Halo Wars 2
- Developers: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Genre: Real Time Strategy
- Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), Microsoft Windows
- Release Date: 21st February 2017
- Microtransactions: Yes
Build, Shoot. Ooh-Rah!! Repeat
Neil Gaiman has been my favourite author for a good number of years. I’ve enjoyed his body of work throughout the two mediums he has been the most celebrated for (his original script for RoboCop 2 doesn’t quite make my Top 10 I’m afraid). In my opinion American Gods is an absolute triumph in terms of being a culmination of ideas and philosophies he has developed over the decades and allows you to question your own ideologies in ways you never thought you would.
Now, I know right away that many of you will be thinking “has Darren uploaded the wrong review in the wrong section (again)” so I’d best explain. While playing through Halo Wars 2 campaign mode I was afforded ample opportunity to be reacquainted with an old favourite and as it took up as much of my time as playing the game I’m reviewing I thought it only fair to give it acknowledgement.
Essentially it’s a nice way to segway into the review for the game because it instantly sets up your expectations for the bulk of what you’re paying for and helps me to put across many of my concerns in a simplistic manner.
And also because I genuinely believe that more people need to be reading Neil Gaiman’s writings.
So with that out of the way, what did I really think of the game overall?
Put Your Skills To The Test-osterone
I’m gonna make a confession straight away for clarity and fairness. I’m not a huge Halo fan. And not for the reason that many of you would expect, it’s way more bitter than the usual anti-Master Chief rantings that litter message boards. Back in the day Halo 3 was the very first Xbox game that I legitimately 100 percented. Every achievement, every collectable, every Grunts head turned into a party popper because, why not. I felt content and an enormous sense of pride. Then DLC was released and new achievements were added and the completion of the Herculean task I had undertaken was spat on from a great height. Given the absurd difficulty of some of the new achievements added there was exactly zero chance of regaining what I had so cruelly had taken away. Halo owed me.
Since that time I have never really delved into the campaign modes of future releases favouring instead to collect a library of “you won’t believe this sticky bomb kill I just got” videos to impress exactly nobody. So this is my first opportunity to jump back into the rich lore of the Halo Universe, drink a 6 pack of “Alpha Male Juice” (no, not that kind), and blow up the indigenous populations of planets unlucky enough to have me pay a visit.
And as you’ve probably already guessed, hells tits can it be a chore at times.
It’s not that it’s poorly developed or that it’s particularly bad in any department it’s just that way too many aspects of it are mind meltingly repetitive and this is from someone who is a devoted achievement grinder. The main story isn’t exactly fresh nor does it venture down unexpected avenues but that’s hardly a negative as Halo does have a tried and tested narrative that raises few complaints from either avid fans or detractors. But it’s the delivery of the story that had me reaching for the remote desperately trying to find a setting lower than mute. The dialogue from the male characters during cutscenes and the utterings of the marines at your disposal (every. single. time you have to click on them) contains enough testosterone to produce sex changes by osmosis purely from holding the joypad in your hands. They come out with the kind of lines that would have been cut from an 80’s action film for being too unnecessarily macho and instead would be used by Borderland 2’s Mr Torque as a way to lampoon those type of Hulkamania/Commando characters. The truly uninspiring villains seem to blurt out the same threats of violence against their minions with every encounter and are about as fleshed out as a mid 90’s wrestling bad guy.
Even if you do find a way to stomach the dialogue you then have to get past the often tedious task of building. Most missions follow the same line: clear an area, establish a base, build upon it, create troops, send them merrily to their deaths, wait around while your energy stocks are sufficient enough to create more willing target dummies to charge mindlessly at the enemy’s guns. More often than not you will have to sit around and wait (and wait) for your power and supply reserves to recharge enough for you to be able to add to your base, or regenerate slaughtered units, or rebuild turrets as the enemy closes in to bring ruin to your HQ, anyone who has a particular interest in watching numbers slowly increase or circular dials refill will be well within their element. For a game that does lean on it’s moments of action effectively these parts of the game quickly start to grate on your nerves as there can be little else to do while you wait. Yes, you can scout other parts of the map to try and find all of the hidden collectables but as soon as you leave line of sight of your HQ you’ll often find that all hell breaks loose around it and your attention needs to be drawn back to it.
But it can’t be said that these two points make the campaign mode unplayable. Essentially it is well developed in a number of departments, crucially one of which is the controls. I’d recommend to anyone that they do quickly go through the tutorials as even though the controls are fairly instinctive a lot has been done to make what could be complicated simplistic. Later missions that could be problematic with a lesser control system give you a chance to control your units in a way that will allow you to attack, scout, and defend in a playing style that best suits you. Having too many button combos or commands in tense situations would swiftly become irritating and very confusing.
The range of units available to you is also impressive, despite looking limited at first glance. Every unit has a use and are effective when used correctly but they are also forgiving if called upon to take up tasks that they are not designed for. No marines aren’t particularly useful at taking on units of Wraiths but they will slow them down enough for other units to get into the fray. This adaptability again allows you to approach missions in a way that either best suits you or excites your imagination. Yeah, it might take a while to build them but who doesn’t want to send a nest of Scorpions off to slaughter a pocket of Grunts for example?
Graphically the game delivers, mostly in the cutscenes. The face rendering of Isabel alone is exceptional and her facial expressions add a much needed sense of sympathy for the characters compared to the aforementioned rough edges of the marines. The cinematic cut scenes draw you in and succeed in keeping your attention through the tried and tested method of quick cuts and explosions. Although it isn’t especially needed for the in game graphics to be ground breaking they are sharp enough so as not to become a mess during vast comings together of multiple units engaging in combat.
How To Make Friends and Blow Them Up
The real lasting appeal of the game though lies within the online modes. You almost feel that this was always at the forefront of the developers minds and the campaign mode serves as a way of protecting them from the backlash that often hit games without one to truly explore. Although the different modes don’t really offer much in variety they have a disarming charm that will appeal to you and draw you in even though you won’t always know why. Games like Rocket League have proven that ease of access and simple pick up and play mechanics are very much in at the moment and Halo Wars 2 capitalises on it well. Although there is a certain element of “pay to win” with micro-transactions leering their ugly heads the more patient amongst you will find that simply playing for the enjoyment and finding gains from losing will quickly rank up units and unlock more weapons of mass destruction without having to decide if you really do need to eat this week.
The options of selecting different commanders, each with different tactical advantages, and the ability to build your own “deck” of units is a resounding win in the personalisation stakes. Being a wargamer of another variety I’ve always enjoyed tweaking lists of units so as to maximise the synchronicity of my army. Halo Wars 2 gives you as much of a choice in this aspect as it does for the “I WANT ALL THE TANKS” gamers. You’ll initially want to play the second way but I doubt most gamers will be able to resist the chance to see what happens when you tinker and test.
It’s also nice to see that, as of time of writing, the only DLC advertised in the game is the free download of an additional commander to build a deck of units around. Most noticeable because of how rare such a notion is nowadays, especially when relating to AAA releases.
War is Like Love, It Always Finds a Way
In conclusion I have to say I’m torn about my overall feelings towards the game. While it can’t be said that the campaign mode is particularly bad the moments where it becomes tedious can be too often and do cause you to seek other distractions while counters slowly tick upwards and units perpetually announce their introduction with stag night style verbal interactions. But when the action does ramp up it can be as equally heart pounding as your mind races to calculate what is needed to survive and succeed and how to attain it.
While lacking variety the online modes are just fun and do exactly what those seeking them out would want them to do. I do feel those coming late to the online mode will potentially be overwhelmed and frustrated by vastly superior forces, but that is a pitfall that befalls gamers in most online modes.
It isn’t a game that will be for everyone. This is as Marmite a game release as you’re likely to see until the next Assassin’s Creed. If this is your style of game I urge you to buy it solely for the fact that consoles are criminally lacking in variety of game styles so every variation needs to be encouraged. If this is not your style of game but you’re curious then I urge you to have a distraction handy for the slow parts or tears of unbridled frustration as you swear at displays showing how long you have to wait for ‘X’ to happen is likely.
Overall- “The two most Powerful Warriors Are Patience and Time”
- Intuitive, easy to master control system that doesn’t overwhelm or hinder no matter how much chaos ensues
- Cinema quality cut scene animations that help drive the story and truly empathise with the bulk of the characters. A rarity
- An adaptive online experience that allows you to be as creative or destructive as you desire.
- Enough cheesy “real man” dialogue to make the entire 1980’s decade wince with embarrassment
- The textbook definition of Repeat Ad Nauseum with disturbing regularity
- Although an original plot wasn’t exactly a requirement the Villains offer zero to the proceedings and their motivations will be forgotten swiftly.