A Beginner's Guide to Halo Wars 2

By Anna Blackwell 17 Aug 2018 0

It’s easy to forget Halo Wars 2 exists - it was released just before Strategy Gamer was launched last year, and it seems to have quietly slipped into the background in the time since then. The fact that it was mainly being pushed on Xbox One and (unlike Halo Wars 1) isn’t available on Steam probably didn’t help either.

But hey, it’s still alive and kicking and as a Halo fan I’m almost ashamed to admit I let it pass me by. If you’re in a similar position and want to know more, here’s our beginner walkthrough to this under-appreciated RTS.

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The Story So Far

Halo Wars 2 takes place on another Ark (because of course it does -ED)  where the Spirit of Fire, a UNSC colony ship that went missing at the end of the first Halo Wars, has emerged from slip space after 28 years of cryo sleep. The Covenant have been defeated and in their place a faction known as The Banished have risen up and are gathering Forerunner tech so that they can destroy humanity with it. So you know, The Usual(™) and I mean that in the best possible way. The Halo series has always been about overly dramatic military struggles and HW2 doesn’t disappoint. One of the first missions involves outrunning a danger close orbital bombardment as Banished troops teleport in to cut your warthog off and it feels almost as thrilling as the final mission of Halo 3.

Even if you aren’t interested in the story, the quality of the cutscenes still makes it a fantastic experience for any Halo fan. Creative Assembly have gone out of their way to make film quality cinematics to accompany the story which is greatly appreciated in the modern multiplayer focused market. But if that doesn’t sway you and you’re only interested in the multiplayer, I still fully recommend playing the first 5 or 6 missions as they double as the game’s tutorial and explain who/what everything is.

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Combat Evolved

HW2 expands upon Ensemble Studio’s original with improved graphics, better UI, and more variety in leader choices, although not initially in the way many of us had hoped. See, HW2 only shipped with 6 leaders and promised more through the industry mandated season pass.

To be fair they did deliver 10 new leaders and a mini campaign. However it all went fairly downhill after that: They cut off the loyal pass holders just before the big Awakening The Nightmare DLC, released an ultimate edition which didn’t have the latest DLC, removed said ultimate edition, and are now offering a complete edition for roughly the same price as the original game. Great job, guys.

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That sounds like tangential bitching, but it appears to have had a noticeable effect on the online community. Like all Halo games before it, this one uses a not too great matchmaking service which checks the immediate area for those of a similar level, then slightly further, then widening the search criteria again, and again, and again, before giving up and just putting you in the first match it can. If you’re new to the game, then you can expect to wait about 4 - 5 minutes as it runs around the empty newbie shelves. And of all the matches I’ve played in the last month, I’ve only come within 10 levels of another player.

Don’t let that put you off however. A high level player doesn’t guarantee them the win and the only times I’ve bore witness to a bloodbath was when DLC leaders were involved. The initial leaders are good, and I don’t doubt that a seasoned player can do very well with them but the paid for leaders tend to have disconcerting powers. The spartan Jerome has a special power that allows his hero unit to call another hero unit down from orbit which makes for a hellish early game rush. Sgt Johnson can create garrisons which makes taking the Forerunner generators a nightmare. Though perhaps the most frustrating is the AI Serina who gets unique cryo units and freeze powers. In the right hands she can freeze an enemy army in its tracks and keep your best units on lockdown until they’re destroyed.

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Then there’s the dropouts. More often than not I’ve noticed players dropout at the start of a match, leaving one team understaffed and the matchmaking doesn’t allow you to join in progress games. So if you’re teammate leaves, you’re gonna have to pull double duty in hell marine.

That being said I still find Halo Wars 2 to be a fantastic RTS. Here’s why...

Back to Basics

In order to accommodate the controller-crowd HW2 restricts everything to radial menus which are very easy to navigate and work great with the mouse. It does mean that your view is blocked while you’re navigating the menu but after a couple of matches this becomes less and less of an issue as you’ll learn quickly what everything is.

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Placement of buildings is limited to the spaces around the HQ which I initially hated but came to understand. Throughout the map there are one slot, two slot, and firebase spaces that HW2 expects you to spread out and take. This limits turtling and forces the action to move across the map as each player tries to capture Forerunner generators (which provide massive energy boosts) and base zones to increase their production rate.

The UI has been greatly improved since the original Halo Wars and it is incredibly easy to see what a unit’s strengths and weaknesses are. And with all the information presented so cleanly it’s a lot easier to strategize, even without familiarity with the Halo universe.

And perhaps one of my favourite aspects: HW2 is simple. Resources, Energy, and Population are the only requirements for units and buildings. It’s reminiscent of Dawn of War and has the same aggression and epic battles that made DoW last so long.

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Alternate Modes

If you take my advice and pick up the complete edition, then you’ll get two new gamemodes that shake the formula up: Blitz and Firefight.

Blitz is a card based zone control gamemode where each leader has their own deck of unit and power cards. The goal is to control the various zones on the map and be the first to reach the points goal. Each leader starts with a handful of units and can buy more with energy which can be collected from canisters that drop around the map or waiting as it slowly fills up. As the name suggests, Blitz is much faster than the core game and requires a different way of thinking. Armies rarely reach great sizes as each player engages in skirmishes and suicide missions to control the zones.

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Deck management is straightforward and for every victory in any gamemode you are rewarded with Blitz packs which give out a selection of random cards for the leaders you have. Though expect to do quite a bit of grinding as units level up every time you get a duplicate of them.

Arriving in the Awakening The Nightmare DLC, Firefight is a straightforward wave survival during which Banished, UNSC, and Flood will spawn from one of the spawn points on the map and rush your base. Their path is highlighted so you get a few seconds to position your troops and defences and like the core game, expansion is key. Firebases are dotted around the map for you to claim and upping your production and energy is the best way to keep your numbers topped up. However, if you’re looking for a punishing survival experience like Halo Reach’s Firefight mode or Company of Heroes’ Operation Stonewall then this isn’t going to scratch that itch. Even after flailing around trying to understand the basics of the gamemode I was able to complete normal difficulty solo without any damage to the objective.

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Finish The Fight

There’s a lot to enjoy in Halo Wars 2 and there is still enough of a community to make it playable (just bring a book while matchmaking). There doesn’t seem to be any new content coming but hey, at least you can pick it all up at once.

Stay tuned for our next update where I’ll go over some tips and tricks on how to even the playing field against the veteran players.

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