Halo Wars 2 Review

Dom Peppiatt

There’s this idiom that gets bandied around between gamers that ‘RTS doesn’t work on console’. The original Halo Wars dispelled that to some degree, and Halo Wars 2 outright proves it wrong. From the second you pick the pad up, you know how it all works - the navigation, the UI, the command you have over your troops… it’s all natural, it all works. It all makes sense. Halo Wars 2 takes the foundations the 2009 game established and builds on them, course correcting along the way, and makes a statement: Halo doesn't have to be an FPS franchise.

Let’s start with the campaign: aside from the overt ‘because sci-fi reasons!’ exposition that lands command vessel The Spirit Of Fire in an uncharted area of space against an enemy we’ve handily never heard of, the game’s story is tight. From the off, you’re given the impression that the splinter faction of Covenant you’re up against - the Banished - are bad news. Led by the Brute Atriox, the Banished are more aggressive than typical Covenant forces, and it seems that actually comes across in the campaign, too.

There’s a more domestic story at play in Halo Wars 2, and over 12 story chapters you’ll follow a series of peaks and nadirs of victory and defeat for the crew of The Spirit of Fire, and because the stakes aren’t universe-shattering (as in the Master Chief tales), there definitely are some tangible implications for defeat: this game is about survival, trying to stay one step ahead whilst outmatched and outmaneuvered, and that gives every mission a sense of awesome urgency. Which, bizarrely enough, works quite well in an RTS (especially when it’s measured with the ‘par time’ metric in the results screen of every level).

The story is also a good place to cut your teeth with the controls, because as much as we feel this is a pick-up-and-play kind-of RTS, there are some more technical skills and commands that you’ll need to learn if you want any kind of chance at being successful in multiplayer. Each level of the campaign gives you the opportunity to learn, and it’s all done in baby steps - from cycling through troop types, to pinging to conflict points on the map. From creating custom squads to the series’ infamous selecting all units. It’s less meaty than other RTS games, sure, but in stripping back and focussing on only what’s absolutely necessary to the control scheme, Halo Wars 2 streamlines itself in a wonderful way.

The only notable gripe I had with how the game handles comes from the cursor - it handles quite bulkily and sometimes it’s hard to really pick out a specific unit when you’ve got an army assembled at a rally point, ready to storm a leatherneck base (selecting a hero, for example, becomes more irritating than it should at times).

We like the Flame Troopers' accents.

You’ll need to pick out individual units or smaller squads because the old steam-roller tactic of just maxing out your squads and barrelling into a base doesn’t quite work anymore: instead, missions have multiple objectives (sometimes active at once) and require you to prioritise and issue task forces to various points on the map. Halo Wars’ original ‘everyone kill this thing!’ tactic blows up in your face if you try and use it too much… especially since the game seems to penalise movement speed when you’ve got a whole army on the march.

The game overall is not too hard on anything but Legendary (which is a real chore. Standard Halo). The campaign does have a habit of messing you up, though: certain Banished tricks are totally unpredictable and some levels become a little trial-and-error, forcing you to find out what locations trigger certain events or tactics from the AI. I enjoyed that, though: it’s a sucker punch to the face when you get too complacent with the game, and it keeps you on your toes, stops you sleepwalking through the campaign.

This is a stellar experience in single player, though, and if (like me) you really enjoy a good bit of Halo lore and a fresh story involving Spartans, AI, planet-sized alien architecture and brutal, uh, Brutes, then this is a game for you. The mechanics aren’t dumbed down - rather, they’re streamlined into something understandable and accessible without losing the depth that makes RTS games so damn satisfying to play. Creative Assembly and Microsoft have done the Halo series justice with Halo Wars 2 - and the publisher and developer have collectively proved that the RTS does still have a home on consoles.


You’ll hear a lot of the same lines over and over again, but there’s some comedy gold in the voice acting here and there, and the score is phenomenal. Some mixing is a little off, but the general sound design is strong.

The main game looks pretty, and everything is detailed enough to let you understand what’s going on at any one time. We do think the Xbox One could have perhaps been pushed a bit harder, though: some of the models are quite low-poly and bland up-close. The cutscenes, however, are astonishing - Halo has always had a good pedigree with this stuff, and Halo Wars 2’s are nothing short of spectacular.

The campaign is strong enough that you can enjoy multiple playthroughs, for sure, and the Blitz and Multiplayer modes make Halo Wars 2 a complete package. Easy to learn, difficult to master, probably impossible to become unbeatable at.

The way everything is tied together with cutscenes, voice acting, sound design and some very, very smart UI choices makes Halo Wars 2 a worthy successor to the original game. Microsoft and Creative Assembly offer a lot in this title, and it’s clear it’s been made with respect to the parent franchise and the genre as a whole.

There are standard Halo difficulty-based achievements in here (that stack) and there are good rewards on offer for fulfilling other objectives on the battlefield, too - that’ll give you something to aim for when redoing campaign missions. Multiplayer achievements don’t seem too bad - none of them should be impossible, even for RTS noobs.

Halo Wars 2 is a worthy follow-up to one of the most underrated exclusives on the Xbox 360. The game makes a point of proving RTS games have a place on consoles with a smart, intuitive control system and a campaign that puts older RTS stories to shame. The Halo universe suits the units/base system so well, and if you’re a fan of the series we recommend this game to you - even if you’re not an RTS nut: it’s easy to pick up, it’s fun to play, and it gives a wonderful new perspective on the Halo universe.

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