PAX West 2016: SELECTING ALL UNITS

Halo Wars 2 is only a few months from its early 2017 release date, but it still feels surprising that a sequel is happening at all. After the original released in 2009 to solid but unspectacular sales and developer Ensemble Studios was dissolved, it seemed highly unlikely that Microsoft would revisit an ambitious experiment into console real time strategy that worked surprisingly well but failed to capture a breakout audience (for a Halo game).

It’s awesome to have it back! After missing out on the technical test earlier this summer, I was eager to experience Halo Wars with modern graphics and re-balanced units in a raucous ID@Xbox Pre-PAX Open House event with 343 Industries captains guiding our teams.

 

The demo Stronghold model maxes out unit and commander abilities, accelerating each player’s forces as they fight for majority control of the demo map’s 7 base slots. A team claims victory if it holds a majority of bases when time runs out or can hold all bases simultaneously for 60 seconds, an ignominious defeat that my eager but inexperienced team eventually fell to.

Halo Wars 2 looks absolutely gorgeous, bringing together vivid colours and the modern Halo design aesthetic from 4 and 5 into a revitalized real time strategy experience. Units move and make automatic decisions when left alone that closely resemble the equivalent AI decisions from the shooter side of the franchise. It seems like there’s a heavy element of RNG in play when focus firing enemy units can vary wildly in destruction time, but it feels like an authentic Halo experience from a skybound perspective.

The commander powers appear to be toned down from the original game, allowing target units to survive orbital strikes or even nuclear blasts instead of wiping the selected area of map clean. It also has the effect of reducing the reward for saving and spamming powers when making major offensive or defensive stands, although queue emptying spends of combined powers such as nuclear weapons, ODST drops and turret installations are still quite effective.

Halo Wars 2 is a bold experiment into bringing Microsoft back into the real time strategy genre as well as PC/Xbox One crossplay and cross-platform digital ownership, and it definitely helps to have the foundation of a beloved story universe and critically loved play style with modern tweaks to support it.

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