Now, if you know me you’ll know I’m not the type to say things just to get a rise out of people, but, if you bought a PlayStation, you’ve made the wrong choice. Here’s why. Halo. More specifically, Halo Wars 2.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been living a life of exhilaration, missed heartbeats and adrenalin, a life of sometimes dubious virtue. I’ve partaken in violence. If I’m honest, even indulged in it… I’ve maimed and killed, and not always in self-defence. I’ve developed a total disregard for life, limb, and property, and savoured every moment. I’ve commanded armies and conquered worlds. I have lead a double life. I have no regrets. I’ve been gaming.
Spoiler alert, Halo Wars 2 is fantastic! The best real-time strategy game on a console, ever.
Granted, saying that is like saying Kate McKinnon is the prettiest Ghostbuster. I’m guessing it has something to do with the inherent limitations of a game controller. I enjoy RTS games but have always played them on PC. My favourite use to be Warhammer 40 000. Now that is a game for hardcore RTS gamers.
Admittedly, Halo Wars 2 is not as developed as Warhammer, but it is the best of both worlds, and a stroke of genius for the gang of instrumentals at Microsoft Studios, 343 Industries, and Creative Assembly. This is the Halo game RTS players want, and the RTS game Halo players want. Sneaky sneaky!
Now let’s get back to reality for a sec. Halo Wars 2 is not perfect, but it is a refreshing change of direction for the franchise which, if we’re honest, was kind of starting to look like the same dress in different colours. It’s not just a (sort of) new approach away from the FPS format, it also introduces a new enemy. I say it’s a sort of new direction because there was a Halo Wars, and according to Metacritic, it was better.
The UNSC has traditionally always gone up against the Covenant. The Covenant at one point “enlisted” the help of a race known only as the Banished. If you paid careful attention in the previous FPS releases, you would have heard of them. Basically, they were cannon fodder. The Covenant sent them on suicide missions and all that were sent died, except for one. Atriox.
They kept sending him into impossible situations and he just kept coming back, like a red-head stepchild you take “for a drive” and leave at a petrol station and 3 days later he shows up on your doorstep again.
Understandably, this did nothing for the relationship, until one day the Covenant just decide Atriox is a liability. Long story short, they try to kill him, he hands them their asses and takes all their weapons and equipment and starts his own reign of terror on the Galaxy.
Our UNSC crew wake up out of a 28-year cryo-sleep, thanks to a distress call from a nearby Ark. The AI they encounter is hot in a way that only a self-aware, emo, buzz-cut – possibly lesbian – program can be. A smoking piece of code, if I can be so crude…
I digress. The Captain of the UNSC starship Spirit of Fire is a tough-as-nails veteran called Capt. James Cutter. He sends a squad of Spartans down to the surface and they find the AI named Isabel. She is sad, which, if we are honest, is a little unusual for a computer program, but who am I to judge what is and what isn’t suitable behaviour for an artificial intelligence?
Anyway. While they are trying to get Isabelle to turn that frown upside down, Atriox shows up and kicks some ass. Alice 130 gets separated from the unit and Douglas 042 gets a little too close to Atriox and gets broken like a promise.
We cut back to the inside of the Spirit of Fire and Isabelle tells Capt Cutter what went down when Atriox showed up. She tells them it’s pointless fighting because they are only a few thousand on a ship that is very outdated, and Atriox is an unbeatable foe, then one of those magic moments happens.
Cutter must make a decision, and he does. He gives a speech that, if viewed in isolation, is a string of clichés that would leave you cringing, but seen in the context of this world you’ve already bought into, leaves you pumped up, ready to fight, arms full of goosebumps! Love it!
That’s where we start.
My initial gripe was that there was no tutorial, in the classic sense. I had never played an RTS on a remote before and the button combinations are a complete mystery. You can just select your entire force and send them into battle and see who is left standing at the end, but that’s not really my style. The game works on a rock/paper/scissors system where unit A is effective against unit B and unit C is effective against unit A, so there is a need for strategy (hence the name Real Time STRATEGY), but trying to assign buttons is like trying to find a woman’s G-spot, only in this scenario, finding it actually matters.
Then once I had cleared a few maps, I realised that they WERE the tutorials. By maps 3 and 4 you’re assigning button combos as easy as right-bumper, cycle through options with right-trigger, use D-pad to find sub-group in unit type, scan map, navigate to location, hit A… no no no, I mean X, damn it, start sequence again, ah crap my entire army is wiped out by some blue glowy circle from the sky…
Live, die, repeat.
There are other options besides the campaign, which so far, has been an absolute blast. I honestly enjoy the campaign mode, but I do wish there was a difficulty setting called Special Needs.
There’s your standard Deathmatch mode and a Domination style territory capture ala Warhammer (though Warhammer does it better). There is a load of Leader Points options which make bringing the pain a ton of fun. Calling down a barrage of Archer missiles from space on an unsuspecting enemy encampment is hugely satisfying.
A really cool game mode, which I think is a direct result of the involvement of Creative Assembly, is the card deck based system in the Blitz option. Instead of base building and troop creation, you use cards which you collect throughout your gameplay. This adds a very real element of randomization to your game, but honestly, it turns a great Real Time Strategy game into a Real-Time Luck game. I suspect this mode will become very popular, as well as its single player variant Firefight, which is basically a wave based combat scenario.
I love Halo Wars 2. It’s not perfect. I’ve had a few bugs creep in, like going to a load screen and the little white wheel just spins and spins forever like an ADHD child in a room full of kittens, but I will forgive it because this game is the exact game I never knew I wanted.
The cut scenes are the most beautifully rendered cinematics I have ever seen. The use of motion capture and photorealist modeling makes immersing yourself in this world happen completely naturally. The story is compelling and the music is incredible! Apparently, the cut scenes were acted out with all the motion actors in the room, going through the scene simultaneously, so character interaction is absolutely seamless. In the past, each actor would perform independently and the scene would be assembled afterward.
It really makes a big difference.
And that, my dear friends, is why, if you still have your receipt, you need to take your PlayStation back to where you bought it and get yourself an Xbox One. Halo Wars 2.