Halo Wars 2 First Impressions
NOTE: The following impressions contain very minor campaign spoilers for the first three missions. If you’d like to go in blind, check back for our spoiler-free Halo Wars 2 review!
The first Halo Wars launched eight years ago this month, bringing the Halo franchise back to its original roots as 2001’s Combat Evolved was actually going to be an RTS before it became a ground-breaking shooter. As Ensemble Studios is no more, the sequel, Halo Wars 2, is in the hands of Total War developers Creative Assembly in an interesting move that has Microsoft publishing an exclusive game from a SEGA developer. As you await our official review, we’ve been given the pass to share our thoughts on some early campaign missions. Be warned, there will some spoilers ahead!
The UNSC Spirit of Fire is back in action after a 28-year long slumber, waking to a new and mysterious galaxy. The first trio of missions include a healthy variety of scenarios across the Ark including your everyday base-building segments, a boss fight, and a unique prison break section that adds a layer to Halo Wars 2’s gameplay. And for the lore-hungry fans of the story, the game’s collectible Phoenix Logs include a plethora of interesting tidbits and must-know information about the different characters, locations, and in-game units.
As the franchise returns back to its old art style its rendition of the Ark (seen mostly in Halo 3) and its many Forerunner installations, as well as the almost ancient design of the marines and Spartans, is a welcome change of pace from Halo’s 4 and 5. The vehicles and architecture of the Banished enemy faction are also superb and look appropriate for a group being controlled by the Brutes. Seeing the game in action is a sight to behold, especially in larger battles. All manner of debris and flailing bodies fly across the screen, and the vibration feedback feels utterly satisfying. If you ever get the chance, make sure to stock up on the Hellbringer forces that are equipped with flamethrowers. The sea of crackling red and orange inferno as they all focus their sights on a single target is incredibly gruesome.
The simple control scheme from the original Halo Wars makes an effortless return here as moving infantry, snapping to different points on the map, and engaging hostiles the way you want to are all done with ease. Players can use leader abilities like carpet bombs to change the face of a battle, launch their Spartans at enemy vehicles to hijack them and give them a huge edge, and upgrade their bases and infantry as the many hordes of Banished are thrown at them.
The game’s third mission ‘One Three Zero’ introduces a clever way at avoiding the trap of having consecutive base-building missions by giving the player a few soldiers to start with and forcing them to build up their armada from scratch. Instead of being able to use your base as a way to gather supplies and energy to then train a countless number of soldiers, this level has you start off as Spartan Alice-130 as you are tasked to free allies from Banished prisons. Now because you don’t have a base to build new units, an additional layer of strategy is involved here as it’s a huge gamble to rush into battles that then wipe out half your squad.
Being left without them makes the mission almost impossible to complete, and I found it to be intensely thrilling as I would use the Spartan to scout the map before I moved up the rest of my soldiers and engaged the enemy. The first three missions involve a range of gameplay scenarios like the aforementioned prison break section as well as slower moments of exploration and plot exposition. This set of missions, alongside the ripe-for-picking potential of the plot, is a nice evolution from the series within a series and a promising start to a fan-favorite sequel.
Be sure to check back for our final review of Halo Wars 2 as we go into detail about the rest of the campaign, the story, and the game’s ambitious multiplayer portion including the all-new Blitz Mode.