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Halo Wars

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Release Date: March 3, 2009 (US), Feb. 27, 2009 (EU)


Xbox 360 Review - 'Halo Wars' Historic Battle DLC

by Jesse Littlefield on Aug. 31, 2009 @ 1:13 a.m. PDT

Halo Wars is a new strategy title that expands on the universe that has made the Halo franchise so beloved and provide gamers with an unparalleled strategy experience.

Several months ago, Halo Wars hit the Xbox 360 and was supposed to change the way people saw strategy games on consoles.  It was supposed to revolutionize real-time strategy into a genre that's just as amazing on consoles as it is on PC.  The end result confirmed the longtime cries of PC gamers about things getting dumbed down on consoles.  While the game played well, it ended up having a "My first RTS" feel to it, with limited options for base building, unit caps and management.  The result was a game that ran its course in a hurry and left players wanting more.  The first DLC pack, Halo Wars: Strategic Options added several new game modes, but it still managed to feel like a rip-off at $10.  The second problem was that not very many people online actually had the DLC pack, which meant that the players who had paid the $10 were stuck playing the downloadable content on their own instead of with others.

With this second set of DLC, Halo Wars: Historic Battles, we gain four new maps:  two maps for 1v1 play, one for 2v2 and one for 3v3.  Unfortunately, these maps don't really bring anything new to the table, and once again, the pack ends up feeling overpriced.  Hardly anyone online has the new content, and even those who do have very little control over getting to play it.

The first of the new maps is Barrens, a one-on-one map that's more or less in the shape of the number five; the unique shape forces players to meet in the middle and start a war of attrition or be destroyed.  There's a spire in the map that, once under your control, allows you to heal nearby units, but the mountains that funnel your units into the five shape can be traversed by air units.  There's at least one map on the Halo Wars disc that has a similar feel to this, except that the funneling is a little more blatant in this map.  You're forced to expand quickly, and once your forces meet, things become a huge defensive war of attrition.  Good use of the air units can force the enemy into a pincer, but there's only so much that can be done with a map that forces your ground units into a single route.

The other one-on-one map is Blood River, which is the polar opposite of Barrens.  The map is split down the middle by a large river with only two bridges across it.  Once across the river, you have space to work with, but the spare bases are guarded by forerunners instead of the usual rogue marines or untamed brutes.  Because there are only two routes into enemy territory, securing the bridges and getting solid defense going is absolutely key to victory … or you could once again abuse the air units and fly wherever you want and destroy everything.

Memorial Basin is the 2v2 map that comes with the Historic Battles map pack.  Most players seem to think that this is the best of the bunch (I felt that Glacial Ravine, the 3v3 map, is by far the best).  Since it's a very compact map, battles tend to force all four players into the fight, and teams must work together and be more tightly woven than usual.  There's the standard group of bases out in the middle of the map, but you also have bases behind your main base, which allows you to set up a good defensive formation early on.  Failing to expand forward can cost you in the long run.  These elements have all been seen before, but the team dynamic can be very interesting.

Glacial Ravine is my favorite map from the pack.  It supports 3v3 play and is big enough that it forces you to use teamwork. Most battles turn into long, drawn-out wars that will have almost everyone battling it out with their super units by the time all is said and done.  It's amusing that this is the best map of the bunch because it originally wasn't even to be included with the pack.  Apparently, Robot Entertainment looked at the game community and decided that it wasn't worth making a 3v3 map for it.  The community outrage at this prompted the creation and inclusion of this map, which has a multitude of bases and defensive options that will really put your late game skills to the test.

The problem with these maps is that the way the matchmaking is set up, you have no control over which maps you end up playing when you go online.  Players who have the maps simply get the new maps thrown into the rotation of possible picks, and considering that most people don't even have the DLC, you'll hardly ever find anyone with whom to play these maps.  Your only offline multiplayer option is to play against the computer AI, so you essentially purchased DLC so you could play against computer opponents.

For the $10 price tag, Halo Wars: Historic Battles is not a good deal.  For years, PC gamers have gotten all kinds of new content for free, and the trickle of new content for this title has been overpriced at best.  With the "RTS lite" feel, the new content wears thin after a few games with each map, so the DLC is not worth the money, even if you still play Halo Wars.

Score: 6.0/10

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