Set 20 years before the first Halo game, Halo Wars takes us through the origins of the UNSC vs. Covenant war. Serina, an A.I. entity similar to Cortana from Halo 1, 2, and 3 narrates the game. She will also help player's stay up-to-date on everything happening on the battlefield. Like the bond between Master Chief and Cortana, Serina is the go-to girl when trouble arises.
Before starting on actual production of Halo Wars, Ensemble studios spent six month perfecting the controls. The problem: The controls of real-time strategy games don't translate well to a console controller. RTS games are complex in nature and there are just not enough buttons on the face of a controller to micro manage all of those actions. Ensemble, however, has found what they think is the most simplistic and best approach to playing Halo Wars on the Xbox 360. The entire game can actually be played through using only the left analog stick and the four face buttons, A, B, X, and Y. Although, more advanced controls available for the game's higher control functions such as waypoints and jump-to-units or buildings.
Selecting units is as simple as pressing the A button on a group of soldiers, double clicking the A button to select all units of that type onscreen, or holding down the A button for a circular paint selection tool.
Now that's out of the way, we can talk about the game and its units. Every unit and vehicle we have come to know and love about Halo is in the game. Unlike the static and slow feel of most real-time strategy games, every unit moves with pinpoint precision to their Halo 1 and 2 counterparts. The Warthog power slides through waypoints, and can even ram ground units. Banshees swoop as if someone in Halo were actually piloting them, and Ghosts boost into action with tremendous speed and splatter potential.
Just like in StarCraft, each type of unit is built to compliment a unit of the opposing race, and there is a hierarchy of unit strength. Squads of UNSC soldiers lose to Covenant squads of Grunts and Elites, but Grunts and Elites lose to a Warthog. Warthogs lose to Banshees, so on and so forth. There are anti-air units for both races too such as the UNSC Wolverine.
In our brief E3 demo, shortly after all Covenant units were laid to rest, the alien scum still had one more trick up their sleeve. A giant Covenant Scarab emerged from under ground screaming lasers across the remaining UNSC units. In a matter of seconds nothing remained of the UNSC but burnt soldiers and demolished Scorpion tank bits. So what destroys a Scarab? Well, lucky for the UNSC a massive omnipresent spaceship looms overhead, which actually happens to be the viewport through which the game is played. A MAC Cannon strike was called in upon the Scarab - bye, bye Scarab.
Overall the game looked amazing. The visuals were very impressive with real-time damage, lighting, shadows, fluid animations, and interesting level design. At one point a rather large ravine posed a difficult challenge for UNSC soldiers, but it was no problem for the agile Warthogs who soared over the ravine with ease. Needless to say, we are very excited to see more from Halo Wars in the next coming months.