Review: Halo Wars

Jordan Deam | 20 Feb 2009 13:00
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That's not an issue in most of Halo Wars' single-player campaign, where there are typically no time constraints and your enemies rarely send more than a few units at once to feebly lash out at your base. You can just leisurely build up your forces until you've amassed an army that will steamroll the competition in a couple clicks. But while these lopsided encounters start out fun, they grow stale long before the campaign is through.

In Halo Wars' skirmish mode, this isn't a viable tactic. Instead, you must take over strategically located third-party bases to increase your supply of resources without hurting your production capabilities. The A.I.-controlled troops at these locations put up just enough of a fight to be an annoyance at the start of the match, when resources are scarce and you have to decide between building a couple defensive turrets or assembling a proper raiding party. It usually pays off to take them early, which is probably why there's usually one a stone's throw from your starting location each match.

Even with an extra base in your possession, resources in Halo Wars are slow to accumulate. Combat, on the other hand, is usually over in a matter of seconds. It's clear Ensemble applied a finely tuned system of unit hierarchies in Halo Wars' combat: Different unit types have unique roles to fill in each skirmish, with powerful player-activated special abilities that can shift the scales when used correctly. But with your units' health bars rapidly depleting with each passing second, you quickly forget about the dozens of controller commands needed to micromanage your army and opt for basic focus-fire strategies instead.

The result of these two systems - simple but drawn-out production and complex but frenzied combat - create a frustratingly inconsistent pace for most of Halo Wars. That's regrettable, because there's a lot to like about the game otherwise. The standard roster of Covenant and UNSC units is remarkably well adapted to this style of gameplay. And for the Halo obsessed, there's plenty of material here to satisfy you until the next Halo novel. But the game's major stumbling block was there from the moment of conception. There's a way for RTSs to be played, and this simply isn't it.

Bottom Line: Halo Wars will probably make for a decent PC RTS someday if Microsoft decides to port it. Until then, it's simply not worth the hassle.

Recommendation: If you're into the lore, grab the collector's edition. Otherwise, play the demo and get a feel for the controls before you decide whether to buy a copy.

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