07
Mar
09

Halo Wars Review

 

halowarsboxartFor almost a decade, Halo developer Bungie Studios has been perfecting the First Person Shooting genre. Ensemble Studios was then charged with the daunting task of creating a Halo Real Time Strategy that worked on consoles and create a story without the Master Chief. Well known for the Age of Empires series on PC, Ensemble is one of the best RTS developers around. Halo games are all about bursts of action and the game is always moving forward. Ensemble has taken this formula nearly perfected by Bungie and is applying it to their own RTS strategy. 

First off Halo Wars is a beginners RTS. Hardcore RTS players are not going to get that huge tech tree and freedom over their units that they are used to. This is actually a smart move and a dumb one. Ensemble knew that most Halo players may have never touched an RTS before. They also knew that they had to make it interesting enough so that the hardcore could enjoy as well. Overall I think they succeeded in making the game very approachable to new players, despite that the gameplay just did not have enough depth to keep me wanting to go back and play it. I am not saying Halo Wars is a bad game; you just need to see it for what it is before you dive in. 

 As if all of that wasn’t hard enough, Ensemble also had to make an RTS work on a console. This is why Halo Wars was built from the ground up for Xbox 360, and it shows. The controls are incredibly intuitive for a console RTS. You use the left analog stick to move around the map and press the A button to select a unit. You can then send that unit somewhere by moving the cursor to the desired location and pressing X. Holding down the A button gives you a paint brush allowing you to select multiple units. Left bumper selects all of your units in your army and right bumper selects only the units that are on screen. Never while playing did I ever feel like I didn’t have control or feel like I was fighting with the controls. Units also have a special attack which is used by pressing Y, for instance a warthogs special ability is to ram enemies over just like you have done so many times in the prior Halo games. Another special attack is that of the Spartans, they can hi-jack a Covenant vehicle which you can then take control over. When you have multiple units selected you can cycle through them using the Right Trigger. This allows you to send certain units to attack an enemy and other units to attack another enemy. This came in very handy and is almost a must in some of the later stages of the game. The d-pad also plays a very large role in moving around the game map. Hitting Left will cycle through your bases, Up will give you access to the Spirit of Fire, Right will take you to the units getting attacked and Left will cycle through your units.

halowwars2

Vehicle beats Infantry, Air beats Vehicle, and Infantry beats Air.

Graphics and animations in Halo Wars are simply stunning. Warthogs look like and drive like warthogs and Spartans jump onto ghosts to kick out their grunt drivers. There were only a few instances when the game stuttered but that was only when massive explosions were happening on screen. This is easily the best looking RTS on consoles and truly lives up to the Halo name. Sound is no different; from the music in the menu to the explosion of every grenade, this all sounds and retains that classic Halo feel. 

Base building in Halo Wars is very different from traditional RTS’s. Your bases can only be built in specified areas. You’re only allowed a max of 7 slots within the base to build buildings which forces you to choose wisely on which buildings you want to build. As with any normal RTS you must have supplies in order to build things. You get your supplies by building Supply Pads which bring in supplies for you to use. These can be upgraded once which doubles their production. Reactors are also needed in order to increase your tech level. You can upgrade a single reactor to a dual reactor but after that you must build a whole new one in an empty slot. There are also Barracks which train your soldiers, an armory to give you various upgrades, and ground/air vehicle depots. All of these come with about two to five upgrades depending on the unit. You also have 4 turret slots around your base you can build up for protection and trust me your going to need them. Don’t worry if you max out all the slots in your base because most missions have more than one base location that you can build at. All you have to do is go find it and start building your next base. That is if you can beat the Covenant to it. Another safety valve you have is the Spirit of Fire. This is a massive ship that orbits around the planet you’re fighting on. You can call upon it to bring in carpet bombs and use the Magnetic Accelerator Cannon or MAC gun. This weapon deals out some serious damage but you’re limited to a certain number of shots per mission. That is unless you build an armory and decide to buy more shots using your supply bank. The only complaint I have about the base building is that it is very shallow. You can build up an entire base in less than 5 minutes. It does start getting a little tricky and more interesting once you get multiple bases.

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Carpet bombs come in handy!

The most surprising thing about Halo Wars to me is its story. It takes place 20 years before the first Halo and is told through absolutely beautiful CGI cuts scenes in between each mission. I have played through all the Halo games and I think that Bungie or whoever does the next Halo game should defiantly use CGI. The actual plot of the story was very intriguing and I think that most hardcore Halo followers will love this story. However some of the characters were a bit stereotypical; the main characters being Sgt. John Forge a rough and tough marine with no personality and Dr. Anders the typical damsel in distress with no personality. The best character was easily Serena the witty AI that reminded me so much of Cortana. The story also had multiple nods to the previous Halo stories; if you’re paying attention you’ll probably catch them.

The cut scenes look truly amazing.

The cut scenes look truly amazing.

This couldn’t be a Halo game without multiplayer. Along with your traditional 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3, the entire campaign is also co-op. You can play through all of the 15 campaign missions from start to finish with a friend. The multiplayer has 14 maps you can play on and both factions are playable. I found the Covenant extremely fun and required different strategies than the UNSC. The multiplayer system is also extremely well done and I had no trouble creating or finding a match to play. I also don’t think that the Halo Wars multiplayer has a great replay value. After I played a couple of matches I really had no interest in continuing.

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This Banshee needs to call for backup

In the end Halo Wars is an average RTS. It controls great on the console and I think this is a great starting point for the series. Whoever makes the next Halo Wars should be able to expand on this great foundation that Ensemble Studios has laid out. The story was very good but it just wasn’t the prequel I was hoping for. Although we did learn some new things about the Halo universe I am sure this is not the last time we will be visiting it. That is unless Microsoft hates money.

Screenshots:

Trailer:

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