According to Clay Jensen, Design Director at 343 Industries, Halo Wars 2 has been the most requested game in the series after Halo 5: Guardians.
As someone unfamiliar with the original spin-off RTS title, I found Halo Wars 2 accessible for both newcomers and fans. Stevivor was recently invited to preview two hours of the game, experiencing a short campaign mission and its engaging multiplayer.
Fans of the Halo lore will appreciate Halo Wars 2‘s narrative and world building. Set 28 years after the original Halo Wars and following the events of Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2 introduces a more complex villain than in the past. The game’s protagonists, the Banished, are former Covenant and led by the Brute warlord Atriox. After the fall of the Covenant in Halo 3, Atriox rose to power taking advantage of the political vacuum, creating a civil war.
Gameplay is well-polished and easy to learn. The studio behind Total War, Creative Assembly, are assisting 343 Industries with the development of Halo Wars 2. Players create bases to increase their unit population, build extensions of their bases to spawn units, develop new equipment and upgrade their defences.
Its UI is clean and easy to use, too. You can easily cycle through a selected group of different units using numbered hotkeys. Units are well-varied and designed as well, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and class builds. It isn’t clear how much Creative Assembly were involved in the project, but their influence is welcoming and noticeable within moments of playing.
Unfortunately, the campaign’s level design is linear and not very interesting. In the playable mission, I was tasked with capturing and holding control towers from the enemy until the elevator I needed to progress was fully charged. While there were some entertaining moments and the mission worked as a tutorial level, its level design felt inspired by the classic capture the flag multiplayer mode, only more linear, against AI and with an added narrative. Enemy AI are fairly intelligent, implementing scouts and occasionally rush tactics; but from a series with such blockbuster fantastic campaigns, I was hoping for more original set pieces.
Multiplayer is definitely its most engaging feature and has the most potential. Multiplayer matches are varied, tight and greatly encourage teamwork and communication. Playing on PC, I didn’t notice a team-chat option, but played with others in the same room, creating some tight and hilariously stressful moments. Balancing micro-managing your various bases, resources and units, as well as the whereabouts of your team and enemy players, is frantic and adrenaline pumping.
There’s a variety of multiplayer modes, too. Team Death-match will keep classic RTS fans entertained, but there’s a lot of competitive potential in the more fast-paced Stronghold and Blitz. Stronghold is a unique take on capture the flag, giving players an infinite amount of resources but limited unit population until they capture other areas, defending their team’s territories while preventing the enemy from getting points. It’s fast-paced, exciting and definitely my favourite mode I played, encouraging you to rush the enemy and use attrition tactics.
Blitz is a newer, more experimental mode combining card-based gameplay with the real-time strategy formula. Halo Wars 2’s traditional mechanics of base building, resource and unit management are replaced with a deck of cards. These cards vary from units, buffs and traps, and require energy, which you can find around the battlefield.
There’s an interesting risk and reward layer to Blitz, too. Units spawned outside of your base spawn with half of their health and at their full strength at your base. Determining where and when to spawn your units is stressful but part of what makes Blitz so fun. Decks can be customised and designed as all-rounder, tank, support or DPS builds, as well. You can purchase packs of cards through micro-transactions but you can unlock everything through standard multiplayer profile progression.
It’s always hard to estimate the success of a game from a preview, but there’s a lot of potential in Halo Wars 2 developing into an excellent PVP experience. It’s the sort of game that is both entertaining to play and watch. Although my time with the campaign wasn’t memorable, its polished gameplay and varied multiplayer kept me engaged.
For more on Halo Wars 2, you can watch our interview with Design Director at 343 Industries, Clay Jensen, and check out the open beta.