Halo is a franchise uniquely suited for an RTS, with its diverse character units, lore, and history lending ample content for the different aspects of a strategy game. When paired with smart console controls, it makes a compelling case for the potential this genre has on platforms outside of PC; especially those with a built-in fan base as solid as Halo’s.
2009’s Halo Wars in particular was taken up by the Halo community with a degree of reverence. It was more Halo, but served up in a wholly new and different way outside of the typical shooters Halo fans had come to know.
Halo Wars 2 is shaping up to be everything a sequel to the original needs to be; it’s bigger, more refined, and makes tweaks and improvements on the first game’s formula based on player feedback.
It’s also positioned to arrive during a time when Microsoft is working to unify both the Xbox One and Windows PC space into one gaming hub, where copies of games will be transferrable between both platforms.
“We want it to come out again, we want to update it, we want it to have a whole lot of contemporary features,” Creative Assembly’s David Nicholson tells me in response to why the team wanted to pursue an official sequel. “We want to get more and more people playing it, and we also want it to come out on the PC.”
When Controller, Mouse, and Keyboard Become One
Halo Wars 2 is an RTS much like its predecessor, with controls that have been overhauled to feel intuitive on a controller. A challenging task, as there’s little to no template or standard for console RTS controls.
They’ve developed a unique configuration that treats the reticle much like a mouse on a PC. Although it doesn’t move independently, shortcuts using the bumpers and d-pad allow for the selection of multiple and specific units during combat.
According to Nicholson, it took many, many passes at iteration and development to get the controls to a place where they would feel on par with a mouse and keyboard.
It’s one of the many things they made alterations on based on in-studio development and community feedback from multiplayer test betas and the previous game.
“Based on [community & developer] feedback, we’ve changed a few things,” he says, specifically citing power and resource pools, population cap for how many units one could have on the map at a time, and tweaks to rules on the other modes.
One aspect people have asked about is cross-play and whether or not it would be an option to play with people on both Xbox One and PC. At release, there won’t be cross-play between the two platforms. But, Nicholson adds, emphasizing the team’s interest in it, “it’s something we’d like to do in a future update.”
A Welcoming Game for All
They’ve also worked closely with 343 Industries--the core development team behind the current mainline Halo games--to create a story that would line up with the lore of the past Halo games while also introducing new aspects like the Banished, an all-new alien race unique to Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars 2 takes place 28 years after Halo 5. UNSC troops have stumbled across a strange signal after being asleep for 28 years and are led to examine the site, which leads to them making some surprising discoveries.
At the center of Halo Wars 2’s development is the desire to create the game so many strategy developers strive for; one that is accessible to new players while still offering depth to those familiar with strategy games.
They’ve especially pressed for this in multiplayer, where they’ve crafted multiple modes that alter rules slightly while maintaining the same core conceit.
These include Deathmatch, a traditional-style domination mode in which players attempt to destroy enemy bases; Stronghold, where the goal is similar, but players begin with unlimited modes; and finally Blitz, an all-new mode that couples the likes of collectible card games with Halo RTS gameplay.
Halo Meets Hearthstone
Blitz especially is being heavily emphasized leading up to Halo Wars 2’s release, because it is a much more pared down and streamlined version of multiplayer that manages to maintain a fair amount of the challenge inherent in the more involved multiplayer modes.
In Blitz, players are given a deck of cards, each of which has a specific unit, item, or boost that can be played based on the amount of energy resources a player has collected. Every deck has 12 cards, which are shuffled into a random order at the start of each match and continuously cycled through during the remainder of the game.
New packs can be unlocked through progression, and--much like Hearthstone and other collectible card games--others can be purchased through microtransactions via the store. Packs are unlocked at the end of a game, and decks can be organized to suit a player’s strategic inclinations.
The idea is that Blitz allows players to learn the rules of the game in a concise and straightforward manner, allowing for plenty of experimentation and
“We want Halo fans who have never touched an RTS before to come in and go ‘Wow, love the story, love the characters...I’ve not played an RTS before,” Nicholson says of their development philosophy. “I’d [also] love people who have played an RTS before to come in, pick it up, and go ‘this is really cool!’”
As for the potential competitive aspects of Halo Wars 2? Nicholson wants to leave that potential to the community.
“We would love it if--with the accessibility depth of strategy--for players to take it to an eSports level,” he says. “I’m not sure that developers should set out to make an eSports game; they can enable eSports features, but I think it’s up to the community to decide if they want to compete at that level.”
But mostly, Nicholson just wants to introduce players old and new to the strategy he and the rest of the team at Creative Assembly know and love.
Cassidee Moser posted a new article, Halo Wars 2 Preview: Where Console and PC Collide
I think this sentence got chopped, "a time when Microsoft is working to unify both the Xbox One and Windows PC space into one gaming hub, where copies of games".
I'm surprised that this game found a sequel but happy that it will end up on PC. I can't imagine having a crossplay RTS between consoles and PC though. Can you imagine SC2? I think PC players would decimate consoles. That said, I've heard people claim that the competition in FPS crossplay hasn't been as stacked, so who knows!