Beta tests can be tough on a game.
If everything goes well, a beta can help bolster public knowledge as well as spread good word-of-mouth. However, if something goes wrong, then it can be hard for a development team to shake off a bad first impression.
It doesn't help that Halo Wars 2 is already facing something of an uphill battle. As one of the few real-time strategy games built specifically for consoles, it has the unenviable task of trying to create a fanbase for a genre that's never really been there — on top of shouldering the baggage of being the next big Halo game. So, with all of that in mind, the future probably won't bode well for Halo Wars 2 if the beta doesn't go well.
Sadly, in its current state, the Halo Wars 2 beta is a mess.
It's not that Halo Wars 2 is a bad game: it does a fine job of wrangling the typically complex controls of an RTS game onto a controller, and the overall pace of the multiplayer matches are fast and fun. Much like the original game, Halo Wars 2 seemingly succeeds in bringing real-time strategy gaming to the Xbox.
If only the beta actually worked.
Normally, this is the part where our video coverage would go — maybe a full match, or a few highlights showcasing some of the cooler aspects of gameplay. Unfortunately, there's no video coverage to speak of — not for lack of trying, mind you, but because the beta simply refuses to let me actually play. The closest thing I have to "video coverage" is nine minutes of the game crashing, freezing and otherwise refusing to function — and that's after spending more than three hours just trying to get the app to open.
The beta started promisingly enough: on Monday night, the game installed just fine and seemed to be working properly. After the madness that is E3 press conference coverage wrapped up, I decided to play a few matches — again, with seemingly no trouble.
Then, following a massive 3 GB patch on Wednesday, the game has refused to let me join a match. Here's a list of everything I encountered when trying to boot up Halo Wars 2:
• App wouldn't load
• App crashed at the Start menu
• Start menu wouldn't respond to button presses
• Tutorial video frozen when trying to skip
• Tutorial video wouldn't respond to button presses
• Game menu frozen after skipping tutorial
• Game menu wouldn't respond to button presses
• Matchmaking menu wouldn't respond to button presses
• Matchmaking refuses to connect
• "Error: Couldn't connect to party leader" appears while playing solo
Yes, Halo Wars 2 is still in beta, and these issues obviously aren't supposed to pop up so frequently. However, combining these issues with all of the other hiccups that Halo Wars 2 is suffering from is more than enough to justify worrying about the quality of the final product.
First and foremost, Halo Wars 2 seems to be struggling just to stay running. For instance, when the Start menu does work, it runs at an unbelievably inconsistent framerate. Not only that, but pushing the button only seems to add to the game's troubles, and you can almost hear the game screaming as it tries to load up the main menu.
Gameplay doesn't fair much better. Halo Wars 2 pushes some impressive detail, but the game always seems like it's one bad frame drop from crashing altogether. I didn't get a chance to play more than a few matches, but each time I did make it into a game, the map would start in some glitched-out, nearly unrecognizable shape. For example, one match started with piles of smoking rubble and a two-minute countdown timer before suddenly snapping into its default state.
Yes, Halo Wars 2 is still in beta, and it's good to expect some technical difficulties when playing with a work-in-progress — but this is on an entirely different level.
Look, I love Halo — you don't write a 2,000-word summary on the Master Chief without some affection for the series — and I hope that Halo Wars 2 can succeed. The first game was, for the most part, a great entry in the franchise that benefited from a unique point of view. It wasn't perfect, nor was it revolutionary, but it deserved far more praise than it eventually received.
My experience with Halo Wars 2, however, has soured my excitement for the sequel. It's downright broken — and while beta tests usually have their fair share of troubles, I've never seen anything quite like this. The Halo Wars 2 beta, in its current form, simply doesn't work.
Hopefully, Creative Assembly can smooth out these issues over the coming months. Halo has always been known for quality titles, and it'd be a shame to see a reputation like that sacrificed for the sake of pushing out a new game.
Thankfully, there's still time to fix the game: Halo Wars 2 is due out next February.