Halo Wars 2 preview: is it trying to please too many people?

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Halo Wars 2 is the second in the iconic franchise’s expansion into real time strategy. The original Halo Wars was released in 2009 and was relatively well received considering it came out of a FPS. It holds an 82/100 rating on Metacritic. But can the new Halo Wars 2 improve on that and prove the doubters wrong? Joshua Mason reports

Halo Wars 2 is a collaborative effort between 343 Industries and Creative Assembly. It returns us to the storyline following the human crew from the UNSC ship Spirit of Fire. Gone, however, are the Covenant alien faction. Instead they’ve been replaced with a new alien faction called the Banished. Once again we are thrust forward to 2259 where the war still rages on in the Halo universe, only this time if you decide to join in the fight it will be from a birds eye view RTS.

The new incarnation of Halo Wars contains 13 single player missions. But the real heart of the game is in the online battles, where up to six players on one map can face each other. There are five different modes which can be played, each offering a variety of gameplay for players with varying experience. The wide variety of gameplay is partly down to the nature of the players that are likely to buy Halo Wars 2.

Because Halo is synonymous as a FPS those players who venture across to Halo Wars 2 are unlikely to be familiar to the concepts behind RTS and the various plates that need to be kept spinning. These players will go from controlling one soldier to many.

The team at 343 Industries knew this with the first Halo Wars but in the reviews of the game in 2009 a lot of criticism came in for its simplistic RTS platform. Because the developer had been so busy catering for the casual Halo fan, it simply overlooked the hardcore RTS fans who bought it. And they are a hard bunch to please!

Real Time Strategy

One of the ways they hope to counteract this issue with Halo Wars 2 is to add two new online game modes that might appeal to RTS veterans: Stronghold and Blitz.

Of these it is Blitz that will likely cause the most controversy. Much like the current trend in online gaming it includes a collectible card style of play. The cards owned by a player represent various units and are then deployed on the battlefield only once out of a deck. While Microsoft are adamant this doesn’t turn the game into a pay-to-play system, many will accuse it of trying to earn a quick extra buck.

Players will be able to earn card decks through the campaign mode and with the daily achievements they claim, much like on a mobile game. However, those with a wallet can also fast-track by buying them. 343 Industries insist the game will be balanced fairly. It will be a shame if they end up like No Man’s Sky in 2016, battling criticism by making promises they couldn’t keep.

Halo2  will be available both on PC and Xbox meaning the developers have to contend with one of the big issues with console RTS’s: controls. The use of a mouse is far easier when it comes to micromanaging. The original game allowed a player to select all units without much room for splitting them up. New controls have been added on Xbox allowing for the units to be split up via the D-pad.

Halo Wars 2 is likely to face some flack because of its pay to play policy in Blitz mode. The game’s development has all been about a balancing act. One pleasing players from Xbox and PC, and another for gamers from the FPS game and the hardcore RTS fans.

This juggling act and trying to please everyone could make the game diluted and not as focused as a game that has been aimed at a specific niche. This choice of covering all bases leads me to believe that Halo Wars 2 was a business decision to be made rather than a game built by passion, or for the franchise dedicated fans.

But I hope I am proved wrong when the game is released on the 21st of February.

Chris Price