With the sequel just coming out, It was a smart idea for 343 Industries to also release an updated version of the original Halo Wars to coincide with Halo Wars 2. The original didn't break any ground in the RTS genre, but it did make for a solid and accessible RTS console game. Though there have been some games that have tried to make the jump, they weren't as successful as Halo Wars and the genre has now mostly been relegated to the PC. It's been 8 years since Halo Wars came out on the Xbox 360, but does it still hold up after all these years?
If you want, you can also check out our review for Halo Wars 2.
Halo Wars takes place 20 years prior to the original Halo: Combat Evolved; with the War with the Covenant 6 years in and taking full force. The main plot has the team of the UNSC warship "Spirit of Fire" attempting to stop the Covenant for obtaining an ancient super weapon for destroy the Human Race. While the story doesn't really affect the main line narrative of the Halo Universe, it's still a nice side story that fans will love. The cast mostly consist of your stock Military characters, but the writing and vocal performance by the cast help elevate them from falling too far in the generic territory. Despite a few instance of cheesy writing(particularly by the UNSC's artificial A.I, Serina), the story will keep you engaged through the end and includes some amazing CGI cutscenes to break up the action.
Halo Wars might be an RTS, but the structure of the franchise is still in full effect. Each of the games 15 missions will have you either taking out an enemy base, taking out a group of enemies, partaking in an Escort mission, or have you go up against a timer. Most mission will take you around 25 – 45 minutes to complete and, like past games, you can play the game on higher difficulty and try to find the numerous skulls that will alter how the game is played in another playthrough. Along with the main missions, each mission has it's own secondary objective that will earn you extra points, should you choose to partake in. You're graded at the end by a Tin, Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal for you're performance in battle, and it is tempting to go back and get a better score for each level.
One you've finish the campaign, you can take the game online with the standard multiplayer options such Deathmatch, where you can battle with a friend and can even battle 3v3. It can get chaotic, but it's still a pretty fun distraction. Just don't expect other modes like King of the Hill or Capture Flag, like in past Halo titles. you can even play the campaign with a friend in both Online and Offline Co-Op. In multiplayer, you can take control of the Covenant, who are sadly not playable in the main game. They play pretty much identical to the UNSC forces you control, but they have there own unique Vehicles that make them stand and, if you're a Halo fan, you'll get a little giddy when you're using a Scorpion. Halo Wars campaign will take you around 8 to 10 hours to complete, but there's enough content here to keep you back for a while.
Halo Wars did a solid job of bringing the RTS to the consoles back in 2009 and the same holds true in 2017. Commands are simple and easy to do, thanks to a Mass Effect style Radio Wheel that allows you to choose which units to summon at your base and what building to create. While mission variety isn't Halo Wars's biggest selling point, the action that you partake in is entertaining to watch. The A.I for your squads could've been a little more fleshed out, as they can easily not know where it is you want them to go at times, but it still gets the job done.
Combat isn't the most tense you'll see in the Halo series but, just like other games in the genre, it's still entertaining to see watch you're faction destroy the hell out of your enemies. The various units you control will be familiar to Halo fans, like the standard marines, ODST, Scorpion Tanks and Hornets, but there are also new vehicles that are new to Halo, such as the Cobra and Wolverine units. Learning when to summon units and to just go full force does take both patients and strategy and is where Halo Wars is at it's best.
As mention before, Mission verity isn't Halo Wars biggest strength, as most will just have you destroying all objectives or defending an escort or a mixture of the two. The only real time Halo Wars manages to be challenging for the wrong reasons is when you're on a timer. The last mission in particular is a prime example as it stress you with numerous enemies and has you trying to activate objects. Some may see it as a challenge, but it can be quite annoying.
Outside of 1 or 2 other late game missions that can be aggravating due to time constraints, Halo Wars still manages to be a fun RTS, if a little on the shallow and easy side. Even so, you won't be able to find an RTS on a console that plays this well, without having to make the jump to the PC Master Race.
It's unknown if 343 Industry remastered the fully CGI cutscenes that Blur Studios produced but, regardless of if they did or not, they are still some of the best looking cutscenes you'll ever see. The in-game graphics aren't too shabby either. The look and feel of Halo has been perfectly captured into an RTS title and it looks just as good as it did, thanks to the series strong artstyle. You'd be surprise how much fun you can get by watching little toy-like version of Halo Marines and and Tanks. They animated well and have a Lego like feel to them, that gives the game a charm of it's own.
The Remastering job is also strong with gameplay feeling much smother, thanks to the 60FPS upgrade. There were some Slow down and minor screen tearing when multiple units are in play, but it's nothing that hurts the experience. The only real sticking point in the remastered version are some of the ingame cutscenes that happen before and after missions. It's just a little jaring for it to go from 30 to 60 in such a short amount of time.
The music is also commendable, as it almost sounds like Marty O'Donnell's Score from past games. Ensemble Studios did a impeccable job to perfectly mimic his score down. Halo has been known for having some of the best music in all of gaming, and Halo Wars is able to keep the trend going, even without the iconic series composer at the helm. The voice acting is equally strong, consisting of VO standby's, like the always reliable Nolan North as Sgt. Forge. The rest of the cast also does solid work, even if the script there given occasionally has one or two dumb moments. Top that off with numerous classic Sound effects from past games making there way in and you have your self a strong audio production.
In the End, Halo Wars manages to hold up quite well and is well worth the $80's, if you purchased the Ultimate Edition(which also includes Halo Wars 2 and it's season pass). It may have a few kinks in it's system, but it's still a solid effort form Ensemble Studios, before they shutdown a few months before it was original released back in 2009. The accessible and simple controls, large battles, and ease of play makes this easy to recommend for both Halo nuts and newbies to the RTS genre.
The remastering job is also Commendable, though it's a shame that it's not available as it's own download. With this and even last years Modern Warfare Remastered being attached to big named games that some might not even be interested in, it's a bit worrying of what could happen next for future franchises and game remasters. Let's just prey that Halo 6 doesn't have to force you buy it to get Halo Reach remastered.
Hopefully Halo Wars will, so more will be able to play this enjoyable spin-off to one of the most iconic series of all time.
|+ Great Controls||– Only in the $80 Ultimate Edition(currently)|
|+ Solid Halo Story||– Some dull missions|
|+ Entertaining Combat||– Occasionally dumb writing|
|+ Captures the Look and Feel of Halo||– Repetitive Objectives|
|+ Excellent Music|