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E3 2017: Heading Into a Firefight With Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare

Earlier this year the we saw the return of grand real-time strategy on Xbox One and Windows 10 with the release of Halo Wars 2. With it came an explosive new single-player campaign, an innovative competitive multiplayer system in Blitz, and an introduction to a new, captivating villain in the Banished and Aritox.

At E3 today we got our first hands-on with the next chapter of the saga with Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare which sees the return of our favorite ancient enemy, the Flood, as well as the new co-op multiplayer mode Terminus Firefight. While specific details on the campaign are limited, we do know this expansion will focus on playing from the perspective of the Banished as they uncover the Flood and work to quell this new/old threat to the Halo galaxy once more. In addition to the new single-player campaign, with new cinematics created by the masters at Blur, and the new Terminus Firefight mode, we can also look forward to playing with new units and leaders helping round out this feature-rich expansion.

Our time with Awakening the Nightmare was taking the new Terminus Firefight mode out for a spin. If the name of the mode rings familiar, that’s intentional. This is the horde-like mode that has appeared in Halo multiplayer for years now, going back to Halo: ODST, and tweaked and configured to work within the RTS gameplay of Halo Wars 2. Like that mode, you face waves of oncoming enemies and work to repel each continuously-growing wave until you are overrun by the mass of enemy units.

The difference here, beyond the obvious real-time strategy element, is that Terminus Firefight encourages tower-defense like thinking to prepare for each enemy wave. Capture base plot points to build more units, construct turrets and upgrade their unit-specific countermeasures, establish barricades to slow the advancing enemy. These are all factors you need to constantly manage and take into consideration (minor spoiler: if you liked the last mission of Halo Wars 2, you’ll love this mode).

In our demo, it was our responsibility to protect the Terminus, a several story-tall pillar that looks to be of Forerunner origin that if destroyed would be the end of my match. It’s protected by a shield, allowing you some time bring in reinforcements should a group of enemies slip by and start taking shots at the pillar. But it’s not necessarily a strong shield, so it’s best to make sure your barricades and defenses get some improvement if you’re constantly moving your team back and forth from the frontline of combat.

I felt I was achieving this goal for the first few rounds of enemies, able to effectively position my troops thanks to the notification on the mini-map allowing me to see the intended pathway of the enemy.

And then came the Flood.

The mass of corrupted marines, larva, and others exceeded any of the waves I have had to contend with thus far. They were relentless, and my defenses quickly started to take a hit. I reconfigured my turrets from vehicle-type to infantry. I threw up barricades in a futile attempt to slow them down. I rushed to construct Hornets to see if I could gain an advantage from the sky. Nothing was helping. It didn’t help that the Flood also brought with them a 3-story tall gangly creature known only as the Hive Commander who swatted away my troops with impunity. The match was lost. I only made it to the fifth round. Time to rethink my opening moves.

Part of what I like about Terminus Firefight showing up in Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare is that it brings some of the more classic real-time strategy multiplayer elements: effectively managing your opening moves, creating counter-units to gain a foothold, and lots of base management. It’s old school RTS and I dig it. And the fact you can bring a friend along in co-op to help manage these waves of enemies makes this even more of a must-play once Awakening the Nightmare hits later this year.

As my demo wrapped up, I walked away thinking about my opening moves and what I could have done better, knowing that, for as challenging as fighting back marines or the Banished might be, nothing compares to the might of the Flood. But I’ll have to wait until this Fall to test out some of my theories of developing the best countermeasures against this fan-favorite enemy.

We’ll have more to share on Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare in the coming months, so be sure to keep it tuned to Xbox Wire. And check back throughout the week about our continuing coverage for E3 2017.