Halo Wars: Can it Not Suck?

Halo.

A tetragrammaton in its own right. Treated with a near canonical respect among fans, Halo has launched wars between differing viewpoints. Arguably the single most import franchise in Microsoft’s repertoire. Originally I wanted some sort of moving opening that would stir the emotions of our readers. After about five wasteful and self indulgent anecdotes I realized I need not look beyond the celestial circle that so prominently defined its namesake. I’m willing to wager that anyone reading this already has their mind made up about this game in one form or another, because of four simple letters.

H-A-L-O

For the uninitiated, Halo Wars, developed by the now defunct Ensemble Studios, takes place around twenty years prior to the events of Halo Combat Evolved. With a whole new cast of characters, the newest saga in the Halo Universe looks to develop the back story even further. When we spoke with Ensemble Studios’ director of technology, Dave Pottinger, about the games plot he described it as “the best way that the Halo story has been told.” He felt that his team was able to dig into the motivations behind the characters actions by telling the story from a multi-character standpoint. We’re going to have to wait to see more before we can comment on his sentiments, but from the stellar CGI segments on the demo, we have high expectations.

Master Chief may not be making an appearance in this title, but it’s clear from what we have played, Ensemble has captured the full Halo feel. The game’s design is just gorgeous. Halo fans will be floored by the idiosyncrasies captured by Ensemble. Whether it’s a Spartan jacking an enemy tank, a hell jumper dangerously plummeting from orbit, or a grunt’s methane tank exploding, the game just feels like Halo, but how would it stand without the Halo name attached?

It’s here that things become even more unclear. The game functions as an RTS but without the underlying Halo feel it probably wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. The game uses a fairly basic economy. You start with one base (more can sometimes be found on the map). In this base, you can build different buildings, including supply pads. Supplies are then generated from the supply pads. Beyond that, there is very little to the game’s base economy. Sometimes you can find dropped crates of resources near bases.

Compared to nearly every other game out there, this is an extremely simplified and streamlined version, and it fits nearly perfectly on a console. By focusing more on the combat and development of your troops, the nitpicky micromanagement that functions perfect on a keyboard, but translates poorly on a controller is removed from the equation. This isn’t to say you won’t have to make choices or check in on your resources, but it’s nearly impossible to just out econ your enemy.

Combat is where this game truly makes its mark: epic battles consisting of all the classic Halo units, and even a few new ones to help balance the equation for each of the factions. There are fairly diverse strategies that can be used to win. While we only had the option to play against the computer, who rarely could put up any kind of a fight, we are going to assume that a human brain on the other end of the battlefield will develop things nicely. Troop balance seemed to work out fairly well also; however, it’s fairly hard to discern something like that after only a week with the demo.

While the demo clearly can’t define the full game experience it’s the perfect size to whet your appetite with. What we did have the chance to play had a fairly refined taste and we can’t wait to mass consume the final version. The demo should hit Xbox Live tomorrow, so you only have one more day to wait before you can send a mass wave of elites into that UNSC base.

 

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