Halo Wars 2 is the next installment in the Halo Wars real-time strategy series created in partnership between 343 Industries and Creative Assembly. It’s a game that’s perfect for Halo fans, even those who would much rather do the shooting than command the efforts.
What Halo Wars 2 does so perfectly well is that it becomes immensely engaging right from the get-go with incredible cinematic cut-scenes that completely inspire the player to begin this new story of the UNSC Spirit of Fire and its fight against the powerful Banished. These fantastically crafted scenes look spectacular and end up driving the player forward at the very beginning and throughout the game. And one of the game’s best features is that the gameplay is easy to learn and manage right away without being overwhelming to someone who might not be the biggest fan of the RTS genre.
I personally enjoy the thought of real-time strategy games and have had a lot of fun in games such as Company of Heroes. However, I always seem to hit a wall with them by coming across moments where I am stuck and unable to progress forward. I’ve also experienced hardcore RTS games that look far too intimidating at the very beginning which is a huge turn-off for me. Thankfully, Halo Wars 2 keeps it simple, and this is perfect for Halo fans that might be concerned about the game’s difficulty level.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more easy-going approach to a real-time strategy game than I’ve had with Halo Wars 2. It’s set at a great pace that players can easily keep up with and not become overwhelmed.
Halo Wars 2 does a nice job of introducing the player to the game so they can more easily learn the basics as there are only so many units available at the beginning of the campaign. It’s fairly quick and easy to start understanding what units are more effective against enemy units. While players continue to move on from one mission to the next, they’ll continue to learn the workings of the game with ease and 20, 30, and 40 minutes will fly on by without the player even realizing it. It’s that captivating. And in-between these missions, the story grows more interesting, the Banished become an even more likeable enemy to hate, and the cinematics continue to provide pure eye candy for the player to enjoy.
There are four levels of difficulty that players can choose from; Easy, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. Strangely enough, with me not being an expert RTS gamer, I began on Heroic and made it to the fourth mission before I had to return to Normal. This goes to show that the game really isn’t too difficult to get a grasp on. Plus, during my initial playthrough of the campaign, I would go with a balanced strategy of troops rather than a tactical approach. This just proves that the game is perfectly playable for anyone, including the biggest of Halo fans who are not fans of real-time strategy games.
Additionally, once I beat the campaign I went back and replayed many of the missions multiple times, including a few of them on Legendary difficulty. I ended up completing those missions too, even though the increased difficulty was certainly felt. But it also helps knowing the enemy and having a better understanding of what’s to come. At first I was mostly going with a balanced approach, but by the end I knew what units I could overload on in specific situations based on knowing the enemy type in that moment. Learning a strategy in Halo Wars 2 really is simple once you’ve played it enough.
With it being a Halo game, there are of course skulls to unlock that present different increases and decreases in scoring. Some of the missions that I beat on Legendary I did with a Skull that doesn’t allow saves/checkpoints and one that reduces the overall health of all units. I obtained some mighty big scores with those two skulls active. Collecting skulls and using them to replay missions presents a good time as well and gives a great reason to replay each level. It’s also perfect for those who want a more difficult challenge and higher score for each mission.
Each mission is a blast to play, and the complete progression of the Halo Wars 2 campaign is fantastic. It does a wonderful job of changing up the tasks so every mission feels different than the last. This includes one mission that plays exactly like a tower defense game which is awesome. Also, there are what feel like unique boss fights that players encounter that are exciting to participate in, unless they end up wiping out your entire squad, then feel free to panic. They are basically just new units that players come across, but the player certainly feels the intensity in that moment when a new enemy unit makes its presence known.
When it comes to the storyline in Halo Wars 2, it’s actually far more entertaining than I could have imagined. I really enjoy the main characters and love to hate the Banished. Sure, it’s a faction of the Covenant, but they really do come across as something new and more. They have their own identity and are a group to be taken seriously. Good thing the UNSC always means business!
During my time playing I did encounter a few bugs, some that are basic while others result in having to restart a mission or even relaunch the game. The most annoying issue I encountered is with the Spartans sometimes not being controllable after they hijack an enemy craft. I’ve seen this on three occasions which forces me to restart the mission (unless the ship gets blown up). The other major issue I encountered was an endless load screen when starting a new mission. This was also rare, but I did see it on both Xbox One and PC.
Besides the few small inconveniences of having to restart the mission or game, everything else with Halo Wars 2 was excellent. I’m a huge Halo fan, so it spoke to me completely. Right from the beginning I was drawn in by the excellent melody playing in the menus and then became overly impressed by the action-packed animations in the cinematic trailers. There’s just so much goodness throughout the entire campaign.
Outside of the game’s single player campaign, there are multiplayer modes and a Blitz mode that adds more depth to the game. At the time of this review I had yet to play any of the multiplayer. However, I did play Blitz mode Firefight as a solo player. It’s certainly an intriguing style of play for an RTS as it revolves around using unit cards that can only be played if the player has enough points.
Unlocking and earning cards that represent units to create a deck of cards brings even more strategy to Halo Wars 2. There are only so many slots available in a deck of cards when compared to the many cards/units available to choose from, so it’s important to equip enough units of a specific type to handle the swarm of enemies that are thrown at you during the wave-based game mode. Additionally, you can only play a card (call in a unit) when earning points during the match, such as by destroying energy tanks that randomly appear between waves. To make creating a deck a strategic necessity, the best and most effective units cost the most points. So, it’s not a good strategy to create a deck with only high-end cards as it’s difficult to earn enough points to continuously call in those units. I decided it was best to use mostly my low costing units to survive as long as possible with a few higher cards to call in when I had enough numbers on the ground. I really appreciated the style of Blitz mode and can’t wait to try out co-op as well.
While I played most of Halo Wars 2 on Xbox One, I did take advantage of Xbox Play Anywhere and enjoyed some 4K gaming on PC. I also gave the keyboard and mouse a try even though I feel the controller works fantastic for an RTS game. I didn’t run into any issues outside of my experience not going up after completing a mission on PC. However, I did notice I had experience listed the next time I played. Still, it’s not good to have that type of delay. I also came across a spot on the map where the frame rate would drop to 1 until the player leaves that spot.
Overall, Halo Wars 2 is a great strategy game that’s perfect for all Halo fans. It has a fantastic campaign with an intriguing story that doesn’t grow stale – It’s captivating all the way to the very end of the game. It also has a solo wave-based Blitz mode that is fun for testing decks of cards and creating strategies while aiming to earn a higher score than the time before. And then for those who are excited about multiplayer, there are four multiplayer modes that give more gameplay opportunities to the most hardcore of strategy players. I’ll have to get into that another time though.
I’m a Halo fan who was excited for Halo Wars 2, but not overly excited because I prefer FPS over RTS. However, I couldn’t have been happier with the presentation of the game and the way it guides average RTS players into excellent tacticians. I may feel differently when playing others in multiplayer, but from the single player point of view, Halo Wars 2 is totally worth the experience.