Halo Wars 2 review – Console RTS made great once again

RTS play that feels good on console, again

Cards on the table, I played Halo Wars 2 in a demo back at E3 this year. At that demo, I actually found that the game didn’t perform very well on the Xbox One. It was slow, framerate stutters happened too often and I found myself frustrated with the controller lag. I don’t know if this was an instance of me just being in front of a bad demo unit, but I was disheartened by what I saw at E3.

Flash-forward to this review, and you have the only time I played it since. Reviewing this game, I went in expecting perhaps a relatively laggy experience. Not the case. The game looks decent on the Xbox One, losing some detail when you actually zoom in and try to take a look at each individual character or some of the surface textures, but it runs well. Sitting back on your couch with the controller in your hand, playing this RTS will be a good-looking experience. It runs just fine on the Xbox One.

The original Halo Wars was sort of a revolution because Ensemble managed to get RTS controls working on a console controller. RTS games are famously more complicated to operate than other titles. You need to navigate a full map, control whole platoons of units at one time and actually use your keyboard to its full potential to properly manage an army and win games. Halo Wars managed to take that RTS experience and boil it down enough to work on a console thanks to action wheels and modular base building. Creative Assembly continues that development style. All of the menus in this game are on radials, and the base building is still modular.

It works fine on the console, but I still prefer the PC experience for this game. The Xbox One does not support keyboard and mouse right now, but that’s something that they’ve been flirting with. Having played Halo Wars 2 on both the Xbox One and a little bit on the PC, I think that the keyboard and mouse style of control is what most players should experience. If Microsoft actually updates the Xbox One to support a keyboard and mouse, and you have space in your living room or cables long enough to make this happen, I recommend playing the game that way.

That said, the Xbox One controller does a fine job handling the actual gameplay. The button layout makes complete sense, and you will be able to do a fairly good job of managing squads and taking on the enemy. I find it frustrating when maps ramp up the difficulty and I wish that I could more easily navigate and control my characters. The controller does no favors when that stuff actually happens, and as the game wears on I found myself wanting more precise control of the battlefield in order to overcome its difficulty. This doesn’t happen so often or to such a degree that it hindered my enjoyment of Halo Wars 2.

Are you ready for the good news? Halo Wars 2 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title. That means that buying it once digitally gets you access to the game on the Xbox one and the Windows 10 platform. Yes, it sucks that this only works for digital copies, but that’s the marketplace we live in. If you have both an Xbox one and a Windows 10 PC, you’re going to be happy with how Halo Wars 2 feels. This RTS gives you the ability to chill out on your couch and play with a controller and hand, and that’s fun. But, when you want to get in there and manage the game with a keyboard and mouse, the way most RTS games feel best, you can do that.

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