Let it be known that I am a Halo fanboy. I know that may draw ire from some of you hardcore PC gamers, and even I am ashamed of it on some level, being also a Counter-Strike fanboy as well. Something about the atmosphere of Halo has always grabbed me, and its rich mythology did the job of sucking me in. You’re reading the words of a guy who has read the graphic novel, assorted comics, and several of the novels, here.
As many of you know, a demo for the game hit XBox Live just last week. So, how did this console RTS that has spent way too long in development hold up as of right now?
One of the first things I noticed when I fired up the demo was the all-too-familiar Halo menu screen. It becomes clear after spending some time with the demo that Ensemble Studios really studied the Halo franchise, and as a result have been able to really capture that special Halo feel. Don’t ask me what exactly it is, but they’ve nailed that invisible quality, striking the Halo chord with shocking resonance.
I think the thing that most people have been curious about, myself included, is the gameplay. After all, anyone that is familiar with the keyboard and mouse setup of RTS games knows that translating that all over to a joystick and a few shoulder buttons seems virtually impossible.
Well, we were right. As far as gameplay goes, Halo Wars feels like a stripped down RTS. All of your soldiers are selected with the left bumper, and local soldiers (the ones that appear just on your screen) can be selected with the right bumper. Beyond that, you can choose to control individual units with the A button, or even toggle through groups (tanks, warthogs, marines, etc) by using the right trigger after selecting all.
While there are certainly a variety of options, nothing comes close to the precision that you have while using a keyboard, where hotkeys can be assigned to specific groups and pairings of units. I found myself really wanting to grab some marines, some tanks, some warthogs, and use them to micro-manage the battles that waged, but really, it was just easier to press left bumper and then attack all at once.
Don’t get me wrong, the battles were still enjoyable, but they were very simplistic, even for a demo. However, despite all that, I have to say that I was actually having a lot of fun. The design of the game is pretty solid, and the tech tree seems to be very well thought out. Building reactors, barracks, and supply depots all worked very intuitively, and I couldn’t suppress the glee upon seeing Scorpion tanks pull out of my base.
I think the thing that most impressed me about the demo, however, was the story. The cut scenes were really well done, and really had me wanting to see what happens next. More than anything, these bits of story were what really stood out about the demo. While the gameplay was nothing spectacular, the story started to draw me in relatively quickly.
All in all, I wasn’t interested in this game at all before the demo, which is especially odd considering that I’m a Halo fanboy. After playing the demo though, I’ll definitely rent this game when it comes out to see what the story has to offer. The proposition of multiplayer seems like it could be potentially great, as well.
So what were your thoughts on the Halo Wars demo?