Halo Wars 2 – Beta Preview
PC, Xbox One
The ye old days of the classic RTS seemed to be long gone. For the longest time Starcraft 2 seemed to be waving the banner for the genre being the only title of note. But with the success of the Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology HD releases as well as titles such as Act of Aggression gaining popularity Microsoft has decided the time is right to dive back into the genre. To do that they have chosen to lean on something they know very well and that is Halo.
The original Halo Wars, while not a classic, was an excellent attempt at getting the traditionally mouse heavy genre of RTS working on the console. It simplified building and infantry management so using a controller wasn’t a nightmare. It tied that new control scheme to an entertaining campaign featuring all the classic units from the Halo universe. In my time with the game I enjoyed what it had to offer but being a lifelong RTS gamer I always found myself wishing for a mouse to play with. In the end, it became a fondly remembered game but one that didn’t set the world on fire. I must admit it is a surprise to see Microsoft releasing a sequel.
What is even more welcome is the sequel is coming to PC so I will be finally able to play it with a mouse. Unfortunately, the beta I have been playing (a part of Microsoft’s E3 week) was only available on the Xbox One so it was controller time once again. I was immediately impressed by how well the developers (Creative Assembly this time around) have managed to make the controller a viable control scheme. Sadly, though I still found myself itching to use a mouse but I am happy to admit that could simply be because I am a stubborn old gamer who is unwilling to change. The game uses lots of radial menus and simplified placements to enable the less precise movement of a thumb stick to work, allowing access to lots of different options without excess frustration.
The game looks great, there is a clear attention to detail from Creative Assembly’s artists and graphical designers. All of the units are animated wonderfully and they show quite a bit of personality as they go about attacking, capturing or simply standing still. The maps, of which I only saw two during my time with the beta, seemed a little bland in design but they still had plenty of points of interest and interaction scattered about.
Gameplay should feel very familiar to any who played the original game. Bases can be built on specified locations on the map and all other buildings have to be built attached to the base. As the base levels up more build spots open up. This means that having multiple bases is essential, not only as a backup but to sustain a thriving economy. The way I like to play is to have at least one base that primarily produces units and another that is focused on generating power and supplies, the game’s two types of currency. As I progressed I gained access to commander powers which were special moves with cooldowns. I could place a turret on the battlefield, fire a MAC cannon round at oncoming enemies or heal all of my units within a certain area.
The game mode I played in the beta was Domination, something that has been transplanted from the FPS realm and works surprisingly well. There are two ways to win the game. The first is the traditional RTS way by utterly destroying the opponent in battle. The second was to capture key points scattered around the map. For every location controlled the enemy lost points from their total, with the game being won once the opposition’s score reached zero. I found this a highly entertaining mode that forced me to think outside of the genre’s usual tank rush tactics This allowed me to defeat more than a few opposing players who had stronger armies than I had. It also added a frantic energy to the game and encouraged exploration while discouraged turtling.
From my time with the game I think this could be another solid RTS set in the Halo universe. Hopefully, there is an interesting campaign to go along with the well thought out game mechanics. I must admit I am more excited for the PC version of the game but console players also look like they will be well served with an excellently designed control scheme that makes the game very playable using nothing but thumb sticks and a few buttons. It may be a more simplified RTS game than hardcore genre veterans are after (more along the lines of an early C&C game) but it has the potential to be a very entertaining game for the masses. I can’t wait until the full game comes out, signalling the return of the genre’s golden age. Wouldn’t it be great to see Halo Wars 2 convince EA that a new Command and Conquer was a good idea? I know I would be one happy chap, that is for sure.