Review by Premonition2035
"A Fantastic RTS and Spinoff"
Halo Wars is an unexpectedly good RTS, unexpectedly because when it comes to the PC vs. consoles as the platform of choice for an RTS, the PC comes out the clear winner due to its ease of controls. Halo Wars overcame this difference by being built from the ground up to debut on the Xbox 360. The game was officially announced on September 27, 2006 and released on March 3, 2009. A demo can be found on the Xbox Live Marketplace, but don't let that distract you from reading my full review.
Halo Wars takes place in 2531, 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. It's been 5 long, bloody years since the Covenant first attacked the colony of Harvest, but the planet is finally in human hands once again, for the most part. The Spirit of Fire has been sent to reinforce Harvest; at the helm of this colonization vessel turned warship sits Captain Cutter. Serina, whose sense of humor has been described as dry and sardonic, is the smart A.I. aboard Spirit of Fire. Sergeant Forge leads the ship's ground forces while Professor Anders is the foremost scientific figure aboard.
Your mission on Harvest begins with intel that there is serious Covenant activity in the northern polar region. Your first objective is to take control of Sergeant Forge and round up survivors from nearby Alpha Base, which has fallen to the Covenant forces. You must then retake the ravaged Alpha Base, rebuild it, and push towards a Forerunner relic in the ice where the Covenant activity is focused. Leading the Covenant on Harvest is the Arbiter, guided off world by the Prophet of Regret. Fans of Halo 2 (and 3, for the Arbiter) will be familiar with both the position of Arbiter and the Prophet of Regret.
Your mission on Harvest will soon expand to include a couple of other worlds. Along the way you will be joined by Red Team, a trio of Spartans who will accompany you on the rest of your journey. You will also hear brief references to the Pillar of Autumn, the famous cruiser that lands the Master Chief on the Halo ring in the first game. All in all, the game's story is well developed and leaves you eager for Halo Wars 2.
Final Score: 9.5
The graphics in Halo Wars are impressive. The environment is beautiful (complete with small touches such as colorful birds flying by on various maps), units and structures are highly detailed (including changes to both as they are upgraded), and animations (including construction and demolition animations) are well done. Of particular interest are the cutscenes, which are gorgeous. Elites are striking, the Prophet of Regret is gracefully animated, and one fight scene in particular towards the end will awe the audience.
I do, however, have a few small troubles with regards to the graphics. First, textures appear washed out at times. This is particularly noticeable on the in game intro scene to the 4th campaign mission. Next, some animations may appear a little awkward, especially the Hunter running animation. A third problem are various glitches bodies may catch a foot in the ground when killed and gyrate madly around that point; plasma mortars may glide slowly in a straight line, off their axis. Otherwise, the graphics really are great.
Final Score: 9.5
The audio is flawless, to put it simply. You'll hear moving musical scores in the menus, ambient numbers that fade into the background (in a good way) on campaign and multiplayer maps, and convincing audio cues from units when they are produced, selected, and ordered to move or attack. On top of that, sound effects come across as realistic, the voice acting is ideal, and the announcer will helpfully point out when bases and structures are complete. Because I find no issues with the sound, it receives a perfect score.
Final Score: 10
Base construction is one of the things in Halo Wars that had to be simplified to support a console as its platform. By simplified I mean that there are a limited number of points across the map on which you can actually construct a base, and around a fully upgraded base you can only have up to 7 structures and 4 turrets. This is as opposed to bases that can literally span the entire map, as in Command and Conquer 3. It's a simple gameplay mechanic, but it works. One feature C&C 3 does not have, however, is the ability to lock down your base, which hides units produced thereafter from the prying eyes of enemy scouts and allows you to release them all at once, useful if that base is under assault.
The build menus in Halo Wars support up to only 3 units produced at any given structure. The biggest disappointment this results in for me is with regards to the Covenant infantry. There are no Elite squads, only Grunts (with a single Elite leading the squad), Jackals, and Hunters. Elites are also found as Honor Guards, the unique unit for the Prophet of Regret (something I'll discuss later), but there are only one per squad and they are melee units only. But whereas units had to be cut for the Covenant infantry, they were added everywhere else. Examples of new units include the Covenant Locust, a quadruped vehicle that excels at leveling buildings with its laser beam, and the UNSC Vulture, a massive gunship. And yes, the Covenant do have access to the Scarab, produced at the base.
Resources in Halo Wars are not gathered as in C&C 3 and many other RTS's, they are produced. The primary resource in Halo Wars are Supplies; Supplies are generated by the UNSC Supply Pad and the Covenant Warehouse. Supplies may also be found around the map in the form of crates; be sure to pick these up to bolster your economy! Tech level is what one might consider to be the secondary resource in Halo Wars. Higher tech levels grant access to more powerful units and upgrades. The UNSC reach their optimal tech level by building multiple Reactors, while the Covenant build a single Temple and upgrade multiple times from within. Bonus Reactors can also be found on various maps, and grant one free tech level. Be sure to garrison these with infantry in order to save time, resources, and, as is sometimes the case with the UNSC, building space.
Good army composition is key to fighting the enemy. Some units are good against all targets, like the UNSC Scorpion, while others are only capable of combating one type of unit effectively, such as the Covenant Jackal (anti-infantry). Many units also have a secondary ability, which dramatically changes the way they play. Secondary abilities are activated using the Y button, and can range from throwing grenades and launching rockets to running down unsuspecting victims. UNSC players can press Up on the D-Pad to bring up the menu representing the Spirit of Fire, from which they can call down MAC blasts and access other powers. Up on the D-Pad for a Covenant player will bring them to their leader, a powerful figure that guides the Covenant forces from the front. The core gameplay is the most important feature of any game, and in Halo Wars it certainly succeeds.
Final Score: 9.5
Core Gameplay Campaign
In this section I'd first like to confirm that the campaign is played exclusively from the viewpoint of the UNSC. Next I'd like to mention that the campaign is 15 missions long, and each mission is of decent length. There are also cutscenes before 14 of those missions and one at the very end, so sit back and enjoy those awesome graphics I discussed. Third, the progression does an excellent job of easing the player along. Throughout the course of the campaign you will be given new toys to play with; have fun wrecking things with them. Finally, missions are diverse for some you will start off with a base right away, whereas for others you will be given only a handful of units to fight across half the map with. All in all, the campaign is fun and exciting.
Final Score: 9.5
Core Gameplay Multiplayer
Multiplayer does require a bit more elaboration than campaign does. In multiplayer you must choose a leader from your faction to play as. UNSC leaders consist of Captain Cutter, Sergeant Forge, and Professor Anders. Covenant leaders consist of the Arbiter, the Brute Chieftain, and the Prophet of Regret. All leaders get a unique unit, produced at the base. In addition to this, UNSC leaders get a super unit, an economic bonus, and a unique leader power. Super units are upgraded versions of units all three UNSC leaders share. The economic bonuses will save you time and resources. The unique leader powers consist of the MAC Blast, the Carpet Bomb, and the Cryo Bomb, all three of which you will be given access to in the campaign, at different times. Covenant leaders, on the other hand, appear directly on the field, leading from the front. All three Covenant leaders have an immensely powerful secondary ability that drains Supplies as it is used.
3v3 is the highest Halo Wars' multiplayer goes up to. I consider 4v4 to be an RTS standard, and am disappointed that Halo Wars does not support that many players. The game also only shipped with three 3v3 maps. There are two game modes: Standard and Deathmatch. Deathmatch is a sort of quick start' mode, where players are given heaps of resources at the start. In Deathmatch, all upgrades are already researched and players must claim bases to augment their army size. There are 3 additional game modes offered as DLC, but this reviewer was not willing to spend $10 on it. Uncontrolled bases are either empty and can be built upon as soon as you have the resources to do so, or (as is generally the case) are occupied by a neutral faction. Neutral factions must be ousted before construction can begin on that site. A player loses when they have lost their entire force and all bases, or when they have been out of bases for over a minute.
The online experience differs dramatically from offline play. Laggy, full of quitters, and a spamfest these are all phrases that have been used to describe the online multiplayer, and they are, to a degree, all true. I will address each one in turn. The game lags often. I had so much difficulty controlling the Arbiter's Y ability Rage even when it wasn't lagging hard that I had to switch back to the Prophet of Regret and his Cleansing Beam. Having one person quit in a 3v3 will normally cascade into having everyone else on the team quit too. It certainly isn't fun playing when the odds are stacked against you from the start. Finally, the game easily devolves into a spamfest partly because there are so few units to begin with. On the UNSC side, leaders are usually chosen for their super unit, so it's likely that that unit is going to be spammed. There are also many specific counters, so when one player spams a unit, the other player is likely to spam its counter.
One last issue before I wrap up this section has to do with a curious bug in the matchmaking menu that renders one's controller incredibly unresponsive. You can sit there mashing buttons and nothing will happen. Hopefully this will be fixed in an upcoming patch, but because of this and the other online issues I have discussed, multiplayer receives a reduced score. At its core, though, it is still a fun and rewarding experience.
Final Score: 9.0
Here lies the game's key to success as a console RTS. The controls are so slick that you will be building units and ordering them around with ease. The main thing that facilitates this ease of use is the many selection methods. A is the primary selection button, useful for grabbing individual units. Hold it down and you will generate a circular paintbrush to drag over and select units en masse, or you can press it twice over a unit to select all units of that type onscreen. The right bumper will select all units onscreen while the left bumper will select all units across the entire map. You can also tab through a mixed selection using the right trigger to grab each type of unit in the selection individually.
I only have a few complaints here. One is that you cannot cancel move orders. If you accidentally grab your entire army and tell them to move somewhere, you must go through and individually restore every group of units to its rightful position. Second, it is impossible to make complex selections by shift clicking through a group and grabbing only very specific units, as would be possible on the PC. Lastly, I'd prefer to be able to zoom in further, in order to better enjoy the detail on each individual unit. These limitations are, unfortunately, an example of console RTS inferiority, but the fact that there are so few limitations in Halo Wars with regards to its controls is what is really striking.
Final Score: 9.5
Halo Wars is highly replayable thanks to collectables and achievements. On every campaign mission there is a black box lying on the ground ready to be picked up that will unlock a timeline event in the Options and Extras section, as well as grant achievements. There are also skulls on every level, unlocked by completing the optional kill this many of that enemy objective specific to that map. A flare will give away the skull's location once the last enemy is dead. The only complaint I have here is how many times you will likely end up playing through the campaign to pick up all of the collectables and earn all of the achievements if you're a completionist like me (but don't go about it in any organized manner). Once you're through with it all the campaign may very well have worn out its welcome. But hey, what better way to earn the 24 hours played achievement?
Final Score: 9.5
I don't normally write reviews, but Halo Wars has struck me as such a charming game that I was compelled to get off the couch and sit at the computer to write one. I hope that this review has been a good, informative read. I once again refer the reader to the demo, available on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Go check it out if you are still unsure about this game. I wish to affirm one last time that Halo Wars is a fantastic RTS and spinoff, and I eagerly await news of a sequel.
Overall Average Score: 9.5
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/15/09, Updated 07/20/09
Game Release: Halo Wars (US, 03/03/09)
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