Halo Wars 2 feels like a return to the C&C era of real-time strategy

In Halo 3, a decade ago, I leapt out of the Covenant's Banshee aircraft time and again to board giant Scarab walkers, then fought my way to the core to blow up the behemoth from the inside. Eventually they became a trivial threat for something so huge, like the AT-ATs of Rogue Squadron I so casually brought down by the dozen with tow cables.

In a near-final build of Halo Wars 2 I played at a preview event last week, I built a Scarab and sent it lumbering towards an enemy base with a supporting troop of Wraith tanks and Banshees and Hunters. The Scarab didn't just destroy the base. It trampled it. The Creative Assembly made the Scarab fearsome again, and from my hours with Halo Wars 2, I think they've given every other unit in the Halo sandbox just as much love.

The Creative Assembly's RTS take on Halo is out on February 21st, with a little something for everyone. There's a campaign, playable solo or in co-op. Multiplayer contains several distinctly different modes. The standard deathmatch requires multitasking base-building and micromanaging units, while skirmish pits you and a co-op buddy against the AI.

Domination is like deathmatch, but instead of winning as the last player standing, you control key map points to reduce your opponent's ticket count. The more casual Strongholds mode gives you infinite resources and pre-built bases, putting the focus on huge army slugfests and map control. And Blitz mode gives you control points to hold, either against other players or waves of AI (just like Halo proper's Firefight), using a card system to spawn in units. Blitz has a whole meta deckbuilding layer.

So yes, there are cardpacks and microtransactions to be had, but Blitz itself is really fun—a totally unit-focused mode that will require smart deck composition and precise army control to come out on top.

I played through a single campaign mission of Halo Wars 2, which wasn't enough time to get a feel for the story or how complex the campaign will be. I spent most of my time in the multiplayer, playing a 1v1 deathmatch, 2v2 Strongholds and Blitz Firefight against the AI. All three were fun, but I think deathmatch is where my heart lies: I love basebuilding too much to give it up, though in Blitz I was determined to set a new high score on the account I was playing on.

As you'd expect from The Creative Assembly's pedigree, Halo Wars 2 feels like a real PC RTS. Its basebuilding and tech trees are simpler than, say, Starcraft, but on the whole the game gives me a 90s Command & Conquer vibe. It's fast, flashy, and filled with fun unit abilities to juggle and use at the right moments.

In the video above, I talk about Halo Wars 2's different modes, its mouse-and-keyboard controls and sci-fi setting. The video below is an entire 1v1 deathmatch, which should give you a good overview of most of the UNSC's buildings and troops.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).