Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One Review)
RTS games on home consoles are a rare thing, in fact they might be one of the rarest genres in general. With games like Starcraft and Command & Conquer perfecting the formula in the early years and every subsequent title in the genre is faced with the insurmountable odds of tackling a game that has become a national sport in Korea and the other occupying our nostalgia. A few years back I fell in love with such a game; Halo Wars. Burning out like a star in the midnight sky, Halo Wars’ impact was fleeting but stayed with me for longer than it probably should. And now, finally, Ensemble Studios’ legacy lives on in Halo Wars 2 with Creative Assembly.
There genuinely isn’t a better place for Halo Wars 2 than Creative Assembly. As far as developers go, their ability to deliver is unrivalled. Having worked on the Total War series for the better part of almost 30 years there couldn’t be a better choice for developing an already established world and turning in to a fully fleshed out RTS.
Set after the events of Halo 5 and 28 years after the first instalment, Halo Wars 2 sees you discover Isabel – an AI found in a crashed on the Ark. From there Isabel tries to warn the Spartans who discovered her about the potential threat to be greeted with the unrelenting forces of the Banished; a group of Brutes headed by Atriox. From there you are presented with a story that not only fits right in with the universe, but adds its own spin and provides a neat, digestible package.
Totalling in at about 6-7 hours you will easily breeze through Halo Wars 2’s campaign. A short trip around a scenic series of missions that are accompanied by some stellar cutscenes that capture the essence of Halo. Models are well rendered, rekindling my love of the original trilogy and better yet there were no forerunner in site. Instead we are treated to more brutes and their iconic vehicles as they smash headfirst in to our delicate little warthogs. It all looks great, like miniatures come to life and fighting before your eyes, except they are far better than my half-assed painted skeletons and vampire from Warhammer back in the day.
Halo Wars 2 doesn’t just feel great, but it handles smoothly too – for a console RTS. Creative assembly have tried to innovate and tweak what it takes to make use of the Xbox One’s controller to its fullest. Although this is also an issue, resulting in slightly cluttered approaches and features that feel lacklustre in their implementation. Features like cycling units or creating custom squads from your units result in timely procedures that inevitable lead to your demise. Although if you enjoyed the original Halo Wars and could forgive it for the inherit failures of console gaming then you’ll still love every minute of the standard rock, paper, scissors approach of building units, but with the adage that Halo Wars 2 feels like a more robust title with a lot more to do.
When you are finished completing the campaign on legendary with all the bonus objectives checked off and all the skulls found, you’ll be able to branch in to Halo Wars 2’s other modes. These include standard online modes, skirmishes, and most importantly the different Blitz modes. Blitz is Halo Wars 2’s baby, a hybrid of a card game and an RTS. Blitz gives players a hand of cards that only cycle out when the units in play gather a certain amount of resources. It’s an interesting take on a card based game, allowing players to create their own decks with cards earned through completing story missions and levelling up through the experience system. Although, in spite of Blitz’s ingenuity it feels flat. Whether you’re playing online against another pair or teamed up with a partner for the firefight variant you’ll eventually lose interest. Players that strike gold in their packs will have a massive advantage over new players, that means players with the early access packs are already 4 days ahead of you, and theirs is a lack of excitement in opening the packs compared to a game like Hearthstone – which I have admittedly spent far too much money on for my own good.
When it was first announced on stream, I giddily shouted “Halo Wars 2” in a party chat with friends and since then I have counted down the minutes until I could get my hands on another Halo Wars game again. It’s not the greatest RTS and it’s by far from the greatest Halo game, but in a world where Microsoft IPs are dropping harder and faster than bloated flies that feast on their carcass it’s just what I needed. A little MAG blast of hope to combat the monotony. For Halo fans it’s just another fix to an ongoing story; for RTS fans it’s probably on the lower scale of their expectations; and for me it’s an odd beast the bridges the gap.