Halo Wars Video Game Review
Ensemble Studios’ swan song is here, dual-wielding real-time strategy and one of the biggest franchises in the industry. Hoping to score a direct hit on the 360 in a genre still reserved for, and revered by, the mouse and keyboard crowd. Halo Wars almost sounds redundant, but this brave attempt at console strategy is aiming to be anything but.
Master Chief is MIA. Instead, the campaign sets you up as Sergeant John Forge, teamed with the sassy Serina AI, Professor Anders, and Captain Cutter aboard the Spirit of Fire. Though set 20 years prior to the Halo trilogy, there’s no real effect on the continuity. The war with the covenant is in full swing, and as the plot unfolds it echoes back to the first Halo with the Elites and their Prophets desperately seeking an ultimate weapon with the UNSC hot on their tail. Work in the flood and some forerunner flourish for good measure.
With plentiful cinemas, the overarching plot feels a little clumsy, and Serina is no Cortana. The cardboard spartans can’t hold a candle to the chief. The in-game chit-chat fleshes out situations on-the-fly, but if you’ve looking for the next big revelation, it’s not here. What you will find is a safe, satisfying tale of the Halo-verse bookended by some stilted dialogue and big explosions.
The heart of the Halo is the campaign, a 15-mission, story-driven set of skirmishes. A lot of the objectives are standard fare. Expect to trump enemy bases, build your own, tackle esoteric escort missions, and try to survive as rescue approaches.
Each level has a specific achievement. It’s a nice touch that makes you look at each mission from a different perspective. Every mission is also paired with a handful of optional objectives that give points, with a large impetus on going for gold medals via repeat plays. Add in black boxes to collect on each map that unlock some Halo lore, and fiendishly-hidden skulls that open up game modifiers for an upped replay ante.
It’s a good thing because the missions are on the short side with a focus on smaller combat bursts instead of base management and cultivating tech trees. There’s also a co-op mode that divvies your army into two colors while you and a friend tackle the opposition.
The campaign is all from the UNSC perspective, though you’ll fight the Covenant and the Flood across the universe. It’s definitely disappointing not to play the parallel story or pick up as your sworn enemy. At least the covenant is available for online and skirmish, which supports a bunch of maps, AI partners, and up to three-on-three battles. The covenant doesn’t play wildly different from UNSC but has its share of unique units, including the almighty scarab.
Halo Wars’ missions are fast-paced and fun, but over far too quickly with small maps and low unit caps. There’s good incentive for replaying, but we would like to play as a different faction. The art of amassing an army and landing a tsunami of military brilliance on your opponent is absent from the campaign, but you’ll find yourself waging war online after the campaign is completed. Just don’t count on new content since the developer has been shuttered.