Halo Wars Review
Halo Wars continues the Halo franchise by going back to the original concept of the IP, which was a real-time strategy game. The Halo trilogy of FPS games have sold nearly 24.8 million units world-wide. This latest installment should do very well judging by the pickup and playability, mixed with the RTS on training wheels ease of play.
The setting takes place about 20 years before the Halo event that is key to the franchise story line. We get introduced to the series favorite protagonist, no not Master Chief, his predecessors in the Spartan project. The story is well told with gorgeously rendered cut scenes throughout the game. The in-game graphics leave a lot to be desired, it doesn’t seem they put much effort into it, they’re just flat. I was hasty in my perspective of the graphics, maybe it was the focus on the missions, or the Jack & Coke the waitress was pouring. When I had a chance to play scrimmage maps as the Covenant I saw the great detail that those units had, from the iridescent shields to the breathing and articulating effect of the buildings as units are created. That detail extended to the units, the Vampire units looked more alive than machine. I found myself building multiple Scarabs just to watch them walk, (the Luv Woo, rainbows and bubbles were pretty cool also).
The game plays like a introductory to RTS’s, which isn’t a bad thing as the control scheme for the console is vastly different than what is available to the keyboard and mouse RTS PC set. The controls are simplified and limited but function effectively. Actions lacking include “attack here,” “patrol here,” and an easy way to select one unit of particular type for a command.
The unit types available are adjusted as the story progresses, which helps to teach the different types of buildings while letting the players get an idea for what works for different situations.
The single player (or co-op) campaign is played out in fifteen missions, each one progressing the need and the availability of units. The campaign starts with a Warthog romp through a frozen land squishing grunts and helping rescue other soldiers that are added to your group. And the finale is fought to gain control of an ancient artifact which is conveniently surrounded by not only the Covenant, but also the Flood.
The levels are challenging enough on the normal level to make the game enjoyable with a bit of uncertainty. Increasing the difficulty setting and chasing achievements will give it replay value. Disappointingly there is no playable campaign as the Covenant, which could have been mixed into a separate story-line against the Flood. Speaking of the Flood they are left out as a playable race, as they would not be easily balanced against the others in multi-player.
The resource gathering is limited with crates in various areas around the map, they are helpful to build supplies up, but the supply pads built at the base do all the resources gathering, build, upgrade once and forget. There is a limited number of build pads on the base which will necessitate gaining another base or capturing resource and reactor sites on the map, (which means stationing a unit to guard it).
Selecting what types of buildings is the key to survival. Once you build a barracks for soldiers, do you prep ground units or air units, or tech to increase the base and Leader power? The technology trees are three steps of upgrades which keep it more of an action game than a babysitting affair.
The skirmish mode is entertaining, on normal level it’s not difficult to fend off the AI, even when they attack heavy its not a “oh I’m done affair.” Just make sure you’ve set up defenses and upgraded you base.
The game will see most life as multi-player with the skirmish game type, two teams of up to three players per side. And deathmatch mode which starts with built base and lots of resources to immediately build and battle.
Got a chance to play some on-line, the Xbox matchmaking system leaves a lot to be desired. Would be nice to see the other players that have a game set up, as opposed to selecting game type and waiting for others to join. Although it’s better that the play ranking system keeps n00bs from being humiliated by the top of the leaderboard.
With the game going live I should get a better chance to play the multi-player, although I know that once the quick builders figure out the correct build patterns for each leader, it will an exercise in futility. Sorta like trying to play StarCraft online.
All in all I enjoyed the game and already going back through the campaign on the harder levels.