Halo Wars 2, the newest RTS game on Windows 10 (and Xbox One) by Microsoft, is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s definitely a Halo game through and through: high production valued CG cinematics, incredibly varied gameplay modes, and an emphasis on storytelling. However, on the flip side, it’s a technically marred experience, made worse thanks to the emphasis on the console version over its PC counterpart.
Halo Wars 2 tracks the story of the crew aboard the Spirit of Fire, a ship thought lost when instead was simply under cryogenic sleep for twenty-eight years. The timeline is hinted at – it’s after the war with the covenant and we know the AI protect themselves from the issues of AI rampancy, which puts the story likely shortly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians. The Spirit of Fire crew discover the Ark, a Forerunner installation where the Halo rings are manufactured. The problem is a Brute named Atriox, leading an army of exiled Covenant soldiers known as the Banished has been there for a while, claiming the Ark as his own. Captain James Cutter and his crew decide that Atriox cannot be left to his own devices and with the help of the AI Isabel, recovered from the previous crew to be destroyed on the Ark itself, the Spirit of Fire settles in for what’s sure to be a long, hard fight ahead.
Isabel, the AI you interact with in Halo Wars 2. She has spunk reminiscent of Cortana, yet a personality and flavor all of her own
The story of Halo Wars 2 has the same feel of a traditional Halo game. It’s action packed, each mission feeling a bit different than the last. One mission you’re establishing a forward base to cripple Atriox’s ability to use the Ark’s portal system at will, another you’re taking out one of his subordinate’s supply production, crippling the Banished’s ability to combat your offensive.
However, the issues start to mount up when you actually sit down to really dive into Halo Wars 2. In a previously published Port report, Gamewatcher reported that Halo Wars 2 suffers from a “consolification” of the port itself. However, it would be fair to say the console identity of Halo Wars 2 runs deeper than the actual control scheme and layout of the menu systems. Everything, from how you control units on the battlefield, to the way you interact with buildings and leader powers are thought out from how it would be easy for console users to interact with. And that’s not inherently a bad thing when taken at face value. The problems arise when equal consideration for PC users isn’t reciprocated on the developer’s part.
To say Halo Wars 2 is a simple RTS is a gross understatement of its value. However, when compared to the likes of Starcraft 2, Total War: Warhammer and other titans of the genre, it feels this way. It’s more of a casual experience than simply a hardcore RTS. The units seem to have more of a true rock-paper-scissors approach to how you can throw them into battle, controlling those units feels imprecise –especially if you decide to play with a controller. And for all the issues the mouse and keyboard controls present, you lose precious seconds when trying navigate a screen to your units with a controller versus a few simple mouse clicks.
The AI itself is surprisingly smart, however. For all my issues controlling units, the AI typically auto attacks the more pressing threat in a battle, meaning I needn’t wade into furiously clicking (or button mashing) a specific target unless I deem one more worthy of their focus-fire at that moment. Basebuilding is reminiscent of older RTS games, such as EA’s long-forgotten Battle For Middle-earth, where you build your base on slots in a central hub. This does add some focus to your base building, but in my opinion it does take away from some of the defensive creativity you see in free-form base builders such as the aforementioned Battle for Middle-earth’s sequel, or the longstanding Starcraft 2.
Basebuilding in Halo Wars 2 is compact, seemingly to keep you focused more on the action rather than the exact placement of buildings
However, for the good things Halo Wars 2 does, there are always a few different issues that crop up that take away from them. A clear example is the hotkey system. In traditional RTS games, learning the hotkeys to create units and control your army are key to long term, high end success. While in the middle of a firefight, I’m not just directing my troops. I’m seeing what I need to replenish and using the hotkeys to instruct my base to create those units for me, without having to leave the action. However, the hotkeys in Halo Wars 2 might as well be nonexistent other than the quick navigation hotkeys. You can exactly control Barracks from across the map. You have to go back to the base, hope you know exactly which plot the barracks is built on and how it corresponds to the hotkey (since the hotkeys are bound to the building’s space and not the building itself), then use the hotkey to create the unit. However, if your camera is, say, across the map keeping an eye on a capture point or the movement of your army, those hotkeys become absolutely useless.
Additionally, using the mouse isn’t any simpler. The radial menus take up and obscure the whole screen, and the unit hotkeys only work when that radial menu is pulled up. Again, it’s built with console fans in mind, and that’s all well and good, but the system is incredibly cumbersome for PC users. It’s almost as if the simple idea of radials actually ends up being worse for players than the complicated control schemes the radial system seems to avoid.
AI pathing is also an issue. The units seem to have a mind of their own, and Air unit pathing makes no sense to me. I figure, if you can fly, you likely don’t need to follow a road to traverse the map. However, when moving armies, the air units tend to follow the same pathing as the ground troops, going around cliff-sides instead of using their ability fly over them to their advantage. It’s frustrating when you want to position air troops away from your attacking army, possibly in a flanking move, yet they won’t deviate from the same road your army is using. Additionally, he pathing of the ground units leave a lot to be desired. The intelligence they show in taking on enemy units is lost when you see instead of using the ramp directly below them to move to a spot near the ramp exit, they take the incredibly long and convoluted road around and nothing you can do will stop it from happening.
The nice part is multiplayer works flawlessly. Since the early access period started on Friday last, even into launch evening, I’ve not had an issue connecting to the game’s servers on PC (which, to remind you is free versus Xbox Live on console!). The only modes are what you’d expect, but it’s really nice to see a large amount of variation with them: Domination, Skirmish, Deathmatch and a few others. Halo Wars 2’s Blitz mode really takes home both some praise and legitimate concern, however. The Blitz mode is a card-based mode designed to go quickly, drawing a lot of inspiration from what we saw with Warzone in Halo 5: Guardians. The cards give you access to units and powers, a la Clash Royale, and you’ll cycle through your deck a number of times in each blitz match as you and your opponent vie for control over points in matches that are typically much shorter than your traditional multiplayer RTS match.
However, Blitz mode offers one of Halo Wars 2 most glaring flaws: it has the potential to be incredibly pay to win. Remember the Clash Royale comparison? That’s seemingly by design. As you play the game, you earn and collect more cards to level up your units and your profile. The problem comes into the fact that these cards can be obtained by using real money to purchase the card packs. It has the ability for someone to just keep buying these packs to level up units and their player level, giving an unfair advantage against those who don’t have the means to do so. And while some might say this is purely par for the course in a card-based game mode in today’s gaming industry, you’re already spending hard-earned money on the title. This is greed, pure and simple. And it leaves too much open for the players who decide to play the mode legitimately to be victimized and abused right into quitting when up against a player augmenting their game with a real-world bankroll.
Halo Wars 2 runs well enough on PC, albeit with the minor hiccups and issues with the port itself. The problems arise when accessing the menu during a match. The game experiences real performance issues that get worse and worse over time. Otherwise the performance is rock solid – and it better be given the fact that Halo Wars 2, which is competent, doesn’t really look like a triple-A game in 2017.
Minimum System Requirements: OS: 64 Bit Windows 10 14393 (Anniversary) DirectX Version: DirectX 12 (Feature Level 11) CPU: Intel i5-2500, AMD FX-4350 or equivalent GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 ti, AMD Radeon HD 7750, Intel HD 520 VRam: 2GB RAM: 6GB HDD Space: 25GB
Halo Wars 2 is a competent RTS game. It has its fair share of issues, and in some minds might be deemed simple. However, if you’re willing to look past the convoluted and frustrating UI, or maybe you want an RTS to get into, but are intimidated by the offerings on the market, Halo Wars 2 is a great place to start. Its story is good, delivering a true Halo narrative on the platform for the first time since Halo 2, and while the issues with the RTS elements might annoy some, it doesn’t meant the game isn’t fun to play. Additionally, the replay value is there thanks to the myriad of matches, the unlockable skills the game has for you, as well as multiplayer modes to take advantage of. And while Blitz mode does post a pay to win threat to the game itself, the mode on its own, taken at face value, is a frenetic blast to play.
Great Story deserving of the Halo name
The underlying RTS elements are competent, giving new players or casual fans plenty to enjoy
Incredible choice of game modes to keep you busy
Blitz Mode feels Pay to win thanks to its microtransactions
The game’s port feels like a console game simply slapped on Windows 10, no real thought seems to have been given to the PC user In its design
Mouse and Keyboard controls make no sense overall, making gameplay frustrating at times