Title: Halo Wars 2
Format: PC, Xbox One
Developer: Creative Assembly/343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: February 17 (Ultimate Edition)/February 21 (Standard Edition)
The Grade: A-
HW2 Haiku Review
Spirit of Fire lives
Bad guys are called the Banished
What is it? In this sequel to the popular 2009 real-time strategy game (RTS) “Halo Wars,” players once again command UNSC Marines, Spartans and vehicles like Warthogs and Scorpions against a new enemy called, the Banished. Taking place directly after the events of “Halo 5: Guardians,” players can jump into large battlefields solo, cooperatively or in multiplayer.
The Good: “Halo Wars 2” has a compelling story that’s bound to draw gamers in. The Spirit of Fire has been in hyper sleep for 28 years and somehow they’ve appeared at a mysterious, uncharted planet. When a group of Spartans goes to explore the planet, they meet Atriox, a brute leader of a group of rogues known as the Banished.
Told through a series of cinematic cutscenes, the plot of “Halo Wars 2” is fascinating. Detailed and with rich characters, including a new AI named Isabel, the action gamers will dive into comes with a relevant purpose. Without your help, the rest of the universe is in danger. There’s an intensity to this title that’s incredibly engaging.
Game presentation is another area where “Halo Wars 2” shines. Worlds and maps are eye catching and nuanced, with a variety of stunning locales. The attention to detail in this title is first rate. Foliage moves realistically, soldiers and vehicles look great and map levels have texture and depth. One level even had tiny, multicolored butterflies flying around. The audio quality is equally strong. Sound effects were authentic and deep and the dialogue for soldiers is varied and can be quite humorous. I laughed when a marine was channeling his inner John McClane and yelled, “Welcome to the party pal!”
If you’re familiar with the gameplay from the original “Halo Wars,” you’ll feel comfortable jumping into this sequel. That said, gameplay controls are more complex and your commanded soldiers have a greater array of capabilities. Spartans can hijack vehicles and have new abilities, soldiers can garrison behind certain structures for cover and matching up units to face certain kinds of foes requires greater planning for success. Players will also be using the D-pad a lot more. Although PC players won’t have any issues, RTS titles aren’t too common on consoles (I played "Halo Wars 2" on my Xbox One). There may be a learning curve for some, but I believe most players will enjoy the greater amount of control they’ll have in this title.
The Bad: While the cut scenes are stunning and a great way to get players’ attention, there just isn’t enough of them. I counted a total of seven, with three of them being played before the action truly gets started. It’s a shame developers Creative Assembly and 343 didn’t fully embrace this aspect of the game as I found it riveting. Also, and this is a minor quibble, but I really wish the camera was able to zoom in closer. The world of “Halo Wars 2” is so gorgeous that I just want to explore it in greater detail. The zoom feature here isn't any different then any other RTS game but the environments, soldiers and vehicles would have been fun to examine up close.
More troubling are some random glitches I encountered. I wasn't able to complete the Blitz tutorial because my controller wasn’t reading my button presses. There can also be random difficulty spikes, which forced me to drop to a lower difficulty from time to time. These issues are infrequent but were annoying. Hopefully they can be corrected with a patch after launch.
The Grade: “Halo Wars 2” proves yet again that even though the Master Chief is one of gaming’s greatest heroes, you don’t need him to tell a compelling story in the Halo universe. This newest title, with a great single player, enjoyable co-op and fun multiplayer mode has every component a fan of the series can ask for. “Halo Wars 2” is a great addition to the franchise.
Gazette Media Columnist Terry Terrones is a veteran video game journalist. He has written for numerous publications including GamePro, GamesBeat, PC World, GameZone, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/terryterrones.