A Cutter Above The Rest: Halo Wars 2 Beta Impressions
Nobody would have expected Microsoft to announce Halo Wars 2 last year, nobody. Even a diehard fan like myself had given up hope after Microsoft shut down Ensemble Studios and Halo Wars failed to captivate the console market long enough to justify RTS type games on the console. And then something magic happened, MS took to the stage and slowly but surely the Halo Wars 2 trailer unravelled before our eyes, and I couldn’t be happier.
Halo Wars 2 is not only a follow up to one of the most console friendly RTS games in recent memory but it is also a collaborative effort from 343 Industries and Creative Assembly, with Blur Studios creating the cinematics. Considering that previously the Halo Wars franchise was presumed to be dead, this is the best any fan can ask for. When it comes to experience in strategy based games, CA are a developer to be reckoned with – although they do lack the competitive edge that Starcraft developers Blizzard have. And Creative Assembly are no strangers to current gen consoles either after working on Alien: Isolation, which also showed that can not only create a hit game on current gen consoles but also that they possess a great eye for detail and respect when it comes to much beloved series.
Although the online beta did not focus on the story we already know that Halo Wars 2 is focussing on the earlier Halo games, also known as the better Halo games, for inspiration – but the timeline places it after the events of Halo 5. This will hopefully mean that we will see the return of the Prophets and other notable generals like in Halo Wars. Just now the only real insight we get is that Brutes still remain as showcased by Atriox as a general and there are EXO suits and ODST available while playing. Even though these characters are only a tiny insight as to what’s in store when it comes to Halo Wars 2 they were a much needed and welcomed addition.
Obviously the main focus of the Halo Wars 2 beta is to focus on the gameplay. The short beta allowed players to jump in and out of Domination and latterly Deathmatch while opting to play as either Atriox or the returning UNSC James Cutter -although the beta suggest there will be 6 in total, presumably 3 from each faction – as you fight for map control and resources. While playing Domination players would fight on Ricochet, a cavernous valley with Forerunner technology at its heart as they captured as many of the objectives as possible on the map and defend them. Then in Deathmatch you fight on Veteran, as you rapidly expand your base and try to overcome the enemies through Halo Wars 2’s RTS systems.
Just like Halo wars the main focus of Halo Wars 2 is simplicity, through radial menus and a more streamlined approach than more complex PC based RTS systems users look to pick up and manage energy and currency – balancing the two to make sure they are able to upgrade and purchase units. The ethos behind Halo Wars 2 is a rock/paper/scissors strategy in which the vehicular, infantry, or air based units all counter each other naturally with some units being able to help strengthen the weaker match ups. To compliment these types of gameplay you have Commander Powers, these powers are unique to the Commander of your choosing; Atriox or Captain Cutter. Some characters have the ability to make their units invincible, like Atriox, and others can drop troops right in to the heat of battle, like Captain Cutter. The powers don’t feel like they have strayed too much from previous iterations and ultimately Halo Wars 2 also suffers from the same unit cap issues and, at this early stage, struggles to compete with the depth and ease of control that a PC based RTS has when it comes to unit management.
Even visually, Halo Wars 2 really struggles to keep up with most modern games – presumably due to vast amounts happening on screen at once. When under extreme duress there also appears to be a bit of rollback or frame drops when Halo Wars 2 struggles to keep up with itself. That being said, Halo Wars 2 still keeps the feel and look of Halo very much alive, with units and landscapes look like they have been a part of the known universe for years.
Ultimately Halo Wars 2 fell short of my expectations, it seems that online matchmaking still has a way to go as being dropped from games or failing to connect to matches – and even get in to the game -proves infuriating as you play out almost 60 minute long matches. On top of that there seemed to be issues with powers registering in battle as poor connections would eat up inputs.
When it comes to Halo Wars 2 there is a long way to go for it to meet current generation expectations, although that’s not to say it isn’t achievable. With a bit of elbow grease and some more fleshed out mechanics it could be the game fans were waiting for. Although those who are experienced in the genre and more accustomed to PC controls might find it a lit shallow and lacking the ability to compete with games like Starcraft 2. Either way I am definitely looking forward to what Creative Assembly can bring to the Halo Wars universe.