A lot of pressure always comes when making a sequel, even if it’s been a while since the last entry in the series was released. When that number on the tail end of a title clicks up one digit, the anticipation for something bigger and better than the last effort is immediately palpable. Not every change is always immediately visible, however, so we peeled those top layers of Halo Wars 2 to find out just what major improvements have happened from the first game to this one.
Looking at the success of trading-card games in recent history, developer Creative Assembly added a brand new TCG based mode called Blitz. In it, you can play against the AI and faces waves of enemies in a Survival like mode, or play against people in a 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 match that feels like Domination. In either, the objective is to hold onto at least two of three nodes on a single map, and you can only add units to the field by playing cards from your 12-card deck. The deck is fully customizable, and depending on the character you choose for your avatar, will have special units and bonuses exclusive to that avatar. Each card costs energy, which you slowly gain more of over time or can pick up randomly on the field, giving the game still a distinct real-time strategy feel to go along with the randomness of card play.
A True Villain Emerges
Unlike the original Halo Wars, which features only a random, nameless Arbiter as the main bad guy, Halo Wars 2 has a fully fleshed out nemesis for Commander Cutter and the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire. Atriox is Brute Chieftain whose military prowess is only overshadowed by his hand-to-hand combat skills. Leading a group called The Banished, a mercenary off-sect of Covenant who rose to power after the end of the Human-Covenant war, Atriox’s brutal tactics and The Banished’s impressive armaments are legendary and will prove to be a difficult opponent for all but the most cunning of minds.
Many maps in RTS games can be quite expansive and Halo Wars 2 looks to be no different. To help manage multiple groups of units at once, though, Creative Assembly is adding grouping—a feature noticeable absent from the first Halo Wars. By holding a button and selecting directions on a D-pad, a player can group up four different groups of units. Although this still pales in comparison to the 10 groups PC players have always been able to have due to all the extra keys on the keyboard, it still goes a long way to narrowing the gap between console and PC real-time strategy games by adding this necessary feature this go around.
Deeper Unit Trees
The first Halo Wars was great at allowing you to really customize your army as you built it, with plenty of different options to play into the game’s rock-paper-scissors (air-ground-infantry) style of gameplay. This go around Creative Assembly has only made this aspect even deeper with multiple levels of bases that can unlock even more specialized unit production houses; all while still maintain that rock-paper-scissors balance. Unlike the first game, you can even train special Spartan heroes for the UNSC with their own name and number. Just don’t expect John-117 to suddenly appear at your base!
Anytime a franchise is able to transcend console generations, a clear jump in audio/visual quality is expected from game to game. Beyond this, though, Halo Wars 2 took extra special care to make each unit pop off the battlefield and cram as much detail as possible into the world and its characters, even from the sky-high view of an RTS. Atriox’s Banished look like no other Covenant we’ve seen, and the campaign cutscenes went through the same process as those seen in the main Halo series, maintaining the franchise’s high level of quality. On the sound side, Paul Lipson returns to the Halo franchise as audio director to help maintain a consistent musical tone from the series’ most recent iterations.