With Halo: Combat Evolved, the goal was to revolutionize the way first-person shooters controlled on home video game consoles. The Halo Wars series has attempted to do the same thing when it comes to the real-time strategy genre, with the original game introducing a smart control scheme that resulted in arguably the best RTS on consoles. The followup, Halo Wars 2, brings the original game’s formula to modern machines with mostly winning results.
Halo Wars 2 aims to be an accessible RTS for those new to the genre, which has its pros and cons. On the plus side, Halo Wars 2‘s relative simplicity compared to other games in the genre lends itself well to the controller setup, as players rarely have to worry about trying to micromanage individual units, and can often get by barking orders to large masses of troops.
The downside to Halo Wars 2‘s accessibility is that it means veterans of the genre may come away unimpressed by the general lack of strategic depth and complexity. RTS players can always dial up the difficulty level in the campaign or test themselves against human-controlled players online, but it may be hard to shake the feeling that Halo Wars 2 is an RTS game for people that are new to the genre, as opposed to something that players of all skill levels can truly become invested in.
Those that are able to look past Halo Wars 2‘s boiled down take on will find plenty of fun to be had in both its campaign and multiplayer. The campaign is on the short side, but each level feels unique, with a variety of objectives designed to train players for situations they may encounter in multiplayer. Some missions in the campaign are rather intense, whereas others don’t require much thought, but the added challenge of going for high scores and completing bonus objectives keeps the campaign engaging throughout.
Something else that will keep players engaged with the campaign is the story. The ending may come up short, but the journey there is a blast, with gorgeous cut-scenes by the immensely talented Blur Studio bringing to life the best Halo story in years. Halo Wars 2 benefits from its mostly self-contained narrative, which helps it feel more focused than recent games in the main series.
Halo Wars 2‘s story details the conflict between members of the UNSC and a rogue Covenant group known as the Banished, led by the intimidating brute Atriox. As far as Halo villains go, Atriox is one of the most memorable, and his henchmen also have some notable moments in the campaign that will make players excited to take them on in battle. The protagonists are not as interesting, with the exception of Isabel, a Cortana-like AI who is fueled by both vengeance and fear in her crusade against Atriox and the Banished forces.
The story in Halo Wars 2 is one of the game’s highlights, but as previously stated, the ending comes up short. In fact, the ending will be downright frustrating for some, but it’s worth noting that the story in Halo Wars 2 is said to have a big impact on Halo 6. Considering this, it’s possible the many loose ends in Halo Wars 2 will be wrapped up in Halo 6, but that doesn’t make it feel any less anticlimactic.
When players wrap up the campaign, there’s still plenty to do, like diving into the game’s multiplayer options, for instance. Halo Wars 2 has a variety of multiplayer modes available, including 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 battles. Some modes focus more on base-building and generating resources for big, sweeping pushes against the enemy, whereas others are more about producing units that counter whatever the opposing team throws into the mix, and getting into the fight as quickly as possible.
The standard multiplayer modes in Halo Wars 2 get the job done, but the real highlight of the multiplayer experience is Blitz mode. Borrowing elements of collectible card games, Blitz asks players to build their own deck of units that can be summoned into the battlefield at any time, assuming there’s enough energy to do so. This strips away the game’s base-building mechanics, but results in a faster, more action-packed mode where it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of characters battling it out on-screen at one time.
Blitz lets players jump into the most entertaining aspects of Halo Wars 2 without having to worry about producing new units for battle or managing a base. The thrill of collecting new cards for the mode also drives much of the game’s progression, with players earning card packs for completing daily and weekly challenges, leveling up, and even completing campaign missions.
Since Blitz is the best multiplayer has to offer, it’s disappointing that it only has one map. Playing the same map endlessly gets old fast, especially for players that have already played plenty of Blitz during the game’s open beta period. It’s likely that Creative Assembly and 343 Industries have more maps in the work for Blitz, but for now, players may tire of what is arguably the game’s best multiplayer mode due to a lack of variety.
Blitz being limited to one battleground is disappointing, but it’s far from Halo Wars 2‘s biggest problem. The main problem with the game is its technical issues, with it susceptible to random, frequent freezes and crashing. These technical issues can make some of the longer story missions a nightmare. Halo is Xbox’s flagship franchise, so one would have thought that the developers would have these problems ironed out before release.
Technical issues and the lack of content in Blitz aside, Halo Wars 2 is a fun game that is the best bet for RTS fans looking for something to play on Xbox One. The campaign is engrossing from start to finish, the multiplayer matches are consistently exciting, and thanks to its status as an Xbox Play Anywhere game, Halo Wars 2 offers fans plenty of bang for the buck. If 343 and Creative Assembly are able to patch the game’s technical issues and add more areas to Blitz mode soon, then Halo Wars 2 will be a no-brainer for fans of the real-time strategy genre and the Halo franchise in general.
Halo Wars 2 will launch on February 21, 2017 for PC and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.