Halo Wars 2 isn’t one to alter expectations. Like the extended Halo brand, there’s space faring conflict, caused primarily by religious belief, and high-powered super soldiers ready to bring peace via rocket launchers.
As a genre, real time strategy bends to the wastefulness of war. Perfect then for Halo that for years spread a story concerning children treated as property and groomed into battle hardened heroes, only to send them off to their deaths. Like the first, Halo Wars 2 miniaturizes the scale, yet also shows the tremendous loss evident in such a conflict. Out of troops? Build more, the war economy ever present in these potent genre entries. The sci-fi, laser spewing setting softens the impact – if just a little.
It’s fun, insofar as taking an interactive battle commander post with the viewpoint of god. Any personality comes baked into the property and the narrative feels disconnected as a whole, even if the cross-media approach left Halo relatively inaccessible to anyone outside of super fanatic status. Still, the advent of Atriox, the newly introduced Brute villain, brings a sharp touch to Halo lore.
In grander context, Atriox’s rebellion against his Covenant masters carries thematic weight well beyond Halo’s typical narrative. Think Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, where the repressed apes rise against their human masters in a stellar civil rights parable. Shame then Atriox is just a target in the end. He’s crushed, along with the allegory, under the needs of gameplay. The blandly heroic UNSC forces scramble to win and play with their holographic computers, hardly enough to evoke any emotional response. It works as the warfare fantasy it’s intended to be. Catchy, if missing parts.