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

The Razor’s Edge (1984): The Quest for Enlightenment

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“The Razor’s Edge,” this version at least, is one of my Grandfather’s favorite movies. I had the chance to watch it with him today and I must say I was impressed. It’s a powerful film that reminded me a lot of the book Remains of the Day and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both of which are favorites of mine. Suffice to say this became a favorite movie, I’ll get into the reason for this in the assessment of the film.

“The Razor’s Edge” is based off the novel of the same by W, Somerset Maughman’s book published in 1944 of the same name and the original 1946 film that came out of it. Which I’ll be reviewing at some point to contrast with this version and the book.

This version was directed by John Byrum, written by John Byrum and Bill Murray and produced by Rob Cohen.

The story involves a man named Larry (Bill Murray) from high society who is sent with his friend Gray (James Keach) who will be going abroad to Europe to serve as ambulance drivers on the front lines for France and England. He is looking forward to marrying his love Isabel (Catherine Hicks) but things change when he loses his mentor and friend Piedmont in the War from a bayonet from an enemy soldier, and returns lost. From here the story unfold as he seeks meaning behind all the needless loss and suffering he’s gone through and how his and his friend’s relationships play out.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is fantastic! Given how many places that Larry goes (America, France, India) it does a good job of capturing these places through his eyes…whether he’s distant and detached, or in the thick of it working.

How the War Changed Larry – Larry watches his friend die from a gunshot in the trenches after he’s been shot and he weeps as he insults him the way their commander insulted the rich guys from Harvard who were serving since he in fact did care for them and distancing was the only way to deal. Before this Larry is happy go lucky, he is connecting with the two women he loves (Sophie and Isabel) and is happy with the promise he gets from his position as a wealthy aristocrat. The war changes him when he sees how fleeting life can be and how purposeless death is.

Finding Enlightenment – It’s weird that this isn’t the end since most movies would have this as the end. The main character realizes it’s all about the purpose in actions, or using the meaning from books in the world to make a difference. Larry goes with a dishwasher in India to visit a Lama high up in a Temple. It is there he climbs the highest peak and realizes that words are meaningless without action and to live with purpose behind all he does. The thing is though, he has to actually do that in the world and enter back into the relationships in his life that caused him so much pain. Just because he realized that didn’t mean his suffering or work stopped. So many books and stories stop at this point, they never answer, what after? That’s one of the issues I have with Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha even though it is a favorite book. This story doesn’t end there. He has to keep living.

Everything Changes – Sophie loses her husband and son in a car crash, before Larry heads to India Isabel has a one night stand and leaves him when living in poverty is too much and she marries Gray, Gray is a stock broker who loses all his money in the Depression and his father commits suicide and they stay with Uncle Elliot in France, Sophie is also there and has become an addict and prostitute. Things change and continue to change throughout the film.

The Characters – I’ve already gone into some of the rich dynamic of the characters above. Suffice to say this is the best Bill Murray film I’ve ever watched, but the others do a great job too.

Uncle Elliot – Played by Denholm Elliot of “Indiana Jones” fame (the professor who got lost in his own museum). He owns this role as the high society man who wants to be a part of the big wigs but is always on the outside because of how odd he is. He always accepts Larry even when Larry destroys his things and lets characters make their own choices even if he disproves. For these reasons his death at the end means something as it reveals characters intentions and relationships are resolved.

Piedmont – This guy is gruff but good hearted and the actor Brian Doyle-Murray does a fantastic job! We see him try and teach the rich students who came over by destroying muddying their ambulance so it wouldn’t hinder them but only Larry gets it. He later shares their loss with Larry and after Larry is the one who truly feels the loss of Piedmont who had become his friend and mentor by this time and the reason he survived the War.

Sophie – Loses her husband and son, becomes a prostitute in France after losing everything and all support and is building a life with Larry when Isabel turns her fears on her and manipulates her into drinking again which brings back all her self hatred. Her story is a tragedy that shows how staying strong is being at the razor’s edge…which the Lama expresses to Larry. She also has things going against her from the beginning as Robby and her marry when she gets pregnant…which everyone looks down upon. Theresa Russell is great in this role.

Gray – Gray is the well meaning socialite who escapes the experiences of the War by embracing work and the role everyone wants him to play, which leads to him and Isabel getting married and having two kids. His friendship with Larry feels real though he never fully gets over losing his position of power which is why he and Isabel end up living with Uncle Elliot in France, it’s a shame that they never learn empathy from that. Regardless he has a great moment at the end where he tells Larry that Larry is one of his best friends and Larry tells him Isabel will explain all that’s been going on.

Larry – This is Bill Murray’s best role I’ve seen him in. He’s got comedy, drama, the quest for enlightenment and experiencing so much suffering. He co-wrote the Screenplay and put his character through Hell. You think things are going to work out with Sophie but after Isabel sabotages her and one of the pimps kill her we are left with a Larry that could be very desolate. Instead he accepts the suffering, like he did when he was in India and knows he’s got to go back to America. That’s he’s been away too long. Bill Murray owned this role and his actions of empathy…from telling the truth Isabel and Gray, to building a life with Sophie when she was in the lowest place and pretending the Princess sent a telegram to Uncle Elliot since it was all he wanted in the end.

Okay: Isabel – Catherine Hicks is a little over dramatic at times but she’s not a bad character. She’s written primarily as an adversary to Larry which is a shame though, we never get her point of view and her shaming and destroying of Sophie was unforgivable. For these reason I can’t put her in the pro. Not when all the other characters are fully fleshed out.

The Beginning – When we’re in Illinois in high society it’s really slow and you can’t help feeling detached. For this reason I can’t put it as a pro, since more could have been done to build and establish relationships here.

This is one of my favorite films and one I’d highly recommend. I can’t wait to see the first version and read the Novel. This film had a great cinematography, writing and cast and I can fully understand appreciate why it is one of my Grandfather’s favorite films. If you are looking for a film with complex characters and depth, this is the film for you.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Nearly perfect.