A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
Parents and caregivers: Set limits for violence and more with Plus
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Halo Wars 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) game concerning a far-future war between humans and aliens. All the action revolves around large-scale battles involving soldiers, tanks, aircraft, and bombs. But save for a handful of cinematic cut scenes that show dramatic one-on-one combat, the fighting is generally presented from a high, eye-in-the-sky perspective that limits its intensity. Players are encouraged and rewarded to develop and implement strategies, and in online play they have the opportunity to work together in small teams. Note, too, that while many real-time-strategy games tend to turn off rookie players due to their complexity, this one has been tailored to be accessible and welcoming for casual and mainstream players. There's also some occasional mild profanity, including "bitch" and "ass."
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What's it about?
Set nearly 30 years after the events of the first game, HALO WARS 2 sees the original crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire waking up from cryosleep to find themselves hovering above a flower-shaped Forerunner world called the Ark. Upon descending to the surface, they discover the ruins of human installations destroyed by a splinter Covenant faction called the Banished. The two sides clash, trying to wipe each other out as they make war for control of the Ark and its secrets. Action is presented from a raised perspective, providing players with a broad view of the battlefield. Missions are composed of exploration, base building, unit construction, and combat. Players need to manufacture the right types of soldiers and hardware to suit the situation, choosing from a range of tanks, aircraft, and troops to accomplish objectives. Online play comes in several flavors, ranging from marathon death matches to a lightning-quick Blitz mode that does away with time-consuming activities such as base building and tech research and simply pits two teams against each other, trying for domination of three control points.
Is it any good?
Much like the original game in the series, the sequel is designed to be welcoming to people who don't normally play real-time strategy games. A broad selection of difficulty settings and a brilliantly designed control scheme for gamepads (RTS games are typically made for keyboard and mouse and are notoriously hard to play with a standard controller) should make it easy for just about anyone to start experiencing success right away in Halo Wars 2. It also benefits from an enthralling story told largely through Hollywood-quality CGI cinematics that are filled with compelling, emotive characters invested with a sense of purpose and urgency. It's easy for players to cheer them on. While the online modes in RTS games are typically the most off-putting for casual players, Halo Wars 2's arcade-like Blitz mode is quick to play and easy to understand and even includes a clever card-collecting element that lets players build decks composed of the types of units they want to use in battle.
But while Halo Wars 2 is clearly a game made with the intent to draw a broad swath of mainstream Halo fans who probably don't normally play RTS games, it also has enough depth that more serious strategy players can enjoy it, too -- and not just because they can play with a keyboard and mouse (if they choose to play on PC). Base-building and tech upgrades are admittedly pretty rudimentary; there's not a lot of strategy involved in choosing what structures to build or how to upgrade them. But the units -- warthogs, snipers, grizzlies, and many more -- each have their own strengths and weaknesses, including special abilities that players will need to practice using to properly exploit. Understanding how various units counteract isn't necessary when you're playing against the computer on the easiest setting, but it becomes essential when playing on harder difficulties -- or going up against skilled players online. A game like Halo Wars 2 will never have the mass appeal of the core Halo shooters, but franchise fans who give it a chance aren't likely to come away disappointed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in the media. Halo is synonymous with spectacular futuristic warfare, but are there any dangers in glorifying sci-fi combat against aliens? Should we consider extraterrestrial life as potentially different yet equal to human?
Talk about screen time. It's easy to lose track of time when playing online, especially in an RTS where games can go on for hours, but do you know how to set limits so you can stop playing after a certain amount of time? Do the "Blitz Mode" matches that end in five or six minutes help you accomplish this goal?
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