I continue to enjoy my free Xbox Game Pass trial. Halo Wars is a Halo-based real time strategy game. However, since this was made in the dark days where 360 was heavily pushed, this was designed with controllers in mind. In some way, it's a miracle that this was even released on PC, unlike every other Halo game at the time. Although Halo was originally conceived as an RTS, this has no relation to it.
This was the last game made by Ensemble Games, the same people who made the Age Of Empires series. In some far-flung past, I intended to complete that series (at least to 3) before digging into this, but that's obviously not going to happen. I don't have enough time or motivation right now. Ensemble was toying around with a console RTS, but their Microsoft masters felt that it wouldn't be successful without it set in the Halo universe.
The first thing that struck me is how zoomed in everything is. The camera feels too close to the ground. Zooming out seems to point the camera more at the ground instead of actually letting you see more stuff. I hate that! Why can't all RTS games have zoom functionality like Supreme Commander or Darwinia? Don't say, "oh that's because those weren't on consoles". They were!
Because of the controller first design, there are no permanent command cards in the UI. (Compare with StarCraft and Sins of a Solar Empire.) Instead, units will automatically attack anything in range, even while moving. Units only have one ability each, and that's mapped to 'R'. Be careful that you're pointing at the spot where you want that ability to be used. (There is no separate targeting step!) Selecting a building brings up a radial command card for construction and research. (The radial menu has 8 sections, and a section can by activated by the keys around 'S'.) Unit selection is clumsy, but at least you can select units of a single type on screen by double clicking, and you can click and drag select rectangles like a normal RTS. I'm surprised that it supports numbered command groups!
Bases can only be built at pre-selected locations on the map. Bases are a core building surrounded by pads, on which support buildings are placed. Support buildings include barrackses, factories, research labs, and supply depots. Turrets have separate pads. When you build units or upgrade turrets, the radial menu provides a simple description, like "normal infantry", or "anti-air". Because of those, Halo Wars comes off as a very hand-holdy simplistic game. Gameplay usually revolves around building more units than the other guy, then rolling over his bases.
There are three factions: UNSC, Covenant, and Flood. The campaign follows a UNSC ship fighting the Covenant on Harvest, then follows them to a shield world. Seeing as how RTS games always have an option to play as the other guy, I was dissapoint that there isn't a Covenant campaign. However, the Covenant are playable in skirmish modes, and have tutorials. The Flood aren't playable. The two playable sides have 3 commanders each, with unique research abilities and units, and usually a hero unit.
It's unclear whether Bungie liked that someone else was developing a Halo game. Bungie was either excited for it, or they dragged their feet because Halo was being whored out. Nothing in this strikes me as being unfaithful to Halo. Just like Infinite, there was nothing that made me wonder 'why is this here'. The elites look a little weird, but they look better than 343's reinterpretation. The campaign loves its cinematics. They are usually in-game, but some are pre-rendered by Blur, and are awesome. There is an Arbiter, but he's canonically different from Halo 2. He doesn't command the same gravitas, and his mouth is always hung open like he's constantly drooling.
This is a decent addition to the Halo franchise, and is an excellent starting point to anyone getting into RTS games.