TGS 2008: Halo Wars Campaign Impressions

For the first time, we get a private viewing of the Halo Wars campaign.


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TOKYO--New information on Ensemble's upcoming real-time strategy game set in the Halo universe has been steadily trickling out for some time now. For the first time on Thursday, however, we were able to see our first glimpses of Halo Wars' campaign. And this is definitely a Halo game, from the familiar theme music we heard to the game menus, which were pure Halo 3. In fact, as producer Graeme Devine told us during our question-and-answer period at the New Otani hotel in Makuhari, Ensemble Studios wants to get RTS veterans playing a Halo game--and Halo fans playing an RTS. If anything, Halo Wars clearly nails the look and feel of the universe, right down to the cries of Covenant grunts and the vibrant color scheme.

Even the cinematics follow suit. We saw an opening cutscene that introduced us to Captain Cutter and Serena aboard the Spirit of Fire spacecraft, preparing for a mission on the planet of Harvest. A mysterious relic resides there, and it appears that the Covenant will go to any lengths to keep that relic out of the UNSC's hands--even destroying the planet itself. A Hierarch himself demands sacrifice at any cost, and the close-up of an Elite's sneering mug reinforces the point. As you may already know, the game takes place 20 years prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, and according to Devine, there are no crossover characters between Halo wars and its first-person shooter brethren. However, the game is true to Halo canon, though most of the issues that the developer has had to resolve are practical ones rather than continuity issues relating to known characters.

We also confirmed again that the campaign will only allow you to play as the UNSC, though you can also play as the Covenant in multiplayer skirmishes. Devine believes that within the Halo universe, people want to play a good-guy campaign and stated that he personally feels uncomfortable with the thought of being able to control the Flood. Judging from some players' reactions to Arbiter sequences in Halo 2, he may be right about the good-guy approach. While few details were available, Devine did promise that in the multiplayer arenas, the Covenant and the UNSC would cater to different play styles and that they would utilize their units in quite different ways. For now, we'll have to take his word: We have yet to see a demo featuring the Covenant as a playable faction.

Once the mission began, we noted that the story played out via talking-head portraits, with both Serena and Captain Cutter doing the narrative honors. Story is a main component of the campaign, and the voice-over work was of high quality, while the dialogue we heard made sure the player was always informed of the mission objectives. In this case, we needed to fight our way to a detonator to keep it from exploding--and taking the artifact with it. While the demo lasted only about 10 minutes, we saw a variety of mechanics at work. As we already knew, resource gathering is not a primary activity in Halo Wars. Structure building is confined to bases where various resource-producing and unit-building components can be erected. It's all done with the trigger-prompted command wheel, which we'd already seen in action, though the presentation didn't really touch on the control scheme. However, because the controls were built from the ground up to work--and work well--with a controller, Devine expects that most RTS veterans used to a keyboard and mouse will have no trouble acclimating themselves. Even Ensemble Studios veterans strongly inclined to using a PC-centric scheme were apparently converted to the controller approach.

The action intensified quickly at this point in the demo, and soon, we watched as UNSC and Covenant units did battle. Devine showed us one of the new UNSC vehicles: the cobra. This unit is equipped with rail guns that do heavy damage against other vehicles, which is probably a good thing because there was a giant scarab on the battlefield--apparently the largest Covenant unit you'll encounter in battle. Fortunately, a cryo bomb helped freeze it in place. And this was not a moment to soon because the scarab will make short work of almost any unit it attacks. We also noted that a cover command was available in certain locations, allowing marines to get out of harm's way.

Soon, the demo player reached the Covenant base, which was protected by a powerful shield. Shields were actually in no short supply because the relic was also protected by a barrier, and as you would expect in a Halo game, while infantry can pass through them, vehicles cannot (though air units can pass overhead). The shields protecting the base took a few moments to destroy, but once they were gone, the vulnerable base was quickly reduced to ashes. Meanwhile, vultures were making short work of grunts. An attempt to carpet bomb an area, however, was met with a roomful of groans as the powerful area attack missed its targets. But soon enough, the mission was complete, and we were able to ask Devine a few questions.

We'd already heard of the planet Harvest, and because Devine made a point of describing how each map would harbor secrets, we were curious as to what other worlds (possibly familiar ones) would feature in Halo Wars. Ensemble isn't forthcoming with much information in this regard, but Devine did briefly discuss Arcadia, a tourist colony home to a university, teeming with wildlife that visitors enjoy viewing on safaris. He also took the opportunity to mention how important the sound design was to setting the proper tone. Players should expect to receive a constant stream of vocal feedback and other audio cues, just as we did in the Halo shooters.

A few other points were also touched upon. Devine pointed out the differences between console-player expectations and PC-player expectations. Action is important to console players, he said, while resource gathering is a secondary concern. Ensemble wanted players to be able to get right into the action, and judging by how quickly combat was initiated in the mission we saw, the developer has certainly succeeded. We also asked whether the studio was taking steps to minimize the technical issues from which prior Xbox 360 strategy games have suffered. Devine quickly stated that major frame rate drops and sluggish performance keep a game from being fun to play. Because the game was built from the ground up for the platform--rather than being ported from an existing PC game--the team feels confident that Halo Wars will avoid these technical pratfalls and does daily play testing to minimize problems.

Devine also thinks that competitive play and the possibility of downloadable content will keep players coming back to Halo Wars, though he we was mum on exactly what DLC plans the studio was concocting at this time. What we do know is that Halo Wars is a game franchise fans will want to keep an eye on, and we'll bring you more news as it trickles out.

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Avatar image for ratchet407

it can't come to pc because the developer is shutting down after its release.

Avatar image for xbox4life76

Ok, they just announced a new start date, so i'm pretty excited...i'm a huge halo fan and this looks interesting...not too worried about controls though like everyone else. I got it as a gift for christmas (pre-order) so i'm excited.

Avatar image for GariSnail

You can't play a Covenant campaign because of moral reasons? What the hell? Generally when you make a 1 vs. 1 RTS to keep people interested you need to make a campaign for both sides. I know its got the online play going on and they probably only let you play the campaign or an AI so you'll get bored and get Live. RTS games with only one campaign side are usually not as good as ones you can play both sides of the story.

Avatar image for vlweb3d

Its incredibly stupid to have a game of this caliber on a console. As a matter of fact, the whole "RTS-on-console" thing is incredibly stupid. RTS games are for PCs - PERIOD !!!

Avatar image for xX2005SocialDXx

Everyone keeps coming up with this hard to control crap about the console RTS, I agree but from what I heard this game is suppose to have the easiest controls meaning you wont have to worry about any problems.

Avatar image for Halo_Gears_COD

im not really an rts fan....but i love anything with halo so im gonna have to get this one

Avatar image for Nickfan19

I wish they had a covenant campaign. The Flood and the Covenant are two different factions. I would love to see an alternate ending where you could win as the covenant and see all the halo rings activate like they wanted.

Avatar image for goatninja18

I think the flood factoin would liven up the curently 1v1 gameplay style

Avatar image for Sagrannus

I'm sorry...I know you may all hate me but...are they providing keyboard and mouse for this game? cos otherwise it will suck becos as a general rule RTS's do NOT work on consoles

Avatar image for DaveA6489

Does anyone know a release date for this? I know there were rumors of a September 08 release ages ago which was obviously wrong... Just looking forward to this so much

Avatar image for dsmangamaster

i am definitely getting it !!!!!!!!! looks really awesome and more units are cool!!!!!!!

Avatar image for JB2B

I like the Halo universe, but I will not get this one. Not that big of an RTS fan.

Avatar image for trw534

sounds good i ll probably get it....when i save up some money

Avatar image for Meritocrat

"Devine believes that within the Halo universe, people want to play a good-guy campaign and stated that he personally feels uncomfortable with the thought of being able to control the Flood." I'd be much happier to hear that The Flood were excluded because of the 20 year timeline gap, and not because of moralising. There's excessive moralising already coming from politicians banning videogames outright (See Mark Ecko's Gettin' Up, for a non-violence & non-sex banning decision in Australia). Adding an additional and very different faction to the mix to other RTS games has always broadened storytelling and the overall experience; added new challenges to the gameplay. Instead the producer is talking comfortably about leaving out one of the reasons Halo wasn't just another us-versus-them FPS game - Halo had the Flood as an additional faction and Guilty Spark & the sentinals as another and Halo 2 had the heretic covenenant and introduced Gravemind and the brutes. But in Halo wars, its only going to be the UNSC versus the Covenant? The last time C&C had a one faction versus one faction gameplay was what, Red Alert 2? That was in 2000, and in the Yuri's Revenge addon pack they added on a Yuri's faction as a third (2001). I really hope there are additional factions in Halo Wars, otherwise I'm don't expect the game to do any better than any other 1 v 1 RTS game has, buying power of existing Halo fans notwithstanding.

Avatar image for stewiejr13

Hmm Halo strategy game? Wierd

Avatar image for wazzaBlues

i agree with lucebuce but halo 2 wasnt supposed to come out om pc either so KEEP HOPING

Avatar image for ShadowPhoenix27

it should be a pc game. statigy games like these stuck with a controller

Avatar image for lucebuce

NoseWeed619 its not coming for the PC , thats y i wanna killmyself

Avatar image for Media_Mind

Will it be great...nobody knows.

Avatar image for adders99

cant wait for this game!!! its going to be great!

Avatar image for lilaznfromabove

Actually their not putting it on the pc thats the whole reason why its taking so long on the xbox360...Cause theirs to much of a chance of hacking and they want people to buy more xbox360s by having the makers of age of empires make it so that the pc people buy a 360....Thats also why its taking so long cause their introducing people from microsoft and ăge of empires thats like gears of war to final many things that are uncommon and random their having pc creators make a 360 game though their main job is to work on making it a real rts game they don't really do anything but give advice to the microsoft people about the details hope they don't ruin this like halo 3

Avatar image for Thade_Claves

Sounds awesome.

Avatar image for NoseWeed619

Yay! Im glad that this is going to be on the PC too, because I don't think that I could handle another RTS game on my 360. It just feels better on the PC.

Avatar image for PaulDixon77

Yes I'll take 1 please, along with Halo 3 Recon: It'll be a Halotopian paradise next year. It's like waiting for a bus ya wait 3years for the next installment and before you know it 2 come along at once. Friggin awesome, as Apone (aliens) might say aka (Sgt Johnson) All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps! Hudson: Is this gonna be a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt? Gorman: All we know is that there's still no contact with the colony, and that a xenomorph may be involved. Frost: Excuse me sir, a-a what? Gorman: A xenomorph. Hicks: It's a bughunt. Bring it on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for deactivated-5c773b2d7368f

i dont care if bungie didnt make it IM STILL GOING TO FREAKIN BUY IT and one of my specialty's are strategy games OMG 2008 is duh best year eva (so far) in gaming

Avatar image for jimmmzerx


Avatar image for dan-rofl-copter

sounds great and i am glad how they are sticking true to halo looks amazing really cant wait

Avatar image for boobooda

No one has to sell me -- I've been ready for Halo Wars since it was introduced! However, I can wait -- take the time to make it a great campaign true to Halo!

Avatar image for Shadowstep899

awwwwww no covies campaign, cant play as the flood either :( oh well, still a must buy for me!

Avatar image for mrhuntin

cant wait!!!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for mne635

sounds awesome i dont really care that the covenant hav no campaign as it probably would seem bad compard to the epic struggle of the unsc. and im more a multiplayer guy as most 360 gamers are so ill probs still be using covenant a lot.

Avatar image for _LegatoBlue_

this game seems boring... especially that theres no covenant campaign. and only two multiplayer factions? no zerg? i mean flood

Avatar image for 856891

needs to be on pc...

Avatar image for GCNfreak011

justicesword, that would make them the good guy!

Avatar image for trw534

sounds cool ill probably buy it

Avatar image for Vasot

""Resource gathering is not a primary activity in Halo Wars"" Good!! I want to focus on battles and not in management etc

Avatar image for -SPECTER-MIKE

I have been waiting for this for a long time, when is it going to come out already?

Avatar image for lord0thief

Hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those generic xbox 360 rts's... those are just terrible : C&C 3 BFME2 SUP COM. ugh

Avatar image for TazSteele

Sounding good...always cool to see an FPS made into an RTS game. Takes familiar aspects and scenarios and gives the player a different point of view of the battlefield. Anyone recall how Westwood took C&C and made it into an FPS (Renegade)...was just as cool as this but reversed. Looking forward to this one.

Avatar image for acer_062

Nice one !!!

Avatar image for 6reatNate

Cant wait either

Avatar image for JusticeSword

i like playing as the bad guys sometimes heck i wouldnt mind a game where its from the badguys perspective and the badguy wins, But the people who play halo are mostly playing it for the flashyness and stuff and cant fathom to look any deeper, if at all, into the storyline.

Avatar image for bulletwaster

I'm waiting on a release date.

Avatar image for Mike0193

wow this sounds real good.

Avatar image for XXMadManVII

please let this game be as cool as it sounds! I am realy looking forward to giving it a spin. Like with all console RTSs the frame rate and controls will make or break it. It sound like they have that covered, though.

Avatar image for Vrygar777

This is shaping out to be better than I thought. At first I thought "meh" but now i'm fairly interested. But, I think the best console RTS will be Endwar. I dont think you can beat voice controls.

Avatar image for eXists

Looks promising.

Avatar image for eXists

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Avatar image for gamerkiduri

looks awesome but not better then red alert3

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