It's virtually impossible to tell the history of Xbox without including the Halo series in it. In 2009, the series was expanded to the RTS genre with the release of Halo Wars. Back again with a new developer, Halo Wars 2 continues the line of Halo strategy games and for the most part, succeeds.
Taking place directly after Halo 5, and nearly 30 years after the events of the original Halo Wars, the game serves as a lead-in to Halo 6 and surprisingly has comparitively great production value. Cutscenes look fantastic, especially during firefights that show off the scale of the battles. The story follows UNSC warship Spirit of Fire as they come in contact with an alien faction known as the Banished.
While the story was interesting, the campaign felt dull due to its unoriginality and lack of mission variety. The campaign is made up of 12 missions that take about 6 to 10 hours to complete depending on the difficulty. Each mission typically has the player holding/capturing certain objectives, destroying all enemies bases, or defending against waves of enemies. There are a few tough boss fights along the way to break the monotony, and a few FPS-inspired segments, but the campaign ultimately left more to be desired.
Where Halo Wars 2 shines is in its solid online play. There are a good number of modes including deathmatches in which you must destroy all enemy bases, territorial modes like Stronghold and Domination, and Firefight. Both the UNSC and the Banished are playable factions, each with a different set of units and "Leaders." Leaders focus on a certain type of playstyle; UNSC leader Captain Cutter buffs infantry units and drops infantry support, while Shipmaster Let 'Volir primarily benefits air units.
While the leaders' powers successfully add another layer to the playing field, other aspects such as base building and feel too restrictive. Bases and buildings can only be built on set spaces as opposed to anywhere like most RTS's. This becomes more of a problem during lengthy matches as base expansion becomes critical. The lack of units is another issue. Although each leader comes with a single unique unit, the vast majority of other units are identical copies of other UNSC/Banished units. There simply aren't enough of them, overall, which significantly limits strategic options because everyone has the same army. Developer Creative Assembly has promised more leaders and units in the future, but currently, there just isn't enough in the game for my liking.
The most notable addition to the series is the new Blitz mode, which opts for a quicker, more intense way to play. Blitz has a card system similar to Halo 5's REQ cards. Players can earn card packs and create decks of cards. These cards consist of units that can be instantaneously spawned to the map. This cuts out base building completely and streamlines the resource gathering mechanic. Leveling up your profile will net you currency that can be spent on rarer cards that can personalize your deck. Blitz is a great way to learn basics and is also a really fun and unique mode, unlike anything I've seen in an RTS.
The controls are surprisingly very well done on the Xbox One controller. Certainly, the controller isn't as precise and convenient as the mouse and keyboard, but there are significant improvements in Halo Wars 2 when compared to other console RTS's. Controls primarily haven't changed much from the first game, but small improvements have made the experience more intuitive. You can now link individual units on the d-pad to better keep track of them as well as select all units you control by double-tapping the right bumper.
Most of the time, controls are responsive and gameplay is fluid. Problems occur when the screen gets crowded and performance drops. Sometimes, the framerate would drop during hectic moments, and I wouldn't be able to control my units for a moment. Other times, the game would completely freeze for 20-30 seconds. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case most of the time, but in a game where timing is so crucial, these issues can be the difference between winning and losing.
Halo Wars 2 is not without its flaws. It doesn't have the depth of other RTS's, but it does control surprisingly well and multiplayer options are abundant. There may not be much lasting appeal for hardcore players, but it is certainly fun in the moment, especially for console players that aren't too familiar with the genre.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09