Halo Wars 2 is out now if you pre-ordered the special edition copy of the game. If you didn’t, you’re stuck waiting until Tuesday like the rest of us.
Halo Wars 2 falls somewhere between an RTS game for Halo fans and a Halo game for RTS fans. It includes Halo’s FPS roots well, taking the series’ classic missions and altering them in ways that make sense for a strategy game without sacrificing accessibility. Ultimately, this is a very light RTS experience geared toward veteran Halo players, not a robust strategy game, and it runs out of steam quickly.
HW 2 takes place almost three decades after the first Halo Wars and after Halo 5. The crew of the Spirit of Fire emerges from cryosleep and is now taking on a rogue Brute faction called the Banished. Atriox, a Brute known for being kind of cruel, is the main protagonist and you and your army’s priority is finding him and shutting him down. It’s an interesting story as a Halo fan in that it explores other aspects of the universe. There are some gorgeous cutscenes that make following along worthwhile, and even some cheesy action-movie lines, seeing the emotion in their faces is enough to get pulled back in.
Unfortunately, HW2 doesn’t develops its characters in a way that leaves cutscenes feeling more like eye candy than essential additions to the universe. But most pieces of the story feed into battle effectively. Pre-fight dialogue helps to prepare you for what you’re about to face including why troops are in certain positions and why you have to defend specific points which is useful when you’re still getting used to the battle structure. The story integration is smart and not overdone that allows you to find your footing easily.
On the one hand, it’s accessible, but the campaign is only challenging in the final few missions and is a bit anticlimactic. Unlike in the first Halo Wars, you can form custom groups of any combination of units, but you may not need that feature until one of the very last fights. Up until that point in the game, you can get by so long as you keep an eye on your opponent’s unit types and build an appropriate army to counter it, rock-paper-scissors style. Marines make good fodder, Cyclops units counter vehicles, Hellbringers have the upper hand on infantry, ect.
Halo Wars 2 carries forth enough of the series’ beloved elements to make any fan of Halo feel right at home at first, but not in the long run. It’s palatable for those used to the FPS games, taking inspiration from favorite missions and putting a strategic spin on them; but just when things become more challenging and actually interesting, it runs out of steam.