Halo Wars 2 is set 28 years after the original Halo Wars, and puts you in the shoes of Captain James Cutter along with his crew of "The Spirit of Fire" who must rise up against a renegade Covenant faction called “The Banished” and their pretty nasty leader, Atriox. The Banished have taken over The Ark, an ancient Forerunner artificial world and birthplace of the titular rings of the Halo series.
The first thing I noticed was the Xbox One’s controller works almost perfectly. I went into this thinking i’m going to need to play through the tutorial just to get use to playing on a controller, but to my surprise, and only after a few minutes I found myself moving around the map, highlighting my squad and giving them orders in no time.
Halo Wars 2 is a Microsoft cross play title, so if you’re a keyboard and mouse kind of gamer, you can also play it on your PC or a laptop. Due to the game not being unlocked on PC before release, I played most of my playthrough on the Xbox One. Though after the PC version coming live, I found myself playing it more on the PC. Everything synced and worked perfectly. There isn’t much difference between the two versions, it might look a little better and plays a little easier with a mouse and keyboard, but honestly, that's about it.
As I mentioned earlier, the controls playing on the Xbox One where almost perfect. I had no issues snapping to certain areas of the map looking for my soldiers. Even the grouping system was fantastic. You’re able to tap RB once to group either local troops, which means soldiers around your cursor or tap RD twice to group all, which will group together everyone on the map. And while you have troops grouped, you can then filter through them and just isolate the type of soldiers you want, such as singling out garrison troops. As you play you’ll build up a range of “Leader Abilities”, enabling you to heal or repair units and even call down missile strikes.
The visuals in Halo Wars 2 don’t lack attention to detail either. Characters are beautifully animated and the environments do a great job of bringing to life the Halo universe. As for the maps, they are kind of small, simple and only offer a few different paths that you’re able to take. Being a strategy game, not allowing many options to chose from makes flanking enemies a little hard, and in turn you're stuck with just hitting them head on.
Maps aside, let's talk about the missions. I found the missions in Halo Wars 2 pretty fun, and even though the maps are small, the missions still felt pretty challenging and offer a few different scenarios. These include things like defending someone important or simply protecting a base against waves of enemies. I found these defending base sections pretty hectic. I was forever building new guys, sending them to different areas hoping the enemies didn’t break through. You are able to set up turrets at each corner of your base which will help protect it in case they do get through, giving you enough time to prepare some new spartans for the attack.
Once you're done with the 10 or so hours of the campaign, the game's multiplayer is where fans are going to spend most of their time. Halo Wars 2 offers a handful of competitive modes. Along with the standard 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3, Halo Wars 2 introduces a new mode called, Blitz. Blitz mode is Halo Wars take of King of the Hill mixed with a card game. Your troops and special general abilities appear in the form of cards. You’ll earn cards as you play though the campaign missions. Decks of cards can also be purchased with real money, yes the beloved micro-transaction. Anyway, instead of creating troops via your base like in the single player, you need to have the right cards. For example, if you want to spawn a Warthog, you’ll need to have one in your hand of cards. You’ll score points by holding captured points on the map. First to 200 points win the game. Games can get fast paced, but once you get the feel for it, it’s a lot of fun.
So is Halo Wars 2 worth your hard earned dollars? I think it is. If you were a fan of the original game, you’ll feel right at home here. Even if you’re new to the Halo Wars series like me, you’ll find yourself commanding your own crew in no time.