Halo, whether you love it or hate it, is a phenomenon in the gaming industry. It single-handedly sparked Microsoft‘s success in the race against Sony and Nintendo, and many argue it was the first truly successful first-person shooter on a console. Without sparking debates involving GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, or spilling out stats about the near 25 million units the Halo trilogy has sold in just eight years, I’m more interested in talking about the direction it’s going now.
Here’s the big confession. I don’t like playing first-person shooters. I’m bad at them, I get bored of them, and I would rather play almost any other genre. In fact, I vastly prefer to watch a pro play Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 in an online match than I would like to actually play one of those games. As a result, I never bought Halo 3 for my 360, nor do I have any interest in it. But for whatever reason, when the demo for Halo Wars popped up I was very interested and downloaded it immediately. This is particularly strange because I’m not usually a fan of the real-time strategy genre either. I suppose I was interested in why Microsoft would take a franchise supported by more casual fans and make a spinoff game in a genre that is typically supported by a more niche, hardcore crowd. To top it all off, the RTS genre isn’t particularly known to thrive in the console space because of its complex nature.
But back to the title of this editorial. Does it work? Simply: yes. Doomed developer, Ensemble Studios created an excellent mix of strong presentation and relatively simple controls that will likely please the majority of Halo fans, and a great number of RTS fans who wouldn’t mind a bit of a simpler game. I’m not entirely well versed in the genre, but the game plays more like a Warcraft 3 than a Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and I was surprised by how easy it was to bulk up my buildings, manage my upgrades, and control my armies. It impressively maintains the feel of the Halo franchise with very familiar animations, landscapes, and music. While the campaign holds your hand a little bit, the online multiplayer is always the test of a good RTS, and Halo Wars is a blast on Xbox LIVE. I haven’t dived too much into it yet, but it is fast-paced and fun, and opens up the covenant to be playable as well. For fans of Halo or anybody looking to get into the overwhelming RTS world, Halo Wars is a highly recommended place to start. A very pleasant surprise.