The story picks up after the events of Halo Wars 2 but from the perspective of the Banished rather than the UNSC. Straight away we are introduced to two brand new brutes Voridus and Pavium a pair of brothers looking to prove themselves to Atriox. We join them as they are being sent out on a salvage run to High Charity, Halo veterans will remember that the Covenant capital was taken over by the Flood in Halo 2 and later crashed onto the Ark in Halo 3. Supposedly all the Flood were wiped out and not believing in the rumours and legends Voridus cuts his way into the ship and awakens the ancient threat.
The story never really develops beyond that point and follows a relatively straightforward narrative. You will follow Voridus and Pavium from the point of release to the inevitable fightback and conclusion. It's certainly entertaining if just a little uninspired but the dynamic of Voridus and Pavium being brothers does get some decent development throughout the 5 missions. We get to see more of the Banished and even a bit more of its leader Atriox although the role he plays is very small. Apart from a brief encounter with them on the first mission the crew of the Spirit of Fire are noticeably absent, with the threat of the Flood being released on the Ark and considering their history with the Flood from the events of the first Halo Wars game their absence from the expansion seems a little odd.
But what the story sets out to achieve it does so. As with the main campaign, much of the story is focused on the actual tactics at play rather than finding out more about the flood or honing in on more character development for example. There are some brief cutscenes but most of the story is presented during the mission loading screens and via dialogue during missions. Those keen on finding out more can collect Phoenix logs to read from the campaign main menu. There are some genuinely interesting stories hidden within them such as a Brute captains final moments before being completely overwhelmed by the Flood…
By the end of the expansion, it just about manages to be satisfying and does have a predictable but decent conclusion. However, as with the main game, it does end rather abruptly it feels like there needs to be more of a cooldown period before the credits roll. While the ending is satisfying there are aspects of it left very open-ended, the Flood are defeated but could easily be brought back and the ultimate fate of Voridus and Pavium is left completely in the air.
This is an area of the game in which the expansion well and truly shines. Of course, the biggest and most obvious addition to the gameplay is the Flood who come in a variety of different forms that well and truly mix up the gameplay. Infection forms, for example, will swarm your units and bases, let them get too close and they easily infect your infantry units turning them against you in battle, if you're not careful they can even infect your vehicles and air units. These infection forms require you to be constantly on the ball as a swarm of them can easily overrun your units and defences should you not be paying attention. They can also travel over any surface so they can scale cliffs and come at you from every angle. In addition to infection forms, there are combat forms, units that have been taken over by the flood and so take the shape of your infantry, vehicles and air units and in some situations, they have taken over UNSC units as well. There are also pure forms, such as tentacles that pop out of the ground and the towering juggernaut that acts as a Flood super unit buffing any units around it.
The overwhelming nature of the Flood has truly been nailed here on one mission you'll be tasked with a fighting retreat where on the higher difficulties you'll be fighting for every inch of land in a desperate fight for survival, another mission has you having to do hit and run tactics to gain power while massive Flood bases attack your main base in ever increasing powerful waves. Do you risk keeping your troops out in the field to gain more power and leave your base vulnerable or focus on defence but risk an increase in the frequency and power of flood attacks? Another mission has you have no base building capabilities at all forcing you to make clever use of your available units and resources to complete the level in one piece. In conclusion, each of the 5 missions has something unique and exciting about it and each can take 40+ minutes to complete so there is some decent content to get through.
Voridus and Pavium act as your hero units throughout the campaign and so their unique abilities and new units act an extra mix to the gameplay. This is, however, very limited and restricted throughout the campaign and so the gameplay mostly focuses on traditional Banished units and structures. The two brothers do however act as two new separate leaders so can be played in multiplayer, blitz and the new terminus firefight. Voridus focusses on rush tactics making use of a new mechanic infusion whilst Pavium has a far more defensive style that focuses on defensive tactics and economy building. Both leaders act as great additions to the now massive leader roster but do mix things up less so than other leaders have in the past. Grab a buddy and play as the two brothers together in 2v2 for a devastating combo of attack and defence.
A new mode terminus firefight tasks you with defending a terminus from ever increasing powerful waves of Banished, UNSC and Flood forces. The mode can be played single player or cooperatively with 1 or 2 other players. The mode can be played with any leader so there is a tonne of variety in the way you choose to defend. Expanding to gain new bases increases your population count and opens up new turret slots, defensive walls can also be built to block, slow and damage. It's a very fun mode which is equally challenging as it is rewarding and there is always that constant drive to increase your score or make it to a higher wave.
There are also two new multiplayer maps available to all players not just purchasers of Awakening the Nightmare. The maps of Halo Wars 2 are one of its weaker aspects and the two new ones do little to change this acting as variations on whats come before but they still add more variety and so are still a welcome addition nevertheless.
Graphics and Audio
Graphics and audio wise its yet again the Flood that will be adding the most variety. From their grotesque visual design to chilling screams they make this campaign feel very different and distinct from what came before it in the main Halo Wars 2 campaign. Elsewhere the game looks and sounds the same as ever which for the most part is great. The design of the levels themselves is a little disappointing however what you see is nothing new from the rest of the game, this could have been a great opportunity to add some visual and audio variety such as a snow area or swamp. Instead, we get the very familiar pine forest environment for the most part and a not so visually exciting Forerunner segment. Even the two new multiplayer maps and terminus firefight map do nothing new here, which is frankly pretty disappointing.
Voice acting wise Pavium and Voridus sound great, you'll be hearing from them a lot so thankfully the voice acting is of a decent quality. As with the main game, there will be times when you get treated to a Blur cinematic. This cinematics are of the highest quality as ever the folks over at Blur really know their Halo and so offer up yet another audio and visual treat for the senses but in total only about 5 minutes of cinematics are on display here.
The expansion features a new soundtrack around 30 minutes of new suitably themed tunes to keep you immersed in the heat of the action. It serves its purpose well within the campaign but doesn't feature anything particularly memorable or special.
Where it matters most Awakening the Nightmare well and truly delivers and that's in the gameplay department. Fighting against the Flood in the campaign is undeniably great fun with each level offering something unique and new. For those brave enough Legendary offers a very distinct challenge. Elsewhere the new leaders make a fine addition to the multiplayer modes whilst terminus firefight offers a fun new PvE way to enjoy the game solo or with others.
Story-wise it's very safe and by the books but this doesn't stop it from being enjoyable. It is, after all, a side story and not intended to be a direct sequel to the events of Halo Wars 2 or tie in with the rest of the Halo universe in any great way. That said there is potential for something far greater here and we'll have to wait and see if the events from the expansion are ever explored again.
Audio and visually there is very little to be talked about but one can only wish more had been done here rather than just rely on the Flood units for more visual and audio variety.
Overall the expansion is a great addition to the game for all the players that take their Halo seriously but even casual players have plenty to sink their teeth into. Personally, for the price, I think the expansion offers plenty and so is good value but for players who don't play much multiplayer the price to simply play the new story missions may not be worth it. Hopefully, this expansion will pave the way for more combinations of multiplayer and single player Halo content in the future.
|+ Exciting new Gameplay||– Little visual or audio variety|
|+ The Flood are back||– Story played safe|
|+ Plenty of Content||– Not all content will appeal to all players|