Halo: Reach – A Fantastic Exploration of the Cost of War

Buy Halo - REACH - Microsoft Store

     “Halo: Reach” is easily the best “Halo” game of the Franchise. This is a story with stakes and consequences and some phenomenal character development. This was the first time the UNSC characters are truly compelling and humanity is complex and nuanced. This is something the core games of the Franchise don’t really give us. They give us human archetypes but not nuance and complexity (at least in Halo 1-3 (haven’t played ODST or 5). This is also a game with a ton of mission variety and does the rising stakes really well, nearly as well as the original game.

The game was developed by Bungie and produced by Microsoft Studios.

The story follows a group of 5 Spartans called Noble Team when Noble Six joins their team as they investigate what the Covenant is doing on the planet of Reach.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – This game continues the quality soundtrack from past games and does a wonderful job playing on the heart strings when we experience character deaths or moments of heroism. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue their amazing work.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the height of “Halo” as we get the greatest variety of missions and the levels get progressively harder. You get the great ground vehicle combat of the later Halo games (2 and 3 specifically) some amazing space combat that I haven’t seen in any other Halo game and the greatest variety covenant foes as you face both Elites and Brutes along with the standard variety of Grunts, Jackals, Drones and Hunters. I had so much fun beating this game and playing the missions again with a friend.

Dr. Halsey – Dr. Halsey created the Spartan program and because of this it is hard to call her good. The Spartans we meet were child soldiers and not all of them survived when they were turned into Super Soldiers. To them she admits care and keeps distance between and feels angry when they question her judgment and calls. She is a wonderfully complex character and I wish the Franchise as a whole could have given us more nuanced humans like her. She also created Cortana and it is up to your team to get Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn.

Noble Team – I love Noble Team. Noble Six (the player character) is the heroic rookie who always has his teammates back and is inspired by their actions. You have the reserved leader Carter who is easily the most balanced of them. He sacrifices his life to stop a giant Covenant Scarab Tank from killing you and Emile. You have Jun the thoughtful sniper and one survivor the the Fall of Reach. You have Kat who is Carter’s second-in-command the one willing to take risks to learn truth or complete the mission who is sadly killed by a sniper when evacuating civilians. There is Emile who is the hardened soldier who warms to you over time (wears a skull painting over his helmet) and dies from an Elite’s sword and there is Jorge. Jorge is the only Spartan-II on the Team and risks his life to defeat the Covenant cruiser above Reach. He is the first to inspire Noble Six and his death is felt by the team as each of them probably knows that his end will most likely be their end as well. This element of tragedy and getting to know your team is what I wish “Rogue One” could have been. This is the suicide mission done right.

The Ending and Fall of Reach – This game is the story of how Reach fell to the Covenant and even you as a Spartan Super Soldier is unable to change that. What the game does well though is that you rescue tons of civilians and in the end deliver Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn which saves humanity in the long run. This is all expressed in the Epilogue which has power behind it as you see nearly every member of Noble Team die except for Jun who survives. This is one of the few games where you lose and in turn it does a fantastic job of giving the player the cost of war.

The Cost of War – This game shows us the cost of war both in the lost of civilians and soldiers and how no matter how heroic a person is, sometimes you die in battle. This is told through the loss of the majority of Noble Team and the events they witness as they attempt to save as many lives as possible.

This is the best of the “Halo” Franchise and I hope if they continue to make “Halo” games that they will learn from this one. It is possible to tell a complete and contained story that has stakes without the need for it to be apocalyptic and world ending. This game is the story on a personal level and is elevated all the more because of it. I wish humans had been written this well in the other games as this game truly shows the potential and amazingness of the Halo Universe.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect “Halo” Game.

 

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition – A Classic “Halo” Game in the Style of an RTS

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition - Free Full Download | CODEX PC Games

        “Halo Wars” is a solid game in the Halo Franchise. It has all the pros (fun combat, beautiful graphics and a basic hero narrative) and the cons (The heroes aren’t very interesting or deep) of the first “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I really enjoyed the game though. Playing through this campaign and owning of “The Definitive Edition” on Steam gave the graphics at their best and revealed how the combat should be played. My first time playing this game was on the XBox 360 and it sucked, controllers are not good for micromanaging units and it made the whole game go slow. Coming back to it years later and playing it on PC, the experience was so much better. This game was truly made for the PC.

     The game was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios.

The basic story follows the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) Ship Spirit of Fire as they investigate Covenant attacks as they reunite their forces and follow the Covenant as the Covenant uncovers Forerunner Artifacts that could change the direction of the war, that is already going terrible for humanity and the UNSC. Within the Halo Franchise timeline, the game takes place before the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – “Halo Wars” is a game that looks beautiful. The cinematics are the quality you see in the Franchise after the original and it does a good job of tying it to the present of those games. Each cinematic is like a movie and in “The Definitive Edition” the details of the units and structures look at least on par with “Starcraft II.” The cinematics tie this to the main Halo Franchise by showing the military hierarchy of the UNSC (with a Captain leading things in this case), the use of A.I. (Serena) to guide UNSC forces and introduction of an Arbiter who is under the command of the Prophet of Regret, one of the Covenant leaders.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. Resource production is fast which allows you to get a variety of units out quickly, and the A.I. is an intelligent foe and will usually use tactics against you. The variety of missions in the campaign was also a plus. It pushes you to explore all aspects of unit creation and a variety of maps that each provide unique challenges. Like “Starcraft” and “Starcraft II” it knows how to make use of the base game and provide a good time.

The Campaign – The campaign is good a mystery on figuring out what the Covenant are up to. It does a great job raising stakes as each time humans are freed from a planet or we discover where the Covenant have moved a new enemy or weapon appears. Getting the Flood of the UNSC was a especially fun mission and having them as an ongoing threat while dealing with the Covenant as an effective threat was truly enjoyable. There end goal is to activate a powerful Forerunner Fleet in a hidden Shield World. At this point everyone knows what it as stake as ships like this would end humanity quickly. This leads to some amazing missions and battles in the final standoff against Covenant and Flood forces as the UNSC seeks to activate the portal and destroy the Shield World and with it the Forerunner Fleet.

Okay:

The Characters – The characters are okay. Cutter has some good conversations with the A.I. Serena and Anders at least makes the game interesting by being so blinded by wanting to explore Forerunner Artifacts in the middle of a war. Forge even works for the role he plays. None of them were good or even complex though and the Covenant characters don’t receive any development at all.

The Cons:

Lack of Complex Characters or Character Relationships – In the Halo Franchise you usually don’t see complex characters in humanity. They are almost always just badass soldiers and scientists fighting an alien foe that wants to end all things. It is very cut and dry. Thankfully the introduction of the Arbiter in “Halo 2” helped make the Covenant complex as he is a complex character who gets a ton of great development and the game also adds Covenant politics, which develops them as an enemy further. The same goes for “The Banished” characters you meet later in “Halo Wars 2.” Sadly this is more true to the first game and human stories. The Arbiter of this story who gets killed off is just following orders to annihilate humanity and all the humans are just in their roles as soldier or scientist with no greater complex motivation. If there had been even one complex character it would have the potential to make this game great. Sadly this is not the case.

Lack of Playable Flood – The Flood should have been playable. There were enough assets in game that they would have been fun to at least play in Multiplayer. They would have been the Zerg to the Covenant who are Protosslike and the UNSC who are obvious Terrans. This was a major missed opportunity to improve the game and give more choice.

I would have loved a Covenant Campaign in “Halo Wars.” This is game takes place when the Covenant is at their height so there is so much potential there to play politics as a Prophet, or learn the backstory of this Arbiter. Sadly we don’t get any of that, but the overall reveal of the Forerunners and their technology is really cool and that alone makes the game good outside of the great gameplay. I also am a fan of RTS games and had wanted to see a Halo game in this form since the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I saw so much potential in the variety of units there could be in the UNSC and the Covenant, and on that the game did not disappoint.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good but not a favorite game. I also would advise to only play it on a PC.

 

 

 

 

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare – The Ongoing War

   “Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games. I have always had a soft spot for RTS (Real-time Strategy) games and this one is one of the best. Besides “Starcraft 2” it is the one I always come back to, especially if it means playing with friends. I’m a huge fan of the Halo Games (1-3, Reach and the first “Halo Wars”) and this game delivers on that lore you get in the Halo Universe. Before I get into spoilers, if you are a fan of RTS games you will probably love this one. The balance is really good between the two factions, the campaign variety is a lot of fun and the story is solidly good. It has also has quite a few fun multiplayer options that give it great replay value. I’ll be reviewing the game up to all that has been released so far (The initial game was released on February 21, 2017), which is currently up to the DLC “Rise of the Nightmare.” I’ll be giving individual scores to campaigns (Base Game, Operation: Spearkbreaker and Awakening of the Nightmare) before my overall assessment of the game itself.

The game was created by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly and produced by Microsoft Game Studios.

This is a game that picks up where “Halo Wars 1” left off following the crew of The Spirit of Fire after they crossed through the portal at the end of the second game. The story follows them as they face off against a new threat for Ex-Covenant Soldiers known as “The Banished.” They are lead by Atriox, a powerful Brute leader who is seeking to take control of The Ark, something so powerful that with control, they would easily capture the Galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a huge fan of this Universe. I’ve never been the biggest fan of humanity since we don’t really see a diversity of opinion in the games and it is more of a Space Marine defending everything, which is a fun survival game to play, but isn’t compelling as Space Politics. The Universe has so much Space Politics in the Aliens of the Covenant and this game leans in on all of that. We get more lore for the UNSC with the crew of The Spirit of Fire being followed and we get a whole new faction in “The Banished.” Each faction has new heroes we meet and it is great to see them all interact. This Universe clearly isn’t done yet, as you’ll see from the campaign, things are left pretty open so I’m curious to see if “The Banished” are going to be incorporated into “Halo 6.” I love their heroes so it would be cool to see them become a permanent part of the Halo Universe beyond “Halo Wars 2.”

Gameplay and Multiplayer – Multiplayer is a lot of fun. As part of there are weekly and daily missions where you unlock playing cards you can use in Firefight and other multiplayer modes, there is standard multi-player as well and in all of them you have the many Commanders with some being Halo Wars 2 originals like YapYap, Atriox and Isabel and some who are carryover characters from the first Halo Wars like the Arbiter you fight in “Halo Wars 1.” Within standard gameplay you have hero powers you unlock as you progress in the game, like the first “Halo Wars.” Each commander has unique special units and powers as well, which leads to a greater variety of choices and replayability. When you are in a game and you and your friend are co-oping against a great opponent there are some amazing moments of synergy that can be created.

File:HW2 Campaign Loadscreen.jpg

Halo Wars 2 Main Campaign – The main campaign is fun. It is here we meet Atriox and his “Banished” as well as the new A.I. Isabel, who was with other human’s on the arc before Atriox’s arrival. The story follow Captain Cutter working with Isabel and the Spartans on the ground as they work to push back Atriox’s forces and prevent them from activating a Halo Ring. Captain Cutter, Anders and the UNSC are successful but the final shot is of Atriox watching a map of the Ark, showing us how clearly his forces still own it, even after all the setbacks he’s faced since the UNSC arrival. There is great mission variety and you learn a lot about “The Banished” pretty quick and how they were a Covenant Suicide Squad until Atriox rebelled and proceeded to conquer and recruit through the galaxy.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Really good for developing the lore but doesn’t feel like a whole story. We have some great arcs like Isabel’s completed, and the gameplay is fun. But besides that it is mostly Atriox’s forces being slowly broken down and his big plan being prevented.

File:HW2 OperationSpearbreaker Banner.png

Operation: Spearbreaker – This DLC follows a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers called Sunray 1-1, as they uncover and stop the plot of a “Banished” Hunter leader named Colony. These missions were easier than the hardest in the base campaign and also not as fun. You are primarily investigating with your troops until you uncover the Forerunner Ship that Colony is trying to activate, than it becomes all out war and becomes more enjoyable as Colony sends all of it’s forces at you. This one is fun but easily the weakest of all the content. I couldn’t tell you the personality of anyone in Sunray and the only interesting character is Colony, but we don’t really get to know it, beyond it being a very smart and clever Hunter.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Solidly enjoyable, but not replayable.

File:Halo-Wars-2 Key-Art Vertical.jpg

Awakening the Nightmare – I was a fan of the “Covenant” in Halo Franchise, at least in regards to being a fan of the aliens who made up the Covenant. I was Team Arbiter the moment he was playable in “Halo 2” and “Halo 3” and I’ve wanted to play as the alien factions in Halo Universe for as long I’ve played “Halo” which for me dates all the way back to High School. In “Halo Wars 1” the “Covenant” don’t have a campaign and sadly for much of “Halo Wars 2” they didn’t either, until “Awakening the Nightmare.” For me this was something I’d been waiting for a long time and I was not disappointed. This was challenging gameplay and a really fun story as you have two Brute Brothers (Pavium and Voridus). They are investigating remains of the battle from “Installation 00” from the ending of the “Human-Covenant War” for technology. Voridus being stupid awakens the Flood in his investigation of the dead Covenant ship High Charity after he shuts down the Forerunner Defenses. From here he and his brother Voridus must reactivate the Sentinels and stop the Flood and a Proto-Gravemind from taking over the Ark. Pavium is the smart one who had warned him the first place and holds the line as they end up facing off against The Flood together before a final victory. It is an awesome fight and Pavium is one one of my favorite commanders in multiplayer and Halo Lore. I really hope we see these two brothers again as “The Banished” really need a win against the UNSC, and this mission showed that even against overwhelming odds they are Atriox’s survivors and warriors for a reason.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great and finally a “Banished” campaign.

Okay:

Story Consequences – We have had 2 DLCs released as well as the base game but it feels like nothing has happened. Atroix’s forces have continued to lose ground and the UNSC continues to become more powerful but there hasn’t been any real major change. I want to see where this story goes and have characters change in a way that either builds on the Universe further (more than the existence of “The Banished” already does) and leads to some sort of ending. I’m good with that being a peace treaty or something that has Atriox winning for once, but it feels like we have been given so much game but things haven’t changed very much at all beyond status quo of “The Banished” losing ground. What happened to Anders and “The Halo?” Do the Flood exist elsewhere in the Galaxy as a faction? (I’d love them to be playable, even if it was only multiplayer, there should be enough game assets to do so). I put this as okay because I still enjoyed my time with the characters and the campaigns are fun. I’m still holding out for a major “Banished” win and them becoming a major part of the Halo Games moving forward. This story has the potential to not be a repeat of “Halo Wars 1” and not repeating “Halo 1-3.”

The Cons:

Microsoft Issues – To buy the full game it is expensive. The DLC, even when sold discounted isn’t cheap. Some Commanders on their own are nearly $10 and each new DLC, even if it includes commanders usually starts at $20. Given how expensive the base game was for so long that always rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t a fan with how I continue to have issues with connecting online because of the Microsoft Server. It makes me miss the days of old Battle.net and games where you didn’t have to log onto a 3rd Party Account to play a game. Whenever you have to log on you are beholden the problems of whatever is hosting you be it Steam or Microsoft. So yeah the price and Microsoft bugs are major cons that keep the game from being great.

“Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games and if you love the Halo Universe, you will probably love it too. I play it on PC and I think that is the way any RTS should be played. Controllers were not made for playing RTS games and I have no idea how anyone does it. I can’t wait to see where Microsoft takes this game and Universe. There is still so much potential there and so much more story to explore. This is a really good game and I continue to play multiplayer with my friends as this wonderful game continues to inspire my passion for the rich lore of the Halo Universe. In the end the pros outway the cons for me and I expect I’ll probably always be coming back to this game. If they release another expansion for this game and give us more “Banished” content, you can expect to see that review on the blog. Their existence got me back into this amazing universe and I’m looking forward to all the stories that can be told.

 

Final Score: 8.8 / 10