Riding Shotgun: Halo Wars Demo Impressions Part 2

Sunday, February 22, 2009
I couldn't shake a niggling skepticism, so I went ahead and bought Street Fighter IV instead of holding out for Halo Wars. I don't want to make it seem like I'll never pick up Halo Wars, but I probably won't when it first arrives in my local GameStop. Maybe a week later, depending on its reception. This was probably the best course of action for two reasons. 1) Street Fighter IV is simply a masterpiece, and 2) those vidocs (1, 2, 3 and 4) from Ensemble make the pitch of "we've captured the feel of Halo, and we did it in a RTS game!" way too conjugal for my tastes, as though they'd been sleeping with Bungie's hot wife, but now they merely feel that this relationship was "good while it lasted."

My problem with Halo Wars is that I can't get rid of this feeling that Ensemble made the game because they were told to, not because they thought it was a good idea. And, although they have professed--in those aforementioned vidocs--their enthusiasm with the game's mechanics, their final product, and so on, it seems like the mere need to continually tell me that they've nailed the gameplay makes me question the game demo that I'd played for more than 12 hours. Perhaps with the recent disassembling of Ensemble, they wanted to get a last word? In any case, their once sweet translation of the Halo franchise has turned bittersweet on my palate.

But I like what I've played. And I don't want to dismiss the game entirely.

I especially like the promise of the full game. 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 battles sound like a lot of fun, and I can imagine different combinations of leaders in multi-player skirmishes as the true heart of the game. Ensemble has gone on record in vidoc to show the world the amazing ability to share money in Halo Wars. I'm not sure it's as important an inclusion as they make it out to be--it's been done before--but I'm glad they were trying to mix it up a little.

After spending tons of time with the demo, I feel there are definitely unique features in Halo Wars. I love the Unique units and the hero powers, and I can't wait to see how players come to exploit these features in the finished game. The variations in build-order are going to allow a kind of technique that tournament play usually hinges on. For instance, a quick factory can get you higher tech, but more supply pads can get you more entry-level units to help you expand early on--this, of course, can affect your late-game potential.

I like that units have different kinds of counters, but there seem to be too many kinds of units, in my opinion. This highlights a problem I have with most of Ensemble's games (except Age of Mythology), too many units cause techs to be too broad and ephemeral for a RTS. And it's not entirely evident what units are better than what other units. The game doesn't give you the hit points, the damage, and the armor of any of these units, so you just have to guess what beats what, satiated by their vapid definition of "works well against infantry." I don't even want to guess what deep hellish canyons these folks over at Halo Wars Heaven had to go through to get some of the stats for these units, and they only have about 4 completed.

Hellish indeed.