Xbox 360 Review: Halo Wars

Master Chief would be proud

The Halo franchise originally sparked life into the Xbox, making it a must-have system for those fed up of the ways of Sony and Nintendo. Halo Combat Evolved and Halo 2 sold incredibly well and the online matches of Halo 2 sparked the community into cursing each other unlike any other game before it. Halo 3 may have taken a while to emerge, but it was a good conclusion to the trilogy. So what now of the franchise? Well, the series has taken an odd route in the form of an RTS known as Halo Wars. Does it do the franchise justice and will RTS fans enjoy it?
The story of Halo Wars is set 20 years before the Halo event, so you won’t see your old faithful characters like Master Chief and Cortana, but you will see the Prophet of Regret and one of the Arbiters. Your main character is Captain Forge and you follow him as you fight the Covenant and try to discover just what they are upto. Cutscenes are very impressive and a bittersweet feeling of what the doomed Halo movie might have looked like if it was in CGI. The story itself isn’t as great as the main story of the series and Serina is certainly no Cortana, but it does a good enough job to keep you going.

Ensemble Studios made Halo Wars but now no longer exist, so the future of the game in terms of downloadable content remains uncertain. Ensemble were great makers of RTS games and have done a great job in bringing the Halo franchise into the genre, but can an RTS work on a console? Well, it’s been debated over the years with good games like LOTR BFME II and Civilisation Revolution but bad conversions like Supreme Commander and Universe at War. Halo Wars simplifies the genre, making it accessible to fans of both the genre and series alike.
Perhaps that’s the game’s ultimate flaw; it makes the game too simple and easy. You rarely struggle in the game and don’t need to look miles for resources. You can build your bases, train an army of troops, tanks and ships then dominate the opposition without a problem. Missions are fairly short, some of which can be done in a few minutes while others taking towards 20-30 mins. Each level has a Black Box and Skull to locate. Skulls have effects like in other Halo games, but in Halo Wars they can do things like turn off the mini-map for a score multiplier, which is helpful for those hoping to get Gold medals for missions. There are plenty of secondary objectives in the game which add to your score, but some are necessary to unlock the Skulls from hiding on the map.

Mapping key commands for an RTS to a controller is not easy, but Ensemble has managed it very well. The D-pad can make you switch to your bases and squads with ease, while the bumpers can select all or local units to control. Soldiers and vehicles have special weapons that can be used once in a while, like throwing grenades or ramming enemies with the Warthog.

The AI can be pretty impressive at times, but there are times where it has let me down. For example, there’s a level where you have to protect 3 transport ships from attack and I placed 3 Hornets around it to intercept any attack then I left it to concentrate on another attack. I then saw flashing on the mini-map where they were positioned and when I went back to check on them, they were exactly where I left them…they weren’t engaging with the enemy at all. It really bugged me, but it’s only a rare occurrence like that which holds it back.
A Halo game isn’t complete without a visit from our favourite alien race, the Flood. They make an appearance somewhere in the second half of the campaign and dominate your soldiers, but make almost no impact to your vehicles…apart from a few select enemies. Unfortunately you only play as the UNSC in the campaign, so you can’t directly play as the Covenant or Flood. It would have been nice to be evil for a change…LOTR BFME II managed to and it worked out quite well, so I don’t see why we didn’t get an alternate campaign…especially considering how short the actual campaign is.

You can play the campaign through online/offline co-op, which is a great addition and will definitely help for those tackling the game on the harder difficulties. Multiplayer is a simple case of Deathmatch but you can play as the Covenant if you wish, but sadly not as the Flood. I wonder why they left that out. Multiplayer makes up for the idiots AI during the campaign and opens the game up a bit more. Halo Wars may not look like the best Xbox 360 game, but it’s very colourful and has literally no slow-down in framerate. It’s an impressive game to see in motion and the cutscenes look great, even if the voice-acting and script let it down. The soundtrack is pretty good too, with some tracks from Martin O’Donnell but most from Age of Empires’ composer Stephen Rippy and he has done a great job in capturing the sound of the franchise in an RTS setting.

The Verdict

Halo Wars may not be the freshest or innovative RTS out there. It’s been simplified to appeal to Halo fans, but has opened the door for more potential players this way. Its biggest accomplishment is being able to stand in the same light as the other Halo games which Ensemble should be proud of. Ensemble…Rest in Peace.



  1. halo wars is the bomb its i thinking game witch made it bad but it is still fun to play it i played it at my coz house on a black xbox360 it is so fun we playrd online
    and we virsed the covernet and the covernet had heeps of scarows and riped us up but we still killed the scarows and the covernet and won
    coment by paul

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