Review by Crabby0525

Reviewed: 03/09/09

A Halo game that fits right in and does not disappoint

When I first heard about the development of Halo Wars my initial reaction was a mix of excitement and concern. Usually when a company tries to capitalize on the success of a franchise by licensing it out to someone other than the original creator to produce, the result is often not one of quality. And with this being developer Ensemble Studios' swan song, the potential for failure was all the more great (or not, depending on how the employees take the closing of their company). The demo was released via Xbox Live back in early February and was met with record breaking success, with more than 2 million being in downloaded the first five days of availability. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the game is good, it just means that people are interested. Well, having now played through Halo Wars I can now officially say that there is no reason to be disappointed. Here is why...

Gameplay: Like any other RTS (real-time strategy) game, the focus of Halo Wars is to build armies and face off against your rival faction, in this case the Covenant. Each level is a square section of land that houses your base as well as the base (or bases) of your rival. There is also a top-down point of view and an emphasis on selecting and managing units of your army. Unlike any other RTS game, there is more of a focus on action in Halo Wars. Being that the Halo series started as a first-person shooter and came to fame that way, it is no wonder that Halo Wars tries to keep the action fast paced and the gameplay equally engaging. And it does succeed. That Halo feel that can be found in all other Halo games is also really evident. All the familiar characters models, sounds, environments, vehicles and other trademarks appear, making it really easy to get absorbed into the Halo universe of this game. Even the ever popular skulls are back this time around; there is one to collect in each stage. Ensemble did a really good job of making sure that this game stayed true to the series. The narrative is also really engaging and makes it hard to stop playing when the story really gets going (around mission #8). The only real complaint I have is that the controls get a little sketchy at times, making it hard to directly select the unit that you intended to. Ensemble tried to counter this by adding a "select all units" button (LB button), but that is only useful if you are conducting an all out assault, not if you want certain units to stay back and guard the base.

Graphics & Sound: The graphics in this game are bittersweet. On the one hand the cut scenes are among the best graphics I have ever seen, period. Better than most (if not all) Hollywood CGI movies, the cut scenes could have easily been stitched together and sold as a standalone DVD movie based on the Halo universe. They really add to the narrative of the game and had me anticipating the end of each level just so I could watch the cut scene of the next. The one in particular where the Spartans and Elites face off is so entertaining that I will probably go back and watch it multiple times before my interest with this game is over. On the other hand the in-game graphics could have definitely used some polish. It was as if Ensemble used up all the disk space with the gorgeous cut scenes and left no room for the in-game graphics which were flat and bland at times, especially up close. The sound, as I mentioned before, is reminiscent of all Halo games and really shines when rolled into the overall experience. Try going to a different section of the map when an all out battle is raging and you can hear the distant explosions of the conflict. It's the little details like that which make the game all the more enjoyable.

Achievements: If you own an Xbox 360 like me and even care about this sort of thing, then here is a section devoted entirely to the achievements of the game. The achievements of Halo Wars are surprisingly varied an can be entertaining to collect. There are achievements for tasks such as collecting all skulls (Graverobber) as well as achievements for simply progressing the story (Ugly is only Skin Deep). Each level also has an achievement for completing a set task while playing it. They are only worth five points each, but can be rather enjoyable to get. After all, who doesn't like to run down Grunts in a Warthog. There are 50 achievements and all can be gotten in roughly 30-40 hours and a couple of playthroughs. Well almost all. There is one in particular (Running the Show) which requires a great amount of time and dedication to obtain and will most likely be skipped by most. For this achievement you need obtain the rank of general, (3,200,000 exp. points) on Xbox Live. Initially it doesn't sound too difficult until you factor in time needed to achieve this. Each match can last up to two hours and only net around 2,000 - 3,000 points. After you do the math and realize that this 50 point achievement could take several hundred hours, suddenly that molehill starts to look more and more like Mt. Everest. If you are a completionist and must get every achievement that a game has to offer, than I suggest steering clear of Halo Wars because of the time investment it requires. If however, you can live with only having 950/1000 points and are looking for an enjoyable way to build up your gamerscore, then by all means go out and get this game.

Final Thoughts: While at first glance Halo Wars seemed like it was destined to be a major disappointment from a company who was on the way out, it in fact turned out to be a parting gift from a much respected developer. Even though Ensemble is sadly no longer around and this will unfortunately be their last game, they stayed true to their fans and put out a Halo inspired game that fits right in with all of its older brothers and sisters. If you are a fan of the Halo franchise and don't mind the occasional real-time strategy game, then you should run out ASAP and pick up Halo Wars. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Final Recommendation: Buy It and Keep It

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Halo Wars (US, 03/03/09)

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