The Awakening the Nightmare expansion for Halo Wars 2 is an intense, action-packed journey through the terrors of Halo's infamous Flood. Complete with a new campaign, two new leaders, and a new mode, it's more than any Halo Wars 2 fan could ask for.

Halo Wars 2's last form of downloadable content (DLC) is, without a doubt, its best. Whether you're a long-time Halo veteran who has been dying to see the Flood back in the universe, or a newcomer to the franchise who wants to learn about what the hype around the ancient parasite is all about, Awakening the Nightmare will take you on a ride that you won't forget — with a few small caveats.

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Story: Bring the Banished to bear on the terrifying Flood

Awakening the Nightmare tells a tale of a desperate struggle as the Banished fight for survival against the Flood onslaught.

In Awakening the Nightmare, you play as two Brute brothers that serve under Atriox: Pavium and Voridus. As Voridus makes his way to the wreckage of the heavily-damaged High Charity from Halo 3 to search it for spoils and riches from the Human-Covenant War, Forerunner Sentinels desperately attempt to keep him from going inside.

After pushing through hundreds of the machines, Voridus finally manages to reach High Charity and enters its debris. However, instead of treasure, Voridus instead finds the Flood. Realizing that this was what the Sentinels were trying to contain, both Pavium and Voridus join forces and do their best to beat back the seemingly unstoppable Flood.

This narrative, like the standard story of Halo Wars 2, is simple, but that's fine. It has a satisfying beginning, middle, and conclusion, and the simplicity of the main objective of survival is fittingly paired with the brutal ferocity of the Flood. Thanks to the likable characters and excellent pacing to support this, the writing behind this expansion is solid.

Gameplay: The Halo Wars 2 formula, with twists

The levels of Awakening the Nightmare will make any Halo Wars 2 player, veteran or rookie, reevaluate how they play the game.

As you might expect, fighting the Flood would be much different than fighting conventional military forces. Halo Wars 2 recognizes this, and crafts five excellent levels that take the traditional Halo Wars formula and spin it on its head. Between periodic retreats as positions are overrun, navigating a Flood-infested area with a small, stealthy assault team, or trying to balance your resources between unit maintenance and a large drill that you need to power up in order to survive, each mission in Awakening the Nightmare is a brand new way to play Halo Wars 2.

This adds a new type of challenging gameplay to the game. Forcing you to think outside of your comfort zone to fight this new threat really makes you reconsider the way the game is played. Conventional tactics don't work here; only the open-minded commanders will survive the Flood.

This type of creativity is something that I would kill to see in other games, across all genres. Where other expansions typically offer an experience that is a continuation of the base game's formula, Awakening the Nightmare isn't afraid to introduce brand new threats that, in turn, require brand new tactics. In many ways, its a breath of fresh air.

One small issue, though, was the occasional confusion about what to do. There are a few objectives here or there across that the game doesn't explain to you well at first, but it's is quick to point your task out if you don't make progress in completing it for a time.

Multiplayer: Wield the power of Voridus and Pavium

In addition to the stellar singleplayer experience, Awakening the Nightmare also provides you with two expansion exclusive leaders in Voridus and Pavium. Here's a brief rundown on the playstyles and strengths of each.

Voridus

Voridus is an aggressive, early-game attacker. His entire playstyle revolves around Infusion, a unique type of plasma gel only available to him. Every one of the tools at his disposal, from his own hammer to the leader powers that he possesses, creates pools of Infusion (varying in size) that slow down and burn any enemy units that dare to enter them.

In addition, Voridus also has unique variants of several Banished units, such as the Engineer and Scarab, that can spread Infusion. Lastly, Voridus has a special unit only he can field: Brute Grenadiers. These artillerymen fire their grenade launchers at the enemy from range, and they're able to absorb Infusion in order to improve their statistics in battle.

Pavium

Whereas Voridus's strengths lie within his aggressiveness and straightforward attacking, Pavium specializes in tactical superiority through patience and unique tech. One of these special technologies available to Pavium is the Mega Turret. Requiring a standard building slot due to its massive size, the Mega Turret is a gargantuan artillery device that can launch devastating plasma torpedoes at foes.

Another of Pavium's abilities is the Orbital Designator, which allows Pavium to view a selected area within the Fog of War (black areas where units are out of range from) for a brief time. This allows Pavium to remotely scout, as well as provide a sightline for allies to hot drop troops such as ODSTs or Spirit ships. Several more unique and effective tools await those who choose to play as Pavium.

Both leaders are a blast to play, and I don't think that either of them are overpowered at all. As usual, Creative Assembly has done an excellent job of balancing new leaders.

Terminus Firefight: Endless waves of armies

Terminus Firefight allows players to put their defensive skills to the test — and test them it does.

The new mode introduced in Awakening the Nightmare is Terminus Firefight, in which you (and potentially three other friends) face hordes of UNSC, Banished, and (you guessed it) Flood units that have only one goal: destruction of your base. Armed with your units, new types of defensive structures, and your wits, you make your final stand.

Honestly, Terminus Firefight is exactly what you'd expect, which is a wave-defense mode with Halo Wars 2 mechanics. And while the horde-mode formula has been done to death by now, Terminus Firefight is nevertheless a really fun experience. Whether you want to practice your defense skills, or simply just want to kill a lot of units, Terminus Firefight is a new and entertaining experience.

Art and music: The Flood evolved

Artistically, Awakening the Nightmare introduces brand new types of Flood forms and types, while keeping the ones present in the original trilogy of Halo games. This is an excellent way for the developer 343 to incorporate new artistic designs into Halo, and it's so nice to see that they've managed to faithfully evolve the original style.

Awakening the Nightmare also got its own score, and it's a good one. While there's nothing mindblowing, the music is very fitting and helps add to the atmosphere of the story and gameplay.

Performance: How does it run?

For the most part, the expansion runs excellently. However, I ran into some bad frame rate drops during sequences in which there was a high amount of particle effects and animations occurring on screen. Thankfully though, these moments were temporary and uncommon.

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare review conclusion

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare is a superb expansion that closes out the game's DLC schedule with a bang. Between the creative levels, fun and simple story, useful and powerful multiplayer leaders, and challenging Terminus Firefight mode, Awakening the Nightmare is a quality experience you don't want to miss.

Pros:

  • Likable, enjoyable characters.
  • Creative level design.
  • New types of gameplay.
  • Great art design and musical score.
  • Great new mode in Terminus Firefight.
  • Two new balanced and fun leaders for multiplayer.

Cons:

  • Some frame rate drops.
  • Occasional confusing objectives.

Outstanding

4.5/5

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare is available now for $19.99. You will need a copy of Halo Wars 2 in order to play. It is playable on Xbox One and PC.

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This product was reviewed on an Xbox One.