The original Halo Wars took everything that we loved about the Halo series and turned it into a real-time strategy. Tight corridor mini-battles became large-scale skirmishes, the impeccable first-person shooting became a series of commands and micro-management, and online fights became a test of wits and strategy. Halo Wars 2 builds upon the epic story, characters and lore to take what was already established in Halo Wars and provide improvements along with new additions. Can Halo Wars 2 make an entrance just as big as Halo Wars or is it a victim of its hype?
Gorgeous Visuals and Sound – Like its predecessor, Halo Wars 2‘s gorgeous, eye-catching cut-scenes are done by Blur Studios. The FMV cut-scenes look and play beautifully along with the maps that are designed with meticulous detail. Everything looks vibrant, having more color and variety in its pallet which adds to its overall visual experience. Halo Wars 2 brings old locales back such as The Ark and other nostalgic scenery; from its sandy canyons to its emerald forests, nothing seems out of place. Similarly, the musical score is phenomenal, as expected from any Halo title. Every note flows seamlessly to the next, adapting to the situation at hand and providing a sense of awe. The voice acting requires mention, as well, as the actors portraying Cutter, Atriox and the rest of the cast sound superb. Not only them, but the famous Halo announcer returns which makes us feel right at home.
Game Mechanics – Halo Wars 2 builds upon what its predecessor established. Before, a single unit rush such as the Hornet would completely destroy everything. In Halo Wars 2, however, there is an effectiveness triangle that governs how a unit is able to play. Air units are effective against vehicles, vehicles are effective against infantry, and infantry against air units. Although this is the general rule of thumb, players and smart AI will adapt to each and every scenario. Constant awareness is required to effectively fight against your enemies. This constant awareness adds a deeper layer of strategy to what was simply a unit rush in the previous game.
New Units – With the introduction of The Banished faction, it isn’t that far-fetched for new units to be introduced. New uber units like the Condor Gunship and the Retriever Sentinel will become powerhouses if played right. Even though they are slow, they are not a force to be reckoned with. It will take everything you have to bring these bad boys down. If you’re like me, these new uber units will be your lifeline. I have been saved by these units countless times but although they are strong, they still have their own weaknesses as they cost a lot of resources. The player must use them wisely; one mistake and you are thrown off track until you can build up your resources again.
New Modes – Halo Wars 2 introduces us to its real standout mode, Blitz. It has two variants, one being a mixture of Domination and the other being Blitz Firefight where you have to survive against waves of enemies. This new mode is a mixture of real-time strategy with card-based mechanics. Blitz turns the classic elements of RTS on its head as there are no bases and you summon units using your card hand that you collect from packs. These packs are rewarded to you by leveling up, completing campaign missions and challenges. Although there are micro-transactions for Blitz, which easily becomes pay-to-win, it is still a welcome addition for an RTS. Each game of Blitz is fast-paced and packed full of non-stop action goodness. It also provides a feeling of satisfaction when you finally unlock that Legendary card that you have been waiting for.
Controls – Halo Wars 2 features keyboard and mouse support to make it more accessible comfortable for computer players out there. RTS games require heavy micro-management which is difficult to do on a controller, however, Halo Wars 2’s Xbox One controls work harmoniously. Everything is simplified and mapped exceptionally well onto the button layout. This simplified control scheme is simple to play with for newcomers to this genre and veterans, alike. Moreover, Halo wars 2 allows you to organize your army into smaller squads enabling you to attack on two different fronts. This new feature offers us further strategies such as the pincer movement. There’s nothing more rewarding than destroying your enemies from both flanks.
Bugs, Glitches and Load Times – As with any new title on the market, there are bound to be bugs. Although the loading times are quite long, they are mitigated by voiced mission briefings. As already stated earlier, the voice acting is impressive which attenuates some of the boredom from waiting. It’s just a glorified loading screen but helps to understand your mission objectives and what you need to do during the campaign. In addition to this, Halo Wars 2 crashed on me a couple times in the middle of matches which was exasperating especially when you are approaching victory. There are also smaller bugs like being unable to open up Blitz packs, joining your friends to play some games, small freezes from time to time and units glitching into place being unable to move.
Missing Game-types – It disheartened me to see the exclusion of old game-types like Tug of War, Keep Away, Reinforcements and Deathmatch. Although Halo Wars 2 does have something called Deathmatch, the rules in this one are different. Deathmatch in the original title started you off with a crazy amount of resources and power, allowing you to build whatever you wanted from the get-go. Deathmatch in Halo Wars 2 is a normal match where you start off with a small, limited amount of resources and build up from there. Hopefully, the original game-types will be included in a future update for those of us who miss it.
Halo Wars 2 does everything bigger, better and louder. It is a worthy sequel to the most under-rated Halo game of all. Although there are some issues with it, it is by no means a bad sequel. Halo Wars 2 keeps the RTS genre fresh with the addition of Blitz mode, but also accommodates convoluted controls onto a button scheme for anyone to grasp. Some fans may find the transformation of the traditional first-person shooting Halo into RTS arduous and burdensome, but it still offers heavy Halo story and lore that all fans should experience and enjoy.
- Graphics - 85%85%
- Gameplay - 80%80%
- Controls - 75%75%
- Sound - 75%75%
- Replay Value - 70%70%
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Halo Wars 2 was developed by 343 Studios with Creative Assembly and published by Microsoft. It was released for Xbox One [reviewed] and Microsoft Windows on February 21st, 2016 worldwide. A press review copy was purchased for review by The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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