Another FPS? Hoorah! Halo Wars! Sounds like an aggressive first-person shooter, eh? Well, it's not. So tough luck for everyone who bought this game solely for the reason that it had the name "Halo" in it, you "non-reading-the-back-of-the-box-idiot". Now my personal opinion is, Halo: Combat Evolved had the best story and campaign in the series. Halo 3 had me hooked for awhile, and that game has the best multi-player. Halo 2 was always my third favorite, well not anymore. Everything is about to change.
Halo Wars takes place twenty years prior to Halo: Combat Evolved and acts as a sort of prologue, explaining what the battles were like between the UNSC and Covenant. Story is told through CGI cutscenes and in-game dialogue. The story is told nicely and you get lots of back-story from the extra text based timeline, if you're into that sort of thing. The only negative thing is that you can only play as the UNSC and not the Covenant or the Flood.
The game is a Real Time Strategy(RTS) game. Whether you like them or not, you should give it a shot. Right away, you should notice, you're not using a keyboard and mouse. You're using the 360's controller to do everything. All the commands that is common for the 100+ buttons on a PC keyboard. Ensemble Studios really did make the limitations of keys work. Almost a little too easily. It's something you can pick up and play and right away. Sure it requires skill and knowledge to outsmart your enemies in some situations but most of the time, knowing the controls can win you a few battles.
Selecting your units is easy and only requires a tap of a button. Also quickly jumping from base to base or to a action point is very easy with the D-Pad. It's obvious that Ensemble spent time on the controls making sure that a RTS players, new and old, can fully control the forces. Managing and upgrading units takes a little patience, but when you've fully upgraded your Hunters or finally got your Scarab, you're ready to select all units to storm your enemy's base! Lots of fun is to be had with the bum rush.
Battles are similar to most RTS games. Build your main base; create several buildings that will help you create more units. Once you begin upgrading the base, then that lets you update the building and eventually getting better units. Getting those better building/units require harvesting of resources. Attack units start off with standard marines and Warthogs. After some upgrading, you can create Scorpion tanks and your own squad of Master Chief-eque Spartan soldiers. Each unit has a standard attack but they also have special attacks that are unleashed by pressing the A button. These attacks include grenades from the Marines, ramming of the Warthogs, and rocket launcher from the Spartans.
The graphics are good for a RTS. They don't stand out that much but they are nice to look at. Some environmental effects are nicely done like the explosions, lasers and bombing runs. You can zoom in and out of the battlefield getting a very nice look at the units when you zoom in. I don't know if it was limitations or just the way they wanted to do the gameplay, but each army can only have around 40 units on screen at once. They could've gone for an epic scale of troops but I guess it wouldn't feel like it was in the Halo universe if it was like that (it seems that there aren't that many HUGE battles in the Halo universe with all those damn soldiers).
Keeping with the Halo tradition, the score of Halo Wars keeps the epic feel of the series. With mighty symphony pieces to go along with the action, there are sadly no memorable tracks. Voice acting is a bit along the meh side. Not utterly horrible like some games as of late, the actors do a decent job. Still, not on that same level as previous Halo games.
Online in the game is really fun. You can play with 1-4 players against each or on teams. While in teams with others, you can speak with voice chat. Teamwork becomes important as you help your allies with securing areas so they can build their own base. You can also send them some of the resources you've got to help them out in building up their army. The online mode has only a few game types but they're enjoyable and the online component will definitely keep you coming back. Also in the online mode you can play as the Covenant, but still no damn Flood. Then again, the Flood would just be sending a ton of the same three units like they do in the games.
Halo Wars is a great game for first time RTS players, or RTS vets that want something new in a familiar universe. It's something different in the right direction. I'm glad they didn't decide to release a Halo Kart Racer like all of the other milked series nowadays. How long until you think until we'll get a Gears of War: Wars?