It’s funny to think of a Halo game as a throwback, but that’s exactly what Halo Wars 2 feels like. Creative Assembly’s and 343’s sequel to the Xbox 360 RTS seems like the kind of game no one was really asking for, but one we didn’t know we needed. However, it’s possible that strongly linking this beauty of a simple and fun RTS to the Xbox One and Windows 10 store only will end up hurting its potential growth and longevity. For make no bones about it – Halo Wars 2 is a good game, and one that most fans of strategy should try. This is our Halo Wars 2 review.
The Classic Feel
Halo Wars 2, especially through its campaign and more basic online play, is a tried and true base-building RTS. If you’ve played StarCraft, WarCraft, Red Alert, or literally any other RTS, chances are you know what to expect. Built armies, swarm enemies, rule the day. I played Halo Wars 2 on PC, where controlling units and special abilities is pretty much the same as it ever was. I’ve seen reports that the controls make HW2 a more difficult experience on XB1, and I believe it. The RTS has always been a game for mice and keyboards, so bear that in mind.
The good thing? It all works well. The downside is that Halo Wars 2’s basic gameplay doesn’t push the genre forward in any meaningful, which feels like a missed opportunity for both the IP and the idea of an RTS on a next generation console. There’s very little risk taken. The campaign, while wonderfully wrought and filled with fantastic “against all odds” heroism, is sadly short at only 12 missions. The game’s main innovation is Blitz Mode – basically Clash Royale as interpreted by Halo Wars 2.
This whole thing may sound familiar to Clash Royale fans, and that’s the point.
It’s a Ball Room Blitz
While the core game modes of Halo Wars 2 are basic in their presentation, Blitz Mode is likely to keep the game’s fanbase playing for months. Red Team and Blue Teams (1v1, 2v2, or 3v3) face off against each other while vying over 3 strategic capture points in the middle of the map. You have a base you can retreat to heal at, a la MOBAs, but the core function of the game is to capture and hold at least two points on the map. Do that and you’ll tick up points. First one to 200 wins, which means matches are done in around 10 minutes or less more often than not.
You control one of the game’s main characters as a commander, but this basically just determines the cards you can have in your 12-card deck. Yes, that’s right – no bases and limited resources means you use a deck of cards each with an amount of points required to summon them to command your army. As matches progress, supply drops of energy resources are randomly dropped on the map. Aside from capturing points, getting these supplies is of the utmost importance. Without them, you only get a few energy every second, and the extra resources can mean life or death in defending or capturing a point.
Here’s where it gets weird…
This whole thing may sound familiar to Clash Royale fans, and that’s the point. It’s Halo Wars 2’s most accessible and quickest type of PVP. 1v1 queues take no time at all to pop, and playing with friends in 2v2 or 3v3 is a real blast. You earn more cards and can collect multiples to level up your units as you play and level your profile. But the kicker? You can also just straight up buy more packs of cards from the game for real money.
Some folks will undoubtedly call this Pay 2 Win, and I say yes it is – but also welcome to the life of CCG games, which Blitz mode basically is. Personally, I’d have rather they kept the card buying out of it, except with an in-game resource. Players already paid $60 or more for the game, the Blitz card packs just seem like greed to me. If instead Halo Wars Blitz was its own game, and a F2P one we could download on Steam? I’d be more inclined to let the practice slide. Thankfully, if you prefer your RTS multiplayer in more traditional formats, you don’t need to play Blitz. But you’d also be missing a lot of fun. And sadly, there’s no ranked mode yet in Halo Wars 2, so aside from leveling and achievement hunting, there’s little real reason to play online for very long right now.
Creative Assembly and 343 Industries should be proud of their work here.
Closing Thoughts in our Halo Wars 2 Review
Creative Assembly and 343 Industries should be proud of their work here. Halo Wars 2 isn’t perfect, and it’s not likely to win over tons of new RTS fans. But for fans of the game-starved genre (which is admittedly seeing a resurgence of sorts), Halo Wars 2 is a bright spot. It’s a little shallow, a little greedy with Blitz cards, and a little short in the campaign. But it’s a good game overall, and one I’d gladly play more of in the future. Keep it up, CA and 343i.
Editor’s Note: Our copy of Halo Wars 2 was provided to us for review purposes by Microsoft’s PR firm.