Is Halo Wars the Right RTS For You?

By Jason Wadsworth


The strength of the Halo brand is an undoubtedly daunting force in the video games market, and for many gamers (particularly those devoted to Halo) the fact that Halo Wars was called Halo Wars was enough to entice them to purchase the game. But while the game’s theme is an important part of its appeal, there are other things players should consider before they choose to either play or ignore the game.

I recently finished the Halo Wars campaign and I’ve had a chance to venture online for some matchmaking games. I’m a big Halo fan, but I hadn’t originally planned on getting this game when it launched. In fact, the only reason I have the game right now is because I was lucky enough to win a copy from Microsoft’s Trixie360 on her twitter feed. That said, if I had realized how much fun I would have with the game I would have purchased it day one. This realization got me thinking that there might be some of you in the TMG community who aren’t sure if Halo Wars is worth your time. To that end, let me bring a few things about this game to your attention in the hopes that it might help you in your decision. Keep in mind though, this isn’t a review by any means; there have been plenty of those already and this is just a few points to consider if you are on the fence about the game.

Hit the jump for some soul-searching questions you can ask yourself to find out if Halo Wars is the right RTS for you.

Do you care about Halo lore?

As  mentioned, the fact that Halo Wars extends the established story arc of the Halo universe is probably one of the most initially intriguing pulls for the game because whether it interests you or not, the Halo universe is supported by a reasonably rich background extending past the FPS trilogy. This left me with an interesting conundrum; one that is likely familiar to most gamers: Is it worth playing a game that doesn’t appeal to me in order to experience that game’s narrative?

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your view, I found that I actually enjoyed playing the game more than I enjoyed the game’s story. If you are considering playing Halo Wars for no other reason than wanting to see the story that precedes the Halo shooters, you may be disappointed. Though Halo Wars presents an interesting story with new and unique characters in the Halo universe, the additions the game makes to the canon aren’t ultimately of any real consequence. Other than common enemies, units, and atmosphere there is very little that ties the story of Halo Wars to the central story found in the shooters. There are tenuous ties between the two stories that can be uncovered by unlocking parts of a comprehensive Halo time line that is part of Halo Wars’ features, but unlocking these items will take some considerable time in the single player campaign.

Briefly put, there is a story in Halo Wars and it does add to the Halo lore in interesting ways; be aware though that it doesn’t make any additions that have near the weight or consequence of those made by past Halo games. That is, unless you painstakingly seek them out yourself.

How do you like your RTS?

Do you mind if your RTS is light on base building? Heavy on mass army building? How does the Halo Wars sandwich stack up?

Halo Wars is light on:

  • Base building – bases have limited spots for buildings and predetermined layouts.
  • Unit by unit micro-strategy – unit superiority is based on a simple, global rock-paper-scissors model (vehicles > infantry, infantry >air, air > vehicles).
  • Campaigns – the game only has a UNSC (human) campaign, there is no campaign for either of the other forces in the game though you can play as the Covenant in skirmish and multiplayer modes.
  • Fine control – As with any console RTS, picking a single unit or a specific group of units  is no easy task.

Halo Wars spreads it on thick when it comes to:

  • Simplified controls – Doesn’t control like a mouse and keyboard, but controls better than any RTS on console to date.
  • Varied units and tech tree – Lots of different units, unit variations, upgrades, and researched abilities make for a surprisingly complex tech tree.
  • Iconic Halo atmosphere – everything down to the sound of Spartan shields recharging emulates the feeling of the FPS trilogy.
  • Rush tactics (especially online) – Rush tactics are very effective, but at the same time very easy for savvy players to counter.
  • Varied mission goals – There are defense missions, escort missions, expansion missions, and several other types that keep the campaign fresh.

Take this list for what it is, but remember that most of the concessions made in control and complexity were made to make Halo Wars work as a console based RTS. The interactions that take place in an RTS have long been designed and streamlined for a keyboard and mouse setup, and Halo Wars does an impressive job of retooling those interactions for the Xbox controller. Still, not without sacrificing some of the strategy and micro-management so common in most RTS games.

Do you have 30 minutes?

Perhaps the best way to figure out if you should put some time into Halo Wars will be to go download the demo on Xbox LIVE. If you’re not particularly fond of RTS games and are only interested in the Halo Wars story, you’ll find out if you can manage to play through the game for the narrative alone. Conversely, if you love RTS games, you’ll find out if Halo Wars will scratch that itch. Either way, you might end up like me: pleasantly surprised and with a new game you love to play.

Game on!