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August 2018

Halo Wars 2

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2017


XOne/PC Preview - 'Halo Wars 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 14, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Halo Wars 2 is a strategy game packed with fast-paced action, massive battles, and an all-new Halo story.

Pre-order Halo Wars 2

Despite Master Chief's prominence in the Halo game lore, not every soldier is a one-man killing machine. Humans and aliens alike depend on armies to do their fighting. Halo Wars, which was released in 2009, was the only real glimpse of full-fledged war between both sides, where heroes were less important than tactics and strategy. Over five years have passed and several sequels have been released since Halo Wars, and fans have been clamoring for more. The inevitable finally happened at E3 2016 with the confirmation of Halo Wars 2, and we got to spend some time with the game.

It's been 28 years since the first game, and the crew of the Spirit of Fire has been asleep. They awaken over an artificial world known as The Ark, which is dominated by a force of rogue aliens known as The Banished. The concept behind Halo Wars 2 antagonist effectively sounds like, "What if you had an Evil Master Chief?" Atriox is a Brute, one of the Covenant's heavy guns, but he's far stronger, far faster, and perhaps most dangerous of all, he's intelligent. The developers framed him as a tactical genius and pointed out that he's capable of single-handedly demolishing Spartan soldiers while leading his forces to overwhelming victory. In short, he's a threat to the entire universe, especially with the potential power of a Forerunner Ark behind him. It's up to the Spirit of Fire to stop him before it's too late.

During our behind-closed-doors demo of Halo Wars 2, we saw the first mission. The Spirit of Fire narrowly survived an encounter with the Banished and have landed on The Ark. In order to get revenge and stop Atriox, they had to establish a base camp on the planet. Halo Wars 2 plays a lot like the first game, so players can select one or more units and send them along on the map. Combat is semi-automated, with characters hopping into fights as soon as they get close to their foes, and there's a rock-paper-scissors system in place, with some units being better against others. For example, you don't want to send your tanks against the strong anti-vehicle hunter class.

There are certainly twists and turns. Both friend and foe have access to special Leader powers. The human's Captain Cutter can send down nano-drones that can heal members of his army, while The Banished have access to a deadly orbital laser that can rain down terrifying death at a moment's notice. There are only two leaders announced at the moment (Cutter and Atriox), but six will be available at launch, and more are coming in the Season Pass DLC. Reinforcements are also dropped for both sides and can drastically turn the tide of battle. Once you've built a fire base, you can customize it with modules that allow you to call in new troops or upgrade existing troops with better weaponry and gear. The Hellbringers are anti-infantry flamethrower units whose flames can be upgraded to burn the ground beneath their foes.

A major element of Halo Wars 2 is a desire to make it fun enough for hardcore RTS players while also leaving it accessible for newcomers. The combat design is supposed to be both informative and exciting. Combat doesn't just involve simple animations but dramatic clashes with bullets flying everywhere, missiles swarming from tanks, and explosions aplenty. The animations look cool and also provide useful information at a glance. Tracer fire shows which units are attacking, and buildings and vehicles start to show signs of damage to let you know how the fight is going.

For hardcore gamers, there's increased customization for movement. On the Xbox One, you'll be able to assign up to four groups of soldiers to the directions on the d-pad, allowing for instant swapping between multiple groups. PC gamers will be able to bind up to 10 soldier groups. Unfortunately, these minor quirks of balance mean the game won't support Cross-Play. This is because 343 Studios wants to ensure that Halo Wars 2 is fully supported on the PC instead of a lackluster port, and that will include advantages for playing with a mouse and keyboard instead of a controller. Both games should be fundamentally the same below the surface, only with some tweaks so players on both sides have a good experience.

Halo Wars 2 is the first time the Halo Wars franchise has been made available on PC, and 343 emphasizes they want it to be a great experience. PC players who are worried about missing the first game should take heart. An Ultimate bundle will be made available for both PC and Xbox One that includes the game and the season pass, which includes new leaders, a campaign expansion, and a remastered version of Halo Wars. The remastered edition will be exclusive to the Ultimate version of the game, so keep that in mind.

Halo Wars 2 has a lot of potential. The first game was an impressive effort at a console real-time strategy title, and Halo Wars 2 is aiming to give console players a solid RTS while making sure it's as enjoyable and exciting for PC players as it is for their Xbox One brethren. Halo Wars 2 is due out Feb. 21, 2017, exclusively for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.

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