With so few strategy games on consoles, the return of the Halo Wars IP is a much welcomed comeback. But is it a sequel worth of its predecessor’s legacy?
The original Halo Wars was as a surprise. 2009 was a great year with the Halo 3: ODST campaign releasing in September and the strategy game launching earlier in February. Something unique was happening then on my Xbox 360 and many then believed that there’s more sense in releasing an RTS on consoles that it was previously expected. With the sequel announced, expectations were well beyond imagination.
All in all, Halo Wars 2 is a good game as a sequel being released on current-gens, but it’s hard to call it a benchmark for further titles. New modes are fine, and the gameplay is just okay. But there are some troubles and with the addition of the Blitz mode we could have expected more.
Once again we are playing as the crew of the Spirit of Fire, this time joined by a different AI called Isabel (and an easily likeable one). 28 years have passed and now we are much closer to the events of Halo 5:Guardians. The game’s scenario isn’t as tense as we would expect and many of its aspects seem to be crafted for lore freaks. I like the newly-introduced main antagonist, but the campaign is finished will a truly open ending, leaving space for the IP’s expansion.
If you are wondering about how Halo Wars 2 plays, it’s still a very casualised RTS with Rock – Papers – Scissors mechanics. One type of units is good against another type, while being weak in confrontation with the third type. It’s not a hardcore strategy with thousands of checkboxes like Europa Universalis IV and it serves as a form of a spin-off for the fans of Master Chief and his comrades (no guest appearances here).
There are some nice action sequences in the main campaign, just to mention the Warthog run mission. It’s best viewed as a form of an introduction, with slow pacing for getting acquainted with new units. I liked the variety of each chapter, with some being focused on a large army gameplay, while the others required us to play as specific heroes. But when the campaign is over, only the most dedicated players will wish to play it again to gain Skulls (the series’ trademark), better results in leaderboards etc.
I was amazed by the cutscenes that were available between missions. They’re a masterpiece in their own and on the same level as movies from the main series. I would only have wished for more of those and I hope someone decides to use this skillful team for a proper animated series.
Who beats who
The gameplay itself is based on fast encounters and while it is recommended to split your army into type-based groups, clashes are often too quick for that and the best strategy is to attack with brute force. As in the original game, I’ve played with a gamepad (Halo Wars 2 is available on PC thanks to the Xbox Play Anywhere program). Controls are fine, well planned, but they might be the reason on why a grand strategy isn’t quite possible here.
Base building itself is far from major RTS games. You don’t have to choose from various types of buildings and you will have enough space after a single upgrade to the core building so that you’ll have each construction available. It’s a pity because it would add a bit of a surprise when first encountering an enemy who has a binary option: be versatile or focus on a single type of units.
I was positively surprised with the AI’s skill when flanking and trying to surprise me. There are multiplayer modes where you can play against Artificial Intelligence or real players – solo or in larger teams. I preferred 2 vs. 2 matches that take a bit longer to finish. If possible, you should play with a friend to better coordinate your actions as I failed many times while playing with random users. It’s worth saying that maps are well designed and it’s hard to find any reasons to be a harsh critic in this case.
Blitz is the most fascinating addition in Halo Wars 2. It’s a fast-paced mode with limited access to units. With card mechanics appearing in various titles across all genres, here they are really a useful addition. You gain Energy while playing and it can be spend on one of four randomly drawn cards from your deck. After each card is played, another one from the deck takes its place. I’ve spent most of my time with the sequel right here – optimizing my set of cards, trying different approaches etc. Unfortunately, there’s only one map available at launch.
Don’t stop me now
What’s even more afflicting is the fact that cards are awarded in boosters, which are available as microtransactions as well as awards for completing daily challenges and single player missions. The cards that we already own are leveled up with better stats meaning easier fights. As you surely understand, that means people can pay up to $100 to get a form of a head start. That shouldn’t be the case in a fully priced title.
There are some minor bugs, especially in the campaign, but nothing game-breaking. If you didn’t buy Halo Wars 2 on the release, you should wait for the first discounts. It’s a proper RTS on consoles with some interesting lore and a dynamic Blitz mode. Not a benchmark, as I’ve written, but developed well enough to be enjoyable for a few weeks.