Return to the battlefield.
Halo Wars 2 on Xbox One
The real-time strategy genre has always been tough to adapt to a console, but the first Halo Wars found a way to scale back the experience and streamline it, along with a control scheme that worked fairly well. Halo Wars 2 continues that trend, but makes the interface work a bit better, and ramps up the speed and intensity for an experience that can be both stressful and thrilling. The additions made in the sequel aren’t massive, besides unit changes, but Halo Wars 2 definitely feels like the purest way to experience what the original set up.
Halo Wars 2 picks up 28 years after the original, as the crew of the Spirit of Fire wakes up from the cryosleep they’ve been under as they drifted through space. They find themselves at The Ark, the giant forerunner facility responsible for building the Halos, and have no knowledge of how the Human-Covenant War ended. There, they encounter a splinter group called the Banished led by a massive brute named Atriox, who rebelled against the Covenant.
The story of Halo Wars 2 is told across 12 different chapters in the campaign. It starts off strong, setting Atriox up as a terrifying and imposing villain. CG Cinematics done by Blur Studio are interspersed at key points in the campaign, and they’re absolutely gorgeous to behold. Unfortunately, the story it just doesn’t go many places by the end.
While avoiding spoilers, the good news is that missions are varied enough to strengthen the campaign and keep things moving forward. Each one has some kind of unique twist or objective for you to complete, with my personal favorite being one that has you defending different lanes with units and turrets, almost in a tower defense kind of way. The orchestral soundtrack may not be quite as memorable as other entries in the series, but does a good job of supporting the action.
The control scheme from the original game is mostly the same for Halo Wars 2, using the left analog stick to move your cursor and the right to zoom in and out. Luckily, the game makes it easy to zip around the battlefield and select different groups, which is essential for a fast-paced RTS. The D-Pad lets you instantly flip to important points like bases or groups of soldiers, even helping you flip instantly to alert points or set a global rally for soldiers.
You can also assign sets of units to the D-Pad by holding in the right trigger for alternate options. Even past that, you can select units in a circle by holding A, double tap A to select all units of that type or all units on screen by tapping RB, and you can speed up your cursor by holding LB. It’s a quick an intuitive system, that doesn’t feel like it restricts you by being on a controller.
The campaign can also be played entirely in co-op, and raising the difficulty really ups the challenge. For the shortcomings of the main story, there’s actually a ton of lore and side content crammed into the game via Phoenix Logs. These are sections of text accessible from the main menu, detailing characters, buildings, units, and providing some extra insight into the world of Halo and Atriox.