Halo Wars: Definitive Edition Review

By Lexley Ford, 5 months ago
When Halo Wars launched on the Xbox 360 in 2009, it attempted to shake up the Real Time Strategy landscape by building it from the ground up purely for consoles. Considering the RTS was a PC mainstay due to the speed and accuracy that a mouse and keyboard offers over that of a controller, it was to be expected that this controversial move would be met with some trepidation and the game received a mixed reception. With the imminent release of Halo Wars 2 on the horizon, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition gives players another chance to return to the battlefield as well as introducing new fans to the series.

HWDE Logo

Set 20 years prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, early in the war between the human-led UNSC and the alien Covenant, the plot of Halo Wars has no real bearing on the rest of the established universe. It falls prior to the events of the upcoming sequel and stars a cast of previously unknown characters that allow the game to appeal to newcomers and fans alike. New players don't require much knowledge of the universe as a whole and much of the important information is provided through the numerous cutscenes as well as a timeline that can be viewed from the main menu.

The Definitive Edition remains largely unchanged. It still contains the same 15 missions from the original with no additional bonus missions, there are no new units or structures, and the difficulty hasn't been adjusted; for better or for worse, Mission 4 on Legendary difficulty is still a daunting task. It does, however, come packaged with all of the DLC that was available for the original, but that only adds a few handfuls of extra gameplay modes and maps for multiplayer and skirmishes.

HWDE Screen 1

The original game faced a lot of criticism over its lack of structures and units and many felt that it was a stripped-down RTS that lacked a lot of the depth for which the genre was normally known. However, by cutting down the genre's usual clutter, simplifying resource management, and using a control system that gave players quick access to the things that matter, Halo Wars succeeded in being an RTS that focused more on action and felt completely at home on a console. This still remains true to this day.

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition has been updated to take advantage of the more powerful Xbox One console, bringing the resolution up from 720p to 1080p. The Xbox 360 version was always quite good looking and it has aged well over the past eight years, although any graphical improvements are negligible and certain units, especially infantry, do look a little dated. However, the frame-rate is certainly more stable than its Xbox 360 counterpart. Certain pre-rendered sequences from the original release had a tendency to be a little jumpy and it is pleasing to see that they have been smoothed out. In-game, even during moments of high-intensity action with countless on-screen explosions, the frame-rate remains fluid.

HWDE Screen 2

The biggest change comes in the form of being able to play on PC, thanks to the Xbox Play Anywhere program. Considering that the title was originally designed for consoles, the move to mouse and keyboard has been relatively smooth -- of course, a controller can still be used if you so desire. The controls are all within easy reach of one hand, with W, A, S and D moving the camera and Q and E selecting local and global units respectively, while the mouse wheel can be used to cycle through individual units in a selection. Lastly, Z, X and C are used to jump to specific map locations such as your bases and units in the field.

Unlike the console version, playing on a PC lets players create custom groups of units using Ctrl or Alt and the number keys. This adds a level of flexibility that a controller, with its limited number of buttons, will never be able to match and is a very welcome addition. Unfortunately, it isn't all smooth sailing for those wanting play with a mouse and keyboard; many of the game's leader powers, such as Sergeant Forge's Carpet Bomb and the Prophet of Truth's Cleansing Beam, were clearly designed with an analogue stick in mind and, as such, can be very fiddly to use. It isn't game breaking in any sense of the word and players will be able to get used to it after some time to adjust.

HWDE Screen 3

The achievement list has also received a slight overhaul. Whereas the original version and its DLC had 57 achievements totalling 1200G, the Definitive Edition has 75 achievements worth 1500G. The majority of the achievements return without any changes, including mission specific challenges as well as difficulty dependent achievements for completing the campaign on Heroic and Legendary. However, a few have changed. The Definitive Edition now has individual achievements for each Mission. Also gone are the achievements for reaching specific ranks on Xbox LIVE, replaced instead with a series of achievements for winning a certain number of Skirmish or Multiplayer matches; for example, Running The Show originally required players to obtain the General Rank on Xbox LIVE whereas now players only need to win 30 Skirmish or Multiplayer Matches.

At the time of writing, Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is not available to purchase separately and, according to the game's official FAQ, won't be "available until its official launch" later this year. The only way to play early is to pre-order Halo Wars 2 from the Microsoft Store. This is a nice little incentive for fans to pre-order the sequel, but those that may not have played the original and want to try before deciding whether to play the latest in the series will either have to wait until later in the year or play the Xbox 360 version, which can also be played on the Xbox One via Backwards compatibility.

Summary

To this day Halo Wars remains the most accessible RTS game to have ever been released on a console, and while it may lack the depth of some of its PC brethren, as an introduction to the genre it is still at the top of its class. The addition of playing it on PC is a welcome inclusion and something for which many people have been asking since the game was originally released in 2009. However, if you haven't already played Halo Wars and you're not contemplating playing it with a mouse and keyboard, the Definitive Edition doesn't offer much more over its Xbox 360 counterpart, which is already playable on the Xbox One thanks to Backwards Compatibility.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Easily accessible RTS
  • Still looks good
  • Mouse and keyboard functionality on Windows 10
Negatives
  • Little or no improvements over the Xbox 360 version
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 20 hours commanding his troops through the campaign and many skirmish matches. 35 out of the possible 75 achievements were earned, although Mission 4 on Legendary is still proving to be the bane of his existence. A Play Anywhere review code was provided courtesy of the publisher. While the reviewer played on both platforms, the Xbox One was the primary platform for the purpose of this review.
Lexley Ford
Written by Lexley Ford
Lex has been gaming for nearly three decades and has been a Newshound for TrueAchievements since 2011. When he’s not writing news he can normally be found immersing himself in a good story, both written and in-game, or just blowing stuff up (only in games).