We played some of the campaign, multiplayer, and the new Blitz mode.
The last time we played Halo Wars 2, during our visit to Redmond, the focus was on the new and at the time unknown multiplayer mode, Blitz, and when we went again to London to see the RTS at another event, there was more Blitz, but also some multiplayer and campaign for us to dive into as well.
Let's start with the campaign, which begins 28 years after the first game ended. The entire crew of The Spirit of Fire has been in a deep cryosleep, and in that time much of the Halo story we know from the main game has happened. Master Chief has kicked covenant ass on the Ark, which is mentioned here as we played a mission called Ascension. The basic goal is to advance, push back enemies, and open an ancient Forerunner elevator that is placed in the map's centre. This is done by holding checkpoints and advancing to capture more, all while the enemy storms our position, with waves coming from all sides simultaneously.
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The story revolves around the crook, Atriox, who is an unusually intelligent Brute. He does what none of his before him has managed to do; breaking free of The Covenant. He quickly attracts an entourage of like-minded bad guys, and together they go about making life miserable for everyone else. All of their gear is based on the old Covenant technology, causing them to be both energy-based and dangerous. Brutes have often ended up being a little in the background of previous Halo games, but now they stand as the ultimate threat, which feels both new and exciting at the same time. In fact, this sense of newness is really evident throughout the campaign, whether it be graphically, enemy types, or characters, and what we played of the campaign felt incredibly cinematic, with plenty of voiceovers and CGI cutscenes unfolding the grand story for us (not to mention the epic Halo music as per usual).
There were three levels on offer at the event - the first three of the game in fact - and all of them were fun, giving us a decent look at what the RTS has in store for us. While we didn't see a huge amount of depth, given the limited time we had, what we did see was promising, good-looking, and, above all else, accessible. Things were easily explained to us and soon we were controlling units with ease, a trick the first game pulled so well on console (we played on both an Xbox One and a PC while at the event).
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After sampling the campaign it was time for a bit of multiplayer, which pitted us against another group of Xbox players to see who would be dominant. We weren't able to boss the battle, in fact we got flattened, but still, we really enjoyed what we played of this side of the game and we think fans will too. We played deathmatch, tasking players with eliminating the other team and their bases. Later we sampled another mode that required us to capture and hold control points.
The reason fans will most likely take well to this is that the essence of the original has largely stayed the same, and the core RTS multiplayer action is there. However, as with the rest of the game, it's all been made deeper and more exciting. Whether it be the units you can build, the abilities on offer, or the things you can add to your base, there's plenty of tactically varied units to deploy in multiplayer, and getting things right can be incredibly satisfying. There's the same emphasis on teamwork as well, with those who share resources and coordinating attacks often reaping the benefits.
As mentioned, we've also played a brand new mode called Blitz, which is a variant of multiplayer where base building and slower-paced matches are swapped out for small maps where the units are administered using a card system... a little bit like a MOBA. You have a total of 12 cards with you per game, and four cards in your hand all the time, and these cards represent different devices. They also detail how much energy each unit requires, with smaller units obviously costing less than something big, like a Scarab. This energy is obtained automatically at a steady pace, but can also be collected at different locations on the map. The goal is to earn more points than your opponent by having units deployed on the spot and defending them against retaliatory attacks.
A match in Blitz takes about ten minutes, and they're fast-paced and really addictive, not only in terms of gameplay, but also regarding which cards you have and how you can use them in conjunction with those of your teammates. Building the deck, unlocking new cards, and finding new, innovative strategies is rewarding, and we can imagine its a part of the game that will be built on more over time. Additional players mean more leaders appearing in each army, as well as new unit types, plus any other changes to the match settings. New leaders, maps, and campaign missions will also be added to the game later on, and it's all included in the price of the season pass. One against one, two against two, or three against three are all available, and you and your friends can choose to play against computer-controlled resistance or human, so there's no shortage of stuff to get stuck into here.
Despite the change of developer and the face that it's being developed for two different platforms, the already solid foundations laid down for the previous game are intact, and in some cases improved upon. Most of it's handled in the same way as before, but the gameplay here feels deeper, the action more dynamic. An entertaining campaign with beautiful cutscenes, varied missions, and a co-operative mode that changes the dynamic and that can be a lot of fun, is complimented by both elaborate multiplayer and the fun new Blitz mode. It even looks like 343i and Creative Assembly will continue to pump content into the game for years, and we certainly have a lot to look forward to in terms of additional content drops, including more story, cards, and tournaments. The real-time strategy genre on console has felt a little stagnant for a while now, but hopefully Halo Wars 2 can be the cure for that when it releases next month.