When I experienced the first Halo Wars title eight years ago, developed by the esteemed Ensemble Studios, I was the definition of a greenhorn when it came to the real-time strategy genre. Admittedly, I’m still coming to grips with the nuanced art of commanding legions in wartime scenarios. Though Ensemble Studios’ vision of an accessible, casual strategy title was realised as Halo Wars expanded the Halo canon with great meaning all the while offering up a solid gaming experience that only Ensemble could, at the time.
With Ensemble having succumbed to closure, Creative Assembly (of Alien: Isolation fame) and 343 Industries, developer of the mainline Halo titles, have carried the torch forward. Aside from the obvious departures in playstyle, Halo Wars 2 is a huge departure from the much maligned Halo 5: Guardians, as Captain Cutter’s speech after the game’s prologue painted clearly the game’s intended direction. It’s a bare-bone military narrative, peppered with some incredibly effective character performances.
The game opens as the crew aboard the Spirit of Fire awaken from cryosleep above the Ark, as a signal beacon draws them into the Forerunner Halo-manufacturing plant. Their vessel along with its crew has been declared lost and the Human-Covenant war is over, facts that aren’t known by Cutter and company. Naturally, the signal from the Ark is explored as it becomes clear that something descended and extinguished the human presence that once resided there. Isabel, an A.I. left over in the carnage, is recovered by Spirit of Fire as the team meets Atriox, a ruthless and calculated Brute general and leader of the once-Covenant splinter-cell, the Banished.