E3 2016: After a long wait for fans since 2009, Halo Wars is finally getting a sequel, with a new chapter hitting both console and PC in February 2017. Halo Wars 2 continues the story of the crew of the Spirit of Fire, as they now take on the Banished (led by new villain Atriox), a splinter group of aliens who want nothing less than total destruction. Thanks to a behind-closed-doors demo and some hands-on time at E3 2016, it’s easy to say that fans should be very excited.
Now, we’ve read that the closed Beta is having some issues on home consoles, but the E3 build (which is what we are talking about here) was incredibly stable. GameAxis played on both PC and Xbox One, and found the game to be instantly accessible, despite having not played the original in a few years now. That was absolutely intentional, as developers told us in a behind-closed-doors session, where they shared time between making sure existing fans were satisfied and new fans were able to jump in.
“RTS for everyone is our goal,” 343 Studio head Dan Ayoub said.
That means several new gameplay modes in multiplayer, including the Stronghold mode I played, which was a point-to-point capture mode and an absolute blast. Two live teams of three faced off, with a well-established base to start from so you can pretty much build your army and go nuts. Our communicate first, hit hard, then split to conquer strategy paid off, too – we dominated in a 7-0 victory (which didn’t hurt the fun level for us at all!).
The controls, especially on PC where the franchise is making its debut, are very intuitive, and is probably where 343 Studio’s partnership with Creative Assembly (of the Total War franchise) paid off, with the latter sharing with the former its vast experience in RTS games. If you’ve ever played a real-time strategy game in the past, you’ll have no problem jumping in and having a blast. Some new extra abilities including hero, command, and unit abilities really step up the variety in how you can choose to complete your objectives in the game, often with explosive results (especially in the case of the new nuke; though the ODST drop, especially when well-aimed on some enemy tank-style units is the most satisfying).
Other new modes like Blitz will completely turn the genre on its head as they work together with Creative Assembly on the new game.
Halo fans will find plenty to love, from the presentation and individual units in your armies, to the story, which takes place nearly three decades after the first, and directly after the events of Halo 5, itself really only in the middle of its story when the game’s campaign completes. That means those stories could cross over when appropriate, and Master Chief got a name-drop by a character in the early mission from the campaign we saw behind closed doors.
“The things worth noting is, Halo Wars 2 takes place directly after Halo 5,” Ayoub told us. “So we’re seeing them in the same area [of the timeline], which gives us some good, fun opportunities,” they teased. How exactly those crossovers would present themselves was of course held back for now, though.
In that campaign, you’ll get somewhere in the range of 10-12 hours of play, though they cautioned that’s not finalized, just current testing times.
Halo Wars 2 is part of Microsoft’s new Play Anywhere program, meaning if you buy the game on either Xbox One or Windows 10, you get the other copy for free. Saved games and story/character progress all transfer between the two, as well. There will be the regular edition of Halo Wars 2, but they also officially announced the Ultimate Edition, which includes the season pass, featuring a UNSC campaign expansion, and Halo Wars 1 Enhance Edition, which includes a PC version as well. The game won’t support the cross-play function of Play Anywhere though, for an obvious reason: a player on a keyboard/mouse setup will always have the advantage over another using the control pad.
Halo Wars 2 hits Xbox One and Windows 10 (in one purchase for both) on February 21, 2017.