Hands-on preview: Halo Wars!

First hands-on gameplay

The RTS Problem

Reinventing Halo as a strategy game may seem like an easy task — slap a Warthog here, a mob of Marines there, a cursor, and voila! — but the reality of producing Halo Wars has required tremendous effort and thought from the veteran RTS developers at Ensemble Studios. Halo Wars has forced Ensemble's team to re-evaluate its most deeply held beliefs about the function and feel of the RTS genre, in the process turning conventional wisdom on its head. The first challenge was the hardest: making a strategy game that feels utterly natural when played on a game controller, a demanding task since the device can't match the fluidity or flexibility of a PC mouse and keyboard.

192668-4-1

Multiplayer matches are expected to support up to six players over Xbox Live. Two players can play online co-op in the campaign.

"We started by converting [PC strategy game] Age of Mythology to work with a controller," executive producer Ryan explains. "We didn't want to worry about the specifics of the game, just the user interface and the feel of the controller." Though Ensemble's prototype took months of hard work from a dedicated team, the proof-of-concept caught the attention of Microsoft, the studio's owner and publisher. "Then," Ryan adds, "we started talking about Halo."

But making the switch from PC game development to console development brings some serious challenges. "Ensemble has had to step away from our own classic definition of an RTS," Ryan explains. PC RTS games rely on their complex interfaces and detailed in-game economies, features that the studio acknowledges just won't work when played on a TV set in the living room. In designing a more visceral combat system and visual communication style for Halo Wars, the experienced PC studio had to move outside of its comfort zone. "These are all new challenges for Ensemble," Ryan says.

192668-5-1

Capturing the awe-inspiring locales of Halo in an RTS took some fancy coding, but the results speak for themselves.

The good news is that many of Ensemble's bold design decisions in Halo Wars have re-energized and re-focused the team. One promising example is the simplicity of Halo Wars' economy, which isn't structured around wood or gold or money, but simply an all-encompassing resource called "supplies." With such a simple economy in place, players can focus on the real action: upgrading units, building helpful new structures, and sending legions of troops into battle. "The economy is simple but meaningful," Ensemble designer Dave Pottinger says. "All the big strategy decisions remain, but the game style is more adrenaline-filled."

That speedy new game pace, which lowers the learning curve and better captures the energy of the Halo shooters, is another bold move that Ensemble is particularly proud of. Rather than battles that rage on for 30 minutes or more, Halo Wars encourages faster, more vicious conflicts that can play out in a fraction of the time. It's a play style that suits the Halo world well. "In early versions of the game, it took 10 minutes to prepare to fight," Pottinger explains. "Now we've got that down to about 10 seconds." Starting a match is faster and more engaging, too, as you begin every battle with a lone unarmed Warthog that you can drive around to collect the supply crates that dot the environments. Once you collect a few supply crates, you can start pumping out troops seconds into the match.

192668-7-1

The attention to detail is impressive. Note the Marines piling out of the Elephant mobile barracks, and the Wraith looming in the distance.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

GamePro staff

GamePro (online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?