The first Halo Wars is an exercise in accessibility. Developer Ensemble Studios set out to make a real-time strategy game for Halo fans, complete with the universe’s iconic worlds and a streamlined console control scheme. In that respect, the developer succeeded. But Halo Wars wasn’t the deepest title from a strategy standpoint. Its basic rock-paper-scissor structure emphasized spectacle and basic tactics over flanking maneuvers or unit positioning. With Halo Wars 2, though, developer Creative Assembly is trying to expand the franchise’s reach.
“This time, we want to make an RTS for everybody,” creative lead Alistair Hope said after a demo at E3 2016. “It’s absolutely for Halo fans. But if you’re into great RTS games, this is for you as well. Wherever you’re coming from, there’s something here for you.”
One of the first notable things about Halo Wars 2 is its presence on PC–its predecessor only ever graced Xbox 360. And after 15 minutes with the sequel on each platform, I can say the addition of PC is welcome. Using a mouse to navigate the game world and a keyboard to form groups between your disparate units is an RTS staple that doesn’t make a fluid transition to controllers. Simply having the option is a welcome change to the Halo Wars formula.
Even on Xbox One, though, Halo Wars 2 displays a certain flow. For the purposes of my demo, Creative Assembly gave us infinite resources and unlocked every unit from the outset. While this didn’t give me an overarching idea of how the economy will work, or the process it takes to unlock new structures and units, it did show me how Halo Wars 2’s armies function at their best: hero units in Mjolnir armor firing Spartan lasers at airborn Covenant Banshees; heavily outfitted Pelicans launching missiles into the alien ranks; and Kodiac tanks pummelling enemy Wraiths from afar.