Saturday, August 15

Halo Wars Review

I played on: PC [Steam]
I paid: £15.99
Available on: PC, Xbox 360
Notes: I played this on PC but used both a mouse/keyboard and a 360 controller to test out both control types.

Halo Wars is an attempt to bring the world of the Xbox flagship series; Halo, from first-person-shooter (FPS) to real-time-strategy (RTS). Interestingly enough before Halo was the FPS it is today it started its early life as an RTS. If you look back at 2002’s E3 Fanfest then you can see a very early build of the game running as an RTS. After this, it moved over to a 3rd person shooter, and then lastly after Microsoft brought Bungie and made Halo Xbox exclusive it took shape as the FPS, we all know, and love. Halo Combat Evolved changed the way FPS games functioned and its influence is felt to this day. Regenerating health, only being able to hold 2 weapons at a time and loads of smaller touches are all staples of FPS’s now because of Halo. Bungie set out to make a console FPS that could and would rival the benchmark set on PC. Ensemble aimed to do the same for the RTS genre by building the game from the ground up for the Xbox 360.

RTS games work well on PC because the keyboard’s many buttons allow for hotkeys, shift, and ctrl commands as well as the precision of a mouse. Consoles on the other hand have only a few buttons and two analog sticks that lack the precision found with a mouse. Because of this up until Halo Wars any attempt to port RTS games to them has been clunky at best and unplayable at worst. What Halo Wars does to make the RTS genre fit on the Xbox 360 is simplify everything down to basics then build up on top of it where it can. Bases are not these massive open places that you can build as large as space will allow. Now there’s a central building with a maximum of 7 slots for additional buildings. Instead of having to collect resources to fund your base and army production you now build supply pads on your base and they are brought down from your orbital command ship. Your unit count is capped at around 30-40 units with larger vehicles such as tanks counting as 3 or more units. The game plays well on the console and with a controller but feels very limited when on PC. Indeed, next to most RTS games Halo Wars is a simple experience. If you’re only here for the RTS side of things, then you’re better going with a Command and Conquer or StarCraft game instead. But if you’re here for the Halo side of the game then that’s where it shines!

Each soldier you’re able to train from both the Human and Covenant sides feel jaw-droppingly faithful to the Halo universe. Ghosts hover off the floor, grazing the floor when taken over a ramp, Warthogs swerve when driving fast, Spartans can take on Elites, highjack enemy vehicles and so on. Everything single unit, map, character, animation, and so on in both the visual and audio presentation of Halo Wars is dripping in the development team’s obvious love and passion for the world. 

This also goes for the story that introduces fans to a Forerunner Shield World 3 years before Halo 4 would expand on this concept more. Being set 20 years before Halo Combat Evolved you are able to visit iconic locations not seen outside of the extended media before. These include Harvest and Arcadia during the early years of the Human-Covenant War. It’s a fascinating story that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. Sadly, you’re only able to see it from the Humans side with no Covenant campaign. If you want to play as the Covenant, then you’re stuck with either Skirmish or Online modes. This contributes to the overall short length of the game. You have 15 missions in total during the story. It’s worth mentioning that although short (taking me around 6 hours playing casually) I didn’t find a single mission unenjoyable. In my opinion, a tight and polished short game is better than one that feels full of padding and outstays its welcome.

To summarize Halo Wars is a disappointing RTS but surprisingly brilliant Halo game. From the story to the presentation to the admittedly shallow gameplay I had a good time. That being said after playing the game for 12 hours I do feel like I’m done with it for a while.

Recommendation Rating: 7 out of 10

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