By Sean Booker
March 18, 2009 - 17:40
You command Sergeant Forge of the Spirit of Fire warship, as you build armies and take on the invading enemy. The game begins with you simply battling against the incoming Covenant, but quickly switches to a race to save one of your own. This brings you to new worlds where you will encounter the Flood species as they try and remove you from their home planet.
Instead of the standard game play we have come to expect from the original Halo trilogy, Halo Wars is a game in the Real Time Strategy, or RTS, genre. An RTS game requires several sorts of management type aspects in order to proceed through. This can mean that you will have to set units to fight, while commanding units to search for resources or supplies. What causes an RTS to become so engaging is the constant and quick multitasking you will have to perform in order to complete your mission. This aspect creates a world where you truly feel like you are the master of everything.
Halo Wars does a great job of introducing new gamers to the genre, who may not have much experience with RTS games. The tutorial is set up in a way that allows you to learn the most basic forms of gameplay. This will include lessons on commanding units, building objects and even how to move the camera appropriately. The inclusion of such a basic tutorial was a great idea, especially considering this is the first time the Halo franchise has ventured to this genre, and the fact that it is a big name release on a non-RTS heavy platform. Most people picking up this game because they enjoyed the past Halo games will be able to find their way around quite easily, whether they’ve touched an RTS or not.
This main concept of an RTS is where Halo Wars has its biggest drawback. Since most RTS’s are designed for a PC, there are a lot more commands you can input using the keyboard. Having the game made for the Xbox 360 causes it to feel like all these commands had to be either removed or condensed so they would accommodate the new controller.
The biggest example of this is the way the game lets you move your units around. Normally you would want to be able to break up your army so that you can perform several actions at once. You can do this in Halo Wars, but it becomes incredibly tedious and time consuming. In order to move your units you must hit the LB button so it selects every one of them. You can change this up by hitting the RB button or the A button. The A button allows you to select one specific unit at a time while the RB lets you select only units you can see on screen. So, in order to separate your group into smaller groups, you will have to grab every unit individually and move them far enough away from each other in order to use your local units command (RB button).
For the majority of the game, you won’t feel the need to ever break your units up for two reasons. The first is that it is quite an annoying process to have to go through and the second is that you never really need to. The game is a bit shallow in how it has been set up. Since you will be commanding one giant group, it’s easy enough to just move them from one area to the next, killing everything they come across. This causes the game to become quite easy in some respects, since you can kill pretty much anything and survive indefinitely, as long as you can keep building new units faster than your opponent. All in all, you may find it annoying, since you don’t have many management options for navigating your team, but at the same time, you never really need them.
Apart from controlling your units, the majority of each mission will be about constructing a base. You can find base areas around the map, or you will start off with one. From there, the main part of the game comes in. You need to build different buildings in order to create the army that you will later use. Some buildings will be for creating resources or supplying energy (used to build more things) while others can give you new weapons, ships or just upgrade past expansions.
This is where some of the pacing issues in Halo Wars become apparent. From the beginning of the mission, your task will be clearly stated for you. However, you can’t just rush another base from the get go, hoping to finish this objective quickly. This is because you will only be geared with around one unit and enough resources to start a base and get a couple structures built. So, instead of heading straight into battle, you need to start building an army. Getting from the beginning of the level to the top grade units can take around twenty minutes at most. This may not sound like such a long time, but for these twenty minutes you will only be sitting there watching the game create more ships for you. This can be extremely boring. You can, however, try and move ahead in the mission before getting a full army, and it may work a few times, but when it comes time to playing online or tackle harder levels, you will be better off stocking up before even thinking of moving. What this does is almost force you to have to wait and sit around while your station finishes upgrading everything completely. Afterwards, when your units are finally ready, you can rush into battle. From here, everything becomes fast-paced and will only take a few minutes to wrap up. Each mission will go from about a fifteen minute wait, to a five to ten minute battle scene. In the end, you are looking at a long waiting period to a brief, fast-paced action phase.
When you do get your units rolling and everything has been upgraded, the game starts getting really fun. Controlling an enormous army and just obliterating the enemy is one of the best parts of the game. It is short however, but it’s great while it goes on. When in combat, you get to use either a standard attack or a special ability. Special abilities can range from an RPG gun to bigger lasers or even specific melee attacks. For example, Spartans can jump on an enemy ship and take control of it. Watching these fights are quite fun, and it shows off how wonderful the game looks. The multitasking also comes into play a bit more than the rest of the game as you need to watch for your units to recharge their specials or create new ones all together. Destroying another base means you can now take it over and command two stations. This will help with the wait times as you can now upgrade things faster and get more units to command.
The campaign isn’t too much of a highlight to this game, but the multiplayer is. Since the majority of the single player mode will have you slowly moving a huge group of units from one area to another, it can sometimes seem too easy or just boring. When playing against a human though, you will find some great uses for such huge armies. Since you both know that bigger means better, you will get great battles pitting huge infantry squads against the one another. You can also play co-op head-to-head and have two buddies team up with you. This really shows the power of the system as 100+ units run simultaneously at another team until only one is left standing.
To showcase all this off, Halo Wars has some of the best graphics I have seen on the console. One might say Halo Wars would even rival some of the RTS games available for PC, at least as far as graphics goes. Everything looks great as it plays out during the missions. Units will all be diverse and unique while they show the damage taken from combat. The smoke and fire look great when added to damaged structures. Some of the best looking graphics are shown when a huge structure explodes, or during the cutscenes. The explosions are simply stunning when blowing up something huge and the fire that spurts out is awesome. It really makes you feel like you demolished something very significant. The cutscenes are quite brilliant themselves, making everything looks very lifelike. Halo Wars definitely has some of the best graphics on the Xbox 360 to date.
Halo Wars isn’t anything special. Since most of the
time you will need to be listening to how your base is running, the
background music isn’t a big feature. The game does a good job of
updating you on how your team and structures are holding up. You will
be reminded every few seconds of the status of the enemy or your own
team. One of the weirdest features in
Halo Wars though is the
LB button. As stated, this causes you to select every unit you have
in order to move them as one. Each time you hit this button, you will
be notified with a voice stating “All Units.” What makes this so
weird is that this never changes whether you are humans or playing as
the Covenant. To add to that, there is no variety in the way this is
stated. Since you will need to use this command every few minutes,
you will be hearing the same phrase uttered more times than one would
Halo Wars is a fun and easily accessible real-time strategy game for new or veteran fans. It does a good job of bringing you into the universe and have you feeling as powerful as you would playing any other Halo or RTS game, but sets itself back with some obvious and annoying flaws. The game doesn't require much thinking in terms of strategy, which makes it become a bit easy and sometimes boring. It even drags the multi-management aspect that RTS’s are known for away and simplifies it too much. With that said though, it doesn’t take away from the fun. Playing online with or against friends is some of the best time you can have playing the game, and commanding massive armies while creating numerous and important structures is great. If you can get past the ease of play along with some very awkward pacing issues, you will find Halo Wars a great addition to the long running franchise.
Rating: 7 /10