Plasma grenades, Battle rifles and Warthogs are the things that make the Halo universe great. Alongside these are Spartans, Covenant and lots and lots of jumping.
Bungie made a fantastic world for those who own an XBOX and then a 360, An engaging storyline with terrific gunplay and multi player options that make developers jealous. This is a huge legacy for Ensemble studios to uphold, Can they do it?
Well, That’s a very difficult question to answer.
Ensemble are known for making great RTS’s particularly the Age of Empires and Age of Mythology series. With their expertise on board, Halo wars was going to be a huge success and it is a success, for Microsoft anyway.
Ensemble studios was due to be closed down upon finishing Halo wars development, So this would be their swan song. All that history, all those intricacies that made their games great……Are sadly absent in Halo wars.
Ensemble have managed to twist the tales of Halo superbly throughout telling the story of the battles from each perspective concisely. The story is focus of the cut scenes, which have to be amongst the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen. As you play through the game these are unlocked in a theatre mode for you to watch again, Which I have done a few times now just to revel in the quality.
The story twists and turns whilst you play the campaign and I think any Halo fan will be pleased with the narrative.
The gameplay will be familiar to you if you’ve ever played an RTS. You’re given a mission and the basics of an army and from there you build a base and army to a level of world domination proportions. There are resources to collect which you then spend on parts of your base and your units.
You are given an empty base with building grounds branching off of it and you just select the area you want to build on and what you want to build, Done. Then once all your buildings are in place you can start lining up your troops and vehicles.
All a simple affair, actually a very simple affair. If you are a big fan of the RTS genre and are hoping for this to quench your lusts for console RTS, you may be disappointed. While incredibly accessible for newcomers to the genre, Halo wars leaves you wanting more. More units, more choice, more control over actions.
Don’t get me wrong, the units there are great fun to build and use. There’s nothing like building a scarab and marching across the battlefield to your enemies certain doom.
The controls are very simple but with a clunky feel to them, an example of this is being able to scroll through your units with the right trigger, But you can’t scroll back with the left trigger. So if you miss the unit you want you have to run through them all again. This is very frustrating in the heat of battle.
For all the depth of the Halo universe, the game lacks the depth of control wanted in an RTS.
Each of the units has fantastic animation and sound to them and zooming in to watch the action can be an excellent scene to behold. All the units have secondary attacks which are notorious to the characters. The warthog shoots units with the press of the X button and then rams them with a tap of Y.
You also have a leader character to control, a bit like a general. There are six in total, three for UNSC and three for the Covenant. The latter can only be used in Multi player skirmish modes.
Each of these leaders brings different elements to your army, be it building certain exclusive units or using their leader “power” These leader powers can range from bombing runs to healing units.
The missions in the single player campaign are varied and fun to play, some can be frustrating but this is usually down to incorrect unit building or placement.
The campaign really comes into it’s own in co-op though, Halo wars played with a second person brings more fun to the game. Tactics can be used between you and the battle set pieces can be enjoyed with inane banter. During co-op you both control the same base and army which is quite a unique way of controlling the aspects of an RTS. It can be incredibly helpful if you are in the heat of the battle and need more units built. Your partner can be stacking units and vehicles while you fight the good fight.
There are other multi player aspects to be found here in the form of deathmatch gameplay.
These matches are played 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 and can be played with friends, in public games and with A.I. These are very good fun, at first. As with other entries into the RTS genre it becomes a race as to who can build the most units the fastest and then walk them around the map destroying bases. Which is great fun to start but becomes monotonous as your tactics need to be perfect to “out-build” your opponent.
There two ways of playing it, deathmatch which speeds up the building of units or standard which plays at a slower pace, much like the campaign.
I would have thought that Ensemble would have mimicked Bungie a bit more by adding in game modes like territories and capture the flag. Which if planned well, could’ve worked brilliantly. I sincerely hope that features like these will be seen in upcoming DLC packs, otherwise I fear that the longevity of the game may be doomed.
Halo wars is exceptionally fun and captures the Halo universe picture perfectly.
To any Halo fan that wants to jump into an RTS, this is a perfect game for you. You can have it all, the look and feel of the sci fi mystique and a simple control system used to play through an interesting campaign.
If you are looking for a great RTS on consoles then you may be left wanting with Halo wars, it’s no fault of Ensemble but of consoles in general. RTS’s are meant to be played on a PC or a Laptop where you can control everything with pinpoint precision.
With the hope of DLC in the future, there is a hope for more content in the campaign and multi player aspects.
Hi-score: Easy pick up and play feel, superb graphics and sound, great story.
Lo-Score: Sometimes tiresome and too simple, lacks longevity, clunky controls.
Final Score- 6/10