Well, much has changed in the Halo series since the conclusion of the initial trilogy. Halo 3: ODST shown a little on some of the quieter, more underground portions of the war. Halo: Reach brought back the tragedy that formed the foundation of each of the preceding games. But before them both was Halo Wars, which to me best displayed the ''scale'' that the Human-Covenant War had reached.
Most recently we've gotten a closer look [link] at what was going on in the development background of ''Halo Wars'', and it's a shame that there couldn't have been closer cooperation between the two studios. Who wouldn't have wanted to see the return of the Vulture gunships in Reach during the attack on the spire, or fended off against Locusts in New Alexandria before piloting one to take down a Scarab? There were light hints in Halsey's journal and Contact Harvest that Bungie had forgiven Ensemble and that ''Halo Wars'' was indeed part of the canon, but even today it's regarded as the black sheep of the Halo family.
But I think there needs to be a return to the battlefield. We need a fresh look at the scale of the ''Halo'' universe. We need a conclusion to what happened to the crew of the ''Spirit of Fire''. And we could do with many gameplay improvements and tweaks to the war game now that 3 years have passed and the metagame is better understood.
Below are my points as to what a Halo Wars 2 would need. From gameplay to story, I'd like to cover the whole gamut.
1: A Covenant campaign: Yes, in the first game this trope [link] was in full effect. In the previous FPS games you could justify it by pointing out that fighting unshielded, weakly armored, not very smart Marines wouldn't been much fun, but in this game the UNSC is of equal strength to the Covenant! Learning to use Covies in multiplayer was harder because one had to learn by trial and error. In the middle on an invasion is a bad time to learn that as the Covenant you need Engineers to heal.
So if we have the Covenant in campaign, what should their story be? A separate, second campaign? Intermixed with UNSC missions? Launching raids on human settlements? Facing off against your own human troops you raised? Granted, if 343 doesn't want "the evil of killing humanz", then they could always take the cop-out route of Halo 2 and have them only fight rebels and the Flood.
Speaking of which, should the Flood be playable?
2: A deeper story: The first game is a simpler retelling of Combat Evolved, and it shows. Granted, Combat Evolved was pretty simple too, but its telling was stronger because the Forerunners were mysterious participants and the Flood was a genuine story threat. In Halo Wars the Forerunners are a plot device and the Flood could have been easily excised without any story impact. There's little fear that these parasites will get off the planet, and little wonder as to who these precursors were.
The characters were stereotypical too. It's pretty telling that the developers themselves referred them in the ViDocs with terms like "the leader guy" and "the science chick". And BOY, DID the script need less clichéd lines! Also, a number of the subplots were never resolved, like what the artifacts in Arcadia were for. Why was the Harvest relic pointing to it? Why did the Arbiter's troops not record the existence of the Flood? I only forgive these plots holes so I can still watch the shiny cutscenes.
Asking for a deeper story may sound as vague as saying "give us a better game" or "Fix it!" [link] . But just by looking at the first cutscene of the game [link] , or the tidbits hidden in the game's Black Boxes [link] , or seeing the depth shown in games like ODST and Reach, I can say that the potential is there. ''Halo Wars'' has a unique niche that the FPSs are more limited to do: unveiling the brutality of the war as a whole. It needs to mine that. And do it originally.
3: Make the infantry more important. To me, it felt like infantry were rarely used, even though they were supposed to be the scissors to aircraft's paper. Probably it's the inherent coolness of building vehicles versus just some squads of tiny soldiers. For the most part, infantry seemed to get used as distractions, harassment, or to occupy buildings. Barracks only got built to create SPARTANs, then were promptly destroyed so one could pump out Scorpions. Even the players using the Covenant, which has more infantry options, mainly only produce Hunters, with one pair of Jackals to occupy a reactor.
So how can infantry become more important? Perhaps try giving them more class options. Let some be able to be trained as snipers, some as anti-vehicle, some special ops. The big hook of Halo FPSs is that by grabbing a new weapon you're instantly equipped for a new scenario. Let them do that too, carry assault rifles by default, but later switch those out for sniper rifles or fuel rod guns, depending on their training. Let them seek out cover, hide behind barriers that they'll weave in and out of, but that a clever opponent can use to surround and trap them. That way they don't have to stay cannon fodder while you try to finish your fleet of Vultures.
4: Let turrets self-heal. A minor point, but it feels like a waste of 350 resources to spend on healing one turret, when all the others are likely damaged but impossible to heal simultaneously. I don't want to have to spend 1300 on turrets while my army's out bleeding! Turrets are weak enough that they get often destroyed outright anyway. So they need all the health they can get. Next bullet point!
5: Automatic behaviors and tactics. Commands for your units are pretty simple: "Move here." If an enemy's there, they trade fire. If you want them to dodge, you have to micromanage and order every dodge. If you want them to keep their distance while still firing, you have to watch that distance yourself. This cuts into many units' natural advantages, like the Warthog's speed, or the Banshee's evasiveness, and also made it hard to use divided armies because you'd have to micromanage each.
So let us order commands to units so that they can respond automatically upon entering scenarios. Want them to keep a set distance and move away if the enemy gets closer? Enter in that command. Want them to try flanking maneuvers? Select your units then order that reaction upon battle. Want them to seek out cover? Order your infantry to stay on the far side of the boulders when firefights happen there. Let there be counter-tactics as well, like Wraiths being ordered to time their shot so to strike that Warthog who's been driving circles around it, or ordered to fire all more quickly when instead faced with tanks. Now the player has to micromanage less so he can command more.
6. New Characters and/or Setting? This one's less of a request than it is a question, and relates to the request for a deeper story. Should ''Halo Wars 2'' set itself around a new cast? On one hand, we want to know what happened to the ''Spirit of Fire''. On the other hand, a new cast will allow us to uncover a new portion of the universe, and open more doors by virtue of the fresh start. What are those new doors? You tell me. What should the new cast be?
But using the old cast could allow for the chance to deepen them. Will Cutter, confronted with the chance to nuke a Covenant colony, be bitter enough by witnessing their empire's atrocities that he'll relish the opportunity for revenge? Would Anders be at odds about his desire for total war, so she can explore the Forerunner relics there, to see if they could hold the answer to advancing humanity rather than just let it survive? Will Serina be rampant, fluctuating between seriousness and madness? Who is going to replace Forge in the role of ground leader? Would having the Covenant missions let us involve new characters while still being involved in the familiar? And there is one group Halo: Reach has revealed is ripe for characterization: SPARTANs. One epic cutscene of Red Team isn't enough! We'll take more heroics, but we need more behind the helmet.
Now for the setting. The first game had the advantage being able to cover the early war era that none of the other games had. But Halo is moving on to a new era. Should Halo Wars be set then? Should it cover the transition between the end of the war and this new era? Or should it be set during the war still? Perhaps it could flesh the battles we got to see so little of, like the Battle of Earth, which several of our writers on Halo Fanon have made into something epic and memorable [link] . But what about a new setting like with Halo 4? Might we see UNSC/Promethean battles?
7. Lastly, one more new venue for battles. Space Combat. Need I say anymore?
Actually I do. We know from the books that while UNSC/Covenant ground battles can be fairly even, reactor powered energy shields turn battles into a nightmare in space. So how could we get around this? Would the space battles be in cooperation with Covenant units? They take down the shields and you deal the finishing blows? Would it be late enough in the war, or even post-war that the UNSC has experimental plasma weapons and shielded starships?
Or perhaps a mixture? It could be an interesting opening, fighting a losing battle that you've been given the order to evacuate from, so your priority then is to try and lose as little of your ships as possible. The ground battle before could have been to defend the shipyards where your frigates and cruisers are being built. With enough determination and defense, you might be able to build just enough for a strong counter-fleet. And once you get your shielded ships and plasma, (through either prototypes or team-up) the catharsis of finally being able to win would be overwhelming.
How different from land combat should this be? I was kinda disappointed that the Sabre fights played out not too differently from Banshee fights, without regard for lack of gravity or air resistance. But making it accurate would have been disorientating and too much work. Halo Wars 2's space battles should focus on what is fun, regardless of whether it is flawless science. A space battle akin to the fight above the second Death Star would still be thrilling and bring scale. That said, if they allow us to do Helmejong turns [link] and command in 3-dimensional space then I will be a happy sci-fi fan.
So that's my 7 points about ''Halo Wars 2''. If you'd like to reacquaint yourself with Halo Wars 1, Wolfwood 824 [link] and SPEGIBBY215 [link] have some pretty excellent Legendary walkthroughs. Mr Gruntsworthy [link] off great multiplayer matches as well. May the Halo Wars never die!