Halo Wars 2 Review – Sticking To Its Guns

Microsoft /

The sequel to Halo Wars holds true to the original formula, without pushing the boat out.

Developers: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), Windows 10

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Despite being a game of huge battles and grand designs within the Halo universe, Halo Wars 2 is a game that settles back into the foundations established in the first game instead of pushing forward to break new ground for the franchise.

Whereas the first Halo Wars was a strategy game that even a human equivalent of a sloth could master, the sequel wisely sticks to the proven formula, never over-complicating things for the player, or flinging too much information at their screen at any one time. The slowest or least experienced strategic players can understand the mechanics of Halo Wars 2 within an hour, through a few easily-digestible tutorials.

The user interface has also been streamlined, in an attempt to make the game fundamentally easier to learn for all players. You can zip around the map, between your individual bases and units, through the use of just a single button on the D-pad, this effectively giving the player the ability to be everywhere at once, which is a common concern for the less experienced players (such as myself).

Credit Microsoft
Credit Microsoft /

Although the campaign for Halo Wars 2 takes a similar approach to its predecessor in easing off the information, it somewhat backfires in this game. Plot depth and complex characters are sacrificed for a simplistic story. The player issues commands from the UNSC Spirit of Fire throughout the campaign, the crew of which have just woken up from roughly 20 years of cryosleep, only to find themselves faced with a vast army of ‘Banished’ Covenant troops.

What follows is something straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, as the outnumbered and outgunned crew of the Spirit of Fire attempt to take down a force that even the Covenant couldn’t contain. The fact that Halo Wars 2 largely does away with the convoluted lore that Halo 5: Guardians featured is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air, but this does unfortunately come at the cost of any memorable characters or plot points in Halo Wars 2.

However, there’s a certain suspension of disbelief required when taking in the task that the crew of the Spirit of Fire is up against. Isabel, a recovered AI, reveals that the Banished can take over an entire planet without breaking a sweat, and that entire civilizations have crumbled against their onslaught, most notably the Covenant from which they departed. Therefore, although the majority of the campaign missions are light skirmishes against the Banished, you’ll have to forget the fact that all your forces are merely half the crew of an old ship.

Credit Microsoft
Credit Microsoft /

The campaign itself, while being considerably short in length, does provide quite a variety of experiences within individual missions. The player can be tasked with capturing objectives or bases, defending certain checkpoints on the map, and repelling waves of enemies for a limited amount of time. While developer 343 has transplanted the different multiplayer modes into the levels of the campaign, there’s still enough here to provide a certain amount of entertainment for the limited run time.

Within the multiplayer itself, further variety can be found through a number of game objectives, as well as selecting how many players to either play with or against. There is Strongholds, Domination, or the obvious Deathmatch modes, and while the former two require some degree of tactical thinking, the latter truly encourages all-out warfare with the elimination of all enemy forces prioritized. In Strongholds, each player has until the end of the match to acquire as many bases as possible, with the winner being whoever has the most bases at the end of the game.

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Domination, meanwhile, forces each player to spread their resources considerably thin, as they are tasked with capturing and holding the most objective markers on the map. These different game modes go a long way to suiting the individual tastes of each player, and this becomes even more apparent when considering it’s possible to play with 1, 2 or no teammates at all, against the same amount of opposing players.

However all this comes at something of a price, as where variety is offered through game modes in Halo Wars 2, it lacks in terms of Leader characters. At the beginning of the game, each player must select a Leader with a certain array of special abilities, for example, while Captain Cutter focuses on ariel bombardments, Isabel chooses to provide support and protection to her troops through certain skills. While these sound like they would drastically affect the battle, they only do through very limited usage, as each Leader ability is weighed down with a large cool-down timer, severely restricting their use in the heat of battle.

Halo Wars 2. 6. While Halo Wars 2 is a welcoming strategy game through easy controls and mechanics, the game is severely held back by Leaders with limited uses, forgettable characters, and an entirely uninteresting campaign.. 343 Studios.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.