Halo was once a trail blazing pioneer in the console market. The problem with being a pioneer, is that you can only be the first once. Halo Wars 2 feels good for what it is. At the same time it feels like there was little evolution in this sequel. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.
Halo Wars was the first real attempt at getting a genre that was thought to require a mouse and keyboard onto a console. It stream lined core features of the real time strategy genre to something that was manageable for a controller. Base building was preset to a degree. Resource gathering was automated. This left the key part of RTS the “S” to be the player’s top priority. However because of the design concessions for controller and console unit types were limited. When you combine that with the “commander abilities” (large area of effect powers). The end result was a passable RTS that felt a little too light on the “S”
Unfortunately soon after the release of Halo Wars 1, the developers closed. Halo Wars 2 is made by a completely different team and yet feels so similar you would swear it was the exact same guys. Creative Assembly are known for their “Total War” series of strategy games on the PC, took the reins for Halo Wars 2. Having a new team means having to learn everything again. This would explain why Halo Wars 2 feels so much like Halo Wars 1.
Controlling Halo Wars 2 on PC feel ok, and honestly I think I would have enjoyed more if I played it with a controller. It controls admirably with both, so don’t feel like you are getting the inferior version if you are going to get it on Xbox One. It is a curious experience jumping between the 2 eco systems, thanks to the Xbox “Play Anywhere” program that allows you to buy once and get it on all Xbox connected devices. Setting control groups is simple. Having rally points for units to move to after spawning is great. Generally commanding units and building your base is simple and intuitive. Yet for PC players who want to command everything from building placement, build order, to wave based attacks, will feel stymied. Units selected as a group will only move as fast as the slowest unit. Meaning if you select a group of fast strike vehicles like the iconic Warthog, and there was 1 marine in there, well they will move at the foot soldier’s pace. Yes this can be resolved with control groups, but the way this is implemented feels unnecessary.
Where Halo Wars 2 really shines is in its story presentation. Halo in general is very simple in premise. Here are the evil aliens, stop them. Halo Wars 2 is no different. Set 28 years after Halo Wars 1. Halo War 2 is a great jumping in point. Halo Wars 2 picks up right after Halo 3. Humanity was exploring and reaching the Forerunner artifact “The Ark” (a massive space station bigger than Saturn), when a rogue group of the Covenant called “The Banished” kills everyone. What sells the story is the amazing cut scenes from Blur Studios. The mission structure is very interesting as well. While you think of most RTS games as a grand battle or an all out war, Halo Wars dabs in the small scale as well. There are missions in which you only control a single warthog. Some missions even remove the entire economy and base building aspects, and have you play a game of tower defense for 30 minutes. It is a testament to the developers, when an RTS game distinctly “Halo” in feel.
Multiplayer is always a major part of the Halo franchise. While the standard modes are fine for what they are, the issue comes in with the innovated “Blitz” mode. Blitz mode replaces base building and unit purchasing with a really fun card based and deck based mechanic. The objective in blitz is simple, just hold the majority of capture points till you have more tickets than your enemy. The issue comes in with the meta game. You can get packs of cards, and getting doubles of cards will level up that card. So imagine playing Pokemon and you get a Pikachu in one pack, then getting a second Pikachu that turned it into a shiny. It is this edging of “pay to win” that turns me off to this game type regardless of how fun it is. One highlight is the really fun Blitz Horde mode that can be played co op, and ends up being a really chill and fun time with friends.
If you are a Halo fan, Halo Wars will satisfy that Halo story itch that Halo 5 left. If you are a console player looking for something different I can recommend this game as a curiosity. However if you are a fan of RTS I cannot recommend it. Most other games in the genre handle vastly better as they designed for a completely different user interface. Calling this “babies 1st RTS” would be an actual way to sell this game. If you are looking for a taste of the Starcraft 2 craze, but don’t have a gaming PC, or are too intimidated by its complexity, then Halo Wars 2 is for you. If they can patch out the card leveling system for Blitz mode, then they would have a clever esports level game on their hands, as is don’t support this design tactic.
Mouse and Keyboard > Controller…. KYLE