Q: What's new in Halo Wars 2?
Clay Jensen: The short answer is that it's kind of everything. The foundation that we had on [Halo Wars] was really substantial. It was revolutionary in terms of bringing an RTS to console. One of the goals we had with Halo Wars 2 was to improve everything happening in the game, in terms of the units, the number of units, the number of game modes that we have, the depth, obviously the huge visual improvements that have been made to the game. But one of the challenges also was that in doing that, it was a very conscious effort to try to preserve what made the first game great.
One of the things I've been really excited about is the fact that people who've played Halo Wars 2 have been really impressed by the fact that the physics, the visual aspects of it, the number of units that we have, the leader powers - those are all great additions, but one of the things they really enjoyed was the fact that it still preserves the spirit of the original game. It still has that kind of energy. So that's one aspect I suppose I'm most happy with.
But one of the biggest differences between the original Halo Wars and the new one is we have a broad range of game modes, from traditional Blitz and Domination, which is a variation of point-capture, to Stronghold, which is a very fast moving 15-minute game mode in which you have unlimited resources and it's just, build as fast as you can and run out and capture points around the map. The newest one, of course, is Blitz, which I'm really excited about. That's quite different to anything we've done previously. It combines action-focused, very short matches, with card collecting and cardplay, in terms of the game mechanics, deploying units, and deploying leader powers. So that's something I'm particularly interested in. We also have a beta for Blitz starting on the 20th, so players are going to get a chance to actually try that for themselves very shortly. I'm excited to find out what they have to say about it.
Q: The first Halo Wars was very well received. Why has it taken so long to get a sequel? It seems like an eternity - especially in video game years.
Clay Jensen: It does seem like an eternity. All joking aside, we've wanted to do Halo Wars 2 almost from the point that Halo Wars came out. It has been consistently the number-one ask for us at 343 - fans have been asking for a sequel literally since the first game came out. The main reason for the timing, actually, was waiting for the right partner. That was something we were very keen to do - to not just make the sequel for the sake of doing it, but to work with somebody we thought would do it justice and add all the new interesting gameplay that we wanted.
Creative Assembly was really the perfect choice for that. Any fans of their Total War series, or fans of Alien Isolation, which they produced recently, I think they'll agree that that was a perfect blend of deep strategy background and a real passion and interest for creating immersive experiences. That's quite clear with Alien, for example - they can do a really interesting immersive horror experience alongside a really deep, historical strategy title. The approach they took to it was the same as ours: we're passionate about making a really great Halo experience, rather than just a game. That's really the way Creative Assembly approaches all of their projects. So it did take us a while to find a partner, but we're really glad we did.
Q: How has development been split between 343 and Creative Assembly?
Clay Jensen: Overall it's been a real blend. It's been very collaborative. Obviously from 343's side, we've been very focused on story and franchise, and developing the new characters and the new factions, like the Banished. I started working on the project right from the start, in 2014, and right from the beginning, I'd say we've had a really fantastic collaboration back and forth. We've been working very closely with them on core game mechanics and units; campaign; the story development; all the new modes. The bulk of the development has been on CA's side, but there's been a lot of creative collaboration back and forth between both teams.
Q: What's the deal with this new Banished alien faction?
Clay Jensen: Ah, the Banished. The Banished are fantastic. I'm actually very happy about them them - not only as an interesting faction to play, but the potential for storytelling. Because they're breaking away from the Covenant, they end up having a lot more in common with the UNSC than a lot of players expected initially. Atriox is a fantastic character, the leader of the Banished - somebody who is a really intelligent and cunning and ruthless enemy, but one that I think players will probably find some common ground with as well. As the Banished are breaking away from the Covenant and being subjugated by them, Atriox basically - you know, his methods are really kinda questionable - but ultimately, he's trying to save and protect his people.
And the Spirit of Fire, when they arrive mysteriously at the Ark, are finding themselves very much in the same boat. They're looking out the window and not being aware of where they are, not being aware of what's happened in the last 28 years since they went into cryosleep. They're waking up to an entirely different universe, and are being confronted by somebody that effectively is trying to take over one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, and they're the only ones around to help stop him. So both sides are really fighting to control what they see as their home, or their base. Anyway, I think he's going to be a very interesting character for us - not only in Halo Wars 2, but I look forward to hopefully expanding on him in the future.
Q: How do the Banished play in multiplayer compared to the UNSC?
Clay Jensen: The Banished altogether are, by their DNA, very aggressive. For players who really like getting in and mixing it up in close quarters, and getting into melee fights, and rushing their opponents with superior numbers, the Banished are really good at that. But they also have a number of new units that give them interesting new abilities - air, vehicle, and infantry units. Units like the Blisterback, for example, which is an air unit that can actually land and turn into a locked-down, long-range missile artillery unit. They've got quite a lot of flexibility, but I'd say overall you're best to create as many units as you can and get in close with the UNSC units, which will diminish some of their medium-range and longer-range abilities. Basically, playing the Banished with a good, healthy dose of offence is definitely a good idea.
Q: Are there more than two factions in multiplayer?
Clay Jensen: There are just the two main factions - the UNSC and the Banished. There are other elements that come from the Ark itself that aren't standalone factions. The Sentinels and the Forerunner technology that's part of the DNA of the Ark itself play a part in the campaign, but they also can play a part sometimes during multiplayer, and can influence what both sides are trying to do in terms of capturing points. You have to be aware of them, and sometimes you find yourselves fighting over things that the Ark itself wants to protect and is trying to take back. So you have to try to figure that into your calculations - there's a "neutral" enemy that both sides have to worry about.
Q: Is there co-op in the game? Some sites have said that there is, some that there isn't...
Clay Jensen: Oh! Okay. I'd be happy to clear that one up. There definitely is co-op. No, I'm a big fan of co-op myself. Especially for new players, especially for players who are diving in to strategy or RTS games for the first time, this is a brilliant time to do that. And one of the best ways to do it is through co-op. You can do the full campaign via co-op. There are custom matches in Skirmish mode where you can create any sort of co-op game that you want. So if, for example, you and a friend want to play in a Skirmish mode match against two other AI, you can do that. You can do a combination of two players on a side and throw in an AI on either side and do it that way. So there are lots of opportunities there to play together. And then, of course, the game modes themselves, I think, lend themselves well to team play - especially Blitz
If you get into a 2v2 or 3v3 Blitz match, one of the things I love is that your card-deck strategy that you build for yourself, in order to decide which units and powers you're going to have, lends itself really well to team play. You can only have up to 12 cards in a Blitz deck, and those cards rotate. They don't go away, they just quickly cycle back into your deck. You have to make some really tough choice in terms of what you put in your deck, because it's limited. But when you get into a team situation, it really opens up the possibilities. If I go for a resource-gathering and heavy leader power deck, you might go for a much faster, cheaper unit deck so you can keep getting units onto the field as quickly as possible. There's a great synergy that develops - both of us can then play together as a team. And we can also play together in Blitz Firefight against the AI. It's also true co-op that way. I guess the bottom line is, there's lots of different ways to play co-op, and I think that's something players are going to take advantage of.
Q: Is the co-op just online, or is there local for some modes as well?
Clay Jensen: The co-op is always online, in the sense that you need to be connected in order to play with friends. We don't have a split-screen or anything like that.
Q: Have you guys announced how many maps there are available in multiplayer?
Clay Jensen: We've got eight maps altogether for multiplayer. We've also got great plans for DLC coming up in the next six-plus months. So there'll be a lot of other cool stuff coming down the pipe.
Q: You guys haven't talked about season passes yet.
Clay Jensen: Not in a great amount of detail. But there are new leaders, new units, and new Blitz cards coming. There's a bunch of stuff. Unfortunately, we can't go into all the details yet, but it's definitely worth staying tuned and seeing what's coming next.
Q: MOBAs have been pretty ascendant since Halo Wars, and taken a big bite out of the RTS audience. Have they influenced the design of Halo Wars 2?
Clay Jensen: I wouldn't say directly. I think that any time you're developing a strategy game these days, MOBAs have a huge impact on that design process, whether you want to admit it or not. Especially with Blitz mode, I think players will probably draw comparisons between that and a MOBA. It certainly is a mode that's focused on much faster action, a smaller number of units that you have to be more careful with, that you have to do more with, that you have to preserve and take care of. Certainly the team-play aspects of a MOBA, players are definitely going to see that sort of interaction happening in Blitz. But interestingly, we didn't actually set out initially, when we were designing the mode, to emulate that. I think it was just a natural progression, from the standpoint that we wanted to create a mode that was on the quicker end of the spectrum - something where you didn't have to do the kind of deep, strategic building strategies that you would with regular base-building and deathmatch and domination, for example - but that still captured all the decision-making and strategic choices that you had in those modes. So when you go to make your deck, for example, and when you're playing that deck, you're still having to make really meaningful, deep, long-term decisions, but just in a faster format.
I think it's kind of ironic, because the question does come up from time to time, "why do an RTS now?" And you know, MOBAs really rose up out of the popularity of RTS, and they've brought a lot of new strategy gamers into the genre. I actually see now there's probably going to be a lot more interest in RTS going forward, as a result of people having been introduced through MOBAs, and now wanting a deeper experience, something that's a little more challenging, a little tougher. So that's something I'm particularly happy about, I guess. In Halo Wars 2, there is that broad spectrum. You've got players that can jump in and play very quickly in Blitz, but equally sit down and have a really deep, challenging deathmatch game which could go on for more than an hour.
Q: You mentioned Blitz's card-collecting element. Does that mean there are microtransactions in that mode? Or in any mode?
Clay Jensen: There are microtransactions in Blitz, from the standpoint that you can buy extra cards for Blitz. But one thing that's quite good about Blitz is that you can also get cards simply by playing the mode. If you play Blitz mode normally, you're going to get more Blitz packs. If you complete the campaign, for example, you get cards for that. And there'll be daily and weekly challenges also, where you can get free card packs. So you can actually earn cards quite easily. But for players like myself that are somewhat impatient, you can also purchase more card packs, just to get cards more quickly, or purchase premium packs to get more specialised, rare cards.
One of the reasons why you'd want to get more cards, once you've got the base set, is that each additional duplicate you get actually powers up the base card that you have. So if you had a Warthog card, for example, and you drew another one, that card is going to increase the abilities of that base card incrementally. So over time, the base cards that you're using will effectively gain veterancy and level up over time. So there's a reason to want to have more cards.
Q: Was the game supposed to be cross-play between Xbox One and PC? Why was that aspect dropped?
Clay Jensen: It wasn't intended at the announce of the game. It's something we're very interested in. Unfortunately, we're not going to have it in Halo Wars 2, but certainly for any future titles it's something we'd be very actively considering. It's something we wish we could do now, but we'll have to wait and see. If players are really excited about Halo Wars 2, then hopefully we'll have an opportunity to make another one in the future, and we'll certainly be looking at that.
Q: Was HDR ever considered for Halo Wars 2?
Clay Jensen: HDR was considered. Unfortunately, we won't be supporting it in Halo Wars 2. That's something that, just in terms of the development cycle, was not really going to be possible. We do support 4K resolution, though, so for players on PC that have the capability and the 4K monitor for it, it looks gorgeous. I would highly recommend any player playing it on PC to consider playing in 4K, because it really looks nice. So, again, for any future releases, that's something we could look at. But for now, we won't be doing HDR in Halo Wars 2.
Q: Thanks for your time, and all the best for the launch of the game!