I was a bit torn over whether to include this in the “Games I like” or “Games I didn’t like” category. On the one hand, the campaign is pretty good and the core multiplayer isn’t too bad either. On the other hand, Blitz mode is just flat out BS with poor matchmaking in which you can buy power and steamroll your opposition. And that’s not just because I suck at it. But more on that later! Oh, and just so you know, I put it in both categories.
I didn’t play Halo Wars. It just didn’t interest me at the time and I couldn’t see how an real time strategy (RTS) could work with a controller. But here I am, many years later fancying an RTS that I can pick up and play quickly. I’ve not really played much in the genre for a long time, so a light strategy game was right up my street, plus I quite like the Halo universe. We play…someone who is ordering UNSC troops to fight the Banished, a offshoot of the Covenant, because they are bad and live on a space station. I didn’t follow the story at all (maybe because I didn’t play the previous installment?) but the cutscenes were nice. I’m not playing my RTS games for plot though! I just want to order tanks to blow stuff up!
The game controls surprisingly well with a controller, with button holds and presses selecting groups of local or global units and button shortcuts allowing you to move around the map quickly. Pressing X will send your soldiers to an area (there is no attack-move here, characters auto attack en route) or to attack a target, whilst Y will activate the most suitable ability for your current group (take over a tank, throw grenades at infantry etc.) Selecting a building on your base opens a radial menu to build troops and buy abilities. This was the weaker part for me as I struggled to tell the buildings apart at times, meaning building an anti-air vehicle in the heat of battle resulted in me moving around the different buildings until I found the garage. That aside, it controls better than I expected.
The campaign is good fun, with 12 missions (don’t expect the campaign to last much longer than 8 hours) ranging from traditional building a base and attacking the enemy, to guiding a rag tag group of survivors through enemy territory. The units are based in the Halo universe as you’d expect, with Scorpion tanks, Hunters, and Warthogs aplenty. Combat works on a loose rock/paper/scissors system with vehicles beating infantry, infantry beating aircraft and aircraft beating vehicles. There are variants on this, with some vehicles being anti air and so forth, so picking the right set of units for the job is essential. Making sure your giving the right orders to the right set of units in the heat of battle can be tricky, so getting comfortable with button shortcuts and who-beats-what is important on higher difficulties.
The core multiplayer is fairly good too, pitting players or teams of players against each other in a race to build their base and eliminate their opponents quickly, or a more slow paced objective driven mode such as Domination. These modes were fine, and facing higher level opponents didn’t guarantee they were any tougher than you, often leading to a fair(ish) fight. Blitz mode is a different matter though.
I should love Blitz mode. An RTS with card game and deck building elements? Yes please! You play cards (using energy as a limited resource) to summon units or special abilities to capture and hold control points which earn you points to win. In theory a good deck and smart resource management should lead to victory! But here’s the thing, you can buy card packs (with real money of course) to get new cards. In itself this isn’t such a problem, but duplicate cards will be leveled up making them more powerful (somewhat like Clash Royale, you know, that FREE to play game?) meaning that people who spend money will have more powerful cards. Not only that, but as your account levels up, you are given free packs meaning that a higher level player will have a distinct advantage over a lower level one.
I’ve complained about micro-transactions in full priced games before. I can understand it in free to play games, and I get selling cosmetics in full priced releases. But as far as I’m concerned, you do not sell power in full priced multiplayer games. It will harm your online community and drive away new players. I played several Blitz matches and was regularly put up against players at least 20 levels higher than me, meaning they had objectively better cards. No matter how you spin it, a level 4 tank will always beat a level 2 one. The poor matchmaking and power selling card packs drove me away from this mode and very much soured me on my experience of this game. It’s a pity, because the other aspects of the game are actually pretty good, but free to play business models have no place in full price titles.
Halo Wars 2 was developed by 343i and Creative Assembly and published by Microsoft. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend some aspects of the game. There’s a decent enough campaign and some fun to be had in the multiplayer. But Blitz mode is a shambles because of how the card economy works. If you do give it a try, consider yourself warned!