Twenty-Eight years has passed since the crew of the Spirit of Fire were put into cryosleep after the events of the original Halo Wars, and the Halo universe has changed dramatically between the ending of the first game and this sequel.
Halo Wars 2 opens with the crew being awakened above the Ark (Setting for the third Halo game) by a signal coming from the installations surface. Upon investigation, the ships Spartan “Red Team” finds the AI Isabel who then proceeds to tell them of how the Brute chieftain and games antagonist, Atriox and his army called the Banished, wiped out her team and the events that have transpired in the Halo universe while the ship was considered “Lost with all hands.”
The campaign starts with two tutorial missions that help you get a handle on units, issuing orders and moving around the map, and Creative Assembly has done an awesome job of merging these into the story missions. For the most part the campaign felt like it was carried mostly by the AI Isabel and her interactions with Captain Cutter and the ships Science Officer Anders and her inner turmoil from dealing with Atriox. Atriox is mostly dealt with like the big bad hiding in the back ground and not at all like the over powered brute the start of the game portrayed him as. As the game came to a close I felt let down that there weren’t more interactions between the human cast and Atriox. While the campaign only lasted around eight hours on a normal playthrough the ending was left open for more, and 343 has stated there will be campaign DLC in the future.
The original Halo Wars had earned a reputation as being one of the best Real Time Strategy games on console. Halo Wars 2 manages to continue with the original titles core mechanics but fails to really improve or expand upon them. More dedicated RTS fans will find the UI and gameplay quite limiting, while playing on Xbox One micromanagement is near impossible due to the limitations of the controls and it ends up being easier to just take everything you have and throw it at enemies.
Real Time Strategy games have always had a hard time making units look exceptional on screen due to the limitations of the game engines used. Halo Wars 2 did have issues during the first few missions where textures on models would randomly pop in and out causing the units to look like Megablock toys. Aside from these few issues the maps and units do look great, and while not the best-looking game you do have to give credit to how true they have kept to the Halo universe. Blur the production company did an exceptional job with the cut scenes, the only drawback being that there were so few in the game. Hopefully with the new campaign DLC we will get more.
One aspect that most defined the Halo franchise was Marty O’Donell’s music in the original trilogy. The mixture of electric guitars mixed with monks and full orchestra made the theme music as recognisable as Star Wars or Pokemon. Even though Halo Wars wasn’t as popular as the core series it still had a recognisable track that distinguished it from the rest of the franchise. Halo Wars 2 fell short in the music department compared to the rest. With no single defining song that makes it stand out it doesn’t feel as epic when compared to the rest of the franchise. While the previous Halo games have made excellent work of building up emotion with the music, Halo Wars 2 only really utilises it during the main cut scenes.
Halo Wars 2 did manage to distinguish itself from other RTS titles in its new multiplayer game mode Blitz. Merging aspects from deck-building games and traditional strategy, players need to build decks based around leaders and then use cards to build units and fight on the battlefield. Blitz requires you to be able to make quick decisions while also managing energy to spend on cards, not unlike Hearthstone. Being a much quicker and different game mode, Blitz could make Halo Wars 2 much more enjoyable for the masses. The traditional co-op campaign and multiplayer are also included, with three game modes included in multiplayer; Domination, Strongholds and Deathmatch.
While at times the limited controls are frustrating, Creative Assembly made Halo Wars 2 just as fun as the original. It may not sell as well as the rest of the franchise but it is still a worthwhile addition to any fans collection for the story and how it fits in with the greater universe. Creative Assembly did an awesome job of continuing the legacy that Ensemble/Robot Entertainment started. Multiplayer, Blitz and the promise of future campaign DLC will make coming back in the future worthwhile.
Score – 75%