Halo Wars 2 | Backlog Review

The original Halo Wars was a the first time that the Halo series was taking the chance and providing a different experience from its traditional FPS form. Much like the original Halo, it was taking a risk by delving into a genre that most people preferred to play on PC. 

Most RTS games were not well received due to the struggle of creating one that was user-friendly with a controller. Ensemble Studios took that challenge and made a game that was fairly acceptable with a simple RTS setup and very much Halo. 

It would take close to a decade before we would see a follow-up, and when we did, it was both a big step up from the original and a letdown in some ways. I would have covered this game much sooner, but it’s was optimized very well for PC, so despite my machine meeting the requirements, the game would never load beyond a black screen. Now that I finally have a machine that the game will load on, I could finally sit down and try it. 

Halo Wars 2

Picking Up Where Halo Wars Left Off

The original Halo Wars left off on kind of a cliffhanger as the Spirit of Fire and its crew drifted aimlessly through space, hoping to find friendly forces they could link up with. Well, after 28 years, The Spirit of Fire awakens to a distress signal that is coming from an alien planet-like object. 

Spartans are sent to investigate the signal and find that a single AI is left on the base shortly before they are ambushed by Banished forces. The Banished are an organized group of Covenant defectors that are bent on having their own corner of the galaxy using Forerunner tech. They are very territorial, and the UNSC happened to be in their way of controlling the Ark. 

The Banished had killed all the humans that had been controlling the Ark after the events of Halo 3, so when The Spirit of Fire shows up, they have their work cut out for them. It does seem weird to me that one ship that had just been at war across the universe still has the resources necessary to fight an entire army, but that’s just a small detail. 

The campaign is fairly varied in its mission objectives and the units it provides. It actually feels like Halo Wars 2 uses its expanded unit sandbox to its advantage to create more unique experiences such as a sniper unit level and an artillery escort level. 

Many of the missions have bonus and side objectives that will make you feel like you are contributing more to the overall war effort than simply defending Halsey against an onslaught of enemies. These objectives are some of the only replay value that the campaign has, and they are much more difficult (in some cases) than anything in Halo Wars 1.

I do have to say that the campaign felt incredibly short. Right when I was beginning to get into it, it ended. It was a little disappointing, but the levels were much more fun overall than the previous entries. The campaign probably could have had a few more missions, though. Especially since I feel the campaign barely touched on most of the things that commanders are capable of. It was a missed opportunity. 

Halo Wars 2

A Slightly Revised Console RTS Setup

The basic premise that the original Halo Wars introduced is still here. The main bases are subject to predetermined spots on the map where the player can choose to build. Bases have slots in them that allow for additional buildings with different setups such as the garage for land vehicles, the armory for army upgrades, or supply pads which are used to gain more supplies to purchase more units or upgrades. 

Almost everything can be upgraded to be more deadly or productive in battle. From individual units to classes to bases and buildings, everything can be invested in further, so it is more important for your forces. This is one of the best improvements from the original game. There always feels like there is something that you can be doing with your time to make your army better than your opponents. It often felt in the original Halo Wars that you would reach army limits or the peak of your particular setup much sooner than you should. 

In fact, it happened so much that in the campaign, it could feel like you coil steamroll through the entire game on legendary. That isn’t the case in Halo Wars 2. I was always planning my next move and thinking about how I could prevent a devasting loss by flanking opponents or an unforeseen loss in my advancement. And that was on normal difficulty. 

Legendary requires you to be spinning around the map, checking on units at all times, and, honestly, a little bit of luck sometimes. Legendary can be extraneously difficult. It will challenge you, and I did feel like it was a little unbalanced on a couple of occasions, usually by starting you off at too much of a disadvantage where getting your forces to a reasonable number/diversity was very difficult. 

Luckily, there are improved leader powers that make in-the-moment corrections a little more feasible. In the campaign, you will be able to use classics such as a healing ability, carpet bomb, and an improved ODST drop. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg as you will also gain abilities such as an EMP, turret drop, and pelican defense. 

It could often feel like in Halo Wars 1 that some of the menus looked sparse, and that feeling is confirmed by having them mostly filled out with these inclusions, which I found to be critical to my success. I can’t tell you the number of times a turret drop with ODSTs helped to sway the momentum of a fight in my favor. They were crucial to my success, and I’m lucky that the enemy didn’t have their own leader powers in the campaign.

The forces are fairly varied, but since you only really play as Cutter during the campaign, it could often feel like you were not getting the chance to see many of the diverse unit types that you could use in other game types. Going off the shortish campaign, I think this would have been a great opportunity to have a split campaign like Halo 2 or even Command and Conquer: Generals. 

It would have made the mission objectives even more varied while at the same time allowing us to use the Covenant unit types in the campaign. If there is ever a Halo Wars 3, I think this would be one of the most logical advancements they could make, especially considering how nuanced many of the enemy leaders tend to have in the universe at large.

Halo Wars 2

A Fun if slightly irritating Experience

While the campaign is where I spent most of my time, there are other ways to enjoy Halo Wars 2. There is the traditional multiplayer where you can battle people similarly to how you did in Halo Wars 1. I wasn’t able to find a match, but that’s okay; I’m sure I would have been wrecked very quickly. 

However, a new mode called “Blitz” is both an interesting concept but one that I find to be frustrating as it runs on cards similar to Halo 5’s Warzone. These cards can be obtained by ranking up and other methods, but ultimately, they are part of a microtransaction system. Which leaves a sour taste in my mouth and one that is one of the reasons I have begun to steer clear of online gaming. 

Like I had alluded to earlier, I had been unable to play this game at all on the PC. It was just a black screen and never loaded for me. Many other people seemed to have this issue with no fixes if a reinstall didn’t work. It was very frustrating, but I was willing to wait until I had an alternative way to play. 

During my time on the Xbox Series S, I had a few crashes and a couple infinite loading screens, which were very annoying. Luckily, the crashes were never too gruesome since the game has a lot of checkpoints during the missions. The most progress I ever lost was only a few minutes, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that this game is nearly five years old at this point. It should be running perfectly, especially on the newer hardware. 

This is something that I’m seeing more and more in games, and I am losing my patience over it. I am playing through Fallout 76 now, and even that game has been fixed to a stable condition because it has never crashed on me yet. The Halo series is Microsoft’s Mario, so it should be held to being released in a stable condition at launch. I can’t imagine what it was like when it was first released, and it makes me thankful that this is the first time that I have been able to play it. 

Halo Wars 2 is largely what a sequel should be with a more varied campaign structure, improved mechanics, expanded sandbox, and revised troop deployment. The experience felt a lot more immersive and as if I was actually playing a strategy game rather than simply building up 30 units and sending them into another army of 30 units. However, a short campaign, slow matchmaking, and microtransactions make this an experience I have little reason to return to. 7.5/10

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