We spoke to Creative Assembly's Alistair Hope ahead of the upcoming launch of Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars 2 is an upcoming sequel to the original 2009 real-time strategy spin-off, developed by Creative Assembly in collaboration with 343 Industries. At a recent preview event in London, we were able to talk to Alistair Hope, the game's creative director, about his personal history with the series, Creative Assembly's involvement, while also learning more about the inspiration behind the title's strategy elements and game modes.
Gamereactor: What made you want to get involved with the series?
Alistair Hope: Halo Wars, the original, is a really beloved game and it's still played a lot by the community. A sequel to Halo Wars was the number one requested title for a long time to 343 for the fans. And I think 343 have been looking for the right partner to make a sequel. I guess in Creative Assembly they found a studio which has a lot of strategy game experience and console game experience as well. From our perspective - from Creative Assembly's point of view - we're big fans of the Halo universe, especially that first game, and it felt like a really fantastic opportunity to make a sequel to a game which we really loved. From another point of view, we've been thinking about strategy on console for a long time and this was a really great opportunity. I think strategy and Halo is a really good fit, and of course interestingly, Halo was originally envisioned as a real-time strategy game before going to first-person. So it's kind of cool it's going back to its roots.
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GR: What are the main things you've changed or kept the same about the original, going into the sequel?
AH: Like I said, we really like the first game. I think it did a lot of things really, really well and made some really smart decisions. I think we wanted to make a sequel which felt true in spirit to that but also make a game that evolved the series and expanded upon the original. I think adding things like the Banished, a whole new faction, and Atriox which I think is a really interesting character within the Halo universe that we've introduced. We've expanded the roster, so the units, added a whole bunch of new units into the game. We've expanded and emphasised the role of leaders which was something that was in the original, but we've pushed the focus on leaders stronger in Halo Wars 2 so they really define some interesting play styles. The leaders, these figureheads, all have their own unit types and leader abilities and they emphasise different ways to play. So someone like Cutter, who's kind of a good all-round leader, whereas someone like Anders is much more tech-focused, and Atriox is more economy and defensive. So you can find a leader who suits your playstyle then you combine that in team play and then you can start to make out some really interesting match ups and synergies and come up with some really interesting strategies through choice of leader and your decisions there.
GR: Is it particularly challenging to develop an RTS for console with a controller?
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AH: Like I said, I think the original was a really good experience and so we wanted to develop on top of that. We added some new features like control grouping so you can grab a bunch of units and assign them to the d-pad so there's an additional layer of control, so we wanted to take advantage of that. I think one of the interesting things is once people start playing, I think a lot of those questions about the controller disappears. We wanted the game, whichever the platform you're playing on, to feel really intuitive and natural, so if you're used to a controller I think it's a really good experience. I think likewise if you're used to RTS on a PC with keyboard and mouse, then I think you'll feel right at home.
GR: Can you tell us a bit about more about Blitz and the inspiration behind that?
AH: I think from the outset we wanted to make an RTS for everyone. We really love strategy games at Creative Assembly and I think with Halo Wars 2, the fact that we had a great opportunity to take strategy games and Halo to a new audience. The goal for us was to make an RTS for everyone, so if you're new to real-time strategy games, this is a great way into the genre. Likewise if you're an RTS veteran, then there's a lot there for you as well. With Blitz, I think Blitz came out of that thinking -thinking about ways which we have a whole bunch of different modes in the game. So Strongholds is a multiplayer mode which is arcade action, it's not about resources. You don't have to worry about that, it's just about choosing your favourite units and toys and getting that onto the battlefield and having a big battle. Deathmatch and Domination are much more of a true test of RTS skill for possibly more experienced players. With Blitz we came out of that thinking with this kind of ideal approach of trying to streamline some of the aspects of real-time strategy. So Blitz changes its focus away from base building and tech levelling and creates this mode where units are depicted by cards. You don't have the pressure of trying to build an army and the intensity of battle. You have the deck builder which is offline, you create a deck simply of 12 cards, it's quite straightforward. And then you take that into the battle and you're given a hand of 4 cards at any given time. You choose the unit which you want if you have enough power or energy. It came from a place of wanting to make something really accessible and straightforward, but what we found was it was actually super deep as well, because the decisions you make in the deck builder and the choice of cards really influence the gameplay. If you're playing in a team situation, you can build decks which are really sympathetic to each other or contrasting. So one player can have a deck which is all about cheap energy cards so you can keep churning out the units, whereas your teammate might have the higher-end units which require the other player to harvest the energy to unleash your full force. We've seen some really interesting stories and games where one team can look like it's dominating and winning and then the other team's strategy pays off and they come through right at the end. So there's some really interesting dynamic options for gameplay.
GR: How has it been working with 343 Industries to recreate the Halo universe in the RTS world?
AH: Yeah, it's been fantastic. Like I said, we were fans beforehand, but it's been a really natural partnership and a really fantastic collaboration. We've introduced a whole new faction to the universe and Atriox is a really interesting character who is quite different to enemy characters previously. It's been a really great collaboration when we've had to introduce new units for the mechanics for the design, so something like the Codiac or the Blister Pack, we needed some powerful ranged units, kind of artillery units. We wanted to create something which was brand new and expanded the universe whilst also making it feel like it was something which could always have existed, you just hadn't seen it. It's just a really good collaboration; we bring an experience in strategy games, while they have the Guardians universe. It's just a really natural collaboration.
Halo Wars 2 is due to release on Windows 10 and Xbox One on February 21. We recently previewed the game, including its campaign, multiplayer, as well as the new Blitz mode, and you can read more about that here.