Real Time Strategy is a genre we tend to tie to the PC community, mostly because RTS games suit the PC so well. After all, we all know that no matter how much we tell others we prefer those lovely little thumbsticks sat in the middle of our fancy controllers, they are never going to compare with the pure speed and precision of a mouse and keyboard. Whilst these things are critical in any RTS title, it hasn’t stopped developers from trying to bring the strictly PC genre to consoles.
After Command & Conquer made a decent appearance, 2009 saw the game that got the console experience perfect with the arrival of Halo Wars. Ensemble Studios brought one of the most well-known first person shooters to Xbox consoles via the genre it was originally intended, RTS. Now, eight years later, it’s set to return with the highly unexpected, but hugely anticipated sequel, Halo Wars 2. In the meantime, anyone who pre-ordered Halo Wars 2: Ultimate Edition have been treated to one more joy – a definitive version of the original.
The Halo franchise is more than just a household name with Xbox gamers, but one thing that may not be so well known, is that although the first-person shooting of Halo: Combat Evolved may have been the flagship title to kick-start the Xbox era, the original design for the Halo series was much different. From a 1999 keynote showing Master Chief performing magic in a soon to be released third-person shooter, to the development of RTS gameplay, Halo has certainly changed from what it was once intended to be. Nevertheless, 2009 saw the release of Halo Wars and the ideas that were once made for the franchise were put to good use. For any newcomers to the spinoff series that are expecting another spectacle from series protagonist Master Chief, let it be known that Halo Wars is before even his time on the battlefield.
Halo Wars takes place in the year 2531, 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, and six years after the collective of alien races known as the Covenant attacked humanity, declaring humans an affront to their gods, the Forerunners, and invaded the human colony of Harvest.
A fully-fledged campaign is on offer for those looking to experience the story, Skirmish available for those looking for a one-off battle and of course online Multiplayer for those looking to match their skills against the best. Should you be after something to play with friends however, there’s no need to worry about who’s the best as the entire game can also be played in co-op, either in Skirmish against or with the A.I., as well as the full co-op campaign.
The campaign offering has 15 missions for players to play work through, all whilst in control of the UNSC (United Nations Space Command). Throughout each mission players are required to complete the different tasks asked, mainly attack and defend based objectives, in order to complete the mission and progress through the story. This is done by the strategic placement and usage of the infantry and vehicular units that are available to you. Players familiar with the Halo universe will instantly recognise each of the vehicles, with the Warthog and Scorpion Tank both available alongside various other vehicles, but whilst these may pack some serious power when dealing with enemies, the real key to success is to utilise the infantry options available. Ground units such as Marines can be used to scout out an area up ahead, which is hugely appreciated most of the time due to the classic ‘Fog of War’ that shrouds the entire map. With the game being played in a top down view, this can mean if you haven’t placed your units in the best positions, you can very quickly find yourself being attacked out of nowhere before you have even got yourself prepared.
Whilst the campaign may not be as action heavy or explosive as other games in the Halo series, there’s no denying that the strategic options Halo Wars brings to the table really adds a new level of immersion to the series, as you watch your Warthogs filled with infantry forces join the attack.
The campaign is certainly enjoyable, but as with every Halo title, it’s the competitive multiplayer that most will be looking to for the long-term enjoyment – and as it was back in 2009, multiplayer is a blast.
Working much like Skirmish mode, multiplayer can be played as either 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3, however 3v3 is only recommended for those who are in constant communication with each other. 2v2 just about works without needing to talk though and for anyone looking to learn a few extra tricks outside the tutorial levels, this may be the best way to do it. Of course 1v1 is always an option should you have no qualms about your ability, however, as with most games that offer a head-to-head mode it is usually exceptionally good players that tend to be found here, and even with my countless hours with the original under my belt, I quickly found my way to several beatings before jumping into some 2v2 action.
Multiplayer has five game modes for players to take part in. Firstly, there is the standard mode which sees players aim to destroy every last unit and building in enemy control. There is also a Deathmatch mode in which players battle it out to be the last man standing, Keep Away, that sees a fight for possession of a flag with the goal of keeping the flag carrier alive to earn points, Tug of War in which teams are built to be as strong as possible with the strongest winning, and finally Reinforcement, a mode which sees resources depleted as waves of new troops arrive.
After choosing the game mode, players are able to take the combat on to any of the 18 maps on offer in the game. However, with some maps made specifically for 2v2 or 3v3 combat, those going at the challenge solo may want to jump in with others to ensure they experience everything.
The most important aspect of Halo Wars online play though is with the Leaders. There a six Leaders in total; three for the UNSC and three for the covenant. When playing a Skirmish or Multiplayer match players can choose to play as either faction, but the leader chosen can often make all the difference with each option bringing their own unique unit and super power to the battlefield with them – whilst it’s no easy choice picking between them, those that learn to master each will certainly have a higher chance of success.
Overall, and whilst the content on offer doesn’t differ much from the original outing back in 2009, the graphical upgrade on show is noticeable immediately. With an improved matchmaking system on offer, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition provides a truly exceptional title that shows just how well an RTS title can work on console, bringing all the quality of the Halo franchise to the table in a strategic and interesting way, and adding a new level of immersion to the series for newcomers and veterans alike.