Halo Wars Hands On Preview
Written Monday, November 17, 2008 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Usually, a Halo themed game from someone other than Bungie would be declared sacrilegious and absurd. A bit like someone trying to rewrite the bible or Shakespeare, but you kind of don’t get that feeling when you hear that one of the RTS daddies was picking up the franchise to make an action packed RTS title. We trekked in to London last week, to the Greenwich Planetarium no less, to see whether the soon to be, no more, Ensemble Studios were truly able to pull it off a Halo game without Bungie heading it up.
Halo Wars starts its adventure on February 4th, 2531; a whole 20 years before the legendary Spartan 117 graced us with his presence, but fear not, there are still Spartans aplenty present. The whole feel of Halo Wars feels very much like Halo would expect to, from the gun sounds to the menus, right the way down to the incredible license likenesses of all the game’s characters. The influences of the license are incredibly accurate and it’d make any Halo universe fan feel right at home.
Unlike any other console RTS, Halo Wars is in fact built from the ground up to be a console title with no plans for a PC title, so everything is simplistic. Whether you want to select all on screen units (Right Bumper) or your whole battalion (Left Bumper); it truly is a classic “command & conquer” style button build with the same button (X) being used to control and attack enemy units.
The game pretty much is pick up and play as well, and after 5 minutes on the game there wasn’t really that much more to learn and it’s likely that this accessibility will make the game appeal to a much wider audience. Unlike other RTS titles, the game doesn’t put any sort of emphasis on resource collection and the resource pot builds up naturally over time, however, there are optional collective resource elements round the map, but this are by no means, vital to your success.
The game feels very much like a game built for Halo fans rather than one to cater for the RTS junkies of this world. The emphasis most definitely is on high octane action and simplicity, rather than an in-depth RTS title with all sort of “rock, paper, scissors” strategies you have to keep an eye on. On the first 3 missions we played, it’s very much possible to build a massive army and steam roll the opposition which may I add is great fun but seems more action than RTS.
The d-pad is effectively used in Halo Wars and makes the navigation of the field that much easier; giving players the option to jump to the base (down); jump to a recent alert (right) as quickly as moving squads (left) and accessing the Spirit of Fire (up) for some battlefield assistance.
As expected, Halo Wars features a simplistic but familiar upgrade and unit creation mechanic, known by the Ensemble team as the “circle interface”. It’s very similar to the dialogue and weapon selector that we’ve seen in Mass Effect and is as easy to use. When selecting your main base, you can expand your mini empire by building barracks and specialist vehicle factories and from there, using the wheel, you can select what you want to build (queue them up if you’ve got enough credits) and then take on the world. All the vehicles are typical Halo vehicles with the Scorpion tank and Warthogs amongst many more on offer for the UNSC and each with the ability to upgrade them to throw grenades and such.
It should be noted that the single player campaign is also playable in co-op but players only get to take control of the UNSC forces. If you want to take control of the quicker, but generally weaker infantry based Covenant, you’ll have to go in to the game’s multiplayer aspect which features up to 3 on 3 skirmishes amongst other things that we’re not privy to just yet.
There’s no doubting that Halo Wars is a fun game that is not only extremely accessible but takes the Halo license and from what we’ve seen, does a fine job at recreating the world. To call it an out and out RTS though would be slightly misleading. Sure the game has all the makings of an RTS but it’s simple controls, emphasis on action and lack of strategy aspect would mean that this may appeal to more than your average RTS gamer, but may not create the substance and depth that an RTS’er may latch on to.
Halo Wars is heavy on combat with great cinematics and more than likely a similar story to boot, but it’s not going to tax the strategy inclined. Whether the higher difficulty levels embrace that more, remains to be seen, but Halo Wars is still looking like a fun and immersive game that will no doubt please any Halo fan out there.
Check back later for our interview with Lead Designer, Graeme Devine where we discuss the mechanics, the closing of Ensemble and a whole array of other great questions.
Or check out the 9 latest Halo Wars screens in the gallery. They're pretty swanky!
Halo Wars is tipped for an Xbox 360 release date of February 2009.