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Preview: Hands on with Halo Wars 2

Halo Wars 2 is the new RTS game coming from the Halo universe. You rejoin the Spirit of Fire 28 years after the events of Halo Wars. The first game in the series was a pioneer in the field of modern console RTS games. Understandably it faced a few challenges and was met with a mixed reception. Despite this, Halo Wars was the most requested title for the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility catalogue.

We were invited to come along to a studio in London, being met by some smiling faces despite the early hour and cold start to the day. We were swiftly whisked off in a minibus to the studio and recieved a greatly appreciated breakfast and cup of tea. Once everyone had arrived it was time to get the show on the road.

The room had two banks of systems set up; half lined with Xbox Ones and the other sporting PCs, all running Halo Wars 2. Taking seats infront of our system of choice, we were given a brief overview of what was in store. A glimpse at the campaign, some multiplayer mayhem and a chance to play some of the new Blitz mode.

Getting things underway with the third campaign mission, you begin a little disorientated. Picking up a story from part way in is like opening a book at a random page and continuing from there. You’re not quite sure why you are where you are but you’re determined to push forward and find out.

First thing that springs to mind is the graphical style of the game. A lot has changed from Halo Wars. Unit health bars being divided up into segments makes identifying how much of a beating they have taken/can take a little bit easier. The improvements in texture detail are great. You get a real feel for the atmosphere of the game as you pan through a cloud of smoke and find the remains of a past battle. Warzones shouldn’t be described as looking “great” so lets say that these ones look… accurate. Not forgetting the scenery surrounding them. Halo games always have spectacular scenery and this one is no exception!

Preview: Hands on with Halo Wars 2

Personally, Halo’s story has never gripped me so much that I’ve felt compelled to get to the end. From Chief’s perspective it’s a lot of run and gun, save the day stuff. John’s gunna be okay at the end. Halo Wars 2 however got its claws into me something fierce. From the small part of the campaign we were able to play, it was fantastic! The right blend of mystery and answers. It left me eager to play more, to uncover more about The Banished, Isabel and the Spirit of Fire. The cutscenes had a way of getting under your skin and sending shivers down your spine. The combination of a great orchestral score and dramatic dialogue worked wonders.

I don’t really have much to say about the multiplayer. There weren’t any glaring improvements, not to say they aren’t there but I didn’t notice them. It’s either a really good sign or a really bad one. For me it’s a good sign. It says to me that it didn’t need fixing all that much. The 3 vs 3 battles can get a little hectic and the early build of the game appeared to stutter and suffer some frame drop with multiple large armies engaging in combat. Aside from that though? It was stable and functional.

Blitz mode is where the game really shines though. Blitz is a combination of a card game and an RTS. You and your two teammates battle for control of 3 points, there’s no bases but a spawn zone for you to bring in new troops. You can spawn troops wherever you or your team have troops. This means you can drop troops in quickly to help turn the tide of the battle.

Preview: Hands on with Halo Wars 2

This is where the cards come in. You use energy resources gathered from drops or control points to spawn your troops or activate abilities. High powered troops and powerful abilities use more energy to play and so its good to keep them in hand for bad situations and end game pushes. Some units have multiple forms that have different abilities, like cloak, detect, restore etc which tend to cost more than their standard forms. Nightingales make a great addition to any USNC deck. Trust me. Detect and restore on an aerial unit is invaluable in keeping your troops alive.

Blitz games are exactly as intense as the title suggests. With everyone playing cards and watching troops get slaughtered in quick succession it leads to a rapidly shifting battle. The mini map always displays troop positions as well making strategizing easy, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work. Unlike most card games once you play a card it cycles back into your deck ready for use again. It would be cool to see a Blitz mode where cards are one use only, it would lead to some interesting combos and plays. The added level of strategy involved in second guessing your opponents hand and manoeuvres really enhances the experience.

All in all, Halo Wars 2 looks promising. It feels enough like the first that it’s familiar and new enough that it’s refreshing. Although it isn’t full of brand new features but it doesn’t need to be, there’s new troops, a new plot and a new game mode to keep you entertained. Most games that make similar tweaks become old and stale quickly, Halo Wars 2 gets away with it for one reason; it’s unconventional. RTS games aren’t common nowadays, so to see a new one that works as well as it does is fantastic.

It’s predecessor got hit with some undeserved flak because it tried something new and ran into some understandable hurdles. Halo Wars 2 hasn’t just cleared those hurdles but it’s leapt over them gracefully without breaking stride in the slightest. Definitely one to keep an eye on!

Halo Wars 2 is set for release on Feb 21 on Xbox One and PC.