Halo Wars 2 is shaping up to be not only an excellent RTS title, but also an excellent addition to the Halo universe.
We caught up with 343i's Dan Ayoub and Creative Assembly's David Nicholson to discuss all things Halo Wars 2, including its place in the universe, the balance between hardcore RTS and accessibility, and to what extend previous Halo knowledge will be required to play Halo Wars 2.
It was a fitting setting for a discussion about Halo. We were sat in 343i's Halo museum, crammed with cabinets stuffed with memorabilia, books, CDs, and all manner of Halo merchandise spanning the entire franchise. You could practically hear Halo's iconic monastic choir emanating from the walls.
Creative Assembly enjoys a 20-year history creating strategy games, most famous for titles like Total War, but also cinematic experiences like Alien Isolation. 343i and Creative Assembly have pooled their expertise into Halo Wars 2, which will not only attempt to reinvigorate the classic RTS genre but also stand out as one of the Halo franchise's greatest entries.
I asked Dan Ayoub exactly why the studio decided to revisit Halo Wars, which was a bold attempt to make RTS intuitive on a controller back in the Xbox 360 era. Ayoub said that it was ultimately the fans which led to the decision.
"We spend a lot of time polling our audience, polling our community, and frankly Halo Wars 2 has been at the top of the most-asked list for a considerable amount of time. There's a lot of love for that game. It did arguably the best job of taking RTS and making it work on console."
"From a control standpoint, it was just fantastic, so marvelous, but it also told a great story. We like to say a lot that the Halo universe is large enough to tell multiple stories. It doesn't all have to be about Master Chief and Cortana and things like that, and I think Halo Wars really proved that."
Halo Wars 2 takes place 28 years after the events of the previous game, with the remaining crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire adrift in deep space. The UNSC wrote off the ship as KIA, and there is nobody around to debrief Captain Cutter and his dedicated army.
Halo Wars 2 is a self-contained story, unlike some of the previous Halo games, which often require deep knowledge of external content such as literature and the live action shows produced by 343i. Dan Ayoub noted that such in-depth knowledge won't be required for Halo Wars 2, as the game's protagonists will need to recap on current Halo events just as much as the player.
"Based on some learnings, we're making Halo Wars 2 a self-contained story. It assumes no knowledge of extended fiction or Halo games whatsoever. We assume you haven't played Halo Wars 1, or even a Halo game before. You can kind of see that we've set the game up around that. The crew of the Spirit of Fire has been asleep for 28 years, so they have missed pretty much everything, and you're seeing the game unfold through their eyes."
"So if you've always been curious about Halo but scared to jump in because you've missed so much story — this is the story to jump in on. It's entirely self-contained, and we've created some really fantastic new characters as well, and some nice nods to people who are familiar with Halo."
Some of the returning characters include Captain Cutter, who leads the crew of the Spirit of Fire, but also Isabel, who is an all-new A.I. with Cortana-level intelligence. Isabel introduces the player to the game's villain, Atriox, who 343i say isn't just a one-off for Halo Wars 2, but is intended to be a deadly foe on the same level as any of Halo's most notorious evils.
Throughout the interview, we also discussed the capabilities of UWP, how 343i and Creative Assembly will reconcile casual vs. hardcore play in Halo Wars 2 and the possibility of future live-action Halo content down the line. Be sure to watch the video above, and check out the link below for some more in-depth coverage on newly announced Halo Wars 2's MOBA-like Blitz mode!
Halo Wars 2 launches on February 21st, 2017 for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.