Left Bumper, Attack: Halo Wars Impressions

halo-wars1Let 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?

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

14 thoughts on “Left Bumper, Attack: Halo Wars Impressions”

  1. I really enjoyed the demo. I’m a big RTS player on PC (Supreme Commander is my current fave), and even though Halo Wars did feel a little stripped down, I’d say it’s probably the best set of RTS controls we’re going to get on a console unless we can plug a keyboard in.

    You’re right, Ensemble really nailed the feeling of the Halo games. I don’t know exactly what it is, but everything you’ve come to expect from Halo presentation wise, this game has. Certain sounds seem like they were lifted right out of Halo 3, and that’s fine by me.

    The game may seem simple in the constraints the demo, but once we’re able to control the other “hero” units of both the UNSC and the Covenant, I bet the game will open up a little. After all, each unique leader has access to their own separate box of tricks.

    I have to give major props to the cut scenes. Those graphics are damn near beautiful, most notably when Captain Cutter talks to the Professor on the observation deck of the Spirit of Fire. The writing is also a lot better than I first thought it would be, but I still think the Arbiter’s line of “I do not care for your little life” is a bit groan-worthy.

    I’ve already put my pre-order down for this, and I’m looking forward to March 3. Nothing quite like sending five Spartans to kick ass all over the map.

  2. I’m no good at RTSs on the PC, I shudder to think how I would handle one on the console. Once they release the PC version 3 years from now, I may check this out.

  3. Wow Mitch, way to think for youself lol, I kid I kid… the controls didnt bother me but they felt slightly sluggish at times, and you cant zoom in on the little spartan… I wanted a closeup on him hijacking and I couldnt get one. In the end its a demo and no one will know for sure about the game until it comes out, but still a nice detailed article. Left Bumper, Attack basically sums up a play through of this 1.4gig demo lol.

    Anyone else think the Vulture is BA?

  4. [quote comment=”4440″]Once they release the PC version 3 years from now, I may check this out.[/quote]
    I hope they don’t wait 3 years – by that time, RTS games will probably be on to bigger & better things. (DOWII) Unfortunately for us, Microsoft wants to push their console now that the PS3 is making gains. And really, you can’t blame them. There are plenty of RTS’s for PC, but none for consoles. Also, the big Halo fans are more likely to have a 360 than a powerful PC. Oh well – RIP, Ensemble.

  5. I think the whole problems of console RTS controls were solved with EndWar. Does this employ voice recognition?

  6. I loved the demo. true, the gameplay wasn’t great but the control scheme was exellent. As someone who, rather foolishly, bought the AGE OF EMPIRES games for ps2, i was intrigued. the controls arn’t as good as a pc’s it’s true but they managed to avoid the single button heavy controls of other consol RTS.
    I loved the cutscenes and i too was drawn in from the start. I am definatly buying this game. Multiplayer will be EPIC!

  7. oh and the Arbiter could have looked a bit better. was he the Arbiter? i have no idea who he is, maybe he is the Arbiter.

  8. Rock paper scissors banshee….. with no depth this is just a rock paper scissors rts. They may change it but right now that all it is. Also dow 2 like wox42 said is way better than this game even if its removed the building aspect theirs is more than just a rock paper scissors aspect with each character being able to do more than one thing. I really wanted to like it but i just can’t

  9. A great RTS can not possibly exist without hotkeys they are an essential part of micromanagement. So im guessing this game will be worth a rent because of the story

  10. Well I am neither a fan of RTS games in general, nor the Halo franchise as a whole.. BUT I am atleast glad that you ( Eddy ) were able to be interested in the story. That says a lot.

  11. Yeah, Halo Wars is pretty simplistic, but Ensemble Studios did an excellent job making the controls easy to use and effective enough. No, the controller can never compare to a mouse and keyboard, but it does a nice job of approaching the glory of the 100+ keys.
    The gameplay is pretty simple: there’s one resource and units fight in triangles of domination. But that’s what makes the AoE games so fun – they are relatively simple. It’s all about building up your firebase and cranking out troops. It’s fun to mix things up with units like the Elephant or badass Scarab, and relish in MAC rounds plunging into Harvest’s surface.
    The story carries the same Halo-style feel that the original trilogy had. Like you said Eddy, there’s an invisible, indescribable awesomeness to a Halo game and HW reflects this nicely. Plus, the animation (omgwtfbbq Snow!!!) is great, and the Elites look even more SEX-A.
    Can’t wait for the full release. Halo Wars multiplayer will definitely be something I look forward to!

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