I think we all remember one of the most famous real-time, base-building strategy games to have ever been developed – StarCraft. Growing up, I can recall indulging in hours of StarCraft after school and loving every minute of it. And, for the record, yes, I did use the cheat codes. I was a young and naïve gamer, what do you expect?! Anyway, seeing as I am not reviewing StarCraft, I will move on past this over extended introduction. Halo Wars 2 couples the Halo universe with a real-time, base-building strategy game. I did not play much of the first Halo Wars, but I played enough to be excited about the second addition to the Halo Wars 2 universe. And, guess what, I got teased at PAX East 2017 by playing a little bit of the campaign there. Full disclosure… The Big White Angus and I experienced this game together as a team – utilizing the co-op modes that this game offers. Let’s see how it did!
Blue Ball Score: 19 out of 25 balls
The gameplay and controls were phenomenal. The controls were simple, but offered complex functionality for those hardcore gamers. The thing that differentiated Halo Wars 2 from many of its companions is that the complex functionality did not have to be used to enjoy the game. It wasn’t as convenient as it may be if you played on a PC (just clicking F1, F2, etc.), but Halo Wars 2 did an excellent job of working in some control flexibility without overwhelming the gamer. For example, you could select local units only by clicking a single button, or you could select all your units by double clicking that same button. Then, after selecting all units, you could click one more button to target specific types of units within the collective whole. Now of course, if you are a hardcore or competitive gamer, you could always set up some ‘assigned’ units and utilize the Xbox’s version of ‘hotkeys’. Even then, this functionality was not complex or hard to use.
Now, let’s talk about the core of the game; Develop a strategy-based base building (‘-based base? Does that even make sense?’) experience. The best thing about this game is that it did not FEEL like you were playing a typical ‘base building’ game. It incorporated a story line (to be discussed later) pretty well and each mission was played slightly different. You may start off the mission as a kick ass Spartan with very little troops and must fight your way to a base site. Or, perhaps you start off with building a base from the beginning and must fight a boss at the end? Or!!! Just maybe you start AND finish the mission with a small squad without EVER building a base! Who knows! Halo Wars 2 does an excellent job of mixing it up and keeping it as spicy as a Mexican chili pepper.
So, Halo Wars 2’s gameplay is nothing short of amazing. The controls are simple, easy to learn and grasp, and offer advanced functionality that is also easy to learn and grasp. The game doesn’t ‘feel’ like a typical strategy base-building game through implementing a lot of different elements to always keep throwing new and exciting things at you. For these reasons, I give it a perfect 5/5 balls.
The campaign had me hyped up! The first opening scenes were intense, inspiring, and dramatic. From the reasoning behind why Atriox and the Banished exist, to scurrying away from their army in warthogs as hellfire and brimstone reign down from the skies, to Captain Cutter’s inspirational speech, it had my fritters in a fray so-to-speak. Halo Wars 2 did a solid job of quickly explaining the background of the antagonist (Atriox and the Banished) and framing up what your objective was for the game from a high-level view. And, much to my surprise, the storyline was a bit deeper than I would initially expect. Most games in this genre are just ‘build up your base for World domination!’ But, Halo Wars 2’s storyline went a little deeper than that (if ya know what I mean!).
Also, it is worth mentioning that the campaign is not totally confusing if you haven’t played the first Halo Wars. I am sure one would understand what is going on a bit more and perhaps have some more character knowledge, but if you haven’t played the first Halo Wars you won’t be totally lost. So, for me, that was much appreciated.
Moving on, the most striking thing about the Halo Wars 2 campaign experience was the varying modes. You had your standard campaign which was single player or co-op, but you also had a skirmish mode which could be single player or co-op. I would describe skirmish as multiplayer practice. You go against the AI in game modes that can also be found on multiplayer. You can customize the difficulty to constantly challenge yourself and make your game better. Also, you can test out any new multiplayer strategies you may come across. The Big White Angus and I took full advantage of these modes as we made our way through the campaign missions with BRUTE force (no pun intended).
In conclusion, the campaign kept it spicy within the missions themselves, offered a variety of game modes and ways to play the campaign that would appeal to any gamer, and was just very well balanced. For these reasons, it gets another perfect 5/5 balls.
Why are you such a drama queen, Tasty? Well, it is because I am terrified to review this section of Halo Wars 2. There was a moment when the Angus and I attempted one game of multiplayer (off camera) as a dry run to see if we would get demolished like a 5-star hooker’s thong line on a Saturday night. And, just as we expected, we did… It wasn’t pretty. We are too old to be “competitive gamers” in anything, and there we were, attempting to play a game that is purely competitive. Makes sense, right?
All this aside, I will tell you what I know. The multiplayer offered 5 distinct modes: Deathmatch, Domination, Strongholds, Blitz, and Rumble. The one game of multiplayer I played was Deathmatch and it was fun and thrilling… uuuuunnnntil the Angus and I got demolished in one fell swoop. Domination is where you hold points on the map until you reach the target score. Strongholds is a combination of those two. You are on a timer and the goal is to have more bases than your opponent(s) does. Next, Blitz is a whole new beast. It is a mode that is totally new to Halo Wars and it takes a resource-free card-like approach. I don’t know the specifics unfortunately, but you use cards to build your army that you have acquired via packs by earning accomplishments, achievements, etc. throughout the game. Finally, Rumble looked like a very fun, chaotic game mode to me. You get unlimited resources and upgrades. Yeah, I said it… UNLIMITED! I was too scared to play it, but I can only imagine it would be chaotic and fast-paced. With all these slightly different game modes, that helps in preventing the game from getting boring.
Also, you had varying team sizes. You could go ‘mano a mano’ (the classic 1v1), dupes (2v2), or you could get kinky with it in a ‘manaja twa’ (3v3). You had a social/unranked game mode for people like me, even though we still got pooped on. Or, you could get jiggy with it in some ranked playlists and test your might!
Now, as I have mentioned earlier, this type of game is competitive by nature. Just look at all the StarCraft tournaments around the world. Have you ever heard of anyone playing StarCraft’s multiplayer recreationally? No, it doesn’t exist. It is like leprechauns riding unicorns; It just doesn’t exist. But, that limits the appeal of the multiplayer alone. Although the varying campaign modes bring enough to the table to keep you entertained, the multiplayer appeals mostly to the competitive-type.
So, as you can see, the multiplayer isn’t bad, but it does have a strict audience appeal (to be discussed more in-depth later). Its varying game modes help to keep it spicy, interesting, and challenging (especially the Blitz game mode), but its strict audience appeal lead this to a sad 2/5 balls.
Admittedly, that reference wasn’t needed, but it felt right in the moment (that’s what she said).
Moving on, I quickly gained mixed feelings about the graphics of this game. The opening cinematic scenes and game graphics got me rock hard, but then it went downhill. And back up again. And back downhill. And back up again. Look, you get the point. The point is that the graphics were too inconsistent for me. Now, look, I get it. The graphics aren’t going to be the best or most realistic for this genre of game, but even this level of “acceptance” wasn’t met. And, above all, it was inconsistent. The cinematic scenes were solid, but the in-game graphics and in-game cut scenes weren’t very good. At times, they would seem awesome, but if you moved too fast, or zoomed in too much, it would crap out. So, there were just too many inconsistencies in there for my tastes. During E3, I heard rumors of a free 4K Xbox One X upgrade for Halo Wars 2 so we will see how that goes…
The audio? Amazing. The character audios were amazing (especially Captain Cutter. I have a man crush on him.). And, the in-game sounds seemed spot on to me. For example, the warthogs sounded like what they did in Halo 3. The marines’ guns shooting off was music to my ears. It all sounded like it was supposed to. Also, I thought the soundtrack and in-game music was sexy. It suited the moments perfectly and had a general Halo-like feel. What I am saying is the audio was consistent. Unlike the graphics…
For these reasons, I give this section 3/5 balls.
Audience appeal is important with any game. But, some games are developed specifically for competition with recreational play being the minority in this case. As I have mentioned earlier, base-building games are typically more focused on this competitive style of play. We see this especially with mobile apps; Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, etc. all fit this bill. Fortunately, Halo Wars 2 does not.
Halo Wars 2 is a jack-of-all trades. You have varying multiplayer game modes – social for those who want to have some fun and ranked for those who are super cereal and competitive in the game. Now, I will say, that there is a clear bias towards the ranked side in the game. With ranked playlists, you can choose specifically the team sizes, but the social is more ‘you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!’ But, this competitive emphasis aside, there were several different game modes that you could try and they were all different in purpose (fun, chaotic, serious, fast-paced, etc.). And, let’s not forget, you can always make a custom game.
And, most importantly, the campaign has a storyline to it. It isn’t some cheesy, shallow, hack job of a plot and has some depth to it. Now, I am not saying it is as deep as a plot-focused game (such as Assassin’s Creed), but compared to its fellow base-building comrades Halo Wars 2 shines in this area. It has single player, as well as co-op, campaign modes. You can either play the campaign or play against the AI in whichever way you choose and practice your multiplayer strategies with varying difficulties to always challenge yourself.
So, although the multiplayer has a bias towards competitive play, it does offer several diverse ways to enjoy the game and hone your skills. The campaign contains a nice storyline/plot and you can play alone, with a buddy, or hone your multiplayer skills in the Skirmish game mode. For these reasons, it gets 4/5 balls.
As you can see, Halo Wars 2 was just freakin’ awesome man! The controls were simple and easy to learn while also providing some optional complex functionality (that was also easy to learn). Although this game is a strategy base-building game, it doesn’t always feel like it. The campaign has an enjoyable plot, offers several diverse ways to experience it, and offers a couple separate ways to play the AI and hone your multiplayer skills. The multiplayer puts a clear emphasis on competitive play, but not nearly as much as its fellow base-building competitors. Although the graphics could use some improving, the audience appeal is nothing short of remarkable in this game. It appeals to just about any type of gamer and it does so in an equal way. Competitive gamers and casual gamers alike can sink a ton of hours in this game and never get tired of it. For all these reasons, I give it a grand total of 19/25 balls.