By quickly shutting down the studio responsible for the original real-time strategy experiment Halo Wars in 2009, Microsoft didn’t exactly provide much reason to think we’d ever see a sequel that would capitalize on the promise of the original. Eight years later, the game many people never thought would come to be has escaped development hell to land on your Xbox One. The result is better than most people could have expected, even though it’s still plagued by some nagging shortcomings from the past.
Games: Halo Wars 2
Consoles: Xbox One (reviewed), PC
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: February 21
Set in the aftermath of Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2 hurls you into a conflict left in turmoil. The battle lines remain familiar. You are part of a UNSC corps sent adrift in hibernation for deep space travel, meant to be called upon when their forces are needed once again. Even though the Covenant have been defeated, a breakaway faction called the Banished are out to set themselves up as warlords who seize power at all costs. You’re tasked to stand up to the rogues by building up resources to contain and snuff out the threat. That sets up the typical RTS routine of parsing out units, controlling choke points and pecking away at enemy strongholds.
Borrowing from card-based games such as Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, the structure gives you the chance to expand your capabilities via card packs. Whether you’re utilizing overpowered, tide-turning units, juiced-up weapons or attribute boosts that speed up your development and building capabilities on the fly, your ability to orchestrate your fluctuating resources — thinking on your feet without a chance to slow things down and sort out the best plan of attack — makes the difference between winning and losing.
An Xbox One copy of the game unlocks the Windows version. Even though the game was built from the ground up to thrive on consoles — with accessible menus and readouts, as well as hot keys that keep you in control of the ever-shifting battlefield — the genre is such a natural fit on PC that you’re selling yourself short if you don’t check out that version. Multiplayer is strong no matter which version you stick with, and the game looks to grow stronger over time, with new units, weapons, cards and scenarios coming as DLC.
While the top-down, chess-meets-card-game structure of Halo Wars titles will never be much more of a distraction as hardcore Halo fans wait for the next FPS entry, there is plenty to be said for the welcome change of pace and world-building Halo Wars 2 accomplishes. Despite the seeming finality of Halo 5, games like this prove that the franchise still has plenty of room to stretch out as we advance deeper into the Xbox One era. Providing brainy thrills that establish a more sweeping sense of conflict than games dominated by one-man Spartan armies ever could, the sequel proves that there is room for RTS in the Halo universe, which continues to offer thrills and surprises as it ages.
Halo Wars 2 Reviews Around The Web:
“Microsoft is serious about making this game work on the console and expanding the market for RTS titles.” –VentureBeat
“Intriguing right from the very beginning.” –Fanbolt
“One part deck-building game, one part MOBA, and definitely different than what I’ve come to expect from the stagnant real-time strategy genre. It got me excited.” –PCWorld
Halo Wars 2 Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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