“It’s just another way for Halo fags to get a boner”, “they’re just milking the big Halo cash cow”, “strategy can’t work on console”. Anybody in any gaming communities has heard all three of those statements regarding Halo Wars, in traditional fashion it has been hated on simply because of the Halo name, but the Microsoft PR team has shoved down our throats how Halo Wars makes strategy work on console, so does it?
The Halo trilogy has an epic sc-fi story, something that definitely hasn’t been overlooked in Halo’s transition from FPS to RTS. A fully fledged Halo story, this doesn’t disappoint. The cut-scenes that accompany the campaign are gorgeous, they are CGI, and allow much more detail than cut-scenes from the previous Halo games which used the in-game engines. Instead of seeing the battle through the eyes of one soldier, you see it as a birds-eye view and allows you to see the battles of the Halo Universe on a much grander scale.
The environments are varied, and very unique with things that you wouldn’t find in a traditional RTS. You direct battles across Harvest – an icy human colony; the cities of Arcadia - another human colony; on top of the Spirit of Fire and a Forerunner planet. Summed up in a nutshell, the Spirit of Fire chases a Covenant fleet which attacked Harvest in search of a Forerunner artifact. They end up on a planet infested with Flood, which turns out to be a Forerunner shieldworld, a hollowed out planet which is harbouring a massive Forerunner fleet. Not wanting to spoil some of the bigger surprises, this story will not disappoint. If you are a fan of Halo, or sci-fi then you will be knocked off of your feet by this impeccable story.
The entire campaign can be played in co-op, with two people directing one base and units being split between both players. It works surprisingly well, with one player managing the base and production while another directs the battle. This relieves stress, as when being played on legendary you don’t have to worry about your production and constantly switch between your base and the battle. One of the most Halo-ish things about the Halo games was the music, and this game does not stray far from the soundtracks of the trilogy, and the music in this game has a very good Halo vibe to them.
Like Halo 3 this has a meta-game with skull multipliers. In each mission there is a secondary objective which can be accomplished, when accomplished a skull flashes up on the map and can be obtained. In each mission you can turn the skulls on to multiply your score, some decrease your score and make the game easier, increasing your units hitpoints etc, some increase your score but make the game harder, making the enemy units stronger etc, and some are just for fun, exploding grunts etc. On each level you get points for completing objectives, economy bonus, military bonus etc. and you can get gold, silver, bronze or tin medals which increases replayability.
The multiplayer is classic RTS, 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3. The maps are very well designed, with many gameplay elements to make the battles more interesting. One map has a day-night cycle where the Flood come out during the night time, others have strategic teleporters to surprise opponents and aid the battle, there is one map which has light bridges which turn off and on periodically opening and closing different paths. There are many garrisonable structures, supply pads, reactors etc. aswell as cover to help strategically secure particular areas of the map allowing an advantage over your opponents.
Each commander has a particular ability, heavy supply pads, bases starting bigger and other bonuses to improve your base. They also each have a particular super unit, ODSTs, Grizzly tanks and varying other improved versions of standard units. You usually find enemies swarming you with their particular super units, and it can become quite frustrating. This is a perfect example of the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ element, Infantry>Aircraft>Vehicles>Infantry?vehicles, and so on and so forth. Knowing this key makes it easy to counter your enemies, for example, if you recon them and see their plans, if they’re Anders and they’re building Hawks (super upgraded hornets) then you kit out your base with anti-air turrets and build Wolverines (anti-air tanks). In games you get bonuses for techs you’ve researched, the ratio of units built to lost and for economy and how many supplies you’ve gathered, all of which add up to EXP which then allows you to rank up, which doesn’t bring anything new except a new rank icon.
The bases are socket bases, where there is a designated build site and a set amount of building spaces. Unlike other RTS’s (*cough* Command and Conquer *cough*), there is no labourious resource gathering. In your base you can build supply pads, which allows supply to be dropped down to your base from the Spirit of Fire, but you can also upgrade them to double capacity and double the amount of supplies recieved. Other traditional RTS elements are included, with reactors having to be built to upgrade your tech level which allows you to upgrade and buy stronger units.
Both the UNSC and Covenant are playable, and both can upgrade their base to have more health and sockets for buildings. With a field armoury or Covenant temple you can upgrade your base turrets and your super powers. Around the edge of your bases their are four slots for turrets, which when built can also be upgraded to be specifically effective against tanks, infantry or air craft, or left as a general turret against all unit types. The super powers are unique to each commander, of which there are six. The MAC blast is like a precise bombardment, and can be upgraded to do more damage and have more shots, and the carpet bomb is a sweeping attack which can be upgraded to improve the blast radius. The UNSC can do their super powers anywhere, but the Covenant need their leader on the battlefield to use theirs, for example the Prophet of Regret calls down a cleansing beam from an overhead Covenant destroyer and the Arbiter’s rage ability lets him kill units and deal extreme amounts of damage.
The Covenant are noticeably weaker compared to the UNSC, the Wraiths are weaker than Scorpion Tanks, the Banshees are weaker than the Hornets, but the Covenant units cost less, allowing more to be produced, and have more defences making them harder to kill which brings about a delicate balance. The same also goes for Covenant bases, they can be upgraded and have a shield generator installed making the base stronger and harder to kill. There are two main strategies, you either tech up and build the stronger units, which takes time and is costly, or you mass produce the smaller units and gain the advantage of time and surprise. Some people take the mass producing to the extreme and rush, swarm you so early on in the game before you have a chance to build your defences up, this makes 3v3 online unplayable as one map has teleporters directly to the enemy base right next to yours, guaranteing you will be rushed.
The control scheme is what has held other console RTS’s back. Command and Conquer 3 had a terrible and broken control scheme, which they then copied exactly onto Red Alert 3, which made both games unplayable. The Halo Wars control scheme is impeccable, the controls feels so very natural and can easily be picked up without using the tutorials. The control scheme is so simple and blatant it is unfathomable how EA managed to screw the C&C control schemes up so bad. Press A to select a unit, press X to attack, simple. Unlike in Command and Conquer 3 when it was more like ‘hold down the X button for 3 seconds and then press LB while rotating the right stick counter clockwise and tapping down on the D-pad to select a unit’. Although seasoned RTS players may find it frustrating not being able to alter production without returning to base and other more in-depth elements it is deffinitely an RTS that can be enjoyed by veterans of the genre or newcomers alike.
Halo Wars is an amazing Halo game, and is a great RTS game. This game seperates the diehard Halo fans, from the people who just play Halo because it’s popular. Sticking truly to the Halo universe and having a great Halo feel to it makes this a brilliant title. Some may say I am simply regurgitating PR-talk, but I can assuredly say that I think this is the first RTS that works seamlessly and satisfyingly on console.