Halo Wars 2 Showcases Real-time Strategy's Biggest Advantage Over the MOBA Genre

Halo Wars 2 Showcases Real-time Strategy's Biggest Advantage Over the MOBA Genre

No one should discount the power of a good single-player campaign in the strategy space.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

"Things have changed a lot. MOBAs have probably trained people up a little more than they realize to play this kind of game," the representative tells the journalists assembled to see Halo Wars 2 demoed in one of the cramped meeting rooms in Microsoft's booth.

MOBAs seem to inevitably get a mention whenever a new real-time strategy game comes around. The conventional wisdom among industry observers is that MOBAs have basically killed both the MMORPG and real-time strategy genres. MOBAs are easier to understand and less time-consuming, the narrative goes, and they offer all the tactical depth of an RTS. Right or wrong, the link is unavoidable. In that light, it only makes sense for 343 Industries to try and spin that reality into a positive that fits with their overall message.

In this case, the message from 343 Industries is the Auguste Gusteau-like mantra, "Anyone can play a real-time strategy game." Halo Wars 2 is not the complicated nightmare of the sort that has driven fans into the waiting arms of DotA 2. Whether a casual shooter fan or an RTS enthusiast, the genre is everyone. Or at least that's what 343 Industries is hoping.

To that end, real-time strategy has at least one major advantage over the MOBA genre: single-player. And that's exactly what I saw during Microsoft's 30 minute demo, which showcased the first level of the Halo Wars 2 campaign. In it, the crew of the Spirit of Fire decide to strike back against Atriox, a powerful and intelligent Brute who has taken control of a faction called The Banished - a Covenant splinter group.

It begins with a group of base infantry fighting their way through a handful of Banished troops before being reinforced by a pair of Grizzly Tanks, which form the backbone of the main attack force. Flamethrowing Hellbringers pave the way ahead of the tanks while the infantry deal with anti-tank units called Hunters. In the meantime, Med Drones can be called down to offer continuous healing to a small group of units.

After knocking out the Banished base, the UNSC forces call down a Construction Yard-like base from the Spirit of Fire, which features attachable modules that can call down additional units. The UNSC calls down a smattering of additional units, including anti-vehicle mechs called Cyclops, as well as the familiar Warthogs. They then march on the Banished base and proceed to kick the hell out of it.

In real-time strategy terms, it's pretty standard fare. But a couple quick observations on that front: First, it looks very nice. A lot of emphasis has been put on the explosions, they are particularly meaty and satisfying. Second, you can see a decent amount of tactical depth in the way that the units interact with one another, encouraging you to build up a diverse force rather than spamming one particular unit. On that front, 343 Industries is getting help from Creative Assembly (Total War), who bring their considerable RTS and PC development expertise to the table.

It may well end up being a boilerplate RTS campaign, but such campaigns are few and far between enough these days that even bog standard mission design has the potential to feel fresh and welcome. Still, Halo War 2's campaign will hopefully be much more. It's off to a good start.

The rest of the game

As for the rest of the game, Halo Wars 2 is currently in the middle of a multiplayer beta that will run until Monday. On that front, 343 Industries is sprinkling in a number of modes to go with the traditional Domination. One will be called "Blitz," and while they aren't elaborating on what exactly Blitz will entail, it seems pretty self-explanatory.

"I like to see it as playing with those ingredients. And as you pull those ingredients out, you start to lower the barriers to entry," the rep explains. "Don't worry about resource collection, for example. You don't necessarily have to win by defeating your enemy, but you can win by taking a bunch of bases. At that point the game starts to get faster and to where people feel more comfortable jumping in."

"Faster" is a pretty common goal among modern RTS designers. Real-time strategy has never exactly been slow - StarCraft matches can be wrapped up in as little as 15 minutes - but a concensus has emerged that the build-up and resource collection takes too long. Thus, developers are going out of their way to cut those elements out. 343 Industries appears to agree with that concensus.

In all honesty, I don't have all that much interest in Halo Wars 2's multiplayer. I may dabble, but I've got enough online games on my plate these days. I'm mostly interested in the campaign, which looks fairly polished, and the fact that it will be on the PC as well as the Xbox One. 343 Industries assures us that Halo Wars 2 will be quite playable on console, and I believe them; but speaking as a longtime WarCraft/StarCraft/Command & Conquer fan, RTS has always been a PC genre to me.

In fact, we can probably thank the PC for Halo Wars 2 existing at all. It's the perfect poster child for Microsoft's big push toward Xbox One and Windows 10 integration, with the fact that it has a fairly sizable fanbase being the icing on the cake. In that light, Halo Wars 2 feels like a PC project through and through.

Whatever the impetus for its revival, I'm glad to have another real-time strategy game to play in the wake of StarCraft II wrapping up. I hope that it will be followed by many more.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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