Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2

I don’t know if I’d be so interested in Halo Wars 2 if I didn’t care about the lore. Would I still care if they retained the same design but changed all the graphics to something else entirely? From a war room perspective, making a real-time strategy (RTS) from Halo makes some amount of sense, but Microsoft couldn’t simply do so without releasing it for console.

Considering you can’t have a Halo game that isn’t on Xbox, that means designing the game with gamepads in mind. The creative attempts to remedy the controller conundrum have ranged from Stormrise’s perplexing close-camera unit switching (also made by Creative Assembly) to EndWar’s voice commands. Halo Wars’ solution was to remove the complexities that made RTS difficult on console, for a skeletal but functional experience. In that regard, Halo Wars 2 is a pureblood sequel.

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If you expect anything from Halo, it's an imaginatively involving story. You find out rather quickly Halo Wars 2 isn’t very interested in telling a tale, but more interested in keeping up appearances. Excessively impressive cutscenes and emotionally-charged menus are supposed to get you in the Halo mood, leaving you none the wiser to a campaign disproportionately light on story.

Most if not all the narrative feels entirely made of production values. There’s an inane amount of talking during missions, but it doesn’t do anything more than detail objectives. The cutscenes are already sparse, so without dialogue that endears you to the world and characters, you’re left with the warm fuzzies of instructional text. Some may argue the RTS genre isn’t really the time and place for story, but this is Halo – a certain calibre of narrative is expected.

One advantage Halo Wars 2 does have in RTS is unit design. You immediately know what every unit is, because you know what an Elite is, you know what a Hunter looks like. Miniscule as that may sound, it’s something designers have to think about. Halo’s just lucky enough to already have uniquely crafted models.

Practically speaking, Halo Wars 2 is unchanged from its initiator eight years ago. This is a simple-serving RTS that stops at being functional and doesn’t endeavour for more, lest it become too complex. Technically the game is underpinned by a rock-paper-scissors paradigm for unit strengths and weaknesses, but again, practically speaking, you’ll select all units regardless of their stature in the RTS hierarchy and set your village mob on an anti-Covenant hunt that would put The Great Journey to shame.

Console-simplicity means base-building is still relegated to predetermined slots and areas. You still can’t play the campaign as the Covenant either, only UNSC. Though multiplayer does allow this, there’s still no Flood or Sentinels, only factions immediately relevant to the story of Halo Wars 2.

Co-op is a rather peculiar experience in campaign. Units are delegated to each player who would otherwise be under the control of one. There was no discernable increase in difficulty or enemy unit numbers, so co-op works out as an advantage, having two hands juggle multiple duties, particularly on legendary.

Recognising Halo War’s simplicity probably had a part to play in the creation of Blitz. Multiplayer matches often last a ways in RTS games, so the idea with Blitz is to be appropriately brief. Matches don’t last much more than 15 minutes (unless you’re playing firefight). Inherently it’s nothing new; two players or more try to capture and hold the majority of points. The differentiation is unit production. Each player has a deck of cards, representing a unit or ability they can deploy, and you always have four cards in your hand. Summoning said cards is contingent on you having enough energy, which you’ll have to multitask for whilst fighting over control points.

Blitz doesn’t really feel like a card game, and yet it runs off the same principles. You build your own decks from cards you’ve earned during the campaign and challenges, you pay an energy cost to play those cards with their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll play in tandem with other cards, overlayed with the abilities of your chosen leader. Blitz just adds another lay to a CCG - you actually need to implement the card’s effect yourself – that is, play the RTS.

If you’re the more vanilla kind of person there’s still conventional multiplayer. So if deathmatch and two other control-based modes on top of already basic strategy gameplay tickle your spartan, more power to you.

Part of me is conflicted as to whether Halo is suited for RTS. Functionally it’s simple as butts, because anything more would upset the delicate balance already being tread. Microsoft can’t do anything more either, otherwise they’d be removing a console-centric franchise away from console. But the theatrics of Halo befits the large-scale chaos of real-time strategy. The CCG flavour of Blitz may or may not cement any long-term commitments, though it remains somewhat enticing from novelty. Halo Wars 2 retains itself as serviceable fun, if only by being unbearably approachable, and enjoyably Halo.

A thank you to Luke Batt for helping me take the multiplayer through its paces! Without you, this would’ve been a review-in-progress.

Ben received a physical copy of Halo Wars 2 from Xbox NZ for review.

Halo Wars 2
"Waiting for Halo: Total War."
- Halo Wars 2
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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Comments Comments (8)

Posted by Bank
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 3:16 PM
Gf's old dog was mainly for the FPS anyway but wow this writeup. Not even an amazing story he can justify and forward to. Skip.
Posted by ChimeraNZ
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 3:20 PM
Picked this up for the coop campaign on PC and am enjoying it so far. If you enjoyed the campaign of the first one you will probably enjoy this one as well.

In terms of MP - Tried out a Blitz match online and had a pretty terrible connection so not sure where the servers are exactly, or if there's not enough people playing locally. Hopefully things improve, or I get a better connection as it did make the gameplay somewhat frustrating. Would be curious to see how other people fair.
Posted by Benny
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 3:31 PM
Haha! I meant you get 'four' cards in Blitz, not five. And Halo Wars released 8 years ago, not 9 - if you're picky for details :P
Posted by Tin-Automaton
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 3:57 PM
23 February 2017, 03:31 PM Reply to Benny
Haha! I meant you get 'four' cards in Blitz, not five. And Halo Wars released 8 years ago, not 9 - if you're picky for details :P
Updated accordingly :D
Posted by LukeB
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 6:57 PM
Nice review Ben.

As a fan of both the Halo universe, and the first Halo Wars, it really does hurt at how true everything in this review rings. Can't fault the score based on the reasoning, and honestly, I agree with damn near everything, although I might have personally gone a tad higher to give it round 7... but that gut intuition when you've spent time analyzing the game and writing the piece speaks volumes, so 6.7 is more than fair in my books.

The game IS fun, I just think it could have been so much more... perhaps, now that Creative Assembly have the feel for the universe under their belts, Halo Wars 3 will be able to spread its wings a bit more and really get a chance to play in the Halo U., rather than what feels like dipping it's toes in to test the temp.

Gotta say though... I'm really hating Mission 11 of the campaign on Legendary.... very difficult. Everything up until this 2nd-to-last level was a cake-walk compared to the annoyance I'm finding with how much it feels like the AI is cheating... but I will break through.... I WILL! :)
Posted by ThatUndeadLegacy
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 8:31 PM
I'll pick it up, the cinematics are beautiful. A Total War Halo would be fun.
Posted by jtbthatsme
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 8:38 PM
Not being much of a fan of RTS games I tried this out the other day and played a handful of blitz matches with about half won half lost. Thought it was interesting and not too bad. I did try the deathmatch side of things but quickly found out that a initial rush tactic was stupid so lost relatively quickly.

Haven't tried the campaign yet but I think I'd overall agree with the above grading.
Posted by ChieftaiNZ
On Thursday 23 Feb 2017 8:48 PM
A feel like the cautiousness on CA's side to spread their wings, comes from recent reception to 343's drastic changes to the FPS Halo games. Tbh, Halo now isn't anything like Bungies Halo, and you could easily call it a new IP and no one would notice if the character models weren't spartans.
As its their first time in the franchise, I absolutely respect them for not pulling a 343 and making a sequel that was nothing like the other games.