Halo Wars 2 – Xbox One Review – by Bravezerker

Genre: Real Time Strategy
Developer: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

Halo Wars 2 is the sequel to the 2009 Xbox 360 game, and is developed by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly for Xbox One and PC exclusively. Released 21st February 2017, with early access to play the game four days early on 17th February 2017 for purchasers of the Ultimate Edition.

It is a real time strategy game, with a focus on base building, resource management and controlling points. This is done through building bases, units and using leader powers to turn the tide of battle.

Cutscenes are on par with Halo 5, in game graphics (On Xbox One) while not mind blowing have a nice aesthetic, with a nicely detailed art style. This all runs smoothly, even with multiple enemies on screen filling it with a good balance of particle effects and explosions once the action kicks into gear.

Halo Wars 2 controls well on the xbox one controller with the cursor being easy to control and the actions mapped to a well thought out radial wheel system. There is also the ability to speed up scrolling with the cursor by holding the LB button, which when used alongside the various unit selection hotkeys, as well as the RB button (tapping once selects local units, double tap selects all units) makes managing your troops second nature once you put a bit of practice in. Granted, it will control more intuitively on the PC with mouse and keyboard, but the controller mappings are very well realized for the console. Also buying the game digitally is a purchase of both the Xbox One and Windows 10 Version as this is an Xbox Anywhere title, so those that opt to go digital have the best of both worlds if they own a PC which can run it.

The tutorials which can be selected from within the main menu cover from the basic controls and actions such as base/unit building to advanced such as using elevation, different ways of selecting units, to how units counter each other.

Completing these tutorials award Blitz mission packs (One mission pack for first time completion of each of the tutorials), so are worthwhile for newcomers to grasp the basics, and being a refresher for those that are well versed in the mechanics, as well as providing bonuses.

After completing the advanced tutorial the player will level up, and be awarded a Blitz pack for use in the Blitz game mode. It’s odd that this notification also directs the player to being able to open this pack and play Blitz from the main menu, which may make some eager to jump in right away. However, as the next (and final) tutorial is actually for the Blitz mode, you would think this reward would have been delayed until the end of the Blitz tutorial so that the player is given instruction on the rules and techniques of Blitz.

Interestingly the Blitz tutorial has a timer. However this will be completed well within the time, so comes across as rather pointless.

Within the campaign are twelve missions. The first few missions are light on gameplay, being more heavily cutscene balanced. These cutscenes can be skipped regardless if the mission has already been cleared or not, so those not interested in the storyline, and just wish to play through the campaign to receive the rewards and achievements from doing so can cut down on their playtime by skipping these. The cutscenes can also be rewatched in a theater option from within the main menu.

The missions start off linear, with the player following points to complete the primary objectives, with optional objectives giving each mission replayability. These can range from killing a certain amount of enemies, to completing missions without losing any of a particular unit. You can restart each mission from the result screen, so tackling challenges such as beating the par time can be attempted in quick succession without having to go through multiple menus. Missions can also be replayed from within a menu, which is also where the player will want to go if they wish to change the difficulty as the first few missions for even a novice player can be comfortably played through on normal, but starts to ramp up on challenge at around the mission five mark. These missions are well varied too, from point and tower defence style, to straight out assault missions. Completion of each of these for the first time also unlocks a Blitz card pack, with the campaign taking just over five to six hours to get through depending on difficulty. The whole thing feels like an extended tutorial with each mission adding in new elements for the player to get to grips with, making the tutorials mentioned earlier seem unnecessary.

It really should have just been called mission mode, as while the story has some interesting mission types, the actual storyline was lacking and only served to give meaning to the various missions throughout the campaign, being forgettable with no real stand out points or characters. Also, those without any knowledge of the Halo universe may be lost in regards to the lore and what is going on.

Multiplayer is split between standard modes and the all new blitz mode. In multiplayer you select a leader from a list, each with their own ‘playstyle’:

Sergeant Forge: Armored aggression, using heavy vehicles to push through enemies.
Captain Cutter: Sends in powerful orbital support and specialist UNSC units.
Isabel: Deploys the latest UNSC vehicle tech to great advantage and distracts the enemy with AI holograms.
Professor Anders: Fields Sentinel units and supports her forces with Forerunner tech.

Decimus: A berserker who relies on hard-hitting rushes while siphoning their health away.
Atriox: Focuses on a cunning and defensive style, supported by heavy cover and invulnerability powers.
Shipmaster: Favours stealth, teleportation tactics, and rapid assault against his foes.

Using one of these leaders players can jump into various multiplayer modes including:

Solo War: unranked deathmatch.
Team War: 2v2 and 3v3 deathmatch.
Rumble: 3v3 unranked strongholds match with all upgrades and unlimited resources.
Team Objective: Domination style mode.
Versus AI: unranked random game modes of deathmatch, domination and strongholds with teams taking on the AI.

The three match modes of deathmatch, domination and strongholds can also be set up and played within the skirmish option for those who wish to practice solo against the AI

Blitz is a fast paced mode, with the option to play Duel (1v1), Standard (2v2) or brawl (3v3). There is also a firefight variant of Blitz mode which can be played solo or cooperatively, where you survive against waves of A.I enemies.

In Blitz leaders have three deck slots which are available for customization, and begin the match with a starting army, with energy being collected to play cards from. There are four cards available at a time, with new cards from your deck being cycled in, and these cards are used to call in various units and apply effects. with the goal to take over more command zones than the enemy to begin earning points. As such, blitz can be seen as a domination style game mode, with a heavy emphasis on card collection and deck building.
Blitz cards have a rarity attached (From common to legendary), card resource cost, level, type of card/subtype (eg power/damage or power/buff, infantry/core infantry or infantry/anti-infantry), a special ability if they have one which is used with the Y button, passive abilities which can give special effects such as detecting and showing nearby cloaked enemies, or buffs such as boosting attack or defence etc. Cards may also be subject to a leader restriction.

Blitz mode is pretty much the heart of Halo Wars 2, with card packs being earned by completing challenges, or as the game funnily states by visiting the store to ‘earn’ more packs. These packs (available on the store as microtransactions in packs of 5, priced according to region) are:

Blitz Recruit Bundle: 3x packs
Blitz Soldier Bundle: 10x packs
Blitz Veteran Bundle: 23x packs
Blitz Captain Bundle: 47x packs
Blitz Commander Bundle: 135x packs

While the packs can be earned just by playing, and they are similar to the REQ packs from Halo 5, the whole inclusion of a card system in an RTS is certainly interesting though completely unbalanced as simple things such as what units are on the field depend on what cards the player has to hand. Blitz mode can be fun for those that just want some simple fast paced action with some quick thinking required, however those looking for a more balanced strategic style will want to stick to the regular multiplayer modes.

PROS:

  • Varied Missions
  • Caters to newcomers and veterans of the genre
  • Controls well, even on controller
  • Blitz mode matches are fast paced, allowing for quick bursts of fun

CONS:

  • Story is lackluster
  • Microtransactions may put off some with the card packs
  • Blitz mode lacks real strategic depth, and can come across as unbalanced

Bravezerker gives Halo Wars 2 a Drastik Measure 8.0 out of 10.0 (80).

Halo Wars 2 has a little something for everyone. For newcomers to the genre there is a rather substantial tutorial in the form of the game taking you through the basics onto a campaign which serves as an extended tutorial, with veterans able to bump up the difficulty and take on the challenges each mission presents. Multiplayer modes serve both sides as well too, whether it be a quick fix in Blitz, or some deeper strategic combat within the varied multiplayer modes. As a package Halo Wars 2 is well rounded, though is held back by a lacking story, and only time will tell if it gets a strong multiplayer community gets behind it to really make it a worthwhile purchase in the long run.

Halo Wars 2 is available for Xbox One and PC for $59.99 USD.