Halo Wars Review

Halo wars has been developed by Ensemble Studios, who are also developers of the classic Age Of Empires games. Ensemble have a very high place in many gamers hearts and it’s unfortunate that Halo Wars is their last game due to the studio being shut down. With this being the first Halo game that’s not a first person shooter or a Halo game not being developed by Bungie, Ensemble have been put under a lot of pressure to create something special. Have they pulled it off?

The thing that had people worried the most when Halo Wars was announced was how the game would handle. This is because of how other console RTS games have handled in the past. Most recent console RTS games have been ports of their PC equivalent and developers have tried to contain complicated PC gameplay into a basic control scheme. Therefore the console version of these games seem worse than the often superior PC version.

Ensemble made it very clear that they were going to make an RTS for the consoles and stated that the first thing that they needed to take care of was the control scheme, and I can safely say that they have handled it perfectly. The controls are extremely easy to grasp and I have not once been frustrated because of the restrictions of the controller, something that has been evident in other console RTS games. Halo Wars has your basic unit instructions contained to two buttons, ‘A’ to select units and move units, and ‘X’ to attack. You can also select all of your units by pressing ‘LB’ or just select your on screen units by pressing ‘RB’. All units also have a special attack specific to that unit which can be activated with the ‘Y’ button. This command has a recharge time and can’t be used repeatedly. The special commands are unique and very well implemented, for example, the Spartans have the ability to jack enemy vehicles to make them your own. Navigation around the map can be done by simply moving the camera with the right analogue stick but Halo Wars also includes the ability to quickly jump to key areas of the map by simply pressing one direction on the D-pad, something that especially comes in handy when your base is being attacked whilst your camera is elsewhere. Overall the controls in Halo Wars are fast, fluid and it’s clear that Ensemble have focused more on the combat side as opposed to resource management.

Something that’s also been implemented in Halo Wars is an interesting base design, instead of being able to place your structures anywhere on the map you are instead given a main base with multiple pads which you select and choose what you want to build onto them. This allows you to easily access your unit producing buildings and keeps everything organised and easy to manage, allowing the player to focus more on combat. When you select your buildings you are introduced to a wheel menu system, similar to Mass Effect. From there you are given 8 options which you highlight by holding the left stick in the appropriate direction, you can then select to produce a unit or apply an upgrade. This menu system is quick and very accessible, something that’s very handy when your base is under heavy fire and you need to train units fast.

Halo Wars units work on rock paper scissors balancing, Infantry beats Air, Air beats Vehicles and Vehicles beat infantry. The balancing for the units has been implimented very well and not one unit seems more overpowered than the next, with the exception of the uber units such as the UNSC’s Vulture and the Covenant’s Scarab, however although they are very strong, they are not impossible to take down. The units in the game are interesting, quirky and it’s very satisfying to control the vehicles you’re familiar with from the previous Halo games. The only problem I have with the units is sometimes the path finding can be a little off, especially on the tanks, but hopefully this can be solved with a patch.

Something Halo is famous for is the epic scale of the universe and the stories that have been created for it. With the classic storylines of Bungie’s Halo games and the many books that have been released, it was crucial that Ensemble got the story right, otherwise hardcore fans would notice any discrepancies in the timeline. Halo Wars is a prequel to the original Halo game and focuses on the massive wars that took place. Halo fans are familiar with the concept that the Master Chief is the last Spartan alive, but what they may not have realised was that there were hundreds of Spartans, most of which died during the Spartan training process. The Spartans play a heavy role in the Halo Wars story and gamers get a chance to learn more about the Spartans. As the story progresses players are treated to some of the most gorgeous cut scenes I have ever seen which really get the player involved and interested in the story, something that is hard to achieve in a game of this genre. Ensemble have been very creative when designing the campaign and have managed to create some excellent missions. The missions are filled with interesting objectives that players will need to use a wide variety of strategies to complete.

Halo Wars also features a multiplayer option which can be played with up to 6 players in 3v3 skirmish battles. Players are allowed to choose from six different leaders, 3 for both the UNSC and the Covenant. Each leader has their own special ability, unit type and bonus which dramatically alter the way you play the game. The leader you select will have their own main focus for unit production, this can be Infantry, Air or Vehicles so whichever leader you select you will need to make sure you stick to their primary focus to ensure victory. This gameplay element can really be put to use well in 3v3 battles, if you and your other team mates all have their own focus you could possibly become an unstoppable force and annihilate anyone who stands in your way. Communication with your team mates is key for victory and you’ll find that you’re often lending a hand to a team mate by either sending over units to help them destroy the enemy, or by sending them some of your resources to aid them in training units. This allows for epic and immersive online battles that you care about immensely, the online experience is where I have spent most of my time and had the most fun, however sometimes you can get a little slowdown in the 3v3 battles, but this still doesn’t take away from the experience and is hardly noticeable. Co-op also makes an appearance for Halo Wars, allowing 2 players to team up and tackle the same campaign. This gives a new spin on previously played missions due to the communication you’ll need to have with your buddy to successfully complete them.
Graphically Halo Wars looks outstanding, the shading and textures are very well done and even though the camera can be 40ft up in the air the detail is still as noticeable as if you were playing it in first person. When in battle with the enemy, some incredible explosions can take place that fill up the whole screen with colour, these moments can either be very satisfying when you’ve caused them, or devastating when you’re on the receiving end. The Map design has been tailored very well and players get the chance to battle in many different environments ranging from snow filled forerunner artifacts, to foggy flood infested planets. The environments look stunning and are a joy to play on. Halo Wars really pulls the player into the game with its graphics and it really is candy for the eyes.

The soundtrack for Halo Wars is perfect, the music fits in very well with the flow of the game, especially in the long battles, and the contrast of soundtrack when playing in different environments really set the mood for the missions. But what’s most pleasing about the sounds in Halo Wars are the many noises the weapons make. You will hear all of your favourite weapons from previous Halo games including the trademark clanking of the Assault Rifle and the click when you pull the pin on a grenade. All of these sounds combined with the explosions and the voice of the narrator provide a very pleasurable audio experience.

The replay value for the single player game is outstanding, as players are rated from tin to gold medals at the end of a mission which is based on the score they achieve – naturally gamers will forever be trying to better their scores. There are 4 difficulties to play and upon completion of optional objectives during a mission, players will unlock a segment for the Halo Timeline, which arranges all the battles into a timeline complete with times and dates. Although the UNSC campaign is 15 missions long, something that I missed was a Covenant campaign, in most other RTS games you get to play multiple campaigns as the different factions and this is something I feel could have been very interesting to play.

Ensemble have created something really special, they have managed to make a genre previously inaccessible to console audiences and turn it around into something that’s easy to play and heaps of fun. Halo Wars has flawless fluid controls, beautifully polished graphics, a interesting and immersive story, hectic online play with co-op and tons of replay value. As a whole package Halo Wars is something that is very hard to fault. If it wasn’t for the minor path finding issues and the occasional lag online I’d be scoring it a perfect 10. But never the less Halo Wars is a fantastic game that has to be experienced by all 360 owners, so head over to Xbox live and download the demo, then fall in love, go out, and buy the game. Ensemble have really gone out with a bang, what a great way to pay tribute to twelve years of service to gaming.

Review By: Dean Griffin (Rikoshay) – Overall Rating 9 (out of 10)

Gameplay: 9/10

Graphics: 10/10

Sound: 10/10

Longevity: 9/10

Overall: 9/10


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