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Ensemble Studios holds a special place in my heart, having created my favorite game of all time, Age of Empires 2. Anything with their name attached instantly got my full attention. I followed...
The best RTS on Consoles, Streamlined Controls
Too Simplistic, Lack of options for CPU Matches, No Playable Flood
Ensemble Studios holds a special place in my heart, having created my favorite game of all time, Age of Empires 2. Anything with their name attached instantly got my full attention. I followed every step of the development of Halo Wars. Learning that the studio was to be disbanded once the game was finished was a crushing revelation.
This story was clearly written with Halo fans in mind, and is almost pure fanservice. Set 20 years before the events of the first Halo and 6 years into the War with the Covenant and Humanity still had a lot of fight in them at this point, this is all out war. The story spans several planets, from Harvest, to a Forerunner Shield World, giving Halo fans plenty of setpieces to battle it out in. The single player is pretty much an extended tutorial for multiplayer.
Having followed the development of the game since it's announcement I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in. Translating an RTS to a controller is something no game has ever managed fully, and even Ensemble experienced a few missteps. Switching between units and selecting groups is very easy, making troop management a snap. Jumping across the map can take a few seconds if you have nothing in the area.
The game mechanics have been greatly simplified to make it work on a console. Resource management has been broken down to only one thing, and it is gathered automatically at your bases by constructing landing pads. Bases are finite in number on each map making them vital to capturing early. Every building is tethered to your base and has to be managed on what is most important. While it adds a layer of strategy, fixed bases means you always know where the enemy is. Gone is randomly finding a massive enemy fortress that made RTS games interesting.
The Covenant and UNSC each play differently, with unique powers and tech progression. Each side also has an expensive super unit, the Covenant get the Scarab, humans get the slightly less powerful and cheaper Vulture, a key cornerstone to one of my favorite strategies. Each leader has a unique unit and power, each of which can offer a clever strategy for victory. *Personally, I love to send in Vultures to soften the enemy then drop ODST everywhere to mop up.
Battles online or against the CPU are limited to even teams, no 5v1 matches here, which is a shame, even on Legendary the AI opponents are quite easy in an even fight. There is no option for altering the mechanics of a match, such as disabling the fog of war or changing victory conditions. The player is stuck with what is presented to them by Ensemble's presets. I would imagine the online leaderboards are the reason behind the lack of options.
Everything looks and feels like Halo, Ensemble took great care to make sure everything was authentic looking from the bird's eye view of an RTS. Framerate can take a serious dive when the action heats up, with hundreds of units fighting it out with explosions everywhere it is no wonder that the framerate can't keep up.
All of the Iconic Halo sounds are present, and the music is worthy to the series. The Voice actors do an admirable job drawing the player into their story. Multiplayer announcers and voices get the message across.
Farewell to a Legend
Ensemble's swan song hit me hard, their farewell message during the credits was one of the few times a game has made me cry. It was like I had lost a life long friend. Writing this review brought back a lot of emotions, and I had to step away from the keyboard more than once, Halo Wars was a true love letter to their fans, and I salute Ensemble for going out with style.
720p Native at 30fps with slowdown in large encounters
Story Played to Completion on a Pioneer 5020 with D-Nice's settings in 2009