Columns & Blogs

Real-time strategy ‘Halo Wars’ is a whole new genre in series

Don’t be confused by “Halo Wars.”

Yes, the game is set in the Halo universe with some familiar characters from the best-selling franchise. But this game is a complete departure from the series.

“Halo Wars” isn’t about the latest exploits of Master Chief, the protagonist from the series’ three previous games.

This newest entry from the series, which was released Tuesday on the Xbox 360, is a real-time strategy game, much like entries from the “Command & Conquer” or “Civilization” library. Until now, “Halo” games were first-person shooters, a genre that will be revisited with the upcoming “Halo 3: ODST,” which is set for release later this year.

But “Halo” developer Bungie Studios handed the universe over to Ensemble Studios, which created the “Age of Empires” series for computers, to handle the creation of a real-time strategy game for consoles.

Because of the limits of a console controller, real-time strategy games designed for consoles have largely fallen short of any lofty expectations.

But with “Halo Wars,” Ensemble developed a pretty basic control structure to keep the gameplay a mix between real-time strategy and mission-based action gaming. With that, the studio likely hoped to draw in fans of the series and expose them to real-time strategy games, as well as exposing fans of the genre to the “Halo” universe. However, there are few — if any — Xbox owners who haven’t played a “Halo” game.

“Halo Wars” takes place 20 years before the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

As a fan of the series, I think designing a real-time strategy game to fit into this series is an admirable accomplishment.

Ensemble created a game that is quick — at least the campaign mode is — and fun, which makes for a pretty easy entry point into real-time strategy games for those who haven’t given the genre a try.

But as a game in the “Halo” series, this is the weakest.

It’s hard to compare “Halo Wars” to the other games because it’s so different from those.

But it’s not nearly as fun as the others, and it surely doesn’t have their depth, either.

You can play as either the UNSC or alien Covenant in the skirmish mode, but only as the UNSC in the campaign mode. The lack of a playable Covenant in the campaign mode is disappointing, particularly because previous games in the series have allowed the gamer to play as both.

The game doesn’t require nearly as much strategy as many games in the genre, instead allowing the gamer to really just roll through most missions with a shoot-and-run technique. But “Halo Wars” is largely successful, and is one of the few games to take a well-known universe and apply it to a completely different genre.