Coming from someone who hasn't seriously played a real-time-strategy game since "StarCraft," this comparison might sound crazy, but the two early missions in the "Halo Wars" demo felt like Ensemble's simplification makes "Halo Wars" feel like a bizarre "Diablo" action game.
Some gamers already have the two-mission "Halo Wars" demo on Xbox Live and I'm one of them. Prior to this, I hadn't seen "Halo Wars" in person and haven't touched a strategy game since "StarCraft" in the 90s. "Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3" almost converted me, but it never happened.
Maybe real-time-strategy has changed since I last visited, but while I credit Ensemble Studios for making "Halo Wars" perfectly manageable on an Xbox 360 controller -- it only took a few minutes to become comfortable with commanding units -- it didn't feel like the strategy games I remembered.
Instead, "Halo Wars" felt like an action game to me -- a strange, "Halo"-themed action game more like "Diablo" than "StarCraft." In the first two missions, you're taught the basics of base building. I used to love base building, working to construct an impenetrable fortress.
Base building does not appear to be a central tenant of "Halo Wars;" instead, it's only there to produce resources and units to make progress outside the base. There is little in the way of customization to make a base feel like your "Halo Wars" base. The "Halo Wars" website details a single turret option for defense -- at least on the USNC side -- which was an option I didn't get to play with.
But managing your home turf isn't everything. The combat in "Halo Wars" is strangely satisfying because it's familiar and yet so different. You're watching the characters and sound effects you love, but instead of being involved in the action, you're just watching series of animations play out after you click X and the A.I. goes to work. The scripted nature almost doesn't feel right, but because the early missions required no mental dexterity, I'm hopeful later "Halo Wars" missions will give me a reason to become more engaged.
These complaints could have everything to do with the demo only featuring the first few missions, but if a demo is supposed to give me a solid taste of the rest of the game, the "Halo Wars" didn't do a very good job. Ensemble's control scheme is phenomenal, but it's the rest of the game that gives me pause.
The review disc for "Halo Wars" is sitting next to me. The answers are probably there. I'll pop it in soon and let you guys know what I find.
Got a comment you can’t bring yourself to share below this post? Drop me an e-mail.