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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Mass Effect 3 – Improved Gameplay, DLC, and Dramatic Moments Can’t Hide Story Problems

     The version of the game I played was “Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut” which gave me “From the Ashes,” the DLC where you get Javik. I’m glad I got this version and bought what DLC I could find as it really did enrich the game. I would have been super annoyed with the plot holes (there are still a few) that a lot of the DLC deals with, making the game so much more enjoyable. The game still has problems but before I get into details and spoilers, I enjoyed the Multiplayer, the dramatic sacrifices of characters, the gameplay and combat and the character moments you get with side characters and your team who in many cases you’ve been since “Mass Effect 1.” I’ll get into the details of all of these further into the review.

Here is my review of “Mass Effect 1:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/mass-effect-an-amazing-space-opera-with-some-narrative-and-cinematic-choppiness/

and Mass Effect 2:

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/mass-effect-2-amazing-character-development-combat-and-final-leads-to-this-being-one-of-the-best-rpgs-ive-played/

    “Mass Effect 3” picks up where “Mass Effect 2” left off with the Reapers on the way. Shepard has been arrested by the Alliance for his warcrimes but is released when the Reapers attack Earth. From here it is up to Shepard to find his team, create a united front against the Reapers and build a Prothean Super Weapon called the Crucible that might be the only way to defeat the Reapers.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Multiplayer – I’m usually not a fan of multiplayer in singleplayer games, especially ones that are almost an implied necessary part of the game as in “Mass Effect 3” multiplayer increases your chances of success in the main game campaign by increasing Galactic Readiness. The thing is I actually enjoy Multiplayer for “Mass Effect 3.” you can unlock the other species such as the Asari, Turians, Quarians, Salarians, Drell and Krogan and unlock other weapons. I really enjoyed playing as someone who wasn’t human as I love the aliens of Mass Effect. The gameplay is PvE which is my favorite type of multiplayer and the maps give a diverse array of challenges as you defeat wave after wave of countless enemies ranging from Cerberus, to Reapers to Geth.

Gameplay – The gameplay is fantastic! You can mod all your weapons, melee is easier to do and more effective and there are more guns and combat scenarios you face. For example at one point you are facing a Reaper one on one while using a powerful gun that calls down attacks from above. The gameplay without a doubt is an improvement over “Mass Effect 2.”

The World – The world continues to be amazing as you get to the homeworld of the Krogan, Salarians, Turians, Quarians and Asari. In each of these places you face a threat that reveals more about the lore and the Reaper threat, as well as how the different species interact among themselves and what they value.

Politics – Politics in 3 is on display more-so than any of the other games as you recruit each of the species against the Reapers and to help build the Crucible to fight them. I really enjoyed this as you have to make choices, like choosing the Krogan and Turians or the Salarians and if you don’t have high enough Paragon or Renegade, choosing the Quarians or the Geth in their war. I loved all of it and it gives some great character moments as politics is the art of what matters on a world and in this case Galactic scale. There aren’t easy answers a lot of the time, and this game really illustrates that.

Side Missions and Recruitment against the Reapers – There are a lot of great side missions in this, where you pick up things like Medi-Gel or Cerberus information to help doctors, scientist and ambassadors on the Citadel. You also help rescue the other species on the Citadel too as the Reapers attack their homeworlds, be it the Elcor, Hanar and Volus. Recruiting from the main council Races is really rewarding too. Also, it’s nice that the Council finally believes you.

Continuing the Romance and Character Relationships – 3 you pick up where the romances left off in 2 or 1. For example I ended things with Ashley as apparently saying no in my quarters in 1 wasn’t taken as a breakup. I also continued the romance with Tali and did her mission last to make sure I’d save her and have peace between the Geth and Quarians. You also continue your friendship with Jack and save the Biotic Academy she works at now, you save Miranda from her father, help Mordin stop the genophage, and Captain Anderson, who stays on Earth to fight the Reapers, help Miranda stop her sister, help Jacob save his partner who is pregnant with their child, spend time with a dying Thane and help EDI get a body! There is so much character development between 2 and 3.

Side Characters – There are a lot of great side characters in 3, from Admiral Hackett who is leading the fight for the Alliance on the front lines against Reaper forces, Aria and uniting the gangs and retaking Omega with her friend, Victus the new leader of the Turians and his son, the Asari military forces and countless diplomats, soldiers and refugees on the Citadel.

Past Consequences Paying Off – This isn’t across the board, but if you saved the Council they are open to working with you and at least give basic forces early on, if you saved Wrex you work with him against the Reapers and Cerberus on his homeworld, all your squad in Mass Effect 2 has payoff in their side missions.

The Reaper Threat – The Reaper threat is great in this! From their destruction of Earth and the other Council Homeworlds, to their controlling of the Geth and Rachni, to you feeling them on side missions as they can kill you as you find resources and complete side objectives. They never stop being this great threat and it was one thing that has been consistent through all 3 games.

The Ending of Arcs and Sacrifices Before the Final – The Geth and Quarians have peace thanks to Legion and Tali! The Krogan join the Galaxy and there is peace between them and the Turians thanks to Victus’s son’s sacrifice and Mordin curing the Genophage. Miranda kills her abusive dad and saves her sister and you get to help all of your squadmates and recruit them once more for the final push against the Reapers.

Relationships and Friendships With the Crew – There are some great moments of friendship and romance with your crew. From Tali coming up to your quarters when she’s made Admiral, to conversations around the ship and Citadel (shooting on top of a building with Garrus) to the amazing Citadel DLC where you get to see everyone who is alive.

The DLC – The DLC is the best it has ever been, with only the Shadow Broker DLC being on par and sometimes better than what we get in this game. It really enriches the game and makes it really good.

Javik – Javik is a Prothean, the last living one and is a cynical and sarcastic guy who doesn’t respect anyone except you until the end as he sees powerful the Galaxy is in standing together versus being dominated and enslaved by the Protheans. He really is a fun character and gives a perspective that hasn’t been in any Mass Effects. He was also DLC, which was stupid as he like Leviathan was kind of needed for the game to make any sense.

Omega DLC – Omega is fantastic DLC as you unite the different gangs under Aria and take back Omega from the Cerberus general. It is a lot of fun as you get to know the different leaders and fight your first big battle in the game. It was so much fun to complete, and I rubbed off on Aria and get her to care about her people! Sometimes it rocks to be Paragon.

Leviathan DLC – Leviathan explains how the Reapers were created as the AI you meet that controls them was created by Leviathans in order to dominate and document past races. In the end they got overthrown and nearly wiped out showing the cycle that Snyths will always rebel against the oppression of organics and bring about chaos and death. This is where the cycle begins as these creature are ancient. Getting them to join you is a lot of fun and rewarding and I loved the lore dump.

Citadel DLC – Citadel is awesome! You get time with your squadmates after taking out your evil Cerberus created clone. It feels like a James Bond film until you finish the main quest and after you get to support the characters and have great moments with them. Part of the mission is infiltrating a casino so I took Tali on the date with me. It was a blast.

The Romance – The romance is wonderful in this game as you get to spend time with your partner. I chose Tali and I’m glad I did, she is a great character and is there with you feeling the pain of all that is revealed. Her “I love you,” and “I have a home” are some of the saddest moments in this series and I do plan to play a mod in the future where Shepard survives so I can get their happy ending. For now the game is staying how it was originally intended as this beautiful relationship where I save her people and the Geth and she was with me on most missions and shared what got her into inter-species romance was first born (the vid in your date with her on the Citadel) and all the past moments just mourning our lost friends and the suffering galaxy end in my death. Damn, Mass Effect 3…They sure know how to make you care about the characters…

Tali – Tali becomes a greater leader in this game as she is part of the Admiralty and is one advocating for peace between the Quarians and Geth. She helps bring it about if your Paragon is high enough (as mine was) and we see her arc complete as she has her homeworld back and has found a home in her relationship with you (and vise versa for Shepard). We also see her hurt too as when you complete Miranda’s mission she drinks and regrets how everything she did was for her father and she did nothing to fight his control of her own path. It is powerful and I think this plays a big part later in how she takes the lead in watching out for others (she tells you to talk to Liara after Liara’s homeworld is destroyed). Tali is one of my favorite characters in the series and I think will be the romance in this game that will be the one I would have done if I was Shepard as an actual person in this universe.

The Characters – The characters have always been one of the strongest parts of Mass Effect. In this some characters I didn’t give a paragraph to but will mention here are Ashley and her finally trusting you again, Cortez the pilot who mourns his husband as you help go through his grief, Traynor and her worry at being the new person figuring things out, the macho man Vega who has a good heart, Jack and her becoming a mentor and caring for others, Kasumi fighting for the good while still being crafty, meeting Grunt and his elite squad and saving him from the Reapers, and Zaeed finding his nobility as well as saving Samara from her code and meeting her other daughters. All of these moments were fantastic.

Joker – Joker is with you through the series and in this you help him get together with EDI and learn to relax as well as being there as he waits and worries about his family. He is the core heart of the ship it is sushi with him that kicks off the Citadel DLC.

Mordin – Mordin is back and is his fast talking, wonderful, logical self who develops empathy thanks to the female Krogan Shaman and in the end saves all the Krogan. He is a wonderful character and I’m glad I got to see him again this game.

Wrex – Wrex is back and is doing all he can to fight for his people. He can’t be talked out of anything this time and I get why. His people have been screwed over countless times and their survival is down to the wire and can only happen with your honesty, Victus’s son sacrifice and Mordin releasing the cure. I’m glad he comes to the Citadel party too as it is a call back to the first game and you get to have a lot of fun with him.

Garrus – Garrus is one of if not your best friend as male Shepard. I wish I could have romanced him as Male Shep, he really is a great character and in this we see how much he’s grown as a leader as he is adviser to Victus and takes time on the Citadel advocating and caring for the Refugees. He also never forgets about you and reminds you to not get lost in guilt and loss…as last game he was in that place and you help him get out of it.

Liara – Liara is your other closest friend and it is her actions that make the defeat of the Reapers even possible as she learns about the Crucible and as Shadow broker is doing all she can to bring it about. She sadly loses her homeworld and it is up to you to help her heal. She also meets her father and learns she is 1/4 Krogan! I plan to do a romance path with her in future playthroughs of this series.

EDI, Legion, Geth and Synthetics – This game picks up what 2 starts with showing how EDI, the GEth and Synethics are fully conscience beings with humanity. EDI explores it with you when she asks moral questions and gets relationship advice about her and Joker and thanks to the Reaper code, Legion achieves individuality that he gives to the Geth. It is beautiful and there was no way I was going to destroy them so I chose peace and Synthesis, even though it meant my death.

My Squad – My initial squad before I picked up Tali was EDI as my tech and Liara as my biotic, though that quickly changed once I picked up Tali and my old Mass Effect 1 squad was back. These two are two of my favorite characters in the series and they are amazing squad mates to have.

The Good-Byes – The good-byes hurt but were amazing. My favorite good-byes were Liara’s mind meld, Garrus talking about drinks in Turian heaven, Tali’s painful “I want more time.” EDI finding humanity and how you can call up squadmates who are off of Earth. They really are some wonderful moments as you sit in the rubble of what is left of Earth.

Final Sacrifice – I chose Synthesis and in the process Shepard dies to help Synths and organics com to an understanding between one another. It is really cool and it made sense since Shepard had been the one to break the cycle, so his perspective was key in bringing about peace in the galaxy.

Power in Cooperation and Empathy – The power of empathy and cooperation is a major theme  in this and it is in helping others that others help you build the Crucible and protect Earth. It is also in the empathy and compassion of time with Squad mates that saves them from possibly dying and stops war. This is the Paragon way and one I fully support. It is the “Star Trek” ideology in “Mass Effect.”

The Theme of Sacrifice – The theme of Sacrafice is huge, Aria’s friend sacrifices herself to protect her people from the Reapers on Omega, Victus’s son sacrifices himself for peace between the Turians and Krogan, Mordin sacrifices himself to heal the genophage and Legion sacrifices himself for the Geth so that they can find the individuality he gained. There is of course Anderson’s sacrifice and yours on Earth as well. Each of these things goes towards peace and is a major theme of the game. Plus you remember past sacrifices like those of Kaidan.

The Cons: Lack of Rachni Payoff – The Rachni Queen gets captured again and we never see the full Rachni force after you save her for a second time. This was a waste as they should have been a powerful ally against the Reapers given the Queen tells you in “Mass Effect 2” that everything is going well with her people.

How the Catalyst is Handled – The Catalyst AI looks like a kid and it is never explained and you see it in stupid drawn out dreams. The Catalyst should have been hinted at in 1 or 2. There is no setup and the scenes with the Catalyst just feel awkward.

Cerberus, the Illusive Man and the Villain Problem – Cerberus kills so many humans and the Illusive Man never explains why. I get ends justify the means but this game he does everything to turn humanity against him and how he has such a large force is never explained. He isn’t like Saren where you get his background and can see it. He’s just a character who was never on your side to begin with and it is shown by his actions in 3. This was a wasted opportunity. Luckily the Reapers never stop being a threat.

Kai Leng – This guy is meant to be the anti-Shepard but is only introduced in this game. I wouldn’t have minded the ninja thing if he’d been a presence on 1 or was a squadmember who betrays you. Instead he is a one-dimensional baddy who has no personality or drive. He is a waste of a character who is only there to hurt you but with no reason why.

Going Cinematic and Forgetting the Game – There are a few times where 3 wants to be a movie rather than a game and it hurts both. You have these weird dream sequences chasing the Catalyst and when you get the final part of Earth you are limping everywhere and somehow survive a direct hit from a Reaper, with no explanation. These are good examples of “Cinematic” over “Story” and they hurt the game. The game would have been worse and only been okay if there had been more of it.

The Choices I Made – The choices I made were to end the relationship with Ashley (apparently turning her down in your quarters doesn’t break up with her in 1), continued my relationship with Tali. Chose the Krogan over the Salarians and helped end the genophage (saved Wrex in the first game) and let Mordin sacrifice himself, saved the Council (again), saved the Geth and Quarians and let Legion give himself to the Geth to make them stronger and brought about peace between the two species. Finally, I chose synthesis and gave up my life in the process.

This is a game and series as a whole that for all of it’s flaws, is one of my favorites. Though I wish more had been done with the ending and the Catalyst be presented in a different matter rather than an annoying kid, and Cerberus being so powerful never being explained (as well as the Illusive Man’s motivations being one I never understood fully and Kai Lung having no setup as the New Dragon…he should have been in “Mass Effect 2” if he was going to be such a threat. I still loved the Synthesis ending and as much as I wanted to have Shepard stay with Tali forever, Galactic Peace was worth the sacrifice of losing her. Synthesis was a great explanation that really changes the drama that 2 and 1 set up of Organics against Synthetics. It was also great having Tali and Liara as my main squad again. If you like science fiction stories and games you may still love this series. It is one of my favorites and the best ending really is fantastic, even with all the story flaws littered through the game. “Mass Effect 2” is still the best of the series, but I did enjoy 3 more than 1.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10