Halo Wars Hands-On Preview

The gaming community has been waiting a long time for its first taste of Microsoft and Ensemble Studios’ new take on Bungie’s Halo universe in the real-time strategy game, Halo Wars. Many questions and concerns have filled the air, wondering if this attempt to meld the popular franchise with the historically difficult console RTS genre would effectively portray the fictional world that fans have come to know and love. More importantly, would gamers be able to pick up Halo Wars and have fun?

Judging from what we’ve played here at GamerNode, Ensemble Studios has managed to build this RTS from the ground up for the 360 in such a way that gameplay feels streamlined, without taking the player out of the equation. For seasoned RTS veterans, the "dumbing-down" of the genre may not be the most appealing premise, but for the 360, it appears to be just what the doctor ordered, and remedies much of what has made the genre so cumbersome on consoles in the past.


Halo Wars


Players select individual units by placing the cursor over them and pressing the A button, or holding the button down and dragging the consequently expanded selection circle over as many units as desired. There are also "global" and "local" select-all functions mapped to the left and right bumpers, respectively, to help grab the bulk of the army more rapidly. These, along with a D-pad mapped ability to snap the camera to each individual mass of units across the map, make selecting units quite efficient. What’s lacking, however, is the option to manually set up and select specific groups of units, something that could have easily been done with a simple shift function combined with the D-pad or control stick.

Commands to move, attack, collect, take over, etc. are issued with the X button, and although the player can’t custom-define squads, pulling the right trigger does toggle through the grouped unit types for quick delegation of duties. The selector changes, depending on what is below it; clicking on land tells units to move, while highlighting an enemy readies an attack order. That much is fairly standard for the genre, but Halo Wars also allows units to perform secondary functions, such as the infantry’s grenade bombardments or the Warthog’s ram attack, quickly and easily with a tap of the Y button.

Where Halo Wars will most likely either win over or turn away fans is in its base-building and resource acquisition systems. Unlike the typical RTS, where the "base" area can expand as far as the player is willing to build (and protect) structures, Halo Wars restricts each base — several will be scattered across each map — to a small mall consisting of the main HQ and 7 surrounding support buildings. These are the typical soldier- and vehicle-growing centers (which double as places to research skills and equipment), as well as two types of upgradable, resource-generating structures. There is no harvesting of naturally-occurring resources in Halo Wars, only the drop-shipments from the UNSC at each of the bases’ supply pads. This allows players to focus on building and combat without as many micro-management tasks on their plates. The process is very streamlined and easy to use.


Halo Wars


On top of what seems to be a solid and functional RTS core, Halo Wars has the benefit of being able to layer on the well-established lore from Bungie Studios’ Halo universe. This game takes place prior to the events of Halo, so the tale will still be somewhat original and inviting to Halo newbies, but dedicated fans will likely gobble up all of the familiar elements of the game world, high-production cutscenes, and references to other Halo games. Even the soundtrack, though composed by Ensemble Studios’ Stephen Rippy, sounds very similar to the epic scores of the Halo trilogy, and indeed borrows elements from those works.

Halo Wars appears to be exactly what Ensemble Studios hoped it would be: a faithful translation of the Halo universe into an accessible and functional console RTS. If the demo is any indication, this game could be a hit from all angles. I’m not even a big Halo fan, and it’s got me excited.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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