‘Halo Wars 2’ Review: A Near Perfect Mix Of Elements

The Halo gaming universe is the perfect basis for a real-time strategy (RTS) game. Like what Blizzard did with the StarCraft franchise, the careful mix of races and unique troop types, weapons, and vehicles on both sides make for an astounding success when converting the popular first person shooter into a strategy game. Halo Wars 2 continues the success that 2009’s Halo Wars started by upping the ante with the same core gameplay — this time on a new planet/structure — and introducing one of the Halo universe’s strongest enemies in the vile Atriox, giving players an amazing gaming experience that challenges on all fronts.

Halo Wars 2 picks up 28 years after the campaign in the original Halo Wars game. Captain James Cutter and his crew aboard the USNC Spirit of Fire are pulled out of cryosleep when their vessel comes across a distress beacon on a new planet-like structure, called The Ark, which is reminiscent of the halo rings from previous games. When cutter sends a few spartans down to the surface to investigate, a new AI, Isabel, informs Cutter and his crew that the Ark is now ruled by a tyrannical Brute called Atriox, and his Banished troops.

Halo Wars 2 Review

Atriox and his brood broke off from the Covenant during the war and eradicated the hierarchy before he was, well, banished. He then exacted his revenge by becoming an absolute monster and killing all who stood in his way. Cutter decides to take the fight to the Banished and wipe them — and Atriox — off the Ark, thereby saving the universe from this hulking menace.

Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2 takes the standard RTS game mechanic and adds a few upgrades. Players build bases and mine for resources, which are then used to buy troops and vehicles, which are then sent out to engage in combat. The rock-paper-scissors combat style creates opportunities for strategy, as the largest army is not always the best way. Halo Wars 2 is pretty wide open after the hand holding of the first few missions, and players can execute their missions as they see fit. In one mission midway through the game, I spent an inordinate amount of time building bases and troops, so when I swept my army across the map, I was unstoppable. The mission time goal was 25 minutes, it took me 129 minutes (yes, over two hours) to complete, and I had fun for every one of those minutes.

Some missions are of the base defense variety, where players must scramble to secure defensive positions, and build up troops and armor as the Banished come in with wave after wave of gradually stronger assaults. There are also missions of point control, where the player must build armies fast and travel across the map securing designated points and then hold them until a certain point meter (or time limit) is met. Of course, the Banished want those points too, and they are constantly attacking, which makes these levels an exercise in juggling attention and resources to the various war fronts.

Halo Wars 2 Review

If you can’t tell, these latter mission types also show up in the Halo Wars 2 multiplayer mode. Deathmatch, where you wipe your opponent off the map; Domination, where the player captures and hold points; and Strongholds, where players build bases and defend for a set amount of time are all the different modes, and up to 3v3 can be played, creating some frantic skirmishes. The campaign in Halo Wars 2 does a great job of integrating these game types into the story, so when players are done with the campaign, they can easily slide into multiplayer and take the fight to friends and strangers.

There are eight maps to start with, but Halo Wars 2 promises DLC updates and a season pass is available as well, which will deliver new maps, leaders, story campaigns, and Blitz packs. Halo Wars 2 is a play anywhere title, so it can be played on the Xbox One or a Windows 10 PC.

Halo Wars 2 Review

The last major mode in Halo Wars 2 is the Blitz mode. Blitz waters down the base building experience and puts it all in the hands of Lady Luck in the form of cards that a player pulls from a pre-created deck. Unfortunately, the player is limited as to what they pull from the deck, which can be frustrating at times, but both sides of the conflict have the same issues, so it evens the playing field some. Blitz is generally a faster match and the strategy is replaced by the luck of the draw, but I prefer the slow-burning, long game of a RTS match. While Blitz isn’t for me, others may enjoy it, especially as new packs are earned at decent clips just by playing the campaign and reaching new player levels. Also, Blitz packs can be purchased from the store, so those with the real world money to do so can dominate. Personally, I’d rather take my chances in a standard game of Deathmatch.

Graphically, Halo Wars 2 looks incredible, as the tiny troops are distinctive enough to make out, even from a holistic camera view. The maps are well designed and look great as well. The cut scenes are epic is scope, and the character models are some of best looking I’ve seen on a console. Lastly, the soundtrack for Halo Wars 2 is a sweeping orchestral masterpiece that resonated with me even when I wasn’t playing. The developers hit a home run here with the sound, music, and voice work, and it all works towards a stellar game play experience.

Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2 isn’t without some bugs, sadly. There were multiple times in the campaign that my game froze for 10-15 seconds, which in a heated battle, was nearly catastrophic. I’ve had some very lengthy load times and multiple full-on game freezes that required a game reset from the Xbox One’s main menu. Interestingly, this only happens in the campaign, as I’ve yet to have any issues in multiplayer (that didn’t involve my internet being funky). Hopefully, it’s a bug that can be fixed in a patch, as it doesn’t break the game by any stretch, but it is annoying.

Halo Wars 2 does some amazing things with the Halo universe as a whole. While the first Halo Wars was set before the events of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo Wars 2 takes place shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians. This is important, as the story now has the ability to draw on so much that was learned in the core Halo games, and developers Creative Assembly and 343 Industries have used that wide palette to craft a deeper story experience.

Halo Wars 2 Review

And Atriox is, by far, the best Halo villain to date. His cinematic cut scene backstory is as brutal as it is thrilling, and his presence looms over every action in each of the 12 missions of the campaign. The final mission was a satisfying and amazing experience, and much like the first game, this one ends with a cliff hanger of sorts (there’s a post credits scene, so pay attention). I just hope that we don’t have to wait another eight years for the next installment to see where this story goes.

Halo Wars 2 proves that fully functioning RTS games can be played on a console with a standard controller, and the Halo universe is the perfect vehicle for this demonstration. I’ve had countless hours of fun playing this game, and I’m sure that I will have countless more playing in multiplayer matches. The season pass promises more content on all fronts, and fans of the Halo series, or of strategy games, will not be disappointed. I’ve enjoyed this game more than I have the last two core Halo games, and I can’t wait to get back on the battlefield to continue the fight. That draw, even after completing the campaign and playing each type of multiplayer mode multiple times, is strong, and is indicative of how great this game is, bugs and all.

Halo Wars 2 is available now for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC as a play anywhere title. This review is based off a review code provided by the publisher.

Halo Wars 2 Review
out of 5

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