After spawning three best-selling first-person shooters, Bungie's futuristic universe is branching out into uncharted territory with the RTS title, Halo Wars.
The good news is that Halo Wars masterfully transports the series' best elements to an entirely different genre, and its unparalleled accessibility makes for an excellent introduction to real-time strategy. The bad news is that its self-imposed limitations take a meaty chunk out of its longevity.
Halo Wars: building empires
Twenty years before John-117 steps out of cold storage and dons the mantle of Master Chief, the Covenant locks onto the trail of a secret that could give them an insurmountable advantage in the war against humanity.
After the first slick pre-rendered cinematic, I'm tearing across snow and ice in a Warthog, gathering pinned marines so I can retake a base. The basic controls become second nature within moments. The left bumper selects everything, while the right selects only visible units. X issues move and attack orders, while Y tells jeep drivers to run over enemy troops and marines to chuck grenades at hard-points.
Traditionally, the base-building component has been a major hurdle in console RTS titles but Halo Wars pares the process back to its bare essentials. You won't have to find land near resources, you can only build bases in predetermined places, and most resources are flown in.
There's also no need to puzzle over the optimal placement of buildings because each base is simply a central fortress consisting of empty lots that you can develop into six different structures; four turret points also helps streamline base defences.
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Halo Wars: home sweet home
The most tangible benefit of this approach is the immediate feeling of familiarity. The tools have changed, and I'm viewing the action from above each explosive battle, but you'll feel right at home from the outset.
All the tricky decisions that had the potential to trip me up had already been made for me, and yet I was still given the freedom to erect buildings and train units as I saw fit.
The limitations were tight enough to force interesting decisions, like whether to designate the last free slot in my base to something vital like supplies or something luxurious like air support, but it wasn't strict enough to frustrate me - at least, not at first.
There are only a dozen basic UNSC unit types with which to experiment but the superb upgrade system allows for a much appreciated sense of flexibility when it comes to tactics.
For instance, I could choose to steadily improve my marines with rocket launchers and upgrade my medics until they became full-fledged ODST roughnecks, or I could go another route by cranking out reactors until I had the technology available to send a huge and deadly Vulture out to cruise the skies.
Vehicles, aircraft, and infantry form the time-honored RTS rock-paper-scissors triangle - A is powerful against B and weak against C - but individual units also get special attacks to boost their effectiveness in certain circumstances.
NEXT PAGE: diminishing returns