Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 26th February 2017.
Halo Wars 2 (PC, Xbox One, £39.99)
IT is a nervous time for gamers when a classic hit gets a sequel… until you know whether it hits the spot. Halo Wars has been teasing fans for seven years, but now the wait is over. Halo Wars 2 is here. The real time strategy masterpiece has been given the Creative Assembly makeover and lets rip on the new generation of consoles.
The story has moved on 28 years from the first game. The Spirit Of Fire has been upgraded. After drifting through space in cryosleep, the Spirit’s crew wake up above an Ark where the Halo rings are manufactured by a distress signal. It doesn’t bode well. Forget the Covenant, the new big baddie in town is the Banished — led by a hulking brute called Atriox. He is a real beast. It all kicks off as Captain Cutter and Professor Anders lead the Spirit’s crew in a bid to beat Atriox and his army and save the universe.
The campaign story isn’t bad. There are some standout moments but, having waited seven years, it lacked the satisfying pay-off I’d hoped for. The gameplay is as slick as the first game. The focus is more on troop and resource management although you do get to build a base or two along the way. The campaign clocks in around eight hours but there are lots of bonus objectives. The missions are a mix of position defence and search-and-destroy battles.
There are plenty of multiplayer options. You can play through the full campaign with a friend, there is a horde-style mode where you can team up to fight against AI and there are the standard RTS online modes where you and the guys have to build a base, find resources then build your army. Make sure you have plenty of time for that! But Blitz will blow you away. It is a card-based system where you build a deck of units that you unlock through playing or buying packs with real money and you play each card in-game. Just watch your energy levels. Blitz is fast-paced and a great addition — non-hardcore RTS fans will have a blast.
The controls are good but they lack some fine-tuning to let you pick out units in a huge group. The graphics are very polished and detailed, but the soundtrack just fails to hits the highs of the past. We also found a couple of small bugs — units fall off the map or you can’t revive fallen heroes. But the biggest gripe was in one of the later levels where the game froze every couple of minutes. But it is still Halo Wars. Fans will get a real buzz and newcomers will be amazed at the quality. Hopefully, the bugs will be sorted in future updates.
Interview with Dan Ayoub, Studio Head at 343 Industries
STUDIO Head Dan Ayoub admits they kept fans waiting for Halo Wars 2 — but it wasn’t happening unless the magic was there. The 343 Industries chief told Stuart Cullen:
“We’ve definitely heard for many years from fans that they want more Halo Wars, and I’m thrilled to finally return to the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire. The biggest reason why it has taken so long to release a sequel was because we wanted to be able to do the series justice, and for me that meant having the right partner — enter Creative Assembly. They’re an amazing studio with an unmatched pedigree in RTS. Once we locked our partnership with them, it was full steam ahead.”
“The first Halo Wars was amazing, and in my opinion, was the best console adaptation of an RTS ever. So we felt massive pressure to make sure Halo Wars 2 was a proper sequel. We started with that as a foundation, particularly around controls, then we built from there. We wanted to create an amazing RTS that anyone would be able to play. We were all excited to pick up the story of the UNSC Spirit of Fire and take it forward, and I really think the team has succeeded across the board.”
There were a couple of beta outings before launch and Ayoub admits they played a vital part in shaping the final game. He said:
“We’ve had two betas, and learned a ton from both. What’s great is that fans have materially changed this game — everything from unit balancing to the economy to camera placement. We’ve taken these betas very seriously and shaped the game with that feedback.”
The big news from the game is that the new Blitz mode will set Halo world alight. It is based on card-collecting and how you unlock new cards means there are micro-transactions in the game and decides how heavily enforced they are. Ayoub admitted:
“Blitz was a huge ambition for us with the game. The genesis of Blitz was to create a more accessible mode that took base building and resource management out of the equation, and create something that was fast-paced and exciting. We got to the notion of a card metaphor, as that was something that everyone can quickly understand and relate to. We’re really excited about the mode and people’s reaction to it coming out of the beta. Everything in Blitz can be unlocked by playing all parts of the game. So through play, everything is available to you. That said, we will allow players to purchase packs if they wish.”
Halo Paint Jobs for Forza Horizon 3
THE man behind the classic Forza livery for ReCore and Quantum Break is back with a Halo Wars 2 special.
Jason Backhouse has crafted a Banished-themed Warthog that looks as if it’s been in the wars. It has already attracted the attention of ex-race driver turned 343 Studio head, Kiki Wolfkill, who said:
“Like peanut butter and jelly — delicious Halo and Forza Combo”.
The livery is available to download now in Forza Horizon 3.
Halo World Championships
A EURO qualifier at Wembley is a bit of a buzz — even more so when it is for a spot in the Halo World Championships. Some of the best teams in the European eSports Halo scene were battling it out for a share of $25,000 as well as that spot in the world finals later this year. Fan favourites INFUSED, Pace Making Pandas and Supremacy all went toe to toe in some of the best Halo 5 multiplayer action ever seen in the UK — and FAB Games bagged the cash and the final spot. The next qualifier takes place in Mexico City where the Latin America/South America finalist will be found.
For more info follow @HCS.
Astro A40 TR Headset with MixAmp and Mod kit (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £220 to £280)
LIKE every big craze, you need branded PJs and a water bottle before you feel like you have fully embraced it. For gamers, the thrill has to be Halo badges on your Astro A40 TR headset. The set is the beefed-up version of the old A40 and the younger brother to the A50 we reviewed a few weeks ago. They come in black or white and are really comfortable even on long gaming sessions. But customisation is the name of the game. There are a number of pop-and-change parts from the side plates to the mic and you can change the ear cushions as well.
We also tested one of the mod kits. The biggest plus is the noise- cancelling ear cushions which have next to no sound bleed. But it is worth noting that the kits cost £60. However, there is a Halo one. Enough said there. But if you just want a new look then simply buy the side plates. The A40 TR is a solid piece of kit. The mix amp gives you a good range of control for your audio and lets you switch the balance between game and chat. It also has an off switch. That may not seem like a huge thing but other high-end headsets don’t.
You get 7.1 audio through the headset but you need to use the mix amp. It all provides a nice depth of sound and bass over a number of games like Halo Wars 2, Sniper Elite 4 and Rainbow Six Siege. Like the A50s, you have access to the Astro Command Centre which lets you pre-programme custom settings from your PC. The biggest issues we had were centred on the mic when it was in the right side of the headset and the audio quality during chat parties. We found it was difficult for people to hear us and we had to mess about with the mic position. It was a similar story with the voice-isolating mic that came in the mod kit. But the A40 TR is outstanding for gaming and one of the best headsets we have tested offline. It is just a shame it is affected by those few mic issues.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border, catch ye’s…