The Halo series returns to the RTS genre and it does so with style, grace and truly stunning cinematics. It’s hard to explain how well this plays, even on the controller. Though I want to say it’s more class based than the original, it still retains the feel of the first. It’s a fast and brutal game and more importantly, a beautifully put together game.
Halo Wars 2 is the rarest of all games I can think of, the console RTS. Here they make it look easy. While it’s more class based than the original, it retains the same feel. Light enough that you’re not overwhelmed, complex enough that you can easily jump around the map, managing your army and your bases. There’s always something that you will be focusing on. Scouting to find a new path to the enemy, securing generators for more resources, defending your flanks from enemy attacks.
The core of this game is built around the units and their counters. Infantry is your first choice to take down air units, armoured units to take down infantry and air units to take on those vehicles. Here running a combined army is only the start to a successful strategy. You must balance upgrades, some that add special attacks like Grenades to your Marines. Others increase their basic attributes, health and damage. Others add extra functions, the Technician to the Marines who can now repair vehicles, Shock rounds to stun vehicles shot at by Cyclops.
If you’re familiar with the first, it’s the changes that would stand out. Marine’s no longer get a medic, yet the Nightingale, now is your primary healing and repair unit. The Wolverine now no longer needs an upgrade to get the twin missile pods, the Cyclops now a heavy infantry unit, specialised to hunt down tanks and vehicles. The Kodiak and Sniper are new additions and work well together. The Sniper is the pinnacle of UNSC anti-infantry and the Kodiak emplaced artillery that can crush your enemy.
The Banished, a Covenant off-shot and perhaps one of the reasons the UNSC ultimately won the war, are a familiar faction. Like the UNSC there are familiar units and new ones. The Reaver now your anti-air vehicle, the Marauder a tank and the Shroud your healing unit. Additional also can cloak them from view. The Blisterback is another addition, both anti-air and artillery, depending which mode it’s in. Units that have returned are Hunters, Elites, Brutes and Grunts. Elites are now snipers, Grunts can come in two forms, suicide and normal squads. Hunters retain their edge against vehicles are hard to bring down.
The campaign here is only twelve missions for the moment, but there’s clear room for expansions to come. Nor does it feel particularly short or drawn out. There’s enough, that rare area that few games seem to find. Here we might finally see an end to the long journey of the Spirit of Fire. She is as much a character as Ellen Anders or Captain Cutter. Not only that, once complete and all Skulls unlocked, you can test your ideas out in Skirmish mode. There’s more than enough maps for the moment, with the different leaders you have plenty of freedom to find what works for you.
Audio and Visuals
The first thing that struck me when I booted the game up and got playing were the cut scenes. Each time I saw one appear, I had to watch it all the way through. There’s just so much detail in them it’s hard to take it all in. The story is very well told through these cinematics. They show a deep and detailed world, your view like that of iceberg. So much more lies underneath the surface. In game, the maps are very well detailed and offer a variety of locations. While the Ark plays a prominent role, even that never feels tired or old. From vibrant greenery, to crystal infused areas to Forerunner structures, there’s always going to be something to catch your eye.
Units are detailed enough. While it’s easy to see that as a negative comment, it’s not. They fit well into the levels and there’s enough detail to see the individual weapons on the infantry units. With the tanks, you can even make out the coaxial weapons on the Scorpion. The Wraith is wonderfully skinned, semi reflective panels, two toned armour is easy to admire. The same details is in the base structures, both UNSC and Banished. One is practical,
If there’s one complaint I have about the game, it’s in the voices of the units. I feel that they’re perhaps overplayed. The almost Australian from the Snipers, to the Scottish accent from the Hellbringers, it’s too obvious. While these are perhaps the most offensive examples, the others are varied and it’s easy to know what you’re commanding by voice alone. Isobel, the Spartans, Professor Anders and Captain Cutter all have their own voices. They’re clear and you know them by sound alone.
The levels themselves, the units and the music work together to keep you in the game and your focus on it. The closer you are to your units, the more of them you can hear. The shouts of Marine sergeants and corporals are humorous. Tanks have a certain clanking, grinding sound to them. Warthogs have their distinct engines. Everything the UNSC has, so does the Banished. There’s a detail here that I can’t help but caught up in.
Multiplayer returns with some strong and well designed game modes. While you’ve seen them all before, with the pace of the game, it’s a challenge to keep your towers under control and locations secure. Just as in the single player, so does the multiplayer work around the commander skills you have. Some are very helpful, others take work or timing to make the best use of. Commander variety is good and if you have the season pass, only promises to get better.
Blitz is a faster game mode and it’s a welcome addition. While I’m not entirely sure of its rules, it’s starting to make a lot of sense and I do enjoy it. Collecting the cards and building your deck has me looking forward to what the next pack could bring. I’ve already got a few ideas and right now I’m sitting on a few decks which have some quite rare cards. All of this is connected through Xbox Live gives you plenty of opponents to face.
Halo Wars 2 sits in the rare area of that fast paced RTS and console game that I didn’t know I had until I played the first. The second well and truly builds on the first in a way that’s so refreshing to see. Many units make a return, but new ones change your strategies and tactics. Returning characters are developed and while I missed the cool and calm Serina, Isobel is a wonderful addition. I dare not use the word replacement as she is a character in her own right.