Review: Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One)
If you’ve played the games that this current rendition stems from, you’d know that it wasn’t the most compelling or cohesive RTS you’ve ever played. That said, is was still one of the benchmarks for the genre to come from a studio that hasn’t done RTS for console before. Halo Wars seemed like an off-shot from the big brother franchise and looked to be a feeble attempt to extend the franchise beyond its FPS roots. To my surprise, it held up well against the likes of other RTS ports for consoles.
Forward once more, into the fire…
Halo Wars 2 sees the return of The Spirit of Fire, as you are awakened from cryo-sleep 30 years after the end of your previous (mis)adventure, recalled to active duty for another spell, but this time it’s even more menacing than before. At the helm is Captain James Cutter, a veteran officer of the UNSC in charge of figuring out how lost and detached you are from human civilization with help from Professor Anders. Lost in uncharted space, you face off against The Banished, lead by a seemingly unpleasant force to be reckoned with, Atriox – a giant Brute who broke free from The Covenant’s rule over his kind.
The Brute manages to convince his fellow beasts to join him in glorious rebellion to thwart anything and anyone who stand in their way. Even the Covenant can’t seem to chew through their tough hide. Not the most in-depth or engaging character profile, but with a reputation that he has, and the high production quality cut scenes, not sure many live long enough to tell a well documented tale.
Although removed from the main FPS story, there’s still some mention of the enigmatic Master Chief and his many exploits. This title, however, still has its on weight in storyline, all while confronting many a foe you’ve met before on the battlefield.
We might not have big guns, but we got Spirit.
Most of your time in battle takes place on the Ark, a portal to Earth that has been closed for the last 5 months. An exploration team lead by three Spartans, Alice-130, Douglas-042 and Jerome-092 make their way to an abandoned UNSC facility where they recover an AI by the name of Isabel. This is also your first encounter with The Banished, leaving you battered and bruised with Douglas-042 injured and Alice-130 left behind after a dashing escape from Atriox’s grasp.
Back on The Spirit of Fire, Cpt. Cutter calls his troops and starts the investigation into the threat based on the Ark after hearing Isabel’s story. Determined to overcome the odds, a strike team is sent to the Ark where you set up forward bases and make your way around, meeting new obstacles in the form of Atriox’s warlords like Decimus.
Your frontline is usually built from your forward bases with production units for all sorts of traditional UNSC war toys like Warthogs, Scorpions, Marines and Heavy Infantry, Snipe Scouts, Anti-Vehicle units etc. by selecting your preferred base enhancements when you press the A button on open slots, which brings up a selection wheel of all units and it displays the necessary resources needed to build them. You’ll need to collect resources and passive energy beacons to develop most of the items as mentioned above, with the option to build a supply station and energy generators at your base once you’ve collected enough resources.
Once you’ve built your arsenal you’ll control them by selecting a specific unit and moving them to a set destination by moving your left-stick to the point where you want them to go, and press X to execute your maneuver. Attacks use the same principle with the addition of alternate attacks using the Y button. What’s interesting is the unit selection system where you’re able to preset selected units and group them together and allocate quick selection via the D-pad. This make life a whole lot easier when trying to separate anti-air vehicles from infantry units, giving you greater control over your offensive and defensive strategic placement of your arms. If you’re not used to RTS on console, you’ll need to do the tutorials to get your mitts warm and comfortable for war. In the former title, “select all units” used to be the go-to trick for winning battles. Farm out a large army, select all, point at the enemy and steam roll them. This isn’t that simple anymore as they might end up sending infiltration units to attack your base while you’re not looking. Add the fact that the enemy seems over-powered even at normal difficulty, and you need to rethink your strategy.
You’ll receive additional support from The Spirit of Fire with air strikes, ODST drops, mines, turrets and health replenishing drones to recover on the battlefield. These options are also available through a selection wheel you bring up using LT. With enemies coming at you almost all the time, you’re left with little windows to recoup and rethink your way forward. It’s not guaranteed that you’d be met with the same strike forces, so making provisions for all sorts is a recommended plan. Sending in a Scorpion tank alone is never a good idea. As wonderful as a tank may be, being bombarded by airborne vehicle and masses of infantry render your metal ogre into a marshmallow muppet.
In larger arenas, you’ll have to search out mini bases which allows you to summon much needed reinforcements from close rather than building them at home base and having them trek to where you are. If there’s no defenses though, the opposition will easily overrun them. You’ll start off with some easier missions to help you get a grip of the controls and mechanics of the game, especially the most effective use of your arsenal.
As you progress, the enemies increase in volume and size. You’ll be strapped for resources and be forced to take over enemy strongholds to gain resources. Recon and baiting seems to be the order for those type of missions, but as mentioned, they tend to change up the hordes that follow you. You will come across a few different scenarios where you’ll need to capture points, defend bases, free captive UNSC forces and demolish enemy strongholds. All equally challenging, but fun.
Is that a Spartan Laser in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
What’s a Halo game without some Spartans? The augmented warriors play a formidable role on the battlefield with their enhanced abilities and knack for hijacking enemy vehicles. When you’re low on resources and military options, a single Spartan can easily turn things around for you. Commandeer an enemy vehicle and you can ward off any enemy advance. This coupled with The Spirit of Fire’s back-up, things get explosive very fast. You won’t always have a Spartan at your disposal though, and you can’t “build” them at your base. So keeping them alive is crucial.
Warlords are just as tough, if not tougher. Taking them on requires quite a bit of firepower, almost whole regiments in fact. The only way to tell them apart from the likes of a Hunter is to zoom in with your right stick, and swinging the camera around. The same can be said about UNSC infantry if it wasn’t for the unit markers. In-game visuals aren’t the best you could churn out of the Xbox One, but it seems it was overlooked due to the frantic pace of the game. The term “RTS at Halo speeds” really rings true here. With that said, the visuals run smooth without any hang-ups during full-on assault.
The cut scenes are cinema grade and resembles the high octane action you can experience in-game. I’d imagine if the game was that “pretty”, it might run at a snails pace. The narrative complements the gameplay, with Cpt. Cutter and Isabel advising you on enemy movements on the map, to dialogue between the Cpt. and Proff. Anders, and the ego blabber between the Spartans. All this adds to the atmosphere for war, inducing a feeling of companionship throughout the journey into chaos.
This is how it ends… Not
After running through the campaign, the end scenes (as per usual Halo fashion) leaves everything open to your imagination. Is there more to the story? How many will there be? Where the hell is this going? Who knows, but it’s definitely begging for additional campaign content to come in the future.
Now it’s over to multiplayer. You have 2 multiplayer modes you can indulge in: Traditional Multiplayer in the form of Rumble, Team Objectives, Solo War and Team war, each having their own set of rules in some instance pairing you up with others or going head-to-head. Then, there’s Blitz, where the team that captures the most points or does a complete shut-out using the playing cards at his/her disposal to alter the battlefield, wins. You can create your own match in Skirmish versing online opponents or AI to be able to control specific scenarios.
There’s no difference in pace, just that you are now sharing the resources and if your ally isn’t strategy savvy, you’re in for a bumpy ride. With no connection issues and competent teammate, the experience can be quite rewarding. You can also choose to take on AI if you feel too intimidated by the war vets.
Blitz plays at an even higher pace as the maps are small and the opponent highly unpredictable based on the cards he holds. It’s easy to be outgunned in this mode, but not outnumbered. The ability to cast units to the field requires energy. The more rare or the more upgraded the card, the more energy it consumes. It’s fun for quick matches that don’t drag on for hours like the other multiplayer modes can.
As like many before, war never ends.
RTS isn’t easy to pull off on a console. With previous ports that sort of made it, Halo Wars 2 offers a unique experience as its refined control scheme makes it easier to navigate the battlefield and command a conquering force. It’s simplicity in a complex genre is what makes this title stand out and puts it in a realm of being the best RTS for the Xbox One thus far. Although it has a short campaign, the multiplayer make up for it with a foreseeable countless amount of hours of war being raged online. Could be prettier, maybe a bit more complex, but that might just ruin it. Halo Wars 2 makes stepping into battle in the RTS arena invigorating, and its simplicity, satisfying.