Halo Wars 2 is attempting to the bridge the gap between consoles and computers in the strategy space.
Whether you’re a fan of Halo, a real-time strategy aficionado, or both, Halo Wars 2 is shaping up to be something pretty unique that you’re going to want to keep an eye on. If you spent time with the original Halo Wars at any point in the past eight years, you’ll find a lot of familiarity in this next chapter.
But Halo Wars 2 is doing some surprising things that might make this the real-time strategy game for you:
If you’ve been following the Halo saga closely then you already know Halo Wars 2 will expand the universe by exploring familiar characters and locations, and introducing brand new ones. If you’re not following the Haloverse and just looking for some good strategy gameplay, then you’re in good hands.
I was able to get my hands on the second level of the Halo Wars 2 campaign, and though that’s very early in the story, there was already a great sense of scale as my troops ran through mammoth Forerunner structures. That size is supported by constant story beats through character dialogue, scripted gameplay events, and exploration.
Of all the attempts at bringing the real-time strategy style gameplay to the limited inputs and precision of a console controller, Halo Wars was arguably the most successful. Halo Wars 2 follows right along in those footsteps, with a control scheme that admittedly takes some getting used to, but delivers a totally capable gameplay experience on Xbox One.
Having played both versions in single and multiplayer modes, I still prefer the PC for its precision and ability to move and interact more quickly, but having said that, I was surprised how quickly everything translated when I moved over to the controller.
And both versions look great, too, so you won’t be missing much if you go with the Xbox One version over the traditional home of real-time strategy games, the PC. And, of course, those industrial-grade cinematics from Blur studios are going to look incredible.
Halo A la Mode
Halo Wars 2 is bringing an impressive number of multiplayer options to the series. The traditional Deathmatch and Domination modes are both here and staples of that base-building, micromanaging experience.
Everyone has nearly unlimited funds to spawn whatever they want.
But my favorite mode that I played was the quick and constant Strongholds mode. In this game type, players must battle over neutral base locations. The player or team with the most bases under their control when the timer runs out wins the game. It’s simple.
But the catch is everyone has nearly unlimited funds to spawn whatever they want up to their population limit, and technology upgrades and ranks of leader powers are unlocked for everyone at timed points throughout the match, which is constantly raising the stakes. The more strongholds you own, the higher your population cap goes, which leads to some incredible swings in power late in the game.
Bottom line: If you don’t want to worry about building a base, and just want to send wave after wave of armies into the grinder, then Strongholds is the mode for you in Halo Wars 2.
The other all-new mode in Halo Wars 2 is Blitz. It’s a hybrid mode that takes that established RTS gameplay and ties it to collectible cards. You’ll open card packs that you earn, each containing cards of differing rarity and resource costs. For example, grunts are relatively cheap, while super-rare powerhouses like Spartans cost a relative fortune.
Once you have your cards you build your deck around a specific Leader and their special leader powers and abilities that compliment your play style. Each leader can have up to three decks associated to them, so you don’t have to burn it all down if you want to try a different combination with the same leader.
When you get into a match of Blitz, you’ll spend energy you earn or find around the map to play these cards and summon your troops from your hand. You can burn a little bit of energy to cycle a card out of your hand for the next one. But there’s a fine line you have to walk to make sure you’ve got energy when you need it, and enough troops to maintain a map presence. There are a few more layers of depth to it, especially when you’re playing on a team with another player and working together to own the King-of-the-Hill-style capture points, but it’s that simple.
From the many matches I played, it’s shaping up to be a totally approachable way to get that same gameplay experience without the aspects of base building, and constantly needing to be efficient, that can at times be intimidating.
Best of all, there’s also a Firefight variant that can be played alone or cooperatively with a friend, which pits you against waves of increasingly aggressive AI until you’re overwhelmed and they stomp you. It’s fun in the same way Firefight is in Halo proper, working together to see how long you can hold out, and it’s a great way to practice Blitz before jumping into multiplayer.
If you’re interested in getting your hands on Halo Wars 2 early, you can try out the upcoming Halo Wars 2 Blitz beta in an upcoming beta on Xbox One and PC starting January 20th. But we’ll have much more on Halo Wars 2 as it rolls toward its February 21st release date, so keep it right here on IGN.
Brandin Tyrrel is an Editor at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrandinTyrrel.