|Publisher(s)||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Release Date(s)|| JP February 26, 2009|
|Genre(s)||Sci-fi, real-time strategy|
|Mode(s)||Single-player, multiplayer, cooperative|
|Rating(s)|| ESRB: T|
Halo Wars is a real-time strategy video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360 video game console. The game is set in the Halo science fiction universe, 20 years before the video game Halo: Combat Evolved, which was released on 2001. Halo Wars was released in Japan and Australia on February 26, 2009, PAL territories on February 27, 2009, and North America on March 3, 2009. It is the last project to be developed by Ensemble Studios.
Ensemble first hinted that their next project was a console real-time strategy game in mid-2006. The game was officially unveiled on September 27, 2006 at Microsoft's X06 Xbox show. Acknowledging that previous console real-time strategy games often fell short, Ensemble built Halo Wars specifically for the Xbox 360's limited controller. The game was an attempt to bring together Halo first-person shooter fans to play a real-time strategy game and experienced strategy players to play a Halo game.
On release, Halo Wars was met with generally positive reviews from gaming critics. Critics lauded the game's attention to the Halo universe along with the intuitive control scheme. Several critics also noted that seasoned real-time strategy players may not find the strategic elements as deep and that there were no options to play as the Covenant or Flood in the game's campaign mode.
Halo Wars is a real-time strategy (RTS) game built specifically for the Xbox 360 console. Players manage resources and create and maintain buildings and armies to complete objectives. There are two playable sides, the human UNSC and alien Covenant, with their own units, strengths, and special abilities. Players establish their armies by building and expanding bases; it is at these locations that units are trained and upgrades resourced. There are only a few base locations on each scenario or map, making base fortification and defense a key priority. Destruction of a player's last base results in defeat if a new base is not quickly reestablished.
Units are trained, buildings upgraded, and special abilities utilized by using resources known as supplies. Supplies can be found on the battlefield and claimed, but the bulk of supplies are generated by building special structures at bases. The more UNSC supply pads or Covenant warehouses a player has, the more income is available for use. Some buildings and upgrades may also require "tech", which is managed differently by each faction. The UNSC build reactors, each bumping a player's tech level by one up to a maximum of four. The Covenant builds a single temple, where up to three tech levels can be attained by researching Ages. While the Covenant has one less tech level, each upgrade is more expensive, and if a player loses their temple they also lose all the tech until it is rebuilt. Each base has only a limited amount of building room, so players must balance their resource buildings with other facilities, like those used to create vehicles. The number of units and vehicles a player can bring to the field is constrained by a population limit; more powerful units cost more than one population unit. Upgrades can increase the maximum population.
Combat in Halo Wars is balanced by a "rock-paper-scissors" system common in real-time strategy games. Ground vehicles are powerful against infantry, infantry is stronger against aircraft, and aircraft are exceptional at destroying vehicles. Each unit has a special ability; for example, human Marines throw grenades while vehicles called Warthogs run over enemies. The humans also have access to their ship, the Spirit of Fire, and its special abilities, such as the "Magnetic Accelerator Cannon", a powerful coilgun. On a unit-by-unit basis Covenant troops are weaker than their UNSC counterparts, but have access to cheap and powerful defensive shield generators, offering their bases a level of protection the UNSC lack.
In addition to normal units, each side can bring one leader to the field, a hero unit with special abilities. Leaders determine what special skills and units players can use, and each faction's leaders operate in different ways. Covenant leaders appear on the battlefield in multiplayer games as fighting units with their own attacks and upgrades. In comparison, human leaders determine the army's upgrades and specialties but do not appear as physical units.
Designed specifically for the Xbox 360, Halo Wars uses the console controller's A-button for unit selections. A single tap of the A button selects one unit, a double-tap all units of a like type, and holding down the button creates a paintbrush-style selection cursor. The X-button for moving to or attacking a target, and the Y button activates special abilities. The D-pad is used for navigating to battles or cycling through bases. Buildings and upgrades are arranged and managed in a circle-shaped menu.
Halo Wars takes place in the 26th century in the Halo universe. In 2525, humanity was attacked by a collective of alien races known as the Covenant. The Covenant declared humanity an affront to its gods, the Forerunners, and have aggressively waged war against the humans since. The game takes place in the year 2531, roughly 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo Wars opens on the human colony world of Harvest, six years after the planet was invaded by the Covenant; United Nations Space Command forces are still engaged in bitter conflict with the Covenant on the ground, and the UNSC ship Spirit of Fire is sent to investigate why the Covenant is still interested in the planet.
The commander of the Spirit of Fire is Captain James Cutter, a strong leader who has earned the admiration of his subordinates. Cutter's lack of political ambition has prevented him from climbing the ranks. Serving under Cutter is Sergeant John Forge, a gruff Marine whose devotion to his men has led him to be jailed twice for disobeying orders and disorderly conduct. Joining the Spirit of Fire's military expedition is Professor Ellen Anders, a scientist who is highly interested in ancient Forerunner ruins. The Spirit of Fire is run with help from Serina, a super-intelligent and highly sarcastic artificial intelligence with a dry and sardonic sense of humor; she demonstrates a level of contempt for the humans she assists.
Leading the Covenant search for Forerunner technology is a holy warrior known as the Arbiter, who has been personally tasked with overseeing humanity's destruction. The Arbiter takes orders from the High Prophet of Regret. Regret is one of three Prophet Hierarchs who control the entire Covenant.
The Spirit of Fire is sent to Harvest to investigate Covenant activity on the ruined world. Cutter learns from Forge that the Covenant is excavating something at Harvest's northern pole. Upon returning to Alpha Base, the UNSC's main outpost on Harvest, Forge finds it under attack by a contingent of Covenant ground forces. Cutter assigns him to retake the base. Soon after, Forge undertakes a scouting mission and discovers that the aliens have discovered a mysterious Forerunner facility in the snow under the direction of the Arbiter. Forge defeats the Covenant forces before they can destroy the facility and the scientist Professor Anders arrives. Anders determines the facility is some kind of map leading to another star system—home to the human colony of Arcadia.
After driving back a Covenant counter-attack on the facility, the Spirit of Fire travels to Arcadia, where the Covenant has begun raiding local cities and slaughtering civilians. Forge makes contact with the local SPARTAN-II special forces, and assists in the evacuation process. The Covenant builds a giant energy shield to hide the construction of a gigantic Scarab super-weapon; the UNSC use experimental equipment to break through. The destruction of the Scarab is a temporary victory; the Arbiter, under orders from the Prophet of Regret, kidnaps Anders. Forge attempts to fight the Arbiter but is defeated; Anders convinces the warrior that she will come quietly if Forge is allowed to live.
Forge returns to the Spirit of Fire and the crew follows Anders' transponder signal to an uncharted planet in another star system. The surface of this planet is infested by the parasitic Flood, who attack and consume any sentient life they encounter. While fighting off the Flood the Spirit of Fire inadvertently activates a Forerunner docking station and enters the planet. The crew emerges on the other side and discovers the planet is actually hollow. Here the crew discover the Covenant plan to activate the massive, technologically superior Forerunner fleet inside the planet and use it to obliterate humanity.
As the Forerunner ships are powered up, Anders makes a quick escape into a teleporter and is rescued. Cutter decides to destroy the Forerunner ships rather than let them fall into Covenant hands; Anders formulates a plan to destroy the planet by detonating the ship's faster-than-light reactor. The explosion would cause the planet's miniature sun to supernova. Forge and his Spartans are ambushed by the Arbiter and his Elites before they can prepare the reactor; the Spartans finish off the Elites while Forge stabs the Arbiter with the alien's own blade, killing him instantly. The reactor is damaged during the fight, necessitating a manual detonation of the core.
Forge volunteers for the suicidal task, telling the Spartans they will be needed in the fight. The Spirit of Fire slingshots around the sun and escapes just as the Forerunner fleet and Forge are obliterated by the planet's blast. Without its reactor, the The Spirit of Fire is left drifting in space. The crew goes into cryonic sleep for long-term storage as Cutter takes a last look at Forge's empty cryo tube. If the game is completed on the "Legendary" difficulty mode, after the credits Serina wakes Cutter and tells him that "something has happened".
Originally, PC developer Bungie Studios conceived their next project, Halo: Combat Evolved, as a real-time strategy game, with players controlling units and vehicles in a tactical 3D environment. The developer was bought by Microsoft, and the game became a first-person shooter and "killer app" for the Xbox console. Bungie produced two bestselling sequels to the game, Halo 2 in 2004 and Halo 3 in 2007, before separating from Microsoft and becoming an independent company once again. Though Bungie is free to produce new intellectual property, the rights to Halo remained with Microsoft. Shane Kim, the head of Microsoft Game Studios, said during the split announcement that "our intent is to continue investing in [Halo] and growing it."
Ensemble Studios, the developers of the Age of Empires strategy franchise, began working on the product that would become Halo Wars in 2004. The developer confirmed in April 2006 that the studio was working on a console-based RTS, a departure from their previous PC offerings. CEO Tony Goodman said that "We're giving RTS games on the console a shot. We actually spent a whole year just trying to reconstruct how the controls would work on an RTS game." While not disclosing the title of the game, Goodman described the game as shorter and more visceral than their previous projects.
Initially, Halo Wars was not a Halo title. Ensemble spent 12 to 18 months of the project working on the control scheme, using the Age of Mythology engine. The development team hacked an Age of Mythology expansion, The Titans, to use as a working prototype for possible control variations. Ensemble found that managing Age of Mythology's resources, units, and buildings was too difficult with the console's controller. "The answer [to making a PC-style strategy game for a console] is actually hidden in the question," Jason Pace, Microsoft Game Studio's lead producer told The New Zealand Herald. "It's something we believe has held strategy games back from succeeding on the console: you can't effectively bring a PC-style strategy game to the console because the fundamental game mechanic is tied to the mouse and keyboard input devices. It's not a question of just changing the control scheme to be gamepad friendly—you need to adapt the underlying strategy mechanic to make sense with the new input device." Senior designer Justin Rouse said that the team decided to start over and build the game from the ground up. "So the controls were from the research of playing our own games, and then we started to build from the floor up what we need: the basics, the core of a strategy game," with the goal of making "the first great strategy game on the console". Rather than have players juggle multiple resources—be it ore, wood, gold, or grain—at many locations, Ensemble streamlined the mechanic. With production of a single resource centralized at each base site, players could quickly cycle through their bases using the controller.
Once the developers were satisfied with the controls, they presented their project to Microsoft, who began talking about turning it into a Halo game. While Ensemble had to recreate all of Bungie's assets from scratch, Bungie had produced a large amount of reference material for the Halo film that the Halo Wars team was able to look to for inspiration. One of the challenges in recreating the classic Halo units was that while much of the art was from a forward perspective, units would be seen from a birds-eye-view in Halo Wars. In order to make the units recognizable, the designers actually exaggerated the unit shapes so they looked the same. In regards to the Warthog Jeep, lead designer Graeme Devine noted, "that thing's actually jumping three times as high as it does in Halo, and it goes four times faster than it does in Halo, and all these things—but it looks the same. Very different, between look and accuracy."
Devine described the challenge of the title as "getting Halo fans to play a realtime strategy game, and getting realtime strategy fans to play a Halo game." "Fans of the [first-person shooter] series have very strong expectations for how a Halo games looks, feels and plays. Halo is all about heroic action to save humanity, mega-battles across the galaxy, visceral, highly-tuned combat and heart-pounding tension," Pace said. These themes were considered fundamental to the Halo experience, and so Ensemble tried to replicate them for Halo Wars. Early in development, Ensemble considered making the Flood a playable race, but this idea never made it past the concept stage. According to Devine the main issue was that in order to balance the Flood with the UNSC and Covenant, the Flood would have to have been similar to StarCraft's Zerg, which did not mesh with the Flood's role in the games, to be "the single scariest thing in the galaxy." Early in play tests, the developers watched devoted Halo fans play the game; their feedback led to the development of special abilities, which Devine credited as enhancing the Halo feel.
...We felt because it was 20 years earlier, these are much younger Spartans. They aren't quite as experienced as Master Chief, and we looked a lot at combat infantry going into actual wars, and typically at the beginning of a war, especially the Vietnam War, if you look at the infantry, they're all loaded up. They have all the backpacks on, they have all the belts on, every single bit of armor is there, and they're carrying around lots of armor. At the end of the war, they've lost it all and just carry what they need. This is all they have. So if you look at our Spartans, they have more pieces of armor on going into the war. They have more markings on there, more pieces of armor. They've still got the belts on, they're still carrying around everything.
—Graeme Devine discussing the Spartan unit's aesthetic
The Spartans were designed as a large part of the game, due to the Master Chief's large role in the previous games. Lead programmer Dave Pottinger said the design team "started out just accepting and embracing the fact that the Spartans have to be the coolest unit in the game. If they're not, it's not going to meet the Halo fans' expectations." The addition of the ability for Spartans to hijack enemy vehicles—what designers considered the "coolest" unit ability—was designed to make the characters "kingmakers" in gameplay. The character design of the Spartans was made to emphasize their relative inexperience and that the game was taking place decades before the events of the main trilogy. Whereas the designers hoped players would become more attached to the campaign Spartans due to getting to know them "very individually", the skirmish units were left nameless.
Creating a strategy game based in the Halo universe meant Ensemble had to flesh out the franchise; for a strategy game, unit roles had to be filled and there had to be enough unit types to balance the game and offer multiple strategic options. Among the new units Ensemble created was the Gorgon, a biped walker that used weapons called Needlers to destroy light aircraft. Once added, however, Ensemble realized that the Gorgon vehicle invalidated the rule they had established that "anything with two legs that walks" was an infantry unit. Instead, the team added a new aircraft called the Vampire. The UNSC, meanwhile, were lacking a melee unit to match the Covenant's hand-to-hand power. Ensemble considered using the original, less advanced Spartan Mark I suits of armor, in keeping with Halo lore, but in practice these primitive units were too close to Spartans in appearance and were not distinguishable. Instead, they created a lumbering, mechanized units called the Cyclops, a nod to Age of Mythology.
Due to time constraints, many items and elements never made it to the final game. One such missing feature was a fatality system where Spartans or Covenant leaders could inflict massive damage on large groups of units. Pottinger said that ultimately the animations, while interesting, did not mesh with the faster-paced combat of Halo Wars and caused serious balance concerns, so they were never integrated. Other elements were based on Halo fiction but did not work in the confines of an strategy game. While more than 100 people worked on the project, which cost tens of millions of dollars, a Covenant campaign was never realized due to a lack of manpower and money.
Halo Wars was officially announced at Microsoft's X06 media briefing on September 27, 2006. The game was announced at X06 with a pre-rendered trailer. The trailer was created by Blur Studio and shows a group of Warthog vehicles searching for a missing unit of soldiers. The recon patrol is killed by camouflaged Elites who de-cloak and advance into battle supported by Banshees. The battle has various human and Covenant vehicles and foot soldiers and ends displaying Spartan Group Omega wearing their MJOLNIR armor. GameSpy later called the trailer one of the top 25 video game cinematic moments for "[displaying] the world of Halo on a much grander scale."
Halo Wars made appearances at the 2007 and 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expos. A demo video narrated by Graeme Devine was shown at E3 and later released on the Xbox Live Marketplace on August 27, 2007. Controls and other gameplay features such as vehicles, user interface and special weapons were highlighted, along with new units. The footage also showed off a UNSC base consisting of an airbase, vehicle depot, missile silo and several other buildings that can be created while playing Halo Wars. Halo Wars was highly anticipated; the IGN, Next Generation Magazine, and PC World ranked the game as one of the most anticipated showings at E3.
On September 10, 2008 Ensemble Studios announced that the company would close after the completion of Halo Wars. A new studio formed by Ensemble employees will not only continue to support Microsoft Game Studios, but will also provide post launch support for Halo Wars. Founder Tony Goodman and several other Ensemble members announced shortly before the game's release they were creating a new studio, Robot Entertainment, comprised entirely of former Ensemble employees, while another group of ex-staff created Bonfire Studios. Robot officially announced that it was partnering with Microsoft Game Studios to continue to provide support for Halo Wars and Age of Empires, while the new studio began work on a new IP.
Halo Wars's music was composed by Stephen Rippy, the composer of all of the Age of Empires games. Rippy was concerned with keeping the music's feel in the Halo universe while still branching out and writing new material; due to the iconic nature of the music, elements of the Halo trilogy's music, written by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori, appear in the game. Consultation with O'Donnell and Salvatori was done before Rippy was attached to the project; the composer did send a CD to O'Donnell halfway through the writing process.
Rippy started work on the soundtrack by listening to the previous Halo soundtracks and searching for potentially useful material culled from discarded Ensemble projects; "I'm a big fan of both cataloging that stuff and stealing from it without remorse," Rippy said. "Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until you really, really need it." Rippy and audio lead Kevin McMullan talked about O'Donnell's tracks and identified elements that could be reproduced for Halo Wars. Unlike his usual method of coming up with melodies and then figuring out how to produce the sound, Rippy started with inspiring synth patches or drum hooks that he then built a melody around. He described the score as a change of pace, writing science fiction music instead of the historical tone he had previously worked on creating.
|Halo Wars Original Soundtrack|
|Spirit of Fire|
|Bad Here Day|
|Money or Meteors|
|Just Ad Nauseum|
|Flip and Sizzle|
|Put The Lady Down|
|Six-Armed Robbing Suit|
|Action Figure Hands|
|Status Quo Show|
|Part Of The Plan|
|Work Burns and Runaway Grunts|
|Rescued Or Not|
|Best Guess At Best|
|One Problem At A Time|
|De Facto The Matter|
|Part Of The Problem|
|Fingertips Are Broken|
|Out Of There Alive|
|Through Your Hoops|
|Under Your Hurdles|
|Insignificantia (All Sloppy/No Joe)|
Rippy began writing music for the game in April 2007. "Some of the plot points of Halo Wars revolve around discovery, and I think that was my favorite idea to write to—that sense of, 'no one's seen this before,'" he said. The first two tracks produced for the game combined his efforts to channel the Halo sound with repurposed elements and experiments from past projects. "Flollo" contained elements and ideas Rippy had toyed with since completing his last project, Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs. "Bad Here Day" was the first piece where the composer tried to incorporate the "Halo sound" into the music. It was important to Rippy that he not carry over too many old themes to Halo Wars, as he wanted the game to have its own identity; however, he focused on the choir and piano, as he believed they were integral to the Halo sound and should not be changed. Rather than corresponding to in-game events, the titles of the music follow an Ensemble Studios tradition of nomenclature based on coined phrases or in-jokes.
By the end of December 2007, Rippy had completed all the music used for actual gameplay, from end credits music to battle themes and ambient world tracks. In the game's skirmish mode, the music reflects the environment rather than the races. To make sure the character of the music changed depending on the environment, he adhered to self-imposed rules; for instance, one environment could feature guitars but no piano. To musically unify each world, he added a short introductory piece containing common elements. In contrast to the skirmish mode's environment-oriented music, the campaign's major characters have their own recurring melodies. The most prominent theme belongs not to a person, but to the main human ship, Spirit of Fire. Rippy's most intensive work period came in January 2008, when he began writing the music to accompany the game's cinematics; by this point, he had been working on the score for nine months. Rippy finished writing the score by February 2008, and after a hectic three months, all the tracks were ready to be recorded.
While the previous live orchestration for the Halo games was performed by the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle, Washington, Rippy chose to employ the FILMharmonic Orchestra of Prague to record Halo Wars's arrangements. Rippy had been in Prague attending recording sessions for Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties and loved the city and sound the orchestra produced. An additional consideration was that recording in Eastern Europe was cheaper. The Prague recording sessions ran from March 10 to March 15. 45 musicians and 24 vocalists participated in the recording; the choir and string parts were later overdubbed to create a larger sound. Roughly 65 minutes of Halo Wars' 75 minute score were recorded in Prague. After recording, the final touches and mixing took place stateside in Seattle, where O'Donnell attended one of the mixing sessions.
Due to the varied nature of player actions, Rippy used the Audiokinetic Wwise pipeline to create interactive music that changes in reaction to what is happening on screen. The use of Wwise made it much easier to set up the audio system for Halo Wars than in previous Ensemble games, although Rippy only used its interactive music tools. For each battle sequence, the music cue was broken into sections, with different mixes for each section. "When a cue is triggered, an intro plays and then the game randomly picks between all of those elements for as long as the battle continues," Rippy explained. "Once it's over, an outro plays and then it's back to the regular "world" music. It was an interesting way to work, and I’d like to push it further if there’s an opportunity in the future."
Four preview tracks from Halo Wars were included on a bonus DVD that came bundled with Halo Trilogy—The Complete Original Soundtracks, a compilation of previous Halo music released in December 2008. The tracks were mixed in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound and were packaged with a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the Halo Wars music and the "Five Long Years" trailer. A standalone compact disc and digital download retail version of the soundtrack was announced in January 2009 for release on February 17. AOL Radio gained the exclusive rights to debut the soundtrack early, with a new track played on the top of every hour.
The October 2007 issue of Official Xbox Magazine mentioned that a playable demo of the game would be made available before release. The playable demo for Halo Wars became available for download on February 5. Redemption codes were handed out for early access to the demo starting January 29. According to Microsoft, the game set a one-day record for most downloads, and in the first five days was downloaded by more than 2 million Xbox Live Gold members.
In addition to the standard retail version, Halo Wars was released as a Limited Collector's Edition through participating retailers. In an effort to tap into Halo 3's player base, the collector's edition featured early access to the Mythic Map Pack, a collection of three Halo 3 multiplayer maps. Other bonus features include a graphic novel by Phil Noto, Graeme Devine, and Eric Nylund called Halo Wars: Genesis. This 48-page, half-size hardcover novel explores the backgrounds of Anders, the Arbiter, Forge and Cutter before the beginning of the game. A unique in-game vehicle, trading cards, and a Spirit of Fire patch are also included. Players who pre-ordered the game received special in-game Warthog vehicle with flame decals from select participating retailers. GameStop announced it would hold Halo Wars tournaments on February 28, 2009 at 1,000 locations across the United States, in addition to 2,000 stores that held midnight releases for the game. European markets sold a "Best of Halo" combo that featured Halo Wars and Halo 3 bundled with an Xbox 360.
On release in the United Kingdom, Halo Wars reached the second-place spot on the UK sales charts, behind the highly-anticipated Killzone 2. While Halo Wars sold only 16.7% of Halo 3's record-breaking first week total in the market, it outsold Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars by a 3 to 1 margin, making the game the fastest-selling console strategy game. The PC-exclusive strategy game Empire: Total War toppled Killzone the following week, while Halo Wars slipped to fifth place. In Australian markets, Halo Wars edged out Killzone for the top spot on sales charts. By March 12, the limited edition and standard version of the game claimed the second and third positions in the US Xbox 360 sales charts, behind Call of Duty: World at War. The release of Halo Wars also caused a surge in Halo 3 sales, with the title claiming the fourth spot in the Xbox 360's US charts and second spot in Australia. Halo 3 returned to the top 20 US console games in February, which Gamasutra credited with the timed release of Halo Wars.
Before the game's release, Michael Pachter, an industry analyst, pegged Halo Wars to sell approximately 2 million units. Microsoft announced the game had sold 1 million units on March 19, 2009; in addition, players had spent 118 total years of time in skirmish matches.
After Ensemble's closing, Robot Entertainment announced that it was working on downloadable content (DLC) for Halo Wars. Pottinger compared Robot's support for the game as an ongoing effort rather than a one-shot deal, akin to Bungie's post-launch support for Halo 3. In addition to DLC, Robot will work on balancing, bug fixes, and other patches.
On release, Halo Wars garnered generally positive reviews from critics; the game has an 82% critic average on aggregate web sites Metacritic and Game Rankings. In summing up their reviews of the game, critics were split on whether Halo Wars was a successful translation of a RTS to consoles. GameSpy's Allen Rausch argued that like how Halo: Combat Evolved showed FPS could work on consoles, Halo Wars "is an RTS... on a console... and it works". Tom Price of TeamXbox said that gamers have been waiting a long time for a console RTS "to get it right", and Halo Wars was the game to do that; reviewers for Official Xbox Magazine credited Ensemble with creating a strategy game that felt at home on the console, rather than a poorly shoehorned port of a PC title with clumsy controls. More neutrally, 1UP.com's would not say whether it was a great RTS or a great Halo game, but that it was a "solid beginning towards what could be a really good console RTS". Digital Trends' Scott Steinberg said that while not perfect, Halo Wars was "the most compelling case yet for the real-time strategy genre's viability on home consoles [...] There's certainly the potential to have PC holdouts seriously reconsidering hoisting the controller." Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle offered a dismissive summation of the game as "a remedial game—real-time strategy for dummies", and that the game offered little innovation for a Halo title.
Generally, reviewers praised Halo Wars' controls. Critics who were less experienced RTS fans, such as Darren Zenko of the Toronto Star, appreciated the streamlined RTS experience. In comparison, critics such as Luke Anderson of GameSpot said the game lacked depth that would attract more seasoned RTS players. Several critics were frustrated by the lack of control features, specifically the ability to create and manage groups of units, the lack of hotkeys, inability to set rally points for different units, and the necessity for players to return to their base to adjust production. As a result, 1UP's Thierry Nguyen wrote, "finesse maneuvers [...] are more difficult to pull off than they should". Brett Molina of USA Today said that experts would find the action oversimplified, but the game "is an excellent choice for fans of the Halo universe and players new to real-time strategy". Reviewers for GameSpy, G4tv, and Eurogamer found that the main reason the controls worked was due to what the developers had left out, making most options quickly available; for example, limiting base construction to select areas made sure players could easily find their buildings.
Reviewers commonly felt that the factions were evenly balanced. Eurogamer's Kieron Gillen said that the Covenant was harder to master, especially as the campaign served as a tutorial for the UNSC but no similar introduction was available for the Covenant, but that "the two sides are both authentically different to one another and offer different challenges which are entertaining to master". Some critics, such as Nick Cowen of The Daily Telegraph, wished that the Flood were a playable faction; in contrast, Geddes said that he personally disliked the Flood and was happy they were excluded. Will Porter of IGN UK appreciated the rock-paper-scissors aspect of RTS that was fiercely upheld, but said that "since the game is singularly crap at indicating which units are rocks and which scissors, it's largely through trial and error that your learn your tactical trade—exponentially more so when controlling the Covenant's quirky arsenal in multiplayer".
The game's plot was well-received. Particular praise focused on the game's cinematics, and the voice acting. Ryan Geddes of IGN felt that while the story was good, it wasn't on par with Bungie's Halo games, and that most of the characters were stereotypical and somewhat unlikeable. Critics noted that for a strategy game, the campaign was rather short, with only 15 missions that took Nate Ralph of Wired less than 40 minutes each to complete. Jon Wilcox of Total Video Games said that there was an " there's an ebb and flow" to the gameplay, with "lengthy chapters cut with shorter punchy ones or time-based missions, all together creating a surprisingly compelling experience". Wilcox also felt that the additions of performance-based medals did a decent job at injecting replayability into the campaign. Price said that though the story and mission structure of the game was fairly standard, "leave it to the deft hands of Ensemble Studios – some serious RTS heads on the scene who disappeared far before we were ready for them to – or maybe [Graeme Devine], to make those levels that seem so rote in other games seem like they matter in this one. Maybe it’s the benefit of the Halo license, or maybe it’s just immense talent on their part, but it just works." Many reviewers mentioned the lack of a Covenant campaign as an unfortunate missing feature.
Multiplayer was generally judged well. Wilcox said that though the multiplayer mode didn't add anything new to RTS games, "at the very least it's a solid experience that expands the longevity of Halo Wars." Adam Biessener of Game Informer felt that without occasionally bad AI or campaign gimmicks to hold it back, ''Halo Wars' excellent gameplay is free to shine [...] against human opponents." The Mirror's Kevin Lynch considered the only two game modes "limited".
Critics generally agreed that Ensemble did a good job of recreating the Halo universe's aesthetic. Gillen felt that some of the issues of players not knowing what units performed what actions was alleviated thanks to knowledge of the game universe. "It's not just the geek thrill of seeing a Scarab in action—it's that you understand what the Scarab means on the battlefield (trouble)," he wrote. "We know which characters are best against tanks, and which are probably best in special vehicles." Nguyen felt that while the core units meshed well, when battle involved Ensemble-developed units, "Halo Wars starts feeling like Just Another Generic Sci-Fi Game instead". While giving the game a mixed review, Anderson said that the authentic-looking units and environments "goes a long way toward making Halo Wars look and feel like part of the series". Wilcox commented that with the Halo-inspired menu system and Rippy's score, "before the campaign even begins, the message is clear: this is still very much a Halo game." Overall, Halo Wars was judged a fitting final game for Ensemble.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Radd, David (2009-01-08). "Halo Wars Still Slated for March 3". GameDaily. Retrieved on 2009-02-17.
- ↑ Ensemble (2009) (PDF). Halo Wars manual. "Bases". Microsoft Game Studios. pp. 32–33. http://www.xbox.com/NR/rdonlyres/31804095-7B32-4CE2-A17E-3CB54A3692EF/0/HaloWars_MNL_EN.PDF.
- ↑ Ensemble, 11–12
- ↑ Geddes, Ryan (2009-02-16). "Halo Wars: UNSC vs. Covenant (page 1)". IGN. Retrieved on 2009-02-17.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Ensemble, 10.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Geddes, Ryan (2009-02-16). "Halo Wars: UNSC vs. Covenant (page 2)". IGN. Retrieved on 2009-02-17.
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