Saturday 4 March 2017

Halo Wars 2

For some people, the mention of a new Halo game will cause their ears (or other body parts) to prick up. When you specify Halo Wars, the RTS spin-off, many such people will find their enthusiasm goes limp. Halo Wars 2 does a fine job of feeling like a “proper” Halo game in terms of being canon, and also takes great strides towards encouraging that beast, The Console Gamer to feed on the traditionally PC-bound genre of real time strategy. Unfortunately, by keeping their eyes on the prize of the mass market, the developers stumble and fall over some pretty basic stuff.

First impressions are good. The cutscenes probably cost enough to feed a third world country for a year, and art & sound drop into the Halo mould with velvety smoothness. I don’t doubt for a second that pulling together systems and controls that work well on a console was a bloody nightmare but, building on the first game (pun unintended but welcome), things have worked out quite well here. Having RTS legends Creative Assembly on board to give 343 Industries a hand certainly can’t have hurt. 

You might as well do the tutorials first to get them out of the way, but Campaign is where you’ll do most of your learning about the game. It’s the best place to start regardless of your genre experience, as you’ll also earn XP and Blitz cards (more on which soon). The story concerns the Banished, a rebel offshoot of the Covenant who... well... basically, it’s up to you and your troops to save the universe. The usual stuff. Outside of Campaign you’ll be able to play as the Banished, and who doesn’t like playing the bad guy?

HW2 doesn’t dumb down the basic RTS formula (or at least, not as much as you might expect) in its standard game modes. You’ll be building bases, harvesting resources, applying upgrades, and constantly trying to decide how best to balance your unit output. The quickest and cheapest units are also the weakest and, while it’s tempting to try and spam the battlefield with tanks, units such as these carry the highest costs and the longest spawn countdowns. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t dumbed-down modes, of course! You have the option of playing online with or without infinite resources according to your choice of mode, and then there’s the all-new Blitz. Blitz does away with bases altogether, instead encouraging you to collect and level up virtual cards. Play a card and you instantly summon a unit, attack, or buff onto the battlefield. Each card has an associated energy cost; increase your energy generation by holding at least two of the three bases on the field, or get an instant amount by destroying pods that periodically fall into the map. Blitz matches are fairly quick and, so long as your team isn’t getting obliterated, quite fun.

Would you be shocked, however, to learn that you can buy Blitz card packs with real money? No, didn’t think so. You could, if you were stupid enough to waste enough money, build up a fearsome deck in the pursuit of winning matches thanks to cash rather than skill and/or perseverance. This isn’t the game’s biggest problem, unfortunately.

For one thing, the game’s about as stable as a faultline. Even offline, expect to see a handful of crashes before you see the end of the campaign. Online, disconnections are rife, and playing ten matches in a row without any problems would be little short of a miracle. As an unwelcome bonus, every match you get disconnected from counts as a loss, regardless of whether you were on the brink of defeat or miles ahead and seconds from victory.

Disappointingly the player isn’t trusted very much, the developers working on the assumption that they’re casual flirts with the RTS genre incapable of learning. Perhaps that’s justified (some players seem to be rage quitting rather than being disconnected), but the bottom line is that this isn’t a full-fat RTS. It’s good fun at its best moments – especially when played with others – but the lack of ranked matches is one of many signs that this is essentially an unfinished game. Halo wars always meant to be an FPS, not an RTS.


Luke Kemp

Halo Wars 2 at CeX

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