Taking place 28 years after Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2 continues the franchises RTS approach to the Halo story. While it sounds like a weird choice to turn Halo into a Real-Time Strategy game, the first game went on the become a beloved installation in the Halo franchise and even became the highest selling console RTS game of all time. Eight years (real Earth years) later, 343 returns to bring us Halo Wars 2. Taking place shortly after Halo 5, we are reunited with the crew of the UNSC warship ‘Spirit of Fire’ as they awaken from their cryosleep. It is then when we are introduced to the main baddie, Atriox, a brute in command of a vicious army dubbed ‘The Banished’.
The first thing I noticed about Halo Wars 2 was how beautiful the cinematics were. The absolute gorgeous cgi, movie calibre cutscenes were provided by the masters over at Blur studios (Fun Fact: Blur Studios was founded and owned by Deadpool director Tim Miller). Some of the character design is seriously awesome as well. The main characters we’re first introduced are primarily Captain Cutter, Isabel (an AI woman), and Atriox. Captain Cutter looks like generic military man, but nonetheless badass. Isabel’s look seemed like they really tried to make her NOT look like Cortana and it worked. Short hair and orange glow instead of blue gives a fresh look at Halo AI. Now, Atriox…Atriox looks incredibly cool. He’s so imposing and his introduction is just so delightfully brutal. He really makes his intentions clear.
The game seems simple enough. The controls are easy to learn and the gameplay is relatively fun and fast paced. The story goes at a good pace. It’s a decent plot as well, but does not go much further. The story is serviced by some really good voice performances as well, such as a riveting speech by Captain Cutter. Gideon Emery gives an incredible voice performance as Captain James Cutter and Erika Soto as AI character Isabel. These two are definitely the stand-outs where the voice actors are concerned.
One thing I found interesting and liked about the gameplay was how it sort of borrowed mechanics from rock-paper-scissors. What I mean by that is that the counter attack system is balanced so that; ground vehicles are most effective against ground troops, ground troops are most effective against aircraft, and aircraft is most effective against ground vehicles.
Out of all the multiplayer modes, the ones I enjoyed most were Skirmish and Deathmatch. Skirmish allows you to team up with a friend or stranger (or alone if that’s what suits you) to battle against AI opponents. This I enjoyed because it suited my skill level the best, not too easy, but not as hard as facing real living, breathing opponents. Deathmatch hardly needs a description as it’s definitely one of the most well-known modes of multiplayer play out there. Basically, everyone fights each other until one person comes out victorious and everyone else is dead. Deathmatch was fun for totally different reasons as Skirmish. It was against human enemies and there were no teams so free for all. Although I died 98% of the time, I enjoyed the fast paced brutality of it all.
I’m going to be brutally honest. I do not enjoy RTS games, but as a professional journalist I must resist the urges of my bias and bring candid reviews to the good citizens of Earth. That being said, I’m still going to talk about the things that I don’t like about the game (besides it being an RTS).
As beautiful as the cinematics are, whenever they do a ‘flashback’ the framerates drop significantly and it begins to stutter. The final result is a nauseating cut scene that I don’t hesitate to skip.
The gameplay looks extremely bland. There are games that are a lot of fun to watch a ‘Let’s Play’ of and the there’s games that just don’t work as ‘Let’s Plays’, Halo Wars 2 is unfortunately the latter. Playing the game firsthand does not improve the gameplay too much as after a little bit (maybe 1-2 hours), the game gets pretty boring and monotonous. Once I finished one of the very short levels I have no desire to replay the level at all.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the new multiplayer mode, Blitz. The game mode basically throws away the base building and resource management in favor of card deck mechanics. These cards are earned through completing challenges and playing through the campaign, but if you’re someone who has more money than you know what to do with you can just purchase Blitz packs via micro transactions and build an almost impossible to beat deck. I played with a few suspect people and it just wasn’t fun.
The game has micro transactions. Now, micro transactions aren’t terrible themselves. But a game that already costs $79.99 (or even worse, $99.99 for the Ultimate Edition) should not force players to rely heavily on micro transactions to progress faster in the game. Basically, Halo Wars 2 is a pay-to-win game sort of in the same vein as Hearthstone (which is free by the way). Remaining on the topic of price tag, for $80+ dollars, the game should have a lot of either story or replayability, Halo Wars 2 does not have a lot of either.
Halo Wars 2 is a game that’s a hell of a lot like the first game in the franchise, maybe too much so. The game has some incredible cinematics that are quickly ruined by stuttering ‘flashbacks’. It has some fun gameplay for a couple hours, but soon gets dull and boring and offers no replayability whatsoever. Most of the multiplayer modes are fun to fool around in but the new Blitz mode suffers from the micro transaction integration making the mode a dread if you’re paired with a ‘pay-to-win’ opponent. It’s pretty simple, you liked RTS games and Halo Wars 1? You’ll most likely enjoy Halo Wars 2. Like the Halo franchise but have never played an RTS? Pick up Halo Wars 1, it’s cheap and if you like it then get Halo Wars 2. Don’t like RTS? Just stay away. The price tag of $80 ($100 for Ultimate) is high for a game with a short campaign, limited multiplayer, and almost zero replayability. But on the upside, it IS one of Xbox’s Play Anywhere titles meaning you buy it once and can play it back and forth between Windows 10 and Xbox One.