Review by DuskSoul
"A great spin-off WITHOUT Master Chief? Yes it is!"
At first, many people would be appalled at the idea of a Halo RTS not made by Bungie, without any Master Chief action. Though, Ensemble Studios did indeed close with a bang.
Ensemble Studios is well-known for their Age of Empires series of RTS games. For whatever reason, they closed down shortly after their final game, Halo Wars released. It was an RTS for the console - oh my. One of the first console RTS's, though, to pull it off correctly. Not only is it easy to control and understand, but a blast to play. With some help with Bungie, the original makers of the Halo series, they managed to create a very solid console RTS, and even without Master Chief still feels like home to any Halo fan.
Now let's get into more detail.
The story for Halo Wars is fairly solid. The protagonists may not be very familiar, but the enemies you will recognize...somewhat. Halo Wars takes place 20 years before the original Halo: Combat Evolved game. At this time, the Covenant has just recently been battling the humans. Also, there are many more Spartans alive. (If you wish to find out WHY so few Spartans are still alive during the Halo games, read the book Fall of Reach). There was indeed an Arbiter back in these times, though he is not the same from the original games. He is much older, but much more powerful. You will also encounter the Prophet of Regret, who is your main enemy and leader of the Covenant. Captain Cutter is the leader of your commanding star ship, the Spirit of Fire, and along board are Professor Anders and Sergeant Forge. I won't spoil anything, though the story is very well done and the cut-scenes in between gameplay levels are absolutely outstanding. The graphics are so well done, and tell the story well enough to get you enthralled.
Go in there alone, or with a friend. You can play this 15-leveled campaign mode alone, or with a friend. You can transfer units, send over supplies, and help out your ally in any way possible. It'll make this campaign a lot easier to finish off, especially on that dreaded Legendary difficulty. Alone is also very fun too. 15 levels to complete, each with side-missions, primary missions, and unique battlefields. Fight different enemies, such as the Covenant, The Flood, and Brutes. Destroy the enemy outpost, save your friends, use many Spartans in combat, find black boxes and skulls, or go for those mission-specific achievements. Very good campaign, with different feels in each level and plenty of stuff to blow up. Have fun!
Controls are very, VERY important for an RTS game. Especially if they are made for the console. And oh boy, did Ensemble really pack a punch. Remember when you first played Halo, or you first played Need for Speed? Remember how easy the controls were, and how it took you maybe 2 or 3 minutes to get it down? Right here, folks. Very easy to get down. This game has destroyed the "console RTS = bad" stereotype.
Offline Skirmish can be very fun. The AI works well with you, and can be difficult to defeat at high difficulties. There are two different gametypes, Standard and Deathmatch. Standard is the basic build a base, upgrade and destroy your enemy completely game. Deathmatch gives you 15000 supplies, a fully upgraded base, fully upgraded units and all buildings fully upgraded. Expand and you will be able to make more units. Wipe our yours enemy to win! The difficulty levels are Easy, Normal, Heroic and Legendary. There is also an "automatic AI" in the game that will increase or decrease due to how well you did in your previous game. Basically, if you win a game, your auto-AI will increase. Lose, it will decrease. The higher your auto-AI, the harder your enemy will be. There is no limit that we know of yet, and some people have gone to as high as 150 auto-AI, from what I know. You can play either 1 v 1, 2 v 2, or 3 v 3. You have 6 leaders to choose from, 3 from each faction, or you can go fully random. The 3 UNSC leaders are Captain Cutter, Professor Anders and Sergeant Forge. The 3 Covenant leaders are The Arbiter, Brute Chieftain and Prophet of Regret. Each leader has special units, abilities and effects, which can all be found in your Halo Wars booklet. There are 5 1v1 maps, 6 2v2 maps, and 3 3v3 maps to play on. Each map plays differently, so learn those maps well by playing against the AI before going online!
Online Skirmish is an incredible blast, though has it's flaws. You can play with friends against friends, friends against AI, or go into matchmaking and face players from around the world at random, alone or with a team. Though, there are balancing issues online, which can favor the UNSC most of the time, unless an elite Covenant user is roaming around, who can even destroy that powerful UNSC. It can also become very laggy, especially in 3v3 games, when there are many units on the battlefield. But all-in-all, it is incredibly fun online, especially with friends. Work as a team, too! If your friend is in trouble, send some units over. Ask for help if your in trouble. Flank your enemy. Harass your enemy. Don't let your guard down! Get a good strategy going, pick your leader (or pick random), get in there and hope for the best!
Here are the good sides to the Media of Halo Wars. The music is very, very astounding. It feels halo, sounds halo, and builds off of Halo's original soundtrack. The graphics in-game are kind of dull, but good enough to have fun in the game and make it look beautiful. The movie-clip graphics, though...whoa. Very intense. Sometimes you'll forget you're playing a Halo game and not Final Fantasy. Very detailed and beautiful, with different environments all around.
There are many little extras thrown in there. You can collect two different objects, black boxes and skulls. Black boxes will unlock certain Timeline events that you can read to understand the plotline of Halo. Skulls will grant you special abilities that you can use in Campaign and in Skirmish games outside of matchmaking. There are many achievements you can get, one of my favorites being "OMG BFF FTW", which is to complete the campaign mode in co-op mode.
Overall, this game is amazing. It did in fact prove that RTS's can be done on the console. Halo RTS spin-offs without Master Chief and not being made by Bungie will be very rare, but it can be done. Now lets get to work on a Halo RPG!
...hey, it COULD work...
So yeah, this is a definite buy. Get this game, now. It's so much fun. And you can learn a LOT about the Halo universe, even if you haven't read the books yet.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/14/09
Game Release: Halo Wars (US, 03/03/09)
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