Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Commanding troops with halos

Halo Wars 2

Platform tested: Xbox One

I quite enjoyed the previous Halo Wars, a RTS game built for the Halo franchise. While it's not a genre I usually fare much into, I quite enjoy to play them casually now and then. I liked how Halo Wars was closely incorporated into the main Halo story and put you in the role of commanding the massive firefights the shooter games are so famous for. So here's the sequel, back on far more powerful hardware, with a wealth of new options, more advanced unit controls and brand new game types catering for everyone. This time around the game also is released simultaneously on PC, taking on a entirely different platform when it comes to strategy games, proving that the developers are committed to making a proper in-depth RTS.

There's a healthy amount of modes on offer, catering for both online multiplayer and campaign play. From classic RTS matches to more fast paced ones like the new Blitz mode. The latter mode hands you cards with units, removing the often difficult task for beginners of building units and finding resources. It's a quick way of getting into battles instantly and makes way for shorter online battles compared to more traditional RTS matches.

There's also an excellent tutorial, which is prompted as a recommendation if you start the main campaign without completing it first. Separated into a basic and an advanced segment, it's an excellent way to get familiar with the game rules and it's controls. While the button layout and commanding of units is generally some of the best you'll find in a console game of this type, the amount of shortcuts is quite daunting for beginners. Paying close attention to the tutorial and learning how to move quickly across the battlefield, selecting only the units you want to, is key to multitasking multiple battles on the battlefield. Without multitasking, you'll never become truly competitive for online RTS play.

The visuals have received a really nice upgrade from the first game, they're less sparse this time around, with a lot of small details and a much higher unit count onscreen. The resolution bump up to 1080p especially helps keep the picture clean, even with tons of vehicles, characters and buildings cluttering the view. This is after all a genre that benefits highly from high resolutions and better hardware to deal with the vast amount of elements moving onscreen and the extra CPU power it requires for it's AI.

The small units and characters are nicely detailed and represent the ones from the main Halo games perfectly. There's a nice amount of variation in the terrain you navigate too and a focus on elevation; higher ground gives you a strong advantage and needs to be used strategically. Fortifying ground troops into cover is also a great way to keep your units alive.

The main campaign, which was mainly why I bought the game, is an incredibly well presented affair. The CGI cinematics are stunning and the dialogue is top notch, laying foundation for what I only can presume will be the backbone of the Halo 6 story. Each mission is explained in detail and mission objectives are clearly outlined for the player.

Although I enjoyed the diversity in the missions, like most campaigns in RTS games, I felt I was guided into very specific tasks. Only the later missions opened up a little, letting me play the game more like a typical RTS match. They could easily have padded out the campaign with normal battles against the AI. All in all though, I enjoyed the playthrough and the various missions, which all had their unique main goals and settings. Some of them have a really fast and pressing pace, while others had a wait of tension for backup units as you are being overrun by waves of enemies!

Halo Wars 2 is an excellent console RTS, while the dabbling into the PC market  could prove difficult, it's nice to see the developers have this dedication. While the initial control scheme and difficulty can be overwhelming for a casual of the genre like me, it's an enjoyable playthrough recommended for those looking for a more diverse and different experience on console. If you really like the Halo universe it's a unique way to get a sense of the scale of the battles fought in the shooters in a completely different genre. The familiar units, the AI conversations and the mighty Spartans will bring a smile to most Halo players, never mind controlling lots of them over a huge battlefield! Just don't go into this game thinking it's like the first person shooters, gameplay wise.

Rare as they come, with a ton of controller shortcuts to learn, Halo Wars 2 is probably the best RTS game for console right now and probably will remain so for a long time. Recommended for those that want something else than their worn out copies of Command & Conquer or the first Halo Wars on their 360's. I would also advise those who wish something different to play in a world full of shooting and open world games, it's genre you seldom see on console and should be enjoyed by more gamers! Halo Wars 2 offers excellent development quality, fantastic presentation and exciting gameplay. Sure it may not reach the depths needed for hardcore RTS players from the PC platform, it will keep console players happy for a long while.



    + Plus points

    • Fantastic presentation and cinematics.
    • Controls are fast and have a ton of shortcuts to aid controller players.
    • The visuals and resolution really help the game look crisp and easy to navigate.

    - Minus points

    • Tricky difficulty curve for newcomers, yet lacks the depths for hardcore RTS fans.
    • Campaign feels a little directed towards very specific goals.
    • More padding to the campaign needed, it's over a little too soon.

    Bonus game: Halo Wars: Definitive Edition

    Alongside the purchase of Halo Wars 2: Ultimate Edition you receive a season pass for future DLC map packs and, more interestingly so, you also get the "definitive edition" of the first game. Remastered with a 1080p resolution bump and what seems like a fairly solid 60fps. It's a nice way for people who haven't played the original or those just wishing to replay the game on better hardware. Alongside this release, every Halo game from the original Xbox to 360 is now available on the Xbox One with better graphics and performance all round!

    For a review of the first Halo Wars check out my old review of the original 360 game here. It's an enjoyable game that fans of the series should check out! If your starting ground is Halo Wars 2, consider buying the ultimate version to get your hands on this first game and start there. It's still a solid title, though it doesn't have the depth and scale of the second game.