Halo Wars – Reviewed – Xbox 360

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So after the long wait, Halo Wars has finally arrived to take a stab at the console RTS genre.

Ensemble Studios (Who have now been closed down) are responsible for some of the most popular PC real time strategy games of the last couple of years or so with their “Age of” series.

This time around they were given a huge franchise with a massive following and asked if they could make it work on consoles. Having the “Halo” name on your product is a big leg-up but at the same time, puts a lot of pressure on you to succeed and draw in the huge mass of fans that love the original series so dearly.

Did Ensemble live up to the challenge and finally create an RTS that any console owner can enjoy, or is Halo Wars another perfect example of why RTS games should be left to the PC platform.

Find out in our massive and in-depth review, after the jump.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. no wait.

Halo Wars takes place in the future, a while before Halo: Combat Evolved and puts you right in the middle of the war between UNSC and the Covenant.

As you probably already know, the big green guy known to many as Master Chief is nowhere to be seen in Halo Wars and it’s probably one of the best things to happen to the game, as it allows the developers to explore the history of the world and the factions involved, instead of only focusing on one character and his adventures.

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The story in Halo Wars is delivered using some of the most beautiful CGI cutscenes that I have seen in a long time, and they have been executed with such a high quality that you have no choice but to gawk at the incredible cinematics and be completely baffled as to why it wasn’t done this way all along. Not only are the visuals of the cinematics stunning, but the direction and the scale portrayed impressed me to the degree that I became excited to see the next cinematic at the end of every mission.

I am by no means a Halo fan, but the deeper look into the Halo universe as well as the scale portrayed in videos had me so giddy at the idea of a decent Halo movie that I honestly couldn’t understand what had come over me. All I know, is that after seeing the cutscenes in this game, I now really want a Halo movie and I think that it should be a CG animated film. Once again, this is coming from someone who isn’t really a Halo fan, so you can only wonder what the hardcore fans are going to feel.

Welcome to the UNSC

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I found the story in the campaign to be engaging enough to want to carry on, but more importantly I found the missions themselves to be fun and interesting, and that was what kept me coming back for more.

Halo Wars keeps to the age old system of building up a base. You usually start with a base, but if you don’t there are certain marked off areas where bases can be built and sometimes even some basic fortified structures on them that need to be taken down first before you can use them ( and in many cases you can build more than one).

To keep things simple, your base is a set structure, with slots that can be used to build supply pads, power stations (reactors), a barracks, vehicle depots, research facilities and all the usual stuff. The base itself can be upgraded, and more than once, adding more slots for structures and even four corner slots specifically for defense turrets, which can also be further upgraded to better defend against air, vehicles or ground units. It’s not only the base and turrets that can be upgraded, but all of the other structures can as well, allowing you to also further upgrade and enhance your units or get more out of your reactors or supply pads, which is especially important when you have limited slots.

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The base system is simple and effective, especially because of the upgrade system and the set slots. The more reactors you have, the higher your tech level is. The higher your tech level is, the more you can upgrade units and unlock better vehicles. The real trick behind the base system is that your slots are limited, so you have to decide if you need those extra reactors for a higher tech level or more supply pads to give you the money to spew out a couple of basic units and so on.

There is a unit cap, which can be raised by doing research and while I am usually very against the idea of unit capping, It worked quite well in Halo Wars, especially since the maps are not that large and that it keeps things feeling balanced and manageable on the console platform.

The game also uses the old system of collecting resources, although in Halo Wars you will never have to find it and mine it, well, not exactly. Resources can be gathered in three ways. The main way to get some cash is to build supply pads at your base, the other two ways involve your units.

Crates are usually spread out all over the map, and using the action button on them with almost any of your units will make them go and collect them, giving you an instant cash boost. The other way is one that will be very familiar to a lot of RTS fans and one that especially plays a large role in most multiplayer session. Certain structures will give you resources if you garrison a few troops inside of them. Lose the structure and you lose out on the bonus.

Continued on Page 2

Last Updated: February 23, 2009

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Nick De Bruyne

Video games writer, editor and critic since '08. Living and breathing video games, movies and cars since the 80s. Follow me on Twitter if you love tons of gaming talk, and @pennyworthrevs for fun stuff and links.

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