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Real-time strategy games rarely seem to work well on a console. Halo Wars on the Xbox 360 did an admirable job, both as a Halo game and as an example of making an RTS work with the limitations of a controller. Despite those successes, it still made one wonder how well the game would work with a proper keyboard and mouse setup. Alongside some gussied-up graphics, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition provides a resounding answer to that question.
The release date is still a few weeks out, but it seems to be settling in well to its new home on the PC. All of the old shortcuts from the console version have made the jump, so you can select your units either on-screen or on the map. More important is the addition of proper control groups, which can be bound to a number key using a Ctrl+# combination, referenced by pressing that #, or added to by selecting a unit and pressing Shift+#. It's old hat for most RTS games that are native to the PC, but it makes a world of difference for Halo Wars.
The game plays so much better from a macro standpoint. By setting up multiple control groups, you can easily manage groups of units meant for different purposes or areas of the map. Being able to left-click on the minimap allows you to keep map awareness and switch the camera to a specific position. The game feels much less constrained with the new control scheme. It's impressive how few seams there are to indicate the game had ever been on another platform.
There are still a few signs here and there, of course. For starters, many UI elements clearly designed with a joystick in mind (such as the unit building wheels) remain the same as they were on the console version. This means it's a matter of flicking the mouse in that direction and left-clicking to confirm a choice, so while you can tell its heritage, the wheels don't feel much like an old relic.
It's in the graphics where you can tell the original game was designed on hardware that didn't quite have as much horsepower. Given that the Definitive Edition is more of a port and not a full remaster, it tends to show its age in the level of detail on the maps and in the overall effects. However, you won't find a better-looking edition of the game, and there have been some texture and model improvements to give it a fresh coat of paint. Those looking for more of a graphical powerhouse will need to wait until February for the release of Halo Wars 2.
The base game remains the same overall. It's set several years before the events of Reach and the subsequent introduction of Master Chief. You command the forces of the UNSC vessel, Spirit of Fire. After assisting in the takeback and subsequent mopping up on Harvest, the Spirit of Fire's crew uncovers a Covenant plot that could tip the war into the Covenant's favor and wipe out humanity.
In the preview build, all the options from the console version seem to be present, from campaign co-op to skirmish battles. It appears that pretty much the entire game has made its way over to the PC. As such, players can expect improvements such as being able to tweak graphics settings and freely rebind keys. It's also a Play Anywhere title, so I was able to start a campaign on my Xbox One and easily continue it on my PC exactly where I left off.
Halo Wars: Definitive Edition on the PC is certainly living up to its name. It's expected that the Xbox One version would basically be the same game with some new graphics, but the impressive part is in how well the title has been retooled for the PC. Its formula remains simple when compared to other PC-based RTS games, but the gameplay manages to hold its own. Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is bundled with Halo Wars 2: Ultimate Edition. Once it's released, it should serve as a great reintroduction to fans and a new entry point for those interested in the upcoming Halo Wars 2.
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