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Halo Wars 2 is the sequel to Halo Wars, and is the second real time strategy game in the Halo franchise. Halo Wars 2 was developed by both 343 Industries and Creative Assembly, published by Microsoft Studios and released on both Xbox One and PC.
Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition released on the 17th February 2017 with the standard edition releasing just a few days later on the 21st February 2017. The game is set in the year 2559, which is 28 years after the events of Halo Wars, and shortly after the events of Halo 5. I will keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
The first noticeable thing about Halo Wars 2 are the menus and the UI. It's simple yet beautiful. Very easy to navigate around (for the most part) and has very basic backgrounds to make sure everything stands out correctly. The game gives off a very professional appearance and seems to carry that through to the gameplay.
One of the most anticipated RTS games for a while, Halo Wars 2 takes us back to the Ark that we blew up in Halo 3. The crew of the Spirit of Fire find themselves drifting over the ark after they wake from 28 year cold nap. They quickly realise that they didn't put themselves there, but were in fact forced into a slip-space jump to appear at the Ark. After going onto the structure they discover their new foe, the Banished, and the fearsome leader Atriox.
One of the best things about the first Halo Wars game was the quality of both gameplay, environments and cutscenes, and how they all integrated perfectly to create a breathtaking story driven experience for the player. Halo Wars 2 seems to keep some of these aspects, but also lose a few too. The marketing surrounding Halo Wars 2 promised an enemy unlike any other, and promised that we'd be getting plenty more of that jaw dropping experience.
Sadly though, all of the cutscenes in game were actually squeezed into the official trailer, leaving players that have completed the game lost for excitement and sad that the hype had once again failed them. Similar to what happened with the marketing of Halo 5, too much was shown and not enough was given. The announcement of Story DLC for Halo Wars 2 only enraged fans more as they felt that the story of Halo Wars 2 was left incomplete so that DLC could be added later to the game.
Overall when it comes to cutscenes, Halo Wars 2 only has a few minutes more than Halo Wars, which, considering Halo Wars 2 is a sequel, is very disappointing. The story ends on the same kind of bad ending Halo 5 did, in which no conclusion is in place. The story as a whole moves no where, and nothing really happens worth looking at from the beginning to the end of the game apart from the very last after credits cutscene.
As far as what the missions in the campaign consist of, mostly they're either, get from A to B, Defend this point for 30 minutes, or clear out predetermined amount of enemies. The entire game seemed very rinse and repeat after completing it, and seemed to struggle to keep things fresh and exciting for the player, and thus resorted to the easiest way to make missions long to then stretch out the play time.
Gameplay and Collectables
The gameplay for Halo Wars 2 is slightly different from the original. A lot has been polished and changed to allow for a smoother RTS experience on console. One of these major changes was the D-Pad, and the simplicity of allowing the player to navigate between armies, bases and objectives. The difficulty levels seem to be a bit easier than Halo Wars too. Legendary seems plenty more bearable now, and enemies seem easier to fight back against on harder difficulties.
Skulls are no longer something you collect from the map, but more things that you earn in game by accomplishing certain objectives. The skulls awarded have little impact on making the game harder, and most in fact make the game easier. The map collectables are now in the form of data logs, which give the player a lot of information regarding characters, environments and events to do with Halo Wars 2.
Multiplayer has been dramatically improved since Halo Wars first outing. While there is a lack of ranked playlists at the moment, the addition of Blitz mode has catapulted the love for Halo Wars 2. Players have plenty of options and modes available to create their own custom games lobbies, and online multiplayer also has a good selection of playlists should people want to try something different. If people are struggling with online, there is also the option to play against different levels of A.I controlled opponents, or multiple different tutorials for those who are struggling more than most.
In terms of how well multiplayer runs, and how easy it is to find a game, both are having no problems from my experience. The player base is fairly active, and there are always people to match up against online without having to wait a long time. All multiplayer modes seem to have been balanced a considerable amount since the first and second beta, and are far more fun to play due to units and leaders being more balanced in this final release.
Graphics and Environment
The graphics and environment are very different from Halo Wars, due to the game taking place on solely Forerunner structures. In the first Halo Wars there was a wide range of environments to play on and thus adding the range of different graphics that could be seen. However in Halo Wars 2, this is not the case, and it grows increasingly difficult for players to see any range of environmental creativity in the levels. Each level seems to have extremely similar looking areas and to me felt like we weren't moving anywhere at all. Despite being the ark, and the possibilities that gives for having a lot of different and strange areas we could move on, it seems the design was kept the same on nearly every level to cut down the time and effort that went into the game.
The overall graphics for the game were good. The cutscenes of course were gorgeous , as is the standard for Blur. The individual units and bases have all had an upgrade to their graphics allowing them to all look a bit more unique and easy to identify. The quality of the environments we did get were excellent and you could see that the effort went in in what we were given.
Soundtrack and Audio
As is the usual for the Audio quality of Halo games, amazing is the only word that can be used. The voice acting for main characters and unit sounds were all brilliant and worked well for the tones of the game. My favourite thing about the units has to be how the range of dialogue is so wide for even the smaller units. Grunts are always fun to have on the battlefield simply because of the humour they bring along. The voice actors did a tremendous job in the Blur cutscenes to bring the emotion and realism to the game, and made it feel like you were actually there fighting the Banished yourself.
The soundtrack, a staple to the Halo games, is of course no exception for Halo Wars 2 either, and in true Halo fashion, Halo Wars 2 has a brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Gordy Haab, Brian Lee White and Brian Trifon, with guidance from Paul Lipson (the Halo Wars 2 audio director), Halo Wars 2 delivers a dark and gritty soundtrack that does nothing but boost the feelings of chaos and desperation the crew of the Spirit of Fire must be facing during the events of Halo Wars 2. You can read more about the soundtrack in our article on the Halo Community section.
Overall I was very excited for Halo Wars 2, which in turn led to me being very disappointed with it. It had a lot of potential. The new enemy, and revisiting past environments left so much open to be used and explored, and yet none of it was. Instead the game was left with the easy route, in which some characters were introduced, but nothing ever actually happens that has a major impact on the Halo universe. Atriox got sold as an unstoppable force, and yet in game you hardly see or hear him after his introduction cutscene, and when you do, it's not as a terrifying bad guy, but instead just as a side character or someone to give out the information that moves the story along.
The game had the potential to be so much more than it was. The gameplay and multiplayer are great, but sadly, what with being a Halo game, the story is the most important part and Halo Wars 2 followed in Halo 5's footsteps in promising much more than it could ever deliver.
You can watch the launch trailer below:
(Images were taken by myself)
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