2009's Halo Wars proved the blockbuster sci-fi shooter franchise could not only work as a real-time strategy game, but also survive without its Covenant-crushing protagonist, Master Chief. While the universe-expanding spin-off wasn't as popular as the series' core entries, it earned a cult audience of armchair space marines who've been craving a sequel since its credits rolled.
That faithful following's patience has paid off, as Halo Wars 2, which picks up 28 years after the original's conclusion, improves on its predecessor in almost every way. One of the first entry's most impressive feats was its ability to make the RTS genre — typically enjoyed on a PC — feel right at home on console; the sequel nicely builds on this accomplishment, delivering an even more polished interface and intuitive controls that would make the mouse-and-keyboard crowd proud.
If you're not experienced with this more cerebral take on saving the universe from alien threats, Halo Wars 2 also does a great job on-boarding rookie recruits. The game's story-driven campaign features a slick tutorial that organically weaves its teachings into the natural flow of the narrative and gameplay. Of course, the downside is the campaign feels a little less like a mode that stands on its own, and more like a training ground for the game's multiplayer.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, as Halo Wars 2 shines brighter than a fully-charged Energy Sword when played with friends online. Featuring more modes than the first game — from returning favourites to brand new ways in which to massacre opponenets — the sequel will see players sinking the majority of their time into its strategy-focused cooperative and competitive skirmishes.
Combining brains and brawn to slaughter an opposing army in Team Deathmatch is still a blast, but building the perfect deck in the new card-based Blitz mode is equally satisfying. In fact, this unlikely addition to Halo Wars 2's suite of online offerings may be its most addictive, especially for Gwent and Hearthstone fanatics craving their next fix. Investing time in other modes, including the campaign, even earns battlers new Blitz cards for their collection.
Whether you're a seasoned veteran of the first game or a newcomer looking to exterminate evil-doing extraterrestrials from a fresh perspective, Halo Wars 2 works as a worthy series spin-off and an RTS able to stand tall among its genre siblings.