Due 21 February 2017 for Xbox One and Windows 10
I’ve never been much of an RTS player, but as a big Halo fan I found myself enamoured with 2009’s Halo Wars. It was a flawed yet enjoyable expansion of the Halo franchise, which tried its best to bring the RTS experience to console.
Despite its lukewarm reception, it gained a dedicated collection of fans who have been eagerly waiting for a sequel. Finally, it has arrived. The open beta is available now on Xbox One, but unfortunately, it left me feeling underwhelmed.
I jumped into Domination, which sees two teams of two players each competing for a number of control points across the map. This clear goal allowed me to construct a concise strategy to succeed, but the sluggish controls and lacklustre presentation were immediately apparent.
All units and structures are created from a central base at the start of each match. You can construct more of these as you explore the battlefield while taking control points and fighting off the enemy. It’s a simple and accessible system that, for the most part, is well suited to the gamepad.
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Unfortunately, controlling such large armies across a vast, open arena proved to be a nuisance, since the camera struggled to keep up, as did the frame rate. The pace of each match was frequently at odds with how I controlled the game, leading each victory to feel strangely unsatisfying.
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There's no meaningful sense of teamwork with other players – at least, not in the beta. Your neighbouring armies co-exist on the same map, but there's no way to integrate with them through unique abilities and combat manoeuvres. The lack of chat and communication options only serves to make this worse, although this feature should be vastly improved before launch.
Putting aside the many niggling issues for now, Halo Wars 2 does attempt some bold and interesting things with the RTS template on console, pushing it further than many developers have done before. Even in its unfinished form, the selection of human and covenant units at your disposal is staggering.
All of these can be customised, upgraded and amassed into gigantic armies, giving each skirmish a sense of unique spectacle when performance permits such a feat. I’ve rarely come across an RTS experience on console that tries so hard to emulate its PC counterpart, and the attention to detail on display is admirable.
If you played the original game, many of the mechanics found in Halo Wars 2 remain largely unchanged. Combat still uses a rock-paper-scissors system with infantry, vehicle and air units having their own special properties. In order to succeed you must use this strategically, alongside producing resources and defences.
However, there are a few new additions to the formula. Before each match you now select a Commander, each with their own suite of special abilities. As you take objectives and defeat enemies, you gain points to upgrade and gain new skills. These range from permanent buffs to temporary bonuses for you and your units.
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I remember the original Halo Wars having an enjoyable single-player campaign, complete with a protagonist and characters worth caring about. Now that 343 Industries is in the middle of developing the Reclaimer Trilogy, I’d love to see the two universes collide in some way, whether this be through detailed missions or individual units on the battlefield. Spartan 117 belongs in Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars 2 has the potential to break new ground for RTS titles on console, and developer Creative Assembly definitely has the talent to pull this off, with new innovations to both controls and mechanics.
Unfortunately, the beta left me underwhelmed. Things will no doubt improve in the coming months, but I remain sceptical, especially of the console version.
Halo Wars 2 will also be launching on Windows 10, which will certainly be the preferred method of play for hard-core strategy fans.