As Halo Wars 2 is due for release early next year, it’s probably worth taking a look at the surrounding mythos of Halo and why Halo Wars matters.
The best way to start this off is by looking back at why we have Halo Wars at all, and I don’t mean for our enjoyment or Microsoft’s profit margins. I’m talking about narrative. Halo Wars exists because of the colossal, 10,000km rings that were originally constructed by the Forerunners. You remember those guys, right? The galaxy-spanning empire that was grossly overconfident about ridding the universe of the Flood. So much so they created seven gigantic rings in space that could end all sentient life in the entire galaxy.
But the Halos weren’t the only constructs that were built by the Forerunners. They built outposts, vast fleets, Shield Worlds, and the Arks. The Arks were immense foundries used to build the Halos, strip-mining moons for raw materials. And they were truly colossal in size. The last time we saw one of the two Arks was at the end of Halo 3, when the Master Chief prematurely activated a recently rebuilt Halo, causing the destruction of the Ark. At least, that’s what we were led to believe.
The original Halo Wars game didn’t cover anything to do with the Halos, as such. It mainly centred around an unfamiliar region of deep space and a Forerunner Shield World – a planet-sized bastion of defence. We also got to see the Flood for the first time outside of the main halo trilogy. The game concluded with the detonation of the Spirit of Fire’s SlipSpace drive in order to trigger an internal supernova, removing the immediate Covenant threat and a fleet of Forerunner vessels.
Afterwards, the UNSC Spirit of Fire was forced to limp back towards UNSC space, using conventional engines. As a result, the crew went into cryo to survive the long voyage home.
For me, Halo Wars did one thing really well and one thing not so well.
The positive was that it finally allowed players to enjoy an alternative viewpoint, namely that of a commander. For the first time in Halo I could command an army. I could fields squadrons of tanks, use hornets in rapid assaults or send in ODSTs from orbit.
The negative was the resulting separation of the players’ immersion in the game/story. FPS are naturally more immersive, simply because of their viewpoint: close and personal. But RTS titles tend to be more distant. In this case it removed much of the immersion enjoyed in previous Halo titles. But with the annoying Sergeant Forge out of the picture (spoiler!), we should hopefully have an opportunity to savour a more intimate RTS title come February 2017.
When the original game released back in 2009 we were suddenly introduced to another batch of Spartan IIs. We also got to clap eyes on another, and somewhat more imposing Arbiter. The first game was developed by Ensemble Studios, who created the Age of Empires series. But the studio was forced to close after the game was released. This iteration is developed by Creative Assembly — the guys and gals behind the impressive Total War series. So there’s definitely a hint of pedigree in the air with this release.
Additionally, HW2 is jumping forward in time, much closer, if not currently in line with, the ongoing storyline involving the Master Chief. According to Halo Waypoint the games takes place directly after the events of Halo 5: Guardians, bringing the HW series bang up to date. But will this mean the crew and troops of the Spirit of Fire will be outgunned by a more modern enemy, or are the Banished, led by Atriox, just as isolated in terms of technology?
I suspect, for obvious balancing reasons, that the factions will be fairly evenly matched. But if anyone casts their minds back to the original trailer last year, it appeared the Spartans weren’t doing so well against Atriox and Co.
It’s clear to me that the Spirit of Fire is clearly on the backfoot here, in terms of the fiction.
I’m personally looking forward to guiding hundreds of UNSC personnel to victory. But I do wonder if the Flood will make a return and if Halo Wars will finally get to reference events, etc, from the main, current trilogy featuring the Master Chief.