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Halo Wars 2 New Story Details and Images Revealed

We talk with 343 about the Xbox One and PC sequel.


The new Halo Wars 2 trailer released today showcased glimpses of the Xbox One and PC RTS game's campaign. This included the first look at the new Banished faction and its leader, Atriox. Following the briefing today, GameSpot sat down with Halo franchise director Frank O'Connor and 343 managing director Kevin Grace to learn more about the story and its characters.

O'Connor said the impressive-looking opening CG trailer (watch it above) aims to encapsulate the story and even the gameplay. "It's about what happens when you have two generals from two very different species with very different stuff facing off against each other. The CG is trying to tell the story of the control and the strategy that you use on the battlefield. It does express what's actually going to go on albeit in a metaphorical way."

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Now Playing: Halo Wars 2 - Official E3 2016 Trailer

Grace went on to say that, as suspected, Halo Wars 2 is a direct sequel to 2009's Halo Wars. At the end of that game, main characters--including Captain James Cutter and Sergeant John Forge sacrificed their way home--effectively becoming lost in space. That ending informs the sequel.

The story for Halo Wars 2 picks up 28 years after the original Halo Wars.

"They're coming out of cryosleep; the ship's been frankly lost with all hands," Grace said. "Everybody thinks they're gone and dead. They find themselves above a giant alien installation--a place they come to learn is the Ark."

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This Ark, which is referenced and shown in past games, is 10 times the size of Earth and the birthplace of the Halo rings. The story picks up with the main characters waking up from a 28-year nap, not knowing the state of the world around them.

"They don't know if humanity lost the war, if the Covenant has killed everyone," Grace said. "That's where the story of Halo Wars 2 kick off."

The squad eventually travels down to the Ark to find out how to reconnect with the galaxy that they left behind, or as Grace puts it, "left them behind." Unfortunately for them, this is when the new bad guy Atriox shows up. He is the leader of the Banished, a group that rose to power after the fall of the Covenant.

"The Banished broke away from the Covenant. Interestingly, they were fighting the Covenant the same time humanity was, but for very different reasons," Grace said.

"Atriox's experience and The Banished's experience fighting the Covenant put them in a good place once the Covenant broke up through the events of Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 4; the current state of the universe," he explained. "The Covenant is no more. A lot of their former power, Atriox has collected. And he's trying to get more, and that's what sets up the fight on the Ark."

Banished have been referenced in past Halo games and stories, but this is the first time they're showing up as an enemy to be dealt with. Atriox is a practical soldier, and as such, he makes use of what the Covenant left behind.

Because Atriox is a "smart commander," he collected and re-purposed the Covenant material, including some vehicles you are likely familiar with.

"If he finds a functional weapon, he'll use it. This includes Banshees, Ghosts, Wraiths," Grace explained.

These are some of the Halo franchise's most iconic vehicles. While they will feel familiar to players, they now have a new "Brute" focus. They also have new abilities and threats (though Microsoft is not yet saying what these might be).

"It's kind of a nice place where you're familiar with the basic usage of a lot of these things. But they don't look the same; they look more dangerous now," O'Connor said.

Additionally, players can also expect new units in Halo Wars 2--for both UNSC and the Banished. However, Microsoft is not yet talking about or showing these off just yet.

"There's a sense of scale and scale that I think was maybe missing from Halo Wars" -- O'Connor

The Halo franchise has something of an involved story. If you missed out on the first Halo Wars, however, the sequel's story should still make sense.

"In Halo Wars 1, it felt like this thing was encapsulated and contained," he explained. "You're on a shield world, you're in the middle of nowhere, and you felt disconnected from the rest of the galaxy. To be perfectly frank, that was because as we juggled these two projects, Halo 3 and Halo Reach being being built, we weren't stepping on each other's toes. [Halo Wars 2, on the other hand] is properly integrated into the universe. There's a sense of scale and scale that I think was maybe missing from Halo Wars. Tonally, it feels like a direct continuation. Everything looks way better now, but it feels familiar."

In terms of tone, Grace says Halo Wars 2 should most closely resemble the original Halo: Combat Evolved. "We probably took most inspiration from Halo CE, frankly, as far as the tone and the arc and how contained things are and the thread," he explained.

Finally, we asked O'Connor and Grace about working with Total War developer Creative Assembly on Halo Wars 2 (the first game was developed by the now-defunct Ensemble Studios). He sung the developer's praises and said it was not a struggle to work with the team, even though they are located halfway around in the world, in the UK.

"Creative Assembly is widely considered one of the best RTS developers," he said. "It was a very natural repeat of that development process in some ways. Feels like a very similar process--a lot of deja vu."

Halo Wars 2 launches in February 2017 for Xbox One and PC; there won't be cross-play support. For more, check out all of GameSpot's previous coverage.

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