RTS games on console? Check!
Do you remember the last time you enjoyed an RTS (Real Time Strategy) single player experience? No, StarCraft doesn’t count. Was it World of Warcraft? Age of Empires 2? Age of Mythology? Rise of Nations, remember that one? How about MechCommander 2? These were some of the RTS games I enjoyed back in their glory days on the PC. For the past decade, I’ve been a console gamer. FPS games weren’t designed for the console controller until Halo came along. Another genre of games that is difficult to play with the controller is RTS. Now, bear in mind, I haven’t played the first Halo Wars game and so this is the first time I’m playing an RTS game on a console. Is Halo Wars 2 a fun experience? Or, is this one genre that should be exclusive to the PC?
The story of Halo Wars 2 picks up 28 years after the first game. Very little reference is given as to what happened back then. The game kicks off with the crew members of the Spirit of Fire (a really large warship) awakening from cryosleep, unaware of the state of affairs between the humans and the Covenant. They come upon the Ark where Halo rings are manufactured. When troops from the Spirit of Fire land on the Ark, they are greeted by a new enemy called the Banished. That’s all I can say about the story without spoiling it for Halo fans.
If you are a fan of the franchise, the story will appeal and make sense to you. If you aren’t, then you may feel a little lost. I haven’t played the first Halo Wars game and I could still follow the story quite well. Halo Wars 2 takes place after the events of Halo 5, in case you are wonder where it fits in the grand scheme of things.
The best part of the story is the well flushed out cut scenes. They are at par with those found in Halo 5, if not better, which is a very good thing. The delivery of the story through the cutscenes is top notch. However, during the loading screen, there are some story or rather mission elements presented through radio chatter which for some reason feel very cheesy.
Overall the story is rather simple with the predictable twists and turns. But you aren’t playing this game for the story only, so a simple story is alright. The story isn’t a highlight of the game even though the cutscenes are superbly produced. They simply are stitching points to progress the story.
Moving on to gameplay, my biggest fear was that playing an RTS game on a controller would be a pain. However, it looks like the developers kept this in mind and have also learned from their experience with the first Halo Wars game. The face buttons on the controller can be used to fulfill specific actions. Press X to attack, press y to use a special attack, so on and so forth. You can quickly select all the troops on screen by pressing the right button once. Press it twice and all your troops across the map get selected. You can use the D-pad to cycle between your bases and troops. You can assign custom buttons by holding one of the shoulder buttons and using the D-pad. It may sound confusing but once you run through the tutorial, it makes sense. The controls aren’t as perfect as the keyboard and mouse, but they aren’t bad by any means. There is a learning curve involved and sometimes in the heat of battle, you select all your troops from all over the map instead of a specific unit to attach a small party and pull your hair out in frustration because you spent the past 20 minutes strategically locating them and now undoing this will take too much effort. Yes, that happened more than once.
Moving to the troops you control and the bases you build, Halo Wars 2 is like any other RTS game. You build a station for supplies, barracks, armoury, garage and more to produce different troops. The foot soldiers, vehicles, and air assault share a relationship like rock, paper scissors. One can overpower the other but is weakened by the third. This adds another layer of thinking before you can send your troops into battle. You also have access to a bunch of special abilities like airstrikes (from outer space), EMP blasts, the ability to heal the wounded and drop Spartans from thin air, but you need to earn these abilities and there is a waiting period before you can use these abilities again.
There is a healthy mix of abilities at your disposal to keep the gameplay fresh until you double tap the right shoulder button and send all your troops in one direction. Yes, this happens way too many times.
Base building and upgrading your base along with researching abilities is a standard we have seen in other games.
Overall, the controls and story gameplay is good with the ‘selecting all troops’ frustration thrown into the mix. A mouse and keyboard is any day a better control scheme for RTS games, but this control scheme is as close as it can get to being comfortably playable on a console.
Moving over to multiplayer, apart from the standard slew of deathmatch, survival, and co-op play there is a mode called Blitz, which relies a bit on luck than skill. You have access to a bunch of cards where you can call upon to fulfill an action. There is no need for a base building as all the resources are taken care off by the cards. It’s a fun, fast paced mode that the highlight of multiplayer gameplay.
Moving to the graphics, this is one department where I think the game could have been better. The landscape, for the most part, feels flat and you only notice this because there are areas where it looks really diverse and good. As good as the cut scenes look is how bland the landscape is of the rest of the game. When you have way too many troops taking on bad guys on the screen, there is a noticeable drop in framerate and there are times when the game downright lags.
One of the coolest things, however, is the ability to zoom into the battleground and get up close and personal with the action. It’s a bird’s eye view of how war spans in the halo franchise and once all guns are blazing, it’s a treat to watch.
The one thing that you will notice is that the voice acting during the cutscenes is as good as Halo 5. Everywhere else, it makes no difference. You have the standard slew of reactions when you select command troops and the sound effects of your artillery in action are satisfying.
|Platforms: Windows, Xbox One
Price: Xbox One: Rs. 3,499
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Developers: 343 Industries, Creative Assembly
Publishers: Microsoft Studios
Verdict – Halo Wars 2
So here’s the deal. There is no real competition to Halo Wars 2 on consoles, making it the “andho mein kana raja” (one-eyed king amongst the blind). But, the thing is that the game isn’t bad. It has 13 campaign missions which are diverse enough to avoid the feeling of repetition. The time for each mission ranges from 40 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes and that’s good. Overall you can beat the game on normal difficulty in 12 hours. The game has some glitches which warranted a restart of the mission and this can get frustrating.
|Very well produced cut-scenes
Blitz mode is interesting
Overall fun gameplay
|Controls can get annoying at times
Bland visuals for some of the environments
If you are one that enjoys the Halo games or would like to give RTS a shot on consoles, you can consider this. I enjoyed my time with Halo Wars 2.
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Sameer "Psycho Mantis" Mitha
I live for gaming and technology is my muse. When I am not busy playing with gadgets or video games I delve into the world of fantasy novels.