Without sticking the boot in too hard in the opening of this review, it’s important to bear in mind that Halo Wars 2 is a very enjoyable Real Time Strategy game.
Halo Wars 2 Review: RTS For Beginners
That having been said, Halo Wars 2 will never land in the same league as the giants of the RTS genre. This doesn’t make it a bad game – far from it. But RTS veterans will look at it as a hit-and-giggle and anyone who thinks it’ll prepare them for a full-fat RTS PC experience, is like a kid who has just learned to swim leaping into a shark tank.
There are just certain game genres that just work better on a PC and Real Time Strategy is one of them. A control pad just isn’t as immediate as a mouse and keyboard when it comes to navigating a battlefield with moving pieces.
In turn-based strategy games, it’s great, as the recent X-COM 2 (and its predecessors) showed. But when it comes to RTS games, players not only need to be able to zoom their HUD across the map in seconds to sort out unit-construction, resource management and more, they need hot-keys. Lots and lots of hot-keys.
Halo Wars 2 Review: Streamlined To Perfection
Halo Wars 2 is a streamlined RTS, given that it can be played on an Xbox One with a control pad offering a limited interface (comparatively for this genre). Those playing Halo Wars 2 on a PC will soon realise that it’s aimed at console jockeys who have may have never played this type of game before; on the Xbox One, Halo Wars 2 is something of a challenge, while on a PC, the campaign is laughably easy.
On console, Halo Wars 2 is a wonder; the control set-up is as slick as you please and there’s a decent tutorial level that – while a little arduous – grounds players in not just the mechanics, but the structure of the RTS genre. The first couple of missions feel like primers – in case you didn’t know what you were doing – but as the campaign progresses, players will soon be encouraged to experiment with unit balance and the sort of structures they feel they need to construct.
Developer Creative Assembly (the studio behind the Total War series and Alien: Isolation) does a fantastic job of squeezing the relatively complex interface of an RTS into a console control pad. It’s also made the game more challenging by removing the ‘select all units’ function from the original Halo Wars, so players can’t just Zerg-rush their objectives.
Halo Wars 2 Review: Plot
There’s even a decent story underpinning all the action, which dovetails nicely into the Halo lore without upsetting its relentlessly forward-looking narrative. Things kick off with the crew aboard the UNSC ship The Spirit Of Fire (that players may remember from the first Halo Wars) being awakened from cryosleep.
They find themselves in territory controlled by an ex-Covenant faction known as The Banished, led by a Brute named Atriox. Both were so savage the Covenant tried to wipe them out and failed miserably. It’s up to the Spirit Of Fire’s forces to stop The Banished from its combine-harvester approach towards earth. Hilarity ensues.
The storytelling in Halo Wars 2 is one of the game’s strongest assets. The cut-scenes are beautifully animated and voiced and they gift every mission with a life-or-death atmosphere. No character in the plot feels skimped on – even the game’s Cortana stand-in, Isabel, feels fully realised, even though all she does is reiterate how hopeless the player’s situation is.
Halo Wars 2 Review: Multiplayer
Removed from the linear structure of the campaign’s missions, the multiplayer feels less like a war of attrition. Players can’t just build up bases and consolidate resources. There’s a bigger focus here on getting units into the battlefield while the base building goes on behind them.
Once again, this isn’t Zerg-rushing, more of an encouragement to explore and – given which mode players have selected – to push forward or hold key points on the battlefield. Aggressive play is rewarded while defensive play usually leads to one getting ganked. The best multiplayer mode is Blitz, which comes on like the illegitimate offspring off Dota, Hearthstone and speed chess.
Halo Wars 2 Review: Verdict
Halo Wars 2 is the best RTS ever made for a console. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as Creative Assembly is probably incapable of making a bad game at this stage.
It should satisfy the Halo faithful and may well rope in a couple of curious onlookers. One word of warning though; if you think this game will prepare you for the online RTS/MOBA elite – League Of Legends, Starcraft 2, Dota 2 – think again. Best to dive into those games and take your lumps on the way.
Like its predecessor, Halo Wars 2 will impress those who don’t regularly play RTS games. If you want to get your feet wet, this is the game to do it with. Everyone else should just appreciate the visuals, the excellent console control-scheme and the fact that – even given its simplistic nature – it’s actually rather fun.
- Halo War 2 was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.