 2 is undeniably designed around Microsoft’s current iteration of their console, the Xbox One. It is everything one would expect from a console-based real-time strategy game: it has intuitive button mappings for the Xbox One controller while still maintaining its fluidity and ease of access. Do not let its willingness to work well on the Xbox One fool you, however. It is every bit as powerful on Windows 10, as it is on Xbox One.
Halo Wars first entered the scene in 2009. As an Xbox 360 exclusive, the game developed a cult following of sorts, which garnered it a bit of attention. Of course, this is a Halo game too. 343 Industries and Creative Assembly decided to tackle the void that is the RTS genre on console with the release of Halo Wars 2, and it works amazingly well.
Halo Wars 2 is set in a distant galaxy where the war against the Covenant has long been forgotten. Instead, the crew of the Spirit of Fire must now contend with a new ‘bad ass’ on the block: General Atriox. Atriox is the leader of a Covenant splinter-faction. He is also an unforgiving, merciless brute.
Joining the fray, found within the confines of an old UNSC base, is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) who calls herself Isabel. Isabel is clearly not a standard UNSC AI — she seems to disregard protocol, and only follows the orders she sees fit. That is until you can see Captain Cutter tap into her heart with an epic pre-battle speech.
Cutter’s speech, as grand as it was, is only the tip of the iceberg, and this is where Halo Wars 2’s biggest strength lies. Halo Wars 2 is truly an epic experience. Right from the tutorial mission, down until the last push against Atriox and his Banished, the game really is good fun. Without giving anything away, I can gladly say that the game is very enjoyable… that is until I started noticing a few snags here and there.
The campaign is brilliant — much better, anyway, than other recent RTS games. Sadly, by one of the later missions (of which there are twelve), the game really did fall into a bit of a boring and repetitive loop. The mission in question was a base defence mission, and although it had a new quirk to it, it felt exactly the same as the base defence that came before it.
Similarly, the game loves throwing multiplayer modes into the campaign, and it kind of feels like their only purpose is to lengthen the gameplay. In simple retrospect, I recall three missions that required taking hold of, and defending, three points around the map. Despite the repetitive gameplay, the epic finale was well worth the overly long journey to the end.
Halo Wars 2 features a broad spectrum of multiplayer modes. The most intriguing for me is Blitz — a fast-paced domination-type mode where players are dealt cards. These cards, if played right, can be devastating to opposing players. Blitz requires quick thinking; it always keeps you on your toes because you never know if your opponent will deal a hard-hitting card. I have to mention that it can sometimes feel like a pay-to-win type of game, which may make it feel unfair sometimes.
Besides Blitz, players never really have to think. At all. With all other modes, players will choose which hero powers they would like to use in the multiplayer match, and that is it. When locked in battle, the only things that really matter are whose armies are bigger. However, it is honestly good fun. I know that I kind of forgot how much time was passing whilst I was playing (and winning).
All in all, I played around four hours of the multiplayer before I ultimately felt that I had seen it all. Having said that, I may have spent another three to four hours or so, just to make sure that I had seen it all (it really is a fun game to play).
When it comes to design, there are not a lot of points that are highlighted in RTS games. There are, however, remarkable little quirks here and there that sometimes take the spotlight. In Halo Wars 2, I can gladly say that the game’s design, from sound through to graphics, has been expertly crafted.
As I mentioned in my first impressions article, the game has an exquisite score. The music is primarily composed by Gordy Haab, Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White. Haab is known for composing a vast array of scores for recent Star Wars games, most notably Star Wars: The Old Republic and its expansion packs. Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White worked on Assassin’s Creed II and Massive Chalice, respectively. I think it is needless to say that Halo Wars 2 boasts one of the best scores I have heard so far in 2017.
With that said, one must also mention the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the game. It is excellent for a game that is generally not all about the graphics. This is, perhaps, where the title’s Halo lineage shines through most prominently. From the very start, Halo was designed to be an all-out action fest. Along with a decent story, Halo has governed a following because it is, for lack of a better descriptor, ‘epic’. As such, nothing can be ‘epic’ if all it has is a slow and boring narrative. This is perhaps why the cutscenes in the game are as good as they are. Right from the starting cutscene, through to the end sequence, you can actually feel the story rush through you. It may be short, and at times a bit of a bore, but it really is an entertaining, fun, science fiction show; and for story alone, I would recommend the game.
As you might know by know, once you buy a copy (digital or otherwise) of Halo Wars 2, you will also get a version of it for Windows 10. This is due to the game being an Xbox Play Anywhere title.
I played most of the Halo Wars 2 campaign on Xbox One, but once the PC code was made available, I promptly finished it and played all multiplayer games on PC. I particularly loved how all my progress synced seamlessly across Microsoft’s two platforms. Xbox Play Anywhere really is a great initiative that I wish more developers would take advantage of.
I have to mention that the keyboard bindings on PC were a deep and dark void — difficult to find, and hard to map out. Many of the key bindings were mapped in ways that I cannot fathom any normal PC user using, let alone actively choosing. Fortunately, once you get past the weirdly slow keyboard control menu (of which every other menu is fast and intuitive), it is easy to rebind the keys as you see fit.
I mentioned in my first impressions article that the game tended to take very long to load on Xbox. This was fortunately not the case on PC. Furthermore, I was glad to see that the long load times shortened a teeny bit on Xbox One after full release. Whether this is pure placebo or a real thing, is anyone’s guess.
Halo Wars 2 ends up being one of the better real-time strategy games that I have played in recent years. It is nothing compared to the likes of StarCraft II, and Command & Conquer, and it should not be. Instead, Halo Wars 2 is an epic and fun couch experience that is meant to be played on console. With this in mind, Halo Wars 2 has become the quintessential console RTS that anyone who enjoys RTS games or Halo will enjoy.
It goes without saying that there is a huge lack of RTS games on console, and I feel that this plays heavily on Halo Wars 2’s launch-day success. Fortunately, 343 Industries and Creative Assembly have put together a game that is well worth the experience. It has also set the bar high for any other possible console entries into the RTS genre in the future.
|Time Played||12 hours|
|Platform||Windows 10 & Xbox One|
|Acquisition||Review copy courtesy of Microsoft (South Africa)|