Halo Wars 2 is a real-time strategy game set in the Halo universe and was released in February of 2017 introducing us to The Banished. Quickly the legend of Atriox had my attention. After Halo 4 and 5 seemingly forgot that Brutes existed this game brought them back bigger and better than ever. Throughout twelve campaign missions, the game teaches you all the basics you’ll need to try and dominate the competitive RTS PVP and master the new mode Blitz. It was a solid package (that is now available on Game Pass), and one that was made even better with the expansion “Awakening the Nightmare”. Let’s go through what makes this game tick, and why Halo fans are so excited to see The Banished become the main antagonists of the upcoming Halo Infinite.
Halo Wars 2 takes place 30 years after the first game. Captain Cutter and his crew have been in cryo-sleep for thirty years. Something pulls them to the Ark from Halo 3 where they soon find that all the UNSC research personnel stationed there have been massacred by a group calling themselves The Banished. Featuring jaw-droppingly beautiful pre-rendered cutscenes the story starts strong and never stops. This is a similar game to Halo Wars 1, but with a bit more complexity in the grand scheme of what you can do. It’s still a beginners level game for fans of the genre, but once again Halo transitions well to the over-the-top view with tight controls and a clear visual style. The game looks good, and units are easy enough to see in the chaos of battle so that you can attempt to take advantage of the rock-paper-scissors setup to how things are balanced.
To get back to that story though, after a powerful opening cutscene introducing us to Atriox and his Banished the game ends up using a mix of pre-rendered in-game graphics cutscenes and the glorious Blur Studios ones to keep the story going. The pre-rendered game-style graphics look rough, as they are running at a noticeably lower resolution, but the Blur Studios ones look fantastic four years later. This is a great introduction to the Banished, and things only get better when you go through the (what I consider to be mandatory before Halo Infinite) expansion, “Awakening the Nightmare”. For this part you get to play as the Banished themselves, well fighting against a few familiar enemies to fans of the series. The expansion retails for $20 and has gone on sale before, which is when I bought it. The entire campaign is available in co-operative and it makes a good time that much better.
There are also items known as Phoenix Logs in the game that give more backstory to Atriox and The Banished. They are well written and tell an intriguing story that contradicts the terrifying tale that the AI Isabel tells you when you rescue her from the surface of the Ark. Add into this a comic series titled “The Rise of Atriox” and there is quite a bit of lore built up for this new crew. I remember hoping at the time that they would be a part of the next Halo FPS and I was thrilled when we found out that they weren’t just a part but the main enemies.
Controls and Modes to Satisfy Everyone
The campaign is a good story, but its main job is to be a tutorial on how the game works for those interested in the other modes on offer. First up is the classic Pvp which I’m terrible at and barely touched. I’ve heard great things about it while talking with fans of the series though. Next up is the Blitz mode, which was the long-term microtransaction fueled money maker. This is a solo or cooperative firefight mode that uses a card-based system like the REQ packs of Halo 5: Guardians. I played the heck out of this one back at launch and greatly enjoyed my time with it. They have been decently generous over the years handing out free packs as well. These contain cards tied to the units you play during your fight. These cards themselves are tied to various leaders whom I have available by default after purchasing the Gold Edition of the game. It’s an enjoyable mode, especially if you have a friend to play with as it can get quite tough.
Controls with both mouse & keyboard and controller feel tight and responsive. Lacking the precision of a mouse you will fall back on moving all or local units quite often with the controller, but the game is forgiving enough where that is ok. Everything works on three principles. A unit cost cap, energy, and resources. You set up bases to mine resources, produce energy, and find them on the map as large blue and yellow piles. There is a great variety to the vehicle and squad types here for both the Banished and the UNSC and it is one of my main hopes for Halo Infinite that at least some of them make it to the mainline series.
Levels can last a while as you’re learning how things work, and the game is quite forgiving on this. It can be quite difficult to lose on easy and normal, but on heroic and legendary it gets legitimately tough.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically the game is quite nice looking. Units and geometry are nicely detailed and easy to distinguish, even when tons of particle effects caused by your leader powers are raining hell down all over the place. The Xbox version runs at a base 30, though FPS boost can now bump that up to 60 if you have a Series console. The vehicles are standouts as I love the Banished’s take on repurposed Covenant tech.
The soundtrack is excellent with one of my favorite main themes of all time. Overall it has its own style and doesn’t pull in much if any of the mainline Halo games auditory signatures. It is a quite bombastic orchestral style that fits the game’s theme perfectly. Sound effects and enemy voice work is classic Halo, and the banter before and during missions is excellent. Captain Cutter has a distinct voice, and Spartan Jerome is a legit badass in his actions and demeanor.
Wrapping Things Up
I really love Halo Wars 2. It’s not the deepest RTS, and it really is best for fans of the Halo universe. As it is available for Game Pass there is no harm in trying things solo or even better, with a friend in coop. Add in the excellent expansion Awakening the Nightmare and you have yourself a genuinely awesome game.