This is apparently the first time I’ve touched the Xbone, other than for a single review code game I didn’t ask for that one time, since…2015? I had a nice big update to do, then a long Xbone game installation to sit through, and then a 30GB patch for an RTS game on a disc. It took almost 2 hours before I could finally start the game. Hooray. What did this new Xbone update do anyway? It looks like the UI has changed yet again, for the fourth or fifth time now, with no actual new functionality anywhere, just a bunch of things arbitrarily shuffled around again. Oh, and now the quick button shortcut to taking screenshots and videos without using voice commands is gone. HOORAY. I WONDER WHY I DON’T PLAY THIS THING ANYMORE?
Anyway, Halo Wars 2. It’s a Halo RTS, because that’s a thing now for some reason. As unlikely a concept as it is, I actually liked the first one and I liked this one well enough too. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s fun. Again, the controls work surprisingly well considering this is an RTS on a controller, but like with the first one, they still aren’t good enough that you can actually use a whole lot of strategy in this strategy-based game. It’s all functional enough that you can build bases and units, and move your army around to smash various targets, but if you want to try to do the typical RTS unit micromanagement you’re usually not going to have time. The ability to create sub-groups of units, ideally by picking specific unit types for the purpose of throwing against other enemy types that are weak to your type, is there for you to use, but the shortcuts for these advanced commands start getting so clunky and the game starts moving so fast that you just can’t take the time to do so effectively.
The closest you’ll get to strategy here is finding that a level you’re on has a tendency to send almost all flying enemies at you, so you have to choose to build almost all anti-air units. Even then it still seems to come down to just gaining the most resources and overwhelming the bad guys with brute force swarms. It all really comes down to being able to click on things really fast and choosing the best things to build/upgrade when you do. Hardcore strategy fans would probably hate this, but for someone like me who likes the idea of RTS games, but doesn’t always have the patience for all the slow micromanagement and elaborate tactics usually involved in the genre, this all suits me just fine.
There are a lot of familiar character and unit types and a lot of semi-fast-paced, explosive battles that are fun to orchestrate and watch unfold, though I must say, it doesn’t look particularly visually impressive for a AAA franchise game that only came out last year. Strangely, it does have some really nice looking cutscenes, but it seems kind of wasted when the campaign’s story is so sparse and underdeveloped. It kind of seems like they had a bigger story in mind here, because there’s so much hype and buildup surrounding this new world and the big new enemy, Atriox, that it seems like what little story it had would have been leading up to something big, but it never does. In fact, the main story just kind of trails off and doesn’t resolve the main conflict at all. I thought maybe this meant they were saving the end for the DLC, but it never comes up again there either. Is this supposed to make people want to come back for Halo Wars 3? Or is this maybe going to awkwardly tie in with the next actual Halo game (whenever that is)? Beats me…
Speaking of the DLC, there are two expansions, Operation Spearbreaker and Awakening the Nightmare. Operation Spearbreaker is really more of a typical DLC than an expansion, with just two new singleplayer levels, which are fun, but not very unique or mindblowing. Awakening the Nightmare is a bit closer to being an actual expansion, with around 4-5 hours of content, and letting you play as The Banished, the Covenant spin-off baddies that you fight in the main campaign, against the dreaded Flood. This one was actually the most fun in the whole game for me, because you’re put up against these massive waves of horror-like bio-weapon creatures and it results in some really huge and crazy looking battles. There’s even a giant, elaborate boss fight in the end, where things just go insane as you have an army so big that it’s filling half your screen going up against this massive proto-Gravemind as it’s spitting out enemies and tentacles everywhere. That was quite fun.
Careful with your purchasing here though, as it’s all packaged rather oddly. There is a season pass for $30, but it only comes with Operation Spearbreaker and a bunch of little extras that you won’t touch unless you play the multiplayer, and Awakening the Nightmare is bafflingly not included in the season pass. You can pick up Operation Spearbreaker by itself for $5 and Awakening the Nightmare for $20, and wouldn’t you know it, even if you waited and picked up the base game on a big sale, you still just paid around full price for it all. That’s modern gaming for you.
Personally, while I did enjoy my brief time with the game, my recommendation to anyone else would be to just wait until they come out with some complete edition that includes everything and pick that up when it’s in the bargain bin someday. It’s not a bad game, but it’s definitely not a must-play, even if you’re a Halo fan. Maybe it will be more exciting for those few people that really, really want to play the online multiplayer modes of a console RTS, but I can’t imagine that there are very many of those.