I recently had the pleasure of attending a hands-on Halo Wars 2 event in London. I arrived at a warehouse decked in neon lights, cut-outs of key characters and a huge cinematic-style backdrop with “Halo Wars 2” logos plastered everywhere in sight. It wasn’t long before I sat down at an Xbox One station (PCs were on the opposite side but my hand-eye coordination is poor at the best of times – I needed to have the familiar Xbox One controller in my hands if I were to be effective). Surrounded by fellow gaming enthusiasts, we all loaded into a campaign mission.
Cinema quality cutscenes informed us of the story and our objective in photorealistic fashion. The cutscenes are truly incredible and extremely atmospheric. The characters are suitably developed however lack… character, but they serve their purpose. Essentially you’ll be the director of how the main conflicts are played out, so don’t expect too much other than exposition in the cutscenes.
Set after the campaign of Halo 5, the main antagonist of Halo Wars 2’s campaign is the Banished, a group of Covenant who successfully rebelled against the Covenant’s regime. The Banished are led by Atriox, a Brute who overthrew the Covenant leaders and led the uprising. The Covenant waged war against humanity and Atriox’s Banished. While Humanity came close to defeat, the Covenant didn’t come close to Atriox. So, that’s what you’re up against.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that, from what I played, the campaign is thoroughly in depth and consistent with Halo lore. It doesn’t just feel tacked on, and unlike some games where the main attraction is the multiplayer, Halo Wars 2 is a well-rounded game with offerings in both single player and online modes.
Playing through the campaign mission showcases each individual unit’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as indicating their special abilities. Warthogs and Jackrabbits are your go-to scouting units, whereas having Spartan Jerome on deck will allow you to hijack enemy vehicles and use them to your advantage.
Something that particularly impressed me about Halo Wars 2 was the finer details of the landscape. If you come across a corpse that has been around a while, flies will surround it, and scavenging birds will fly away when you approach. In addition to this when your units or structures become damaged they will be visibly hurt or destroyed in some way; maybe some of the units will have died off, or a structure will be smoking and aflame.
There’s nothing more satisfying than commanding your army to overthrow an enemy position and absolutely decimating their army. Watching seven hornets take on a group of grunts is rather entertaining. Conversely, getting destroyed by your opponent in multiplayer, while frustrating, is still good fun.
Planning and being strategic isn’t really my strong point but luckily the campaign is forgiving enough (on easy difficulty) to allow me to spam troops and get away with it. The multiplayer however was another story.
We played standard deathmatch which is, as the name suggests, a fight to the death. If you’re successful, you will completely wipe out your opponents and all of their bases. Multiplayer was not my strong point and in addition to deathmatch, we also tried out domination, where we competed for control of designated zones. We fared a little better in domination and Zone control most definitely appears to be my strong suit. If I were to offer advice for multiplayer matches, I would say that scouting out your opponent and planning accordingly is probably a good idea.
Last of all we hit up the new game mode, Blitz. Now, Blitz is a card based game where you open packs to obtain cards which are then used to build decks for specific leaders. This unfortunately means micro-transactions, but if this system is handled as well as Halo 5 handled it, then I have no problem with it whatsoever.
So after you’ve opened your packs, built your deck and loaded into the game, you will have a few starter units. You should use these units to both capture the zones and collect energy. The latter will drop into the battlefield at various intervals and you can play cards in your hand by using the energy you have collected. Save up enough of the good stuff and you can temporarily call in a super unit – A Scarab if you’re playing as a Banished leader, or a Condor if you’re a UNSC leader. These are the game changers, however their time on the battlefield is limited. Using them at the right time will allow you to change the outcome of the game entirely.
Blitz is a great addition to the game and is most probable, in my opinion, to become an eSport. It’s easy to pick up, hard to master, there are thousands upon thousands of deck possibilities, and it is good fun to play and fun to watch, too.
In conclusion then and Halo Wars 2 seeks to perfect the wheel, not reinvent it. It irons out any bumps or sharp edges from Halo Wars and adds a whole host of welcome additions to make it one of my most anticipated games of 2017. I can’t wait to step onto the battlefield and get destroyed by everyone!