Editor's note: we're neck-deep in Halo Wars 2 right now, but the game hasn't been available for long enough to deliver a final verdict yet. Until then, here are our reviewer's thoughts on the game so far.
The first thing I noticed about Halo Wars 2 is that I was happy playing it on a controller. I know, I know, put me in the stocks and get the tomatoes. But seriously, listen.
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That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Microsoft having the sand to put out an RTS game on console in 2017 is a pretty big deal, so while developers Creative Assembly can’t really go wrong – this stuff is what they’re known for, after all – Halo Wars 2 has to feel natural in the hands of a console player to have any chance of success. Still, despite the obvious focus, it’s impressive just how slick and intuitive it feels on a controller. So intuitive, in fact, that in my first few hours of Halo Wars 2 I’ve played with a mouse and keyboard for a grand total of… around 15-minutes.
It’s also really pretty. Halo has always been one of my favourite shooter series to play, simply because of how bright and vibrant it is, and Halo Wars 2 expands on that a ton. The rich greens and neon purples of Halo’s sci-fi installations and weirdly tropical alien beaches make for a really appealing RTS game, one that avoids the in vogue drab grey of some recent isometric games, appearing across several different genres.
I’ve played around three hours so far, which has given me time to complete four of the game’s 12 story missions and a bit of time to play around with the freeform skirmish mode, where I basically cheated a bit and upped the resources to maximum. This meant I could see all the kinds of units and powers that I’ll get access to later on in the game, without having to spend six to ten hours getting there, and also let me get into super big battles with the game’s ultimate units, like the Covenant’s Scarab.
Part of the reason I did this was simply because the campaign was a bit slow at dealing out different units and powers – you essentially get offered a proper tutorial, and then get half-tutorialised throughout the opening levels – and part of it was because I’m incredibly impatient and like big explosions. If you’re like me, you’ll want to skip the proper tutorial and just get taught as you go in the main campaign.
Like any Halo story, Halo Wars 2’s isn’t amazing. Its story has, in its first third at least, followed a similar beat to practically every Halo story before it – it’s the distant future and a bunch of human soldiers find a mysterious artifact, then they uncover a dangerous enemy, then they have to fight them for the good of humanity. I mean, that’s fine because you won’t play Halo Wars 2 for its story, but it’s a bit disappointing that there’s not some massive shake up, especially after the lacklustre effort with Halo 5.
Instead of the story, you’ll play it for the real time strategy, which so far seems great. It’s fast-paced stuff, and has a great sense of empowerment across the board, especially as you unlock better units and learn how to best use them. The iconic Spartan, for example, has an incredibly cool Spartan Slam attack that sees them jetpack into the air before smashing to the ground to crush an enemy, while the infamous Warthog jeep has a super satisfying ram ability, which sometimes sees them destroy their target, other times sees them actually just implode on impact. It’s great.
So far, Halo Wars 2 is not overly complex, nor has it changed a huge amount since the original game. That’ll either be great for you, or a complete turnoff. For me it’s more of the former. With almost a decade since the original, it’s nice to be back playing a Halo themed real-time strategy game.
I’m sure its campaign will continue to be fine and not superlative, but I’m still excited to dig into multiplayer. This is where I’m sure the depth and freneticism of the game will best be on show, and also to play Blitz, which looks like the game’s most original idea.
Stay tuned for our full review, coming once we've had plenty of time with all the modes on offer.