Halo Wars 2 review for Xbox One, PC

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Creative Assembly / 343 Industries
Medium: Blu-ray
Players: 1-6
Online: Yes

It?s not often you?ll see a game get a sequel 8 years after the fact, but if any game deserves it, I?d say Halo Wars does. And boy oh boy what a sequel. As someone who enjoys real time strategy games in a more casual way (dabble in StarCraft, occasionally review) Halo Wars 2 is easy to pick-up and understand, with fantastic controls, a compelling campaign, and what looks to be a pretty robust multiplayer side. I say looks to be because I wasn?t able to play much of it against real-world opponents, but assuming the launch goes off without a hitch, I think players are in for a treat.

Set 28 years after the events of Halo Wars, the sequel picks up with the crew of the Spirit of Fire coming out of a cyrogenically induced slumber to a universe that?s passed them by. The overall timeline is now set close to the events of Halo 5, but Captain Cutter and crew aren?t clear on the events of the Covenant War or anything that?s transpired since. They?re also down a ship A.I., and have woken up outside of an Ark facility, which is one of the locations responsible for the creation of the titular Halo. Needless to say they are a little disoriented, but they?ll have little time to study the last two decades of history after encountering Atriox.

Atriox is a brute (literally), and the main bad of Halo Wars 2. The first couple cinematics do a great job of building up this villain that split off from the Covenant and made his own army. Throughout Halo Wars 2 you?ll fight against his army, the Banished, which is largely comprised of recognizable Covenant units and vehicles, but still cool nonetheless. I?ve greatly enjoyed the campaign, more so I think than the past couple of main series Halo titles. Atriox is somewhat relatable as a villain, and learning his backstory and motivations was key to my enjoyment here.

It also helps that Halo Wars 2 is an absolute blast to play. Much like its predecessor, it does a great job of mapping the controls of what is traditionally thought of as a mouse and keyboard experience to an actual controller. Creative Assembly and 343 pick up where Ensemble Studios left off in that regard, giving  a number of shortcuts, unit gathering, and quick selection tools that make the controls feel comfortable and intuitive. You can create  your own groups, and map those to the d-pad for easy cycling. You can switch between bases quickly, you can manually select large groups at once, all units on screen, or all units on field. You can quickly navigate the map manually if need be, and the map does a great job of highlighting units or bases under attack. Seriously, the controls are top notch, and the optional tutorials really make it all come together without feeling tedious.

The campaign features a number of unique scenarios and set-ups that ease you into the concept of base building and unit upgrades, which in turn pours into the various multiplayer modes in a pretty organic fashion. Campaign maps and situations tend to get progressively complex as you advance through the dozen or so chapters, and on Normal difficulty I found a decent challenge within a number of stages. Whether I?m defending beaches from Banished assault vehicles, or controlling Spartan unit Alice-130 as she rescues P.O.W.?s, you?ll find that no one campaign mission feels identical to the next.

And then there?s the multiplayer portion of Halo Wars 2. There?s a number of modes, featuring 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, and 3 vs. 3 varieties. You can opt for more traditional RTS multiplayer deathmatches, wherein you?ll battle it out with an opponent in an attempt to wipe them from the map. There?s also a domination mode that features controllable map points that generate points for whatever side manages to keep them captured. Rounding out the standard multiplayer selections is Strongholds, where each side will attempt to build and maintain as many facilities as possible on the map within a time limit. There?s a number of customizable options, along with ranked and unranked variations, giving players a decent amount to do.

Another featured online mode, Blitz, actually removes the concept of base building and resource gathering from the equation entirely. Instead you?ll select a leader unit, and a deck of cards built from unlockable packs (which can also be purchased). Most cards in your deck represent units like Scorpion tanks, Grunts, UNSC soldiers, and so on. There?s differing degrees of rarity, and you can upgrade a card by obtaining more copies of it. While I know some will scoff at the concept of a mode that revolves around random packs of cards that whales can throw money at, I honestly enjoyed playing it quite a bit. You?ll get a fair number of packs from just completing the campaign, and the rarity distribution seemed fair. I managed to obtain a decent number of ?legendary? status cards without spending a dime on in-game purchases.

So yes, I wholeheartedly urge you to check out Halo Wars 2, whether it?s with the release of the Ultimate Edition this week or the standard release next Tuesday. It?s packed with content on both the multiplayer and single-player side, all of which is fun to play. It also has a pretty fantastic story attached to it, incredible cutscenes, and an amazing soundtrack to boot. Ideally we won?t have to wait another 9 years for a Halo Wars 3.

Grade: A+