Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
The Halo Story has been strong over the years. It gives a nice grounded story but plants seeds in all corners of the universe that with every new piece of Halo fiction, something new will be found out and more questions will be asked than answered. That is the case with Halo Wars. The Story in Halo Wars is one that is different yet feels somewhat Halo Like. It uses some of the deepest parts of Halo Lore and delivers a rich story based on that. It won't exactly make you understand the Trilogy better and it doesn't really answer much questions but it does confirm theories and expands on the already huge fiction established. There are some canon discrepancies, but nothing too major. Just be warned that if you didn't like the Ending to Halo 3, chances are you're not going to be too happy here.
Bits of backstory is stated in chronological order by means of the Halo Timeline. These backstory elements must be unlocked via both the campaign and multiplayer, providing the game with loads of replayability. However, some of the pieces of information provided in the Timeline are a bit too telling and remove from the mystery the Halo story provides.
The same can't be said of the characters. They are just not as fleshed out as you would hope or expect from a Halo Game. As a prequel to the original series, we are finally graced with the appearances of Multiple Spartans. However, none of them are treated as key characters and are there mainly for the sake of being there. The main characters in the game are also a bit too generic for my liking. There's the Gruff Military Commando, the Sacrificial War Veteran and Bigmouth Smartass. The characters are just lacking that certain 'Halo Magic'.
One particular concern was the fact that Halo Wars was a Console RTS. RTS on a Console have never really worked well. And hence, its really pleasing to say that the controls are fantastic. The Gameplay is built around these controls and thus, the game is heavily simplified. Yet, a lot of strategy is needed. However, it is not enough. While Ensemble studios got the controls right, trying to adapt a PC RTS around those controls kind of backfired, no matter how simplified it got. There are times where the objectives require a lot of strategizing, which is good in a Mouse and Keyboard settings, but doing that exact thing on Simplified controls is pretty difficult. Still the game is not impossible to complete and the controls are really easy to get used to.
One thing that got me extremely annoyed is the steep change from difficulty level to difficulty level. The Difference between the Easy and Normal settings is enormous! Normal is the way to go but Easy is pretty mindless and can be deemed as the 'True Halo Experience' if you ask me.
Its an unwritten law that every Halo Game must have good Multiplayer components and that is the case with Halo Wars. There are 2 modes, Skirmish and Deathmatch with the latter being a more pumped up, intense version of the first. The lack of variety is pretty disappointing for a Halo game and the modes are standard for a RTS game. Standard Halo Matchmaking and Party system are available and they work just as well. And if you don't feel like hopping online, you can always fight the bots in 3 v 3 matches. Each Map has a sort of special feature. One map for example allows you to Unleash the Flood on your enemy. Don't be too happy though: The Flood can't whack you as well.
While you can't play as the Covenant in the campaign, the Covenant is fully playable in the Multiplayer. There are some balance issues but its fun to play as both the UNSC and Covenant factions. Each side has 3 Leader characters with unique Leader abilities, ranging from a Cyro Bomb that freezes units to the Iconic Covenant Glassing.
Presentation wise, the game looks marvelous. The animations are nicely done and you can make out the different iconic Halo vehicles on the field in a second. The CGI cutscenes in particular are fantastic and are some of the best I've seen in a video game to date. There are some areas where improvements could be made but they are usually in such minor locations that it doesn't really matter.
The Sound effects in Halo Wars are brilliant. Even in the heat of the battle, you will be able to differentiate between your marines' Assault Rifles to the Warthog Machine Guns to the left. The music in Halo Wars is just as good. Halo Music is stuff of legend and when you listen to the music of Halo Wars, you'll swear that Ensemble kidnapped Martin O Donnell and forced him to compose. It has a different vibe to it but still manages to feel like its Halo.
Overall, Halo Wars is a solid game. It doesn't do much innovation RTSs but it has lighted a new path for RTS on a console. At the same time, it has stayed true to the Halo name and has delivered on the story aspects of the Halo franchise. Its a normal, standard RTS but Halo Wars has signaled a dawn of a new wave of RTSs: Console RTSs. Just like the first Halo did for FPS on a console. And of that, the now dead Ensemble can be proud.
Final Score: 3.5/5