Halo Wars marks an end of an era for some, and new beginnings for many. Being Ensemble Studios last project, Halo Wars has brought in people that might have never played an RTS into the fold. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, RTS is a real time strategy game. Hugely popular for years on PC’s, consoles have never really been able to crack the RTS market. Sure there are RTS’s like Tom Clancy’s EndWar and the Command & Conquer series, but none have them have been able to pull in the hardcore console gamers. Halo Wars has changed that.
In a way Halo Wars has come full circle. It’s an RTS prequel to a series that was originally conceived as an RTS (Bungie later went the FPS route, which proved to be pretty popular). Set in the Halo Universe, and just using the name Halo in its title is sure to draw in people. Being the most downloaded demo in all of XBox Live’s history didn’t hurt the games expectations either.
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Set roughly two decades before the events of the original trilogy, the story starts on the planet Harvest where the war between the UNSC and the Covenant forces rages on. Led by Sergeant John Forge, the UNSC follows the Covenant across the galaxy as they try to prevent Covenant forces from coming into possession of technology that could wipe out the human race. We’re also introduced to how a certain other group that featured prominently in Halo 3 first came on to the UNSC’s radar.
The game features a single player campaign, featuring 15 levels, a co-op feature allowing two people to complete the game and a rich and in depth multi-player gametype that pits players against each other. Unfortunately you can only play as the UNSC in the campaign mode, but you’re able to choose between the UNSC and Covenant in the multiplayer, in which up to six (three human and three Covenant) players can take part. You can even choose to play 3 v3 with two AI players on your team. It’s clear that Ensemble put a lot of thought into the multiplayer side, something that we’ve become familiar with in the Halo series.
The key components of the RTS remain untouched, you have to set you your base and manage it in a way that will ensure your success. Your base will be used to accept resources, through landing pads you construct, which allows you to spend them building and improving manufacturing facilities and barracks. You’ll train and upgrade your troops, leveling them up by giving them additional weapons and having a medic in each squad to help ensure they last longer. Upgrading vehicles and aircraft also help with your attacks on enemy bases or achieving given by your commanders.
Halo Wars is a console RTS that fully embraces the classical design of an RTS. Ensemble’s main concern was making it work on the 360, and they succeeded. I can’t think of any console RTS’s that have achieved that simple objective. Too often we’re faced with an RTS that becomes to difficult to control. You scroll with a stick and select with the A button. Shortcuts include select all units or all units onscreen with the simple press of a bumper. You can jump between bases and danger alerts with the D pad. The X button moves your troops and vehicles around the map. Attacking is made easy, you choose your target and hit X for a regular attack or Y for a specialized attack. By simplifying the control system you’re able to keep up with the quick pace of the game.
In the multiplayer you get to choose between six commanders, which alter your abilities. On the UNSC side, you get a unique unit and assorted bonuses to make it a little easier to build up your army. Playing as the Covenant, you get a different specialty unit and can take your leader onto the battlefield. You get a series of unique multiplayer maps to play the various games on.
Now that we’ve gotten the gameplay out of the way, what about its presentation? How does it look and sound? Thankfully, Ensemble have kept everything from the original Halo games that worked in the first place. The sound effects and voice casting are top notch. The musical score is just what you’d expect from a Halo game too. The game’s visuals look great too. The in game graphics, with the detailed vehicles, movements and terrain look fantastic. The cut scenes are gorgeous and some of the best you’ll find in any game. Ensemble did a great job from top to bottom, you can tell they wanted to go out on a high note.
Halo Wars succeeded in every aspect that Ensemble and Microsoft wanted it to. It delivers a simple and fluid RTS experience that’s a lot of fun to play. Best of all it remains faithful to while remaining true to the franchise’s roots. RTS purists will gripe and moan about the loss of some features or controls, but for a console it’s the strongest RTS game out there. Pick it up, you won’t be disappointed.