“Halo Wars” is a solid game in the Halo Franchise. It has all the pros (fun combat, beautiful graphics and a basic hero narrative) and the cons (The heroes aren’t very interesting or deep) of the first “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I really enjoyed the game though. Playing through this campaign and owning of “The Definitive Edition” on Steam gave the graphics at their best and revealed how the combat should be played. My first time playing this game was on the XBox 360 and it sucked, controllers are not good for micromanaging units and it made the whole game go slow. Coming back to it years later and playing it on PC, the experience was so much better. This game was truly made for the PC.
The game was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios.
The basic story follows the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) Ship Spirit of Fire as they investigate Covenant attacks as they reunite their forces and follow the Covenant as the Covenant uncovers Forerunner Artifacts that could change the direction of the war, that is already going terrible for humanity and the UNSC. Within the Halo Franchise timeline, the game takes place before the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.”
The Graphics and Cinematics – “Halo Wars” is a game that looks beautiful. The cinematics are the quality you see in the Franchise after the original and it does a good job of tying it to the present of those games. Each cinematic is like a movie and in “The Definitive Edition” the details of the units and structures look at least on par with “Starcraft II.” The cinematics tie this to the main Halo Franchise by showing the military hierarchy of the UNSC (with a Captain leading things in this case), the use of A.I. (Serena) to guide UNSC forces and introduction of an Arbiter who is under the command of the Prophet of Regret, one of the Covenant leaders.
The Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. Resource production is fast which allows you to get a variety of units out quickly, and the A.I. is an intelligent foe and will usually use tactics against you. The variety of missions in the campaign was also a plus. It pushes you to explore all aspects of unit creation and a variety of maps that each provide unique challenges. Like “Starcraft” and “Starcraft II” it knows how to make use of the base game and provide a good time.
The Campaign – The campaign is good a mystery on figuring out what the Covenant are up to. It does a great job raising stakes as each time humans are freed from a planet or we discover where the Covenant have moved a new enemy or weapon appears. Getting the Flood of the UNSC was a especially fun mission and having them as an ongoing threat while dealing with the Covenant as an effective threat was truly enjoyable. There end goal is to activate a powerful Forerunner Fleet in a hidden Shield World. At this point everyone knows what it as stake as ships like this would end humanity quickly. This leads to some amazing missions and battles in the final standoff against Covenant and Flood forces as the UNSC seeks to activate the portal and destroy the Shield World and with it the Forerunner Fleet.
The Characters – The characters are okay. Cutter has some good conversations with the A.I. Serena and Anders at least makes the game interesting by being so blinded by wanting to explore Forerunner Artifacts in the middle of a war. Forge even works for the role he plays. None of them were good or even complex though and the Covenant characters don’t receive any development at all.
Lack of Complex Characters or Character Relationships – In the Halo Franchise you usually don’t see complex characters in humanity. They are almost always just badass soldiers and scientists fighting an alien foe that wants to end all things. It is very cut and dry. Thankfully the introduction of the Arbiter in “Halo 2” helped make the Covenant complex as he is a complex character who gets a ton of great development and the game also adds Covenant politics, which develops them as an enemy further. The same goes for “The Banished” characters you meet later in “Halo Wars 2.” Sadly this is more true to the first game and human stories. The Arbiter of this story who gets killed off is just following orders to annihilate humanity and all the humans are just in their roles as soldier or scientist with no greater complex motivation. If there had been even one complex character it would have the potential to make this game great. Sadly this is not the case.
Lack of Playable Flood – The Flood should have been playable. There were enough assets in game that they would have been fun to at least play in Multiplayer. They would have been the Zerg to the Covenant who are Protosslike and the UNSC who are obvious Terrans. This was a major missed opportunity to improve the game and give more choice.
I would have loved a Covenant Campaign in “Halo Wars.” This is game takes place when the Covenant is at their height so there is so much potential there to play politics as a Prophet, or learn the backstory of this Arbiter. Sadly we don’t get any of that, but the overall reveal of the Forerunners and their technology is really cool and that alone makes the game good outside of the great gameplay. I also am a fan of RTS games and had wanted to see a Halo game in this form since the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I saw so much potential in the variety of units there could be in the UNSC and the Covenant, and on that the game did not disappoint.
Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good but not a favorite game. I also would advise to only play it on a PC.