The RTS genre has taken a hit in recent years, with few games competing against the strength and influence of Total War and StarCraft. Microsoft is hoping to shake this up with their latest installment in the Halo franchise, Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars is widely known as the last game Ensemble Studios crafted before they were shut down by Microsoft. It was an RTS title for the Xbox 360 that, unlike previous attempts at porting RTS to consoles, tried to utilize the controller by building the game around it. It managed to gain a respectable following, selling over 2.5 million units worldwide and earning Metacritic score of 82. Now, Microsoft is reviving the franchise with Halo Wars 2, and this time is bringing it to PC as well as consoles.
Halo Wars 2 is building on the Halo tradition of having a bombastic, story-driven experience while ensuring that the gameplay is fun and accessible. The single player promises 8-10 hours’ worth of gameplay accompanied by spectacular cut scenes and a story that helps push the Halo lore forward. This level of polish in the story can already be seen, with the trailer shown off during the Xbox Press Conference giving players a taste of the unique experience they should expect from the final game.
Being worked on in tandem by both 343 Industries and Creative Assembly, the pedigree behind Halo Wars 2 is undeniable. While 343 might not have any prior experience with this genre, Creative Assembly are some of the best strategy developers working today. From the short demo that was on display at E3, this talent is clearly on display. They have managed to build a universe that feels undeniably like a Halo entry, while calling back to the Command & Conquer or WarCraft series in speed and complexity of gameplay.
In terms of gameplay, Halo Wars 2 offers up your standard real-time strategy experience with a dash Halo for good measure. The mission on display began with players starting with a small selection of units; these were quickly joined by some scorpion tanks and the mission got underway. Players could control the units on a micro level, grouping the units into different divisions as one would expect from any modern RTS game. This gameplay aspect was demonstrated by the groups attacking the forward defense as the tanks held back to ensure they were not destroyed prematurely. For genre veterans this is nothing new; unit management and micro-level management has been a staple of the genre for years. However, the fact it is being implemented in a Halo game, where accessibility is king, was a welcome surprise.
Even though there is a push for a more complete RTS experience, the devs are not losing the ease-of-use the Halo series is known for. Halo Wars 2 is aiming to appeal to not only the hardcore RTS fan but also to people who just love the Halo universe. The developers have managed to build something that gives the control to those who want it, but also allows casual players on the console to enjoy their experience. With different difficulty modes, Halo Wars 2 will appeal to a wide spectrum of players on many different skill levels. From the armchair tactician to the action junky who loves going in all guns blazing, there will be something in it for everyone.
The modern RTS genre is nothing without a multiplayer mode, and to that effect Halo Wars 2 comes packed with a broad range of modes available for the fans who love to play together. Halo Wars 2 will launch with four different multiplayer modes. These include standard Deathmatch, Domination, Blitz and Strongholds. It should be noted that although Halo Wars 2 is a play-anywhere title, you will only be able to play a multiplayer session with a system of the same type, although I was told this was a design choice, not a technical limitation. Truthfully, it just would not be fair to have a person on a controller play against the precision of the mouse and keyboard.
With Halo Wars 2 launching in 2016, there is a lot to get excited for, and from what Microsoft have shown off so far the game is coming along nicely. As with any game, real testing will need to be put in before we can recommend the game, but if the team at 343 Industries and Creative Assembly manage to maintain the quality for the full experience, Halo Wars 2 could be the RTS to keep your eye on this year.
Halo Wars 2 launches on Windows 10 and Xbox One and will include Halo Wars Remaster for PC and Xbox One if you preorder. It will be launching later in 2016.