Halo's original real-time strategy spin-off just celebrated its eighth anniversary a few days ago. Now that the Definitive Edition is out on Xbox One, let's see if it still holds up in 2017.
I recently reviewed Halo Wars 2 so I'll spend a lot of time comparing the two titles here. Therefore, I highly recommend reading my review of the sequel first so you know where I'm coming from. Anyway, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is a very similar experience to Halo Wars 2. Both games focus on building capable bases, commanding various units, and overcoming seemingly improbable situations.
It goes without saying that the formula presented in this original installment is a bit simpler. For starters, energy is accumulated as levels and you don't spend it in order to purchase upgrades (unlike in Halo Wars 2 where it basically acts as currency similar to supply resources). I found the system here to be more satisfying as it makes more logical sense because your base outputs a certain amount of power and you need a minimum level to accomplish particular tasks. On the other hand, I found enemy forces to be more interesting in Halo Wars 2. Here, you fight a Scarab where you shut down power nodes to make it move slower and that mission was awesome. However, almost every other mission just involves generic foes and bases. In essence, there are both improvements and drawbacks to be found when you compare this to its sequel.
Halo Wars has always featured simplified real-time strategy gameplay that any gamer can easily digest which makes it a great series for genre newcomers. Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is no exception as all you do is build up bases and command your troops to wipe out enemies and claim territory to expand your army. Resource management is easy as all you do is build and upgrade a few supply pads and reactors. As long as enemies don't destroy them, you'll be set to gradually make your army a powerful force on the battlefield.
Thankfully, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition still looks and sounds great even though it's almost a decade old. Of course, the visuals aren't as crisp and detailed as Halo Wars 2 but there's a charm to them that makes it seem like you're playing with little toy soldiers. The voice acting is spot-on as characters have a sense of urgency about them that pulls you in to the action. That being said, there are a few generic delivered lines from troops that sound kind of lame compared to the main cast of characters. Overall, this Definitive Edition does a great job of bringing the original Halo Wars to modern consoles as it definitely doesn't feel like an eight year old game.
The campaign consists of 15 missions and although this seems like a lot, the missions themselves are very short when you compare them to the ones in Halo Wars 2. Not only that, there is far more variety in Halo Wars 2 so the campaign here pales in comparison. Don't get me wrong, it's still a fun and worthwhile adventure. You can always play through it cooperatively which adds an element of comradery. Speaking of multiplayer, the included modes are very different to the ones in Halo Wars 2. You can play Standard matches, Deathmatch battles, Keep Away bouts where you hold a flag as long as possible, Tug of War contests, and Reinforcement matches that grant you troops in waves. Although there's no Blitz mode, these five variations are diverse enough to add hours of enjoyable gameplay.
While Halo Wars 2 is kind of a buggy experience, this Definitive Edition is very stable throughout which made it consistently enjoyable. However, the issue of having to guide soldiers inch-by-inch so they don't make any dumb decisions on their own is still present. Admittedly, it's not as bad here because I only ran into a couple of instances where my troops would run into dead-ends, etc. Of course, my main complaint with Halo Wars 2 is still a major problem here and that is the fact that genre enthusiasts will crave more complexity as this series fails to deliver the in-depth intricacies that more hardcore real-time strategy games offer.
Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is a solid game for series fans although real-time strategy enthusiasts may be put off by its simplistic gameplay formula. In the end, I'm surprised how well it holds up as it's a wholly worthwhile game even eight years after its initial release.
- + Easy to pick-up-and-play real-time strategy gameplay for genre newcomers
- + Looks and sounds great on Xbox One
- + Solid selection of multiplayer modes
- - Campaign is rather brief and lacks variety when it comes to its missions
- - Soldiers can be pretty dumb
- - Gameplay could use more complexity