I’ve always been a fan of large-scale strategic experiences in video games. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the family computer chugging away at classic real-time strategy titles like StarCraft: Brood War and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, building up my forces and moving them deep into enemy territory to obliterate whatever opposition decided to push back against them. But as consoles started to become the focus of the video game industry, the core concept of building up resources and maneuvering units on the battlefield started to fade due to controller limitations, that is, until Halo Wars first showed up in 2009. Ensemble Studios’s Halo project introduced a completely new way to play real-time strategy games with a controller, one which has carried over into Halo Wars 2 to make it one of the most accessible RTS experiences available to date.
The biggest issue in real-time strategy games over the past few years is the growing complexity of mechanics in an attempt to add depth for hardcore fans. By doing so, developers have helped keep loyal player bases happy at the expense of alienating many who are interested in stepping into the genre for the first time after hearing a little bit about the strategic movements and actions involved.
No matter how you approach the genre, the core concept remains the same: players work to stockpile resources from various locations around the map, using them to build up armies of units which can be sent to conquer territory and eliminate enemy opposition. The process of doing so can vary based on what types of units are available to players or the speed at which players can progress through the basic gameplay loop, but usually, as you progress further into a standard RTS experience, layers of depth continue to be piled on.
That usually means additional units for you to command in battle, numerous bases to manage across larger areas of the map, and more resources to allocate as your armies continue to expand. Naturally, you’ll need more key commands to do that effectively, which becomes a problem when utilizing the limited inputs available on a standard console controller compared to the nearly unlimited key combinations which can be used on a keyboard. Even with a keyboard, however, the task of managing all your units and bases across the map isn’t a very snappy experience, often requiring hours of practice to master before jumping into some of the more challenging multiplayer matches or modes available in most RTS games.
Essentially, Halo Wars 2 strips this basic gameplay loop to a bare minimum, focusing on a smaller set of units for both factions and a simple base-building system which doesn’t require players to search for optimal locations on the map. Like a MOBA, Halo Wars 2 has base locations and unit advantages pre-established, encouraging players to learn how to best use the tools provided by each respective faction against their opponents in battle. This approach allows newcomers to easily understand the core mechanics of real-time strategy while also providing enough legroom for different tactics to be used in combat.
Controlling the units at your disposal in Halo Wars 2 feels fantastic too, thanks to the various shortcuts Creative Assembly has carried over and streamlined from the original Halo Wars. Using the Xbox One Controller’s D-Pad to swap seamlessly between combat alerts, completed units, and various bases you’ve built across the map works relatively well in most combat situations; although, sometimes you will have a difficult time selecting individual units to move them out of harm’s way on a crowded battlefield. But when complimented by some of the support powers and utility abilities available to Halo Wars 2’s different commanders, hardly becomes a problem in challenging encounters.
By integrating a set of controls which work well for an RTS experience on a controller with a handful of relatively straightforward game mechanics that still highlight the heart of the genre, Halo Wars 2 has successfully become one of the most accessible games despite the limitations its simple approach presents the longer you play. So, if you’re looking for a real-time strategy game to set you down the path of mastering the genre, Halo Wars 2 might just be right up your alley.