A sequel to 2009’s Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2 brings forth a potential future of RTS, but fails to check enough boxes to be a passable game for RTS veterans.
I have definitely played my fair share of strategy games, on and off-screen, and they’ve been primarily RTSs. I have also had a very limited Halo experience. While Real Time Strategy has traditionally been a PC genre, the Halo series has always been an Xbox-exclusive First Person Shooter, so taking this leap into a (mostly) untapped area would be admirable, if it had translated well to a PC. 343 Industries clearly designed the game with a heavy Xbox One controller focus, something that doesn’t reflect well on a keyboard and mouse. The general oversimplification was particularly frustrating; the interface was far too basic, the menus were unintuitive, and I never really felt like I had made much progress. There’s a lack of any kind of development or major research that would REALLY give you an edge. There are only two resources to collect, and no micromanagement available, which frustrated me. Most games often felt quite similar to one another, including the latency issues I had during multiplayer. I’m sure there are plenty of Halo fans who haven’t really played an RTS, and are looking for an easy introduction, so perhaps the game is not for me and I’m being an insufferable purist. However for me, Halo Wars 2′s saving grace is Blitz mode.
Blitz mode is where you choose your leader and build a deck of cards. Playing either 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 games, players use their hand of cards to play units or abilities, making the game a lot more fast-paced and exciting. The action starts immediately, and is simple enough to still be both fun and challenging. As a big Hearthstone fan and collecting nerd, Blitz mode rubbed me the right way, so much that after the campaign, I just to stuck to Blitz mode as it was the most enjoyable. However Blitz mode does come with its flaws. Opening card packs is usually fun, but occasionally disappointing if it’s not that Dr. B(alanced)oom, and the cards actually LEVEL UP the more you unpack. Unpacking several copies of a Grunt adds to that unit’s in-game power, so experience in Blitz mode will give you the unfair advantage, especially if you can spend disposable income on a game you already paid full price for. Microtransactions on triple A games I have come to begrudgingly accept and tolerate, but paying for an actual advantage is simply unfair to players. Nonetheless, a card X RTS strategy is a welcome take on the genre.
The campaign mode tells the exciting story of grizzled Captain Cutter and his crew, who wake up from cryo-sleep and combat the Banished. The Banished are led by General Atriox, another leader in the game. The campaign mode was actually pretty engaging, and enhanced by the stellar CG cutscenes. I would be interested to see further campaigns added (for free!) in the future, if they’re anything similar to this solid entry to the Halo Universe.
Halo Wars 2 is an anomaly, something that is apparent right from the get-go. An RTS on a console is like a mobile FPS – it’s a weird combination, and something you certainly wouldn’t expect and would probably tend to avoid. However, unlike a mobile FPS, Halo Wars 2 does actually kinda work . Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough for me to keep coming back. The most disappointing aspect was how clearly the game was designed primarily for an Xbox One, and not PC. I imagine it’s much comfier on a console (or rather, a controller), and that it looks, runs and feels better on Xbox One. MOBAs were birthed from RTSs, and perhaps Blitz mode could usher forth a new cross-genre of card games such as Hearthstone, Magic Duels, or even Gwent with a themed RTS, but implementation of microtransactions is a rude move. Overall it was a weak RTS, but displays potential and I respect some of the creative decisions made.