Tag Archive: rts


I imagine when the folks from Wargaming met with Creative Assembly it went something like this:

Wargaming: “I love strategy and war.”

Creative Assembly: “I love strategy and war, too!”

Wargaming: “Did we just become best friends?!”

And thus the partnership that’s led to Total War: Arena started. (Okay, not really.)

The Total War series isn’t known really for its multiplayer options. It’s single-player has always shined, of course, with players reliving the campaigns of history’s greatest conflicts against the computer. On the multiplayer front, though, all you had were two human players standing at the heads of their respective armies in a one-on-one setting, or more recent iterations maxed out with a four-on-four offering.

Total War: Arena changes this by offering a full, 10-on-10, free-to-play showdown, with each player allowed to select their own legendary general from the annals of history, like Rome’s Julius Caesar or the English barbarian queen Boudica. Players can then bring into battle three different unit squads appropriate to their general, like foot soldiers, cavalry, siege weapons, or even war dogs. Each general also features a bevy of passive buffs and abilities you can activate in order to better assist your army.

Those three units are all that is available to players, though. Your three units and general will need to coordinate with the units other players on your team is bringing into battle in order to hopefully rout your opponents, or capture their base and ensure victory. It can lead to glorious multi-front chaos only available in a large player setting like this, but still relies heavily on the classic tenants of real-time strategy games in terms of how your units move and attack. It even touts the classic Total War morale system, where if you break an opponent unit’s spirit, they may just start a hasty retreat and give you the victory.

With any free-to-play offering, the question always comes up about how a game will monetize itself. There are some limited customization options you can pick up for each of your generals, but Total War: Arena leans more heavily on the highly successful World of Tanks model. This allows players to spend real world money to expedite levels, which in turn unlocks new and more powerful units for each of your respective generals.

Even though you’re in control of a legendary general, you’re really just one piece of a much larger army in each match you play, and in that regard Total War: Arena looks to capitalize on the greatest strategic endeavor there is: working as a team. If players can successfully come together, not only will you have a variety of legendary generals working together for a common goal, but also the strategic possibilities are endless. From blitzkriegs to pincer maneuvers, the 10-on-10 scenario feels like it is bringing true war to Total War, and is shaping up to be an excellent alternative for people looking for competitive multiplayer without the need for twitch reflexes.

Total War: Arena is currently in closed alpha on PC and is moving to closed beta later this year.

For me, Age of Empires on PC was my gateway into the world of real-time strategy games. Then, just a couple of years later, Command & Conquer on the N64 almost did the exact opposite, making me recoil from the genre. It wasn’t the games themselves, but the method in which I played them. Although I became more engrossed in consoles over the years, the RTS genre always held a special place in my heart from those early PC days, but I could never find one that captured what made the genre great on a console. So, when I needed a fix, it would end up leading to a rare PC purchase for me. Then, in 2009, fittingly enough the studio that made Age of Empires figured it out with Halo Wars. It wasn’t just marrying one of my favorite shooter series to the genre, but they had figured out a way to make it control almost as well as on a PC. Ensemble Studios may now be gone, but Halo Wars lives on, and another stellar RTS developer in Creative Assembly has picked up the ball and run with the series in spectacular fashion in Halo Wars 2.

When last we saw the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, they had immersed themselves in cryosleep, beaten, battered, and with heavy losses after emerging victorious in a grueling battle with both the Covenant and the Flood. Now, 28 years later (up to date now with the Halo timeline), the crew is woken up when the Spirit of Fire drifts within range of an Ark, and picks up a UNSC distress signal coming from its surface. Commander Cutter quickly dispatches a team, and everyone is shocked as all they find is a young AI named Isabel. She quickly gets the Spirit of Fire crew up to date on the last 28 years, and reveals a new enemy in The Banished, a Brute-led force so powerful they were able to splinter off and earn their freedom from the Covenant.

On the surface, Creative Assembly has only really made minor tweaks to the basic gameplay of the original Halo Wars, but that in and of itself is an accomplishment. It’s not easy to make an RTS game work on consoles, but maintaining a lot of the same controls—like using the A-button to sweep over and collect units, or double-tapping a bumper to select all the units—I never once felt hampered when commanding my UNSC or Banished armies in both campaign and multiplayer. One major addition was particularly handy, though.

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A feature long available on PC RTS games—and noticeably absent from the original Halo Wars—was the ability to assign units to groups so you could bounce back and forth easily between teams fighting on multiple fronts. Now, you can create four separate groups on the D-Pad by holding a direction and a bumper, making army management a lot simpler. It may not be as much as the 10 groups you can create on a keyboard, but it’s a start, and can go a long way to your enjoyment of the game—in particular when the campaign sets up several missions where fighting along multiple fronts is the necessary way to go if you are to achieve victory on harder difficulties.

The other major addition is how much more in-depth Creative Assembly has gone with the upgrade trees and units you can make. Following the story, the Banished won’t have many familiar Covenant faces like the Jackals, because they wouldn’t make sense (no spoilers!). A variety of different Elites, however, help fill in myriad roles of units like these that didn’t carry over from the first game. And this works on both sides of the war, with one example being retrofitted Cyclops replacing the Cobra tanks—the UNSC’s anti-vehicle units for the original Halo Wars.

One of Halo Wars 2’s best features, however, is how the campaign not only fits perfectly into the Halo universe with a tremendous story, but teaches you all about these new mechanics and units as you play. You’ll experience them all as the narrative unfolds, prepping you before you take the plunge into the multiplayer modes. There’s also some surprising replayability with four different difficulties (all also available in 2-player co-op), high scores, and the optional and bonus objectives, which is how you actually unlock skulls this time around instead of searching for them tucked away in corners of the battlefield.

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The campaign, however, is also where one of the biggest flaws with the game crops up: its length. A full playthrough on normal only clocks in at about 6-8 hours (depending on if and how often you fail a mission), and only consists of 12 missions—one of which is really a 5-minute tutorial. Looking back, this is three chapters shorter than the original game. While the length doesn’t detract from the great story, and it’s nice the campaign goes to such lengths to teach you about all the units and lower the bar of entry for those potentially new to the RTS genre like mentioned above, I also got the feeling that I was never about to truly cut loose until the very last mission.

That’s because right up until the end, I felt the game was still giving me tutorials and holding my hand for a bit too long, keeping certain units back behind a curtain—and when everything was finally at my disposal, the game was over. Limiting players with certain scenarios and stipulations is good some of the time in an RTS campaign, but doing it nearly every mission can get a bit stifling, and prevented me from learning as much on my own. Really, experimentation in an RTS is sometimes part of the fun.

I was also surprised that there were a couple of moments in the campaign where some precipitous frame rate drops occurred (in particular, many of them happened in Mission 7). There really weren’t any other technical issues to speak of in my time with the game, and these could’ve just been the occasional pre-launch hiccup which can easily be patched on day one—but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.

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While playing an RTS game in single-player is all well and good, as I alluded to before, it’s really just the appetizer before diving into the multiplayer. Halo Wars 2 really shines here if you’re any sort of an RTS fan. The multiplayer suite is larger than before, featuring new modes like Strongholds, where players are given infinite resources while racing to build the biggest army first while trying to control the most bases. The team with the most bases at the end—or the one that can wipe out their opponents—wins. It’s a nice complement to Team Deathmatch and Domination if you’re looking for something more casual and less centered on the all-important resource management of other RTS modes.

The shining jewel, though, is the brand new card-based Blitz mode. Yes, it’s really an easy way to add microtransactions to yet another game, but it is entirely unnecessary to spend any extra money. You can earn cards by playing the game’s other modes (including campaign), and by leveling up your overall rank. There are also daily and weekly challenges across all modes that can reward you with special cards, too.

The idea in Blitz is that every player has a 12-card deck, and can even customize 18 total decks if they want (three for each of the six starting commanders in the game). Each commander has special cards only they can wield, and really add some unique elements to each deck. When you play Blitz, you draw a four-card hand and can only call units onto the field by playing cards, which you do by collecting resources like in any other RTS game. If playing against others, it takes on a Domination-like feel, with each player or team vying for control of three different points. If you play against AI, Blitz turns into a wave-based survival mode.

Halo Wars 2 Campaign Deadly Skirmish

I hate to admit it, because it seems like so many games are trying to add trading card game elements somehow now, but Blitz was probably my favorite of the multiplayer modes. Each match was fast (8-10 minutes), deck building is easy, and there’s still the strategy element you’d expect from something featured in an RTS game. Knowing where and when to play cards is vital. And, since you will always have a limited amount of units, knowing when to break someone off from your main groups to go collect more resources is critical to being ready for the inevitable conflicts. My only complaint about the mode is it only features one map, but with no match ever playing the same—even when using the same deck—it’s really a minor annoyance at worst. Also, it should be mentioned that I noticed no problems with Halo Wars 2 servers, but these were pre-launch conditions only populated by devs and a few dozen other members of the press. Once the game is released into the wild, it could be an entirely different ballgame, so that’s also something else to keep an eye out for.

As a fan of the original Halo Wars and RTS titles in general, I almost couldn’t be happier with Halo Wars 2. It continues the story of some of my favorite characters in the expanded Halo universe in a fitting and fun way, while giving me the competitive, strategic gameplay I expect and crave from a game of this genre. I wish the campaign would’ve given me a bit more length and freedom in a lot of scenarios, but other than that, Halo Wars once again shows the right way to do real-time strategy experiences on a console.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: 343 Industries/Creative Assembly • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.21.17
9.0
Halo Wars 2 does a fantastic job building on the foundation laid out by the original game. New modes and new characters highlight what is a fun return to the Halo universe, even if the campaign is shorter than I’d prefer.
The Good Deeper upgrade trees, being able to assign units to groups, and Blitz mode are all fantastic additions to this stellar continuation of the first game.
The Bad The campaign is on the short side, and the occasional lag.
The Ugly The stream of expletives that one dude screamed on headset when I stole his Grizzly tank with my Spartan Alice in Blitz mode.
Halo Wars 2 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to go hands-on with Halo Wars 2 at a recent Microsoft preview event, and there I played the new Blitz Mode. Blitz Mode offers elements of Survival, Domination, and Trading Card games in an interesting twist of players spending a different currency from the main game to call down units. You can only pick from one of four available at a time, before that unit is replaced in your “hand” with one of 12 cards in your “deck”. It’s a fast and frantic mode that offers unique gameplay for the RTS genre. Halo Wars 2 will be available on Xbox One and PC on February 21.

When you think of PC gaming, shooters and RPGs may be some of the first genres that come to mind. For me, though, PC gaming has almost always centered on real-time strategy games. Most of my gaming experiences growing up were on console, but releases like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer gave me my first taste of what it meant to play on a PC. Thanks to that, I’ve always had an appreciation for the genre, even as it’s taken a backseat to more fast-paced and narrative-driven experiences in recent years.

This is why I was particularly intrigued when Kalypso recently announced that they were bringing back the Sudden Strike series with Sudden Strike 4, the franchise’s first full entry in nearly a decade. I recently got to go hands-on with this newest chapter, and I can attest that Sudden Strike 4 maintains all the best elements from previous entries while pushing the series steadily forward (like the Allies across the Western Front).

For those unfamiliar with its legacy, Sudden Strike has always been about reliving the greatest battles of World War II. Unlike traditional RTS games, Sudden Strike focuses on tactics, leaving behind the bother of resource collecting and unit building. Instead, it gives you a pre-determined force that likely would’ve taken part in World War II, occasionally providing reinforcements when appropriate and pushing your strategic acumen to its limits.

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Just like in previous entries, Sudden Strike 4 is broken down into three campaigns spread across 20 chapters, as you follow along with the Allies (United States/Great Britain), the Germans, and the Russians. What differentiates the campaign here from previous installments is the addition of a new feature allowing players to choose a commander. Every faction has three unique commanders, each providing stat boosts and special abilities depending on who you choose. For example, the Allies have Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Bernard Montgomery; Patton and Bradley give certain benefits to tank units, while Montgomery favors foot soldier boosts.

Another new addition is a star system based on points. The better you do in a mission, the more stars you’ll earn. Stars unlock greater abilities and boosts for each of your commanders, allowing you to start missions with an advantage and making it so you can mix up your strategies on mission replays.

In our demo, we played from the perspective of the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge, the iconic 1944 German offensive on the Western Front in the latter stages of World War II that is directly attributed to lengthening the war by several months. We also played the Battle of Stalingrad, another German offensive, this time playing as the Germans as they pushed towards the Volga River in 1942.

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If you’re not intimately familiar with these battles, a lot of the scenarios that Sudden Strike 4 throws at you can be something of a shock. Covering the retreat of heavy artillery, holding ground against wave after wave of enemy tanks, minefields on city streets, and more were on display in the two missions shown to us. Surprise objectives like rescuing soldiers trapped in a factory, or forces occupying nearby buildings for ambush pinch attacks also forced me to adjust tactics often and quickly on the fly. Without the potentially unlimited resources seen in other RTS games, though, this meant that a wrong choice would often lead to defeat—or, worse yet, an impasse with the units you may have been left with.

Although frustrating at times, Sudden Strike 4’s limitations also give a truer sense of war that you often don’t find in games anymore—nevermind the RTS genre. You could always restart, but with each mission lasting upwards of an hour, there is also a heavy sense of commitment with every move you take on the field. It caused me to think and re-think every maneuver several times, and even then I ended up with a skeleton force at best surviving each encounter.

In this sense, if you’re looking for a true test of your strategic ability, it appears Sudden Strike 4 is ready to deliver. With detailed environments and accurate representations of World War II’s greatest conflicts, Sudden Strike 4 is a welcome addition to a genre that needs a shot in the arm. The only other question I have with the game is if it can transition to console. Real-Time Strategy titles have a history of faltering when they move away from PC, and the fact that the game is being made for both PC—where our demo took place—and PS4 has me concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if it can roll to victory on both platforms in Spring 2017.

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In Soviet Russia, Game Plays You!

World War II has long be fertile ground of video games, and for good reason. There are clear-cut good guys and bad guys, enough conflict to tell the story of countless heroes, and plenty of opportunities to romanticize the cultures and countries involved. There’s one area of the war, however, that games have long had a blind spot for: the Eastern Front.

As the Germans continued to spread out across Europe and into North Africa, they found their greatest difficulties arose when they attempted to cross the Ural Mountains and conquer the Soviet Union. The USSR, of course, fought using attrition warfare, whittling down German forces, take advantage of the long Russian winters, and even destroying some of their own resources to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Many believe it was this strategy and prolonged conflict that finally led to the fall of the Third Reich.

But that’s enough history for today.

Company of Heroes 2, THQ’s follow-up to the popular real-time strategy game, looks to explore this rarely represented conflict—and take full advantage of those long Russian winters as well. Earlier this month, I got to go hands-on with both the single-player and competitive multiplayer modes, giving me a chance to see firsthand what it’ll take to survive along the Eastern Front.

During my single-player time, I tackled a mission that tasked me with building up the Russian forces and conquering three strategic points along a riverbed. The bleakness of the winter setting was immediately apparent, as a whirling snowstorm blew in and hindered my onscreen vision. I also saw the effects of hypothermia set in on my troops, causing them to take ill and requiring me to build fires to keep them warm while we waited out the storm.

As I started my advance across the frozen tundra, I approached the riverbank and experienced another new dynamic as German tanks started moving across the ice towards my position. The game advised me to use mortars to blow holes in the river to sink the German tanks. It would hinder my progress, shrinking the lanes my troops could use to cross the river, but considering the damage it would do to the German armor line, I was left with little choice. As the Panzers sank to their watery graves (in exquisite detail for an RTS game, I might add), I was able to advance across what was left of the frozen river and conquer the objectives with little resistance from the remaining German forces.

While much of this single-player excursion played out like most other RTS games with regard to stockpiling resources, building units, and attempting to use superior strategy to overcome our foes, the new environmental hazards and dynamic terrain were a joy to play around with. From minor visual details like tank tracks in the snow to the new tactical options afforded by the winter elements, there were enough innovations here to make the standard RTS gameplay feel novel and fresh.

After thumping the Germans in the single-player mode, I was afforded the chance to take on some human opponents in versus multiplayer. Wanting to continue to experience the cold Russian winters, I tried out some new maps—including one where the middle capture point was placed on a tiny sliver of land surrounded by a frozen lake. Here, after my experiences in the single player campaign, I made my greatest RTS stand in quite some time.

Allowing myself to fall behind early and basically giving my opponent the middle capture point, I settled in around my base and began to build. Tank after tank after tank would soon dot my base’s perimeter. With only 50 or so points between me and defeat, I sent my armor columns onward towards the middle point. My German opponent did not stand idly by while I built my forces up and had quite the armor division himself by the time we faced off for our grand conflict.

He had unwisely placed much of his armor on the fragile ice, though. With a few well-placed barrages from my tanks, I sent much of his armor to the bottom of the lake and deployed a single engineer to capture the point. Thanks to my shelling, I’d set up a natural barricade of broken ice that my opponent was unable to overcome. Victory was mine, and it was time to break out the finest Russian vodka to celebrate!

Much like the single player campaign, the multiplayer was tremendous fun, and having to balance the elements along with the unique terrain made for a RTS experience unlike any other. What’s more, the level of detail on each unit and locales is almost unheard of in an RTS. If the small snippet of game play we saw was any indicator, Company of Heroes 2 should be a must-have game for strategy fans and World War II buffs alike when it launches on PC in 2013.

Originally Published: March 8, 2011, on Original-Gamer.com

I had a chance to go and get a first hand look at some of the new titles being launched this spring from SEGA. The next title that I looked at is the PC exclusive Total War: Shogun 2, a real-time and turn-based strategy games based in feudal Japan. Shogun 2 adds a lot of brand new features on top of the first Shogun including new clans, provinces, and naval battles and will be available March 15, 2011.

Originally Published: September 29, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

I reviewed RUSE for the Xbox 360. RUSE is a turn based strategy video game taking place in World War 2 and is also available on PS3 and PC.

Originally Published: September 18, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

I review Halo Wars from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 from February 2009. A new look for the Halo universe in this RTS (real-time strategy) video game set 20 years before the original Halo! This video game review features Halo Wars video game play footage and commentary.

Revolutionary Ravens

Originally Published: September 13, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, and Lundberg.me

I always love to see a game company take a risk and try new things, especially in a recession when you see most developers avoid risks and just develop more proven franchises in the hopes of maximizing profits.

Of course, they are called risks for a reason. Sometimes people may not be receptive to the idea or the execution isn’t as tight as it needs to be and sometimes the idea sounds great until you actually see it implemented. I think Raven Squad for the Xbox 360 and PC falls into that latter category.

The setting is the jungles of Brazil a couple of years from now and you play as a group of six mercenaries who are broken into two groups of three for assault and infiltrating purposes.

You are on what is advertised as a standard mission to take down some local drug runners. It is only later you find out you have been dropped into the middle of a Brazilian Civil War. Now, you have to try and navigate the lush Amazon Rainforest as you dodge bullets and maybe restore a little peace along the way, as you and your squad mates try to find an escape route that doesn’t involve your heads on stakes.

The plot may not be the most original, but when executed properly, everyone loves mercenary first-person shooters. The twist with Raven Squad is that it is also a real-time strategy game.

What? A FPS and RTS all in one game? I know, I did a double take myself when I heard that since I can’t remember it being tried on this scale before.

The good news is that the transition between these modes is flawless and makes for interesting strategy development as you control one of your three man squads from the bird’s eye view of a RTS and move your other squad along the ground from the eyes of Paladin, the squad’s leader.

The problem with the RTS mode is that you can see the entire layout of the land and therefore make your FPS strategy according to that. Since you see where all the enemies are, there is almost no point to the FPS mode since it is so much easier to take out your enemies from RTS view while the enemy A.I. stays in a FPS state the entire time. This additional mode also consumes so much disk space that the graphics in FPS mode are poor at best and the music and voice acting is abysmal.

The defense for this is that the developers say they were aiming to play off the cheesiness of the 1980s movies this was based off, but I have a hard time buying that because cheesy would be a compliment to the poor acting performances given in this game.

Another poor aspect of the game is that there is a nice co-op mode with each person being able handle one of the three man groups, but there is no versus mode where this game needed a 12 player total team vs. team versus mode to really make it worth more than a once playthrough.

So an unoriginal plot mixed with bad peripherals, no versus mode, and an interesting concept usually isn’t enough to garner a buy for a game, but if you were as curious as I was when I heard they were mixing RTS and FPS elements, Raven Squad would probably be a very solid rental for you.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 6.0: The graphics are sub-par for a FPS, but pretty solid for an RTS. Since this combines many of both, but the cut scenes look very poor, I can only give a below average score.

Audio: 4.0: The worst voice acting I have ever heard, hands down. The music is alright and the SFX work, but the voice acting is a constant reminder of nails on a chalkboard.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.5: It is hard sometimes to look at the plot objectively since the dialogue drives most of it and the dialogue isn’t bad, just the people delivering it. So when I finally look at the actual plot, I don’t feel bad about giving it an average score. Nothing original about it, but it makes sense and flows well.

Gameplay: 7.0: A few obvious glitches are annoying, but not enough to take away from the overall experience. The smooth transition from RTS to FPS mode and back are nice, but the execution, especially in FPS mode, is average at best.

Replay Value: 4.0: Aside from a co-op multiplayer mode, there really isn’t a lot to bring you back for this game. A versus mode would have been fantastic and no collectibles to speak of really means this game doesn’t offer a lot to bring you back for.

Overall (not an average): 6.0: Like I said at the beginning of the article, I love it when game developers take risks on games with different ideas. Unfortunately not all of them pan out the way they were originally imagined. The concept of a RTS/FPS game is great, but once executed, you see that the game is just too simple as you can use it to basically cheat as the A.I. operates in a FPS mode the entire way through. When you can see the enemy and they can’t see you, it is very easy to win.

Raven Squad is available now for Xbox 360 and PC.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: February 24, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

They can hear it here on Earth, though, and if you are a fan of RTS (Real Time Strategy) games or the Halo franchise then that is exactly what you’ll be doing after playing Halo Wars. After acquiring a review copy of the game, I played the whole way through its 15 campaign levels and played some multiplayer against the computer and can see already this game has everything you could want from it.

Many skeptics out there worried that if you combined the long history of RTS failures on consoles with a prequel to one of the most successful franchises in gaming history you were going to get burned for playing with fire. Then when they heard it would be an XBOX360 exclusive with no PC port, they almost wrote this gem off before a demo had even been released. However, the folks at Ensemble Studios knew exactly what they were doing. Hailed for RTS staples like the Age of Empires series, Ensemble Studios proved they were the right ones to make what I am declaring to be the first successful RTS game for a console.

As an RTS, Halo Wars plays as if you were using your computer. Using the paintbrush tools and hot buttons to select troops and move from base to base make basic commands a breeze to the point that you forget you’re using an XBOX360 controller and not a mouse and keyboard. Supplies gathering and building upgrades are simple and have been streamlined to fit the console’s RTS scheme and make it so that you can build your supply depot and forget about it and know your supplies will continue to stream in (as long as you keep the supply depot from getting razed by enemy fire that is). The gameplay is crisp and there isn’t an ounce of lag throughout the game.

The only problems were the usual ones you find in most RTS games, such as trying to send a group of three or four large units, like tanks, through a narrow opening in the land and instead of them naturally deciding to go one at a time, they keep running into each other as all four try to fit through at once. This pathfinding bugginess is forgivable since that has been a problem with RTS games for years, not just on consoles. The battle engagements are challenging and most missions require more thinking than “I’ll just build more units than the enemy and unleash my entire army in a barbaric charge when the time comes”. With four levels of difficulty to play through and an online co-op mode, the Halo Wars story mode will keep RTS fans happy for a long time.

In terms of the head-to-head multiplayer, I will admit I wasn’t able to get a true feel for it due to there being only so many early copies out there for us media outlets, but I did play a few Deathmatches against the computer and it had everything you would expect from an RTS Deathmatch. Standard rules: wipe your opponent off the map. It gives you a huge amount of starting supplies and it’s a race to see how fast you can build the largest army to try and eradicate your opponent. The maps are all based off planets and locales you come across in the main game, but on a smaller scale to encourage constant engagements. Everything taken into consideration, the Halo Wars head-to-head multiplayer has a strong foundation for some great XBOX Live battles ahead for itself.

If you’re a follower of the Halo canon you can rest easy. The story is not only compelling, but it does justice to the series and highlights some obscure key events in the Halo timeline that many might not be familiar with that lead up to Master Chief’s escapades. Troops, vehicles, and buildings are all as accurate as can be for both the Marines and the Covenant and follow in line with what you’ve learned from previous Halo games. For example, you can’t make an army of Spartan soldiers; if you’re lucky you’ll get a couple at the beginning of the level to help you out and that’s it. Add in collectibles that concur with the Halo universe like a skull on each level and black boxes to reveal more of the Halo timeline feature and you’ve got plenty to keep this game warm in your machine for a long time. The only real drawback I felt was that the story seemed a bit short. The plot developed too quickly for my tastes and to have as much action as it did spread across only 15 levels felt like you had unfinished business. Then again, it does take place 20 years before Master Chief so that might have been on purpose.

If you want to learn a little bit more about the story and the characters, take a look at the interview I did with Lead Story Writer, Graeme Devine from Ensemble Studios.

Ray Carsillo with Graeme Devine, Lead Story Writer for Halo Wars
Video by Jared Bodden

Ratings are based on a system of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 8.5: Not a tremendous amount of detail is usually necessary for an RTS game. As long as the terrain is has some variations and is glitch-free, then you’re usually set. This being said, Halo Wars’ cut scenes are spectacular to view and bring up the overall visual quality of the game and are something to look forward to after each mission. A solid display to say the least.

Audio: 9.5: The voice acting was crisp and clean and the SFX were fairly solid. In-game explosions could have used a little work. I just didn’t feel it when I destroyed a Covenant base. The music was taken straight from the trilogy which was a smart move. Minor complaints, but really great overall.

Plot/Plot Development: 9.0: The plot seemed a little rushed at times and developed too quickly considering the grand scale of the Covenant’s master plan in this game. I understand that it was probably a lot of story to fit in over only 15 levels, but it left you feeling with unfinished business at the end. Then again, this is only one short series of events over a war that spans decades and is still 20 years away from Master Chief’s adventures.

Gameplay: 9.0: The game was mostly smooth and the A.I. was pretty impressive. The only problems were the usual ones you find in any great RTS game, such as trying to send a group of three or four large units through a narrow opening in the land. They decide that running into each other, as all four try to fit through at once, will be exactly the kind of reinforcements you need in any altercation. This has been a problem that has plagued RTS games for years and until someone figures out how to fix that, no RTS will ever earn a perfect score on gameplay.

Replay Value: 10.0: The telltale sign of an RTS game’s greatness is if you want to keep playing the missions over and over and this one succeeds. With hidden collectibles on each mission, co-op and versus options, and like any good RTS game, no mission can be completed the same way twice, this game will stay in your XBOX360 for a long time.

Overall (not an average): 10.0: Let me start off by saying that 10 out of 10 does not make a game perfect, there is no such thing as a “perfect” game. However, to not give this game the highest possible score would be a tragedy. What pushed this up from a 9 to a 10 is that this game is the first to break the stereotype of RTS games being abysmal on a console. Never before has an RTS been able to successfully transition from the PC to the home console or go straight to the console with such fluidity. This game could revolutionize the RTS genre and open up doors we had only begun to dream of. This alone would have garnered a great score, but combined with an awesome plot, stellar controls, and visually stunning cut scenes, I could not think of giving this game any less than a “perfect” score. Thank you to the people at Microsoft and Ensemble Studios for FINALLY getting it right. Halo Wars is available everywhere on March 3rd, 2009.

-Ray Carsillo