Halo Wars, while a fine strategy game, was far too short. It didn’t even last the whole day I purchased it. What made matters worse, the original developers – Ensemble Studios – closed shortly after Halo Wars’ release. The game felt like a great foundation, practically screaming for more content. Luckily, some ex-Ensemble developers fromed Robot Entertainment, which created expansion content in the form of Strategic Options in an attempt to breathe some life into this one-trick pony. While this expansion gives fans of the original a reason to fire up the game again, the content still isn’t worthwhile enough to attract new players.
Strategic Options contains three new gameplay modes plus some new achievements. The first mode is called Keepaway, Halo Wars’ take on Capture The Flag. The 2nd is Tug Of War, where you have to create a bigger base and more troops than your opponent, eventually taking out the opposing base. The third one is Reinforcements. Each player is given troops on a cycle and can’t train their own, which leads to a fast-paced war of attrition.
Halo fans are already familiar with Keepaway, considering it’s capture the flag. The “flag” is actually a respawning Sentinel turret which a unit must run over to snag. After this a timer will appear on the screen, and you must defend that unit until the counter is up, after which you score a point. I played it against the AI, which didn’t move as fast as a human player could, but even that was exciting. A match between humans would be frenetic and exciting, making this mode the most exciting one in the pack.
The second type in Strategic Operations is Tug of War. Unfortunately, you don’t use Marines to tug Grunts into a mud pile, but rather crank out more stuff than your opponent. In the left corner of the screen, a sliding scale shows a smiley face (representing you and your allies) and a frowning face (representing the bad guys). The goal here is both to gain more units than the other side and to make sure the other side get less. This, like Capture The Flag, requires speed. AI players don’t wratched up the excitement, but human opponents (friends, in particular) will.
The third, and possibly most challenging, is Reinforcements. In this mode, the only units you are allowed to train are Spartans. The remaining units spawn about every two minutes. You can still build bases and improve the units when you get them, but beyond that it’s a grab bag. As with the other two modes, speed is essential. The more supplies you have, the sharper an edge you’ll have against your opponent. Expand rapidly, fortify heavily, and utilize the Spartans as wild cards to sneak units from your enemies. This mode is undoubtedly my favorite.
This release is a positive development, nicely increasing the lackluster options with the original game. The three new modes, plus their accompanying achievements, round out the Halo Wars experience. While this DLC isn’t enough to interest new players, it will bring older players back for a while. More than anything else, the notion that Halo Wars’ creators haven’t left their fans out in the cold is appreciated. Strategic Options is currently available on Xbox Live for 800 Microsoft Points.