Console real-time strategy games can be a challenge for developers, especially the exclusion of the mouse and keyboard support. Ensemble Studios’ Halo Wars received generally positive responses from critics for getting it “right” for console real-time strategy titles. With Halo Wars getting a graphical improvement in its Definitive Edition release, it’s a Halo title you might be skeptical to have, even on Xbox One.
Platform Reviewed: Xbox One
Platform Available: Xbox One, PC (Xbox Play Anywhere), Xbox 360 (non-Definitive Edition)
Developer: Ensemble Studios, Behaviour Studios (Definitive Edition)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: December 20, 2016
Price: Bundled with Halo Wars 2 Ultimate Edition, $19.99 (Xbox 360)
This review is based on the retail build provided by the publisher.
Since this is a re-release on the Xbox One, spoilers wouldn’t really hurt too much. The plot is set 20 years before the events of Combat Evolved, it follows the path of James Cutter, the commander of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, Professor Ellen Anders, and Sergeant John Forge. The Covenant, an alien-race organization with various kinds, invaded a human-colonized planet Harvest. Six years after the devastating attack of Harvest, the Covenant, which is led by an Elite Arbiter, has been doing some digging for ancient artifacts that would turn the tides of their war against the human race.
The story was very straightforward but not-so compelling unlike the main lineup. The characters such as Captain Cutter, Sgt. Forge, Anders, the AI Serina, and the 3 Spartans (Douglas, Jerome, and Alice) could have had great character development, but this was apparently not a priority. It’s quite disappointing, really, that interesting characters are left out just to have the campaign finish without questions arising from people’s minds.
Halo Wars only has 15 campaign missions, which some of them were relatively short and didn’t have that much appeal when it comes to objectives. However, some of the levels in Halo Wars can also be challenging. I’ve played all campaign stages on Normal difficulty; but there was one mission where you have to evacuate civilians and at the same time defend the ships from getting destroyed by the Covenant forces. With the limitation of a gamepad controller, it was hard panning your camera view from one place to another after selecting units to defend specific locations. When you destroy air units from attacking, they also crash directly to the ships you’re defending which also damages them.
Talking about controls, it’s a known fact that consoles are not the best platform to play real-time strategy games due to its limitations specifically with the gamepads. Halo Wars shows that limitation directly. You have the Left Button (LB) to select all units across the whole map while the Right Button (RB) limits it to the units you see on your screen.
You have the D-pad controls to directly control and take you where your units, bases, and recent alerts are. The up-directional button is your “Power/Covenant Hero” options. You move your units with the X button, and select and highlight them using the A button. And you have the Left Trigger to speed up the camera movement, and the Right Trigger is for switching unit control when you have them all selected.
The camera rotation (using the Right analog stick) can sometimes be annoying and can also make you dizzy at some point. When conflicts start, bullets flying, Scorpion shells dropping, and all the action that takes place in the game make it difficult for players to multi-task with a controller. I’m a player who is used to play fast strategy games like StarCraft, WarCraft, Red Alert, and Generals when it comes to game mechanics and controls.
Even if the control scheme is limited, it’s actually pretty decent for a console game. It is arranged, and easy to remember. And it’s also reasonable for the amount of gameplay Halo Wars has to offer. The core mechanic is actually simple but also limited in many aspects. You have a main base with platforms very close to it to make your other buildings. You’re limited to only make 7 other structures max with 4 upgradable turrets to defend your base.
In order for you to build more structures, you have to expand at some area around the map since you’re not allowed to construct your main HQ anywhere. You may think that this limitation bars you from being flexible and adaptable when it comes to base management, but it doesn’t. This is why most critics think Halo Wars is the best example of a well-balanced and suitable RTS game. Ensemble Studios doesn’t give you too much mechanics that would hinder you from playing the game.
In terms of “balance”, the game is actually well-balanced especially in multiplayer. You will have to think about the unit composition your enemy will have. You can’t simply spam your ODST troops just because they have healing abilities and the skill to fire with a rocket launcher. With the small unit count cap, Halo Wars pushes players to dwell on how to make their unit composition win against their opponents. I like it this way since it gives players a 50/50 chance of winning the game whether if you pick the highly-advanced Covenant Brute or the Covenant Prophet of Regret forces.
I really love how Ensemble Studios didn’t alter the sound effects of the weapons used in the game. You get to hear the classic UNSC Assault Rifle and Energy Rifle of the Covenant in action when battles start. Since this is a “definitive” edition, Behaviour Interactive was behind the minor visual upgrade of Halo Wars. There’s not much to compare when it comes to visuals aside from the upgraded resolution to 1080p and raised frame-cap to 60, and some color improvements as well. I also want to commend Ensemble Studios for the awesome full-motion videos cinematics by having it top-notched!
If you already owned Halo Wars on the Xbox 360 and you own an Xbox One, there is nothing much to justify for buying the Ultimate Edition of Halo Wars 2 if you’re not into the multiplayer side. The improvements weren’t major, it’s technically the same game from the Xbox 360. It was a nice experience gameplay wise, but the story and character development were just disappointing.
THE GAME IS A GOOD BUY DEPENDING ON YOUR PREFERENCES OF WHAT A “GOOD BUY” IS.
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