GamingReview: HALO Wars 2

Review: HALO Wars 2

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Something that most HALO fans may not be aware of is that Bungie, the creators of HALO, originally planned for the game to be an RTS (real time strategy) game, however it soon developed into the marquis first person shooter we all know to be HALO: Combat Evolved. From there an entire universe was created but that original idea for the game still stuck in the minds of Bungie. So they launched a spin off, a prequel to the original HALO games and an RTS. That game was HALO Wars and it featured high quality cut scenes but rather simplistic but clever RTS mechanics. Now in 2017 a follow up has been launched and it looks to once again take HALO back into the RTS world.

I really enjoyed the original HALO Wars, though it was simplistic in terms of being an RTS, it did manage to bring the gameplay of RTS successfully to console and on a controller. For the sequel, 343 Industries perhaps made their best decision in recent years by reaching out and giving the sequel over to perhaps the most iconic developer of RTS games, Creative Assembly. So having HALO Wars 2 in the hands of the developer behind iconic RTS games series Total War had HALO fans like myself excited and intrigued.

The Campaign in HALO Wars 2 picks up 28 years after the events of the first game and brings the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire in line with events just after HALO 5: Guardians. The crew awake from their Cryogenic sleep to discover that not only has the original ship’s AI Serina followed protocol and wiped herself at the end of her 7 year lifespan, but that the Spirit of Fire is now in orbit above The Ark, the Forerunner structure responsible for building the HALO rings. They receive a UNSC distress signal from the surface of the Ark and Captain Cutter sends a SPARTAN unit to investigate. They discover various research camps which have all been attacked, and find an outpost with a very scared logistics AI, Isabelle. A thud sound puts the Spartans on alert and Isabelle warns them that ‘he’ is here and begs them to run. The SPARTANS then encounter a formidable Brute who quickly and single handily takes out all three SPARTANS, injuring one severely by breaking his shoulder, crushing his helmet and simply saying “just a man….run little demons, run!” The Brutes name is Atriox.

The campaign will see the UNCS forces on board the Spirit of Fire do battle with the forces under the command Atriox, known as The Banished. Out-manned and 28 years behind the warfare technology of this new foe, Captain Cutter must investigate why Atriox is interested in The Ark and stop him from taking control of it. The early campaign missions guide the player into the basics of the game, teaching how to control units, construct bases and manage the building of your forces for that mission. If you have played the original HALO Wars then the gameplay and controls will feel very natural, but you can feel the influence that Creative Assembly have brought to the game. The AI has definitely been improved to provide a better adjusted challenge for players, even on normal difficulty. The structure of each mission also feels refined so that throughout you get the sense you are battling against an AI controlled enemy that wants to win, and one that will incorporate strategy far more than the first HALO Wars.

The campaign features some truly amazing mission and the difficulty and challenge of the main objectives gradually increases throughout offering missions that can last anything up to an hour to complete. One mission you can be simply capturing a certain point or feature before having to defend from an enemy onslaught the next. Between each mission the story is told via cut scenes that quite frankly are feature film quality in terms of the CGI and voice acting. In Atriox, the game has a very credible and real main villain. Atriox is formidable, by showing him easily defeating three SPARTANS in the prologue; the player gets a great sense of the threat he imposes which combined with forces made up of former Covenant units who have joined his army gives HALO Wars 2 a tremendous punch in story and gameplay.

Visually HALO Wars 2 is great to look at, level designs really capture all the environments that HALO fans will recognise from the universe. Vehicles and units from both UNSC and The Banished have a fresh look, especially The Banished which sees traditional Covenant vehicles given a dramatic look with armour plating. This is a solid campaign mode which like the original game adds a great deal to the HALO Universe and thoroughly enjoyable. With optional side objectives thrown into each mission as well to give extra challenge and to increase your completion score, the campaign has real replay value at different difficulties.

Alongside the story campaign lies the Multiplayer modes and here lies the biggest surprise for me in HALO Wars 2. Now the MP side to the original game was something that left me rather cold, due to the restrictions in the RTS gameplay and a weakness in having the simply strategy of fast building lots of heavy vehicles and simply sending them out to destroy your opponent being sadly overused when online. Happily this has more than been addressed this time around. Creative Assembly have used all their wealth of knowledge to deliver a well rounded and impressive MP side to the game.

Returning game modes such as Deathmatch which players fight to destroy the other player bases in order to win, Domination where players fight to capture and hold Control Towers to score points with first player or team to hit maxium score winning and Strongholds where players race to build the most bases with unlimited resources, player or team with the most strongholds at the end of the time limit wins. Matches can be either 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 encounters but the greatest aspect to the MP is that all these game types can be played offline via AI controlled Leaders, so getting some practice in to learn how the different leaders work is key before heading online. Leaders represent main characters from each side in the campaign with Captain Cutter, the AI Isabelle and Professor Anders representing the UNSC whilst Atriox, his general Decimus and Shipmaster represent the banished. Each leader comes with special abilities that can be unlocked during matches and called on using supplies, for example Captain Cutter can call in extra support from the Spirit of Fire, AI Isabelle can hack enemy vehicles and Professor Anders can call on Sentinel Support from the Ark. They will also have an influence on the style of play you have such as what special vehicles and abilities your bases and troops can use. The Shipmaster for example can use cloaked troops and vehicles whilst Atriox is more defensive and can use an advanced economy and can make units invulnerable for a time in battle.

Trying out to see which Leader suits your playing style is important which is why being able to play all the modes against the AI is crucial and also great fun. Teaming up with friends, the right choice of Leaders to compliment each other can offer great strategic tactics in battle. The moment when you and your friends call upon their Super Units such as the UNSC Condor Gunship or the Banished Scarab, units which take a vast amount of unit space and resources to call in, team up to destroy an enemy base is stunning to see on screen and incredibly satisfying to behold. Outside the campaign, being able to play these modes solo against the AI or with friends against the AI was great practice for taking on other players is tremendous fun.

HALO Wars 2 has introduced a brand new MP mode with Blitz, a mode that takes the traditional gameplay of HALO Wars but gives it a new and exciting twist, cards. Instead of building a base and growing a army, players instead have a deck of cards and a starting pool of energy. Each card represents anything from a troop or vehicle type to a perk to boost attributes, the more advanced will cost more energy to summon into battle. This gives Blitz an amazing in the moment excitement as you try to capture three zones in order to score points whilst the other player or players do the same. Each time a card is used it is replaced by a new card with energy canisters dropped into the map at different times for players to capture in order to use more cards. Using a card on the field of battle will cause them to start with half their health but will fill to full if not engaged in combat for a time but calling cards at your base will start them at full strength. Card packs can be earned by completing campaign missions or by completing the Daily and Weekly challenges.

But my favourite surprise about Blitz was something that was not shown in the last beta but discovered in the full game, Blitz Firefight. Firefight was the horde mode first introduced in HALO: ODST but Creative Assembly has done some ingenious with it by blending it with the gameplay of Blitz. The aim of Blitz Firefight is to prevent the enemy from reaching 100% capture; to accomplish this, players must defeat waves of enemies and hold all three capture points for as long as they can. Every 5 waves the difficulty increases so it starts on easy and by wave 20 the difficulty hits Legendary and then all hell breaks loose. This game type is just ridiculous fun and a really good way to learn how Blitz works. Players can build their own card decks from their library for each leader and each leader will have specific cards only they can use.

HALO Wars 2 really is a impactful addition to the HALO franchise and universe. Intelligent steps have been taking by 343 Industries to refresh this as a series to be built on thanks to the involvement of Creative Assembly to help refine the original and add improvements to the RTS side which for many felt a little light in the first. Controls via the Xbox controller fell natural and fluid with quick and easy navigation around the map. Visually the game is stunning with a genuine nod to the original concept look Bungie had for HALO which for some may look simple but the detailing on vehicles and troops especially in battles is eye wateringly good even when the action is frantic. Learning how the different Leaders can work in a match with their abilities and perks is an additional strategy to master.

The story in the campaign is thrilling and just like the first, stands out to show why the HALO Universe is much bigger than just the adventures of the Master Chief. As a HALO fan this game is perhaps the purest HALO experience I have had since playing REACH, satisfying as a solo game with the campaign and fighting the AI in MP but really comes alive when playing with or against friends or other players online. Currently the MP has no ranking matches due to 343 wanting the player base to get to grips with how the game works and to iron out any balancing issues but will be introducing it soon.

HALO Wars 2 proves that RTS can exist on a console and controller platform, but with the game also being available on PC with Windows 10, this is the release to truly get HALO back on the right track and shows again why it is the main exclusive franchise on the Xbox brand. Oh and never buy a used car from Atriox!

SUMMARY


+ Fulfilling Story Campaign
+ Blitz Firefight
+ MP modes that can be played offline via AI matches
+ Creative Assembly's influence
- Limited Tutorials
- Micro transactions for Blitz Card Packs
(Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on Windows 10 with Play Anywhere)
Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy
Freelance writer but also a Gamer, Gooner, Jedi, Whovian, Spartan, Son of Batman, Assassin and Legend. Can be found playing on PS4 and Xbox One Twitter @CockneyCharmer

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<br /> + Fulfilling Story Campaign <br />+ Blitz Firefight <br />+ MP modes that can be played offline via AI matches <br />+ Creative Assembly's influence <br />- Limited Tutorials <br />- Micro transactions for Blitz Card Packs <br />(Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on Windows 10 with Play Anywhere)Review: HALO Wars 2