Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Halo Wars 2 takes place 28 years after the events of the first Halo Wars, which places it more in line with the rest of the Halo franchise timeline, as Halo Wars took place 20 years prior to the first Halo event … Halo Wars 2 finds the UNSC Spirit of Fire back in action after floating adrift in space, her crew in cryo, with the now-rampant AI Serina waking the crew as the Spirit of Fire floats above a mysterious Arc. Rejoin Captain Cutter, Professor Anders, and what remains of te now AI-less UNSC Spirit of Fire as they wake to a new enemy.
I have loved the Halo for near on two decades now; when Halo was first shown off in the late 90’s / early 00’s, I was immediately hooked. When Eric Nylund’s Halo: The Fall of Reach was published in October of 2001, just a few weeks before Halo: Combat Evolved released, I was sucked into an amazing universe full of space ships, pop culture references, and stunning universe development. Some of my fondest memories from the early 00’s would be playing couch co-op with my brother, deftly destroying the Covenant menace as I drove and Jeff shot. I keenly recall the chaotic madness that was the utterly terrifying, grossly dank, and dimly lit “343 Guilty Spark” and the equally frightening and utterly horrifying follow-up level, “The Library.” In the past 16 years, we gamers have been blessed (and cursed) with a handful of titles; from the putrid Halo 2 and Halo 3 to the spinoff Halo Wars, to the absolute pinnacle of Bungie’s run, Halo: Reach, we have survived to Finish the Fight. Halo undoubtedly holds a special place in my heart, as I am sure it does for you.
I admittedly played Halo: Wars far less than I should have; for all of the love I have for the franchise, it is hard for me to not scoff at the plebeians vying for the fifth place of quality within the RTS genre. Warcraft, Starcraft, Command & Conquer, and Age of Empires are behemoths and here was this upstart trying to carve out a niche, and on a console no less. It simply could not happen. While Halo Wars was exciting, fun, and a great way to approach the genre on a console, I cannot say that it could not be graded on the same scale as Blizzard and Westwood’s RTS behemoths, but it is absolutely a solid RTS in its own right. To be expected when you see that Ensemble Studios, developers behind Bungie in Halo Wars, also brought us the venerable Age of Empires franchise. Continuing to harness the expertise of the strategy game geniuses at Creative Assembly, the minds behind the Total War franchise (amongst others) Halo Wars 2 brings to bear the Halo world in an RTS setting on the Xbox One and its Play Anywhere functionality.
Rejoining the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire the first thing that should strike you is the quality of the cutscenes. Since 343 Industries have taken over the franchise, the amount of care and quality placed into the pre-rendered cutscenes can and will give both Blizzard and Square Enix a run for their money. Captain Cutter’s rugged face, scraggly 5 o’clock shadow, and draped uniform, the stunning quality and absolute perfection (without hyper-sexualizing) Professor Anders, all of it. I was in awe, and in this day and age, that should not be the case, but it is. The attention to detail is beyond amazing, and it does not stop at the between-mission movies, as the battlefields are almost disgustingly nice. Each unit in a band of UNSC Marines is meticulously animated while the vehicle-heavy contingent of land forces are painstakingly detailed. Simply setting foot within the campaign (which you should NOT do if you have not played Halo Wars) feels instantly familiar and though you are in a new, facing a pseudo-new enemy, touching down on the Ark is both alien and comforting; Halo Wars 2 feels like coming home after a long and stressful trip.
An area of concern that I had prior to spending any real time with Halo Wars 2 was the controls; Halo Wars (original) while simple felt really wooden and imprecise. The controls are just as simple as the original, but far more accurate and natural feeling. In Halo Wars (the original) it felt unnatural to use a controller, and even returning to Halo Wars: Definitive Edition after playing Halo Wars 2 shows there was something off about the original. Not that it was bad, just foreign feeling. That oddity is essentially gone with Halo Wars 2, as every aspect of control is fluid and easy to work with. I do have to say though, that I kind of wish I could pause the game and assign orders (if that is possible, I have not seen were to do it), it would give me a little more time to react to some of the action, or to be more tactical in my approach. More of a wishlist item for the Halo Wars franchise rather than any real detriment to the game.
Halo Wars is a comfortable and appropriate evolution of the original and is a glowing successor to the original’s daring attempt at creating a real-time strategy game for consoles. A new threat, an old friend, Halo Wars 2 fits into the entire Halo franchise quite well. The biggest complaint that I have with Halo Wars 2 is less about the game and more about the franchise. Time and time again it feels that 343 Industries has strung out the franchise with a carrot-on-a-stick, and that carrot is always “another splinter faction of the Covenant is haywire, go kill them all.” While fun it has gotten old, quickly, and I would love to see something truly new come out of the franchise, but until that happens, Halo Wars 2 is an excellent spinoff series for Halo fans.Score: 8.25 / 10