It only took 7 years

At long last, we are FINALLY going to get HALO WARS 2:

I know, I know, HALO WARS was the weakest game in the entire HALOverse. Considering that it was originally meant to be some kind of Age of Empires port to the Xbox platform, before Microsoft's executives decided to be too clever by half and ask whether Ensemble Studios could simply turn it into a HALO game, they actually did a pretty decent job.

Microsoft's reasons for insisting on a HALO RTS game were valid, at the time. Mr. Softy's marketing bods basically argued that an RTS game on its own simply would not sell on a console- RTS games are, by nature and design, best experienced by the PC Master Race, not the Console untermenschen. After all, can you imagine trying to play StarCraft on a PS3 or Xbox 360? It would be impossible.

That doesn't change the fact that Microsoft essentially tried to turn chalk into cheese. And it really didn't help Microsoft's relationship with Bungie Studios; the latter's employees strongly resented the notion of slapping HALO warpaint onto something that was never designed to be a true HALO game in the first place.

HALO WARS should, by rights, have been a godawful, unplayable mess of a game. It should have been impossible to bring the magic and wonder of the original HALO FPS series, which was always designed to be played through the eyes of the individual supersoldier overcoming impossible odds and triumphing in the face of determined, terrifying opposition, into a vastly simplified real-time strategy game.

And yet... HALO WARS was in fact a rather good game- and one that has, in its own way, stood the test of time.

In no way is it anywhere near as good as the "core" games. The original HALO trilogy, HALO 3: ODST, and HALO: Reach are all vastly superior games because they took the original set of ingredients that created HALO: Combat Evolved and tweaked and refined and enhanced them until they culminated in HALO 4 and now HALO 5: Guardians. HALO WARS, by contrast, had to come up with a completely different set of ingredients and make them work to recreate that same set of feelings and emotional attachment that hardcore HALO fans feel toward the original games. By that measure, Ensemble Studios faced an incredibly difficult task, and by rights, they should have failed.

Yet the game that they created is still quite playable, and still very enjoyable. There is still a lot of value to be found in playing HALO WARS, which I do every four or five months when I cycle through the entire rota of HALO games. The cutscenes are still spectacular, the gameplay is solid and engrossing if not particularly addictive, and the music is still outstanding.

As far as I am concerned, if Microsoft and 343 Industries can figure out how to overcome the flaws in HALO WARS- such as the too-short campaign, the limits of the game's multiplayer capabilities, and the extremely dumbed-down resource management systems and tech trees that alienated a lot of hardcore RTS gamers- then this could very well be a terrific game.

And, from the perspective of a die-hard HALO fan, I really cannot wait to see what the canon has in store for the surviving members of SPARTAN Red Team and the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire.

Oh, and speaking of HALO 5, some 15 minutes of the soundtrack for the game got leaked earlier:

It all sounds really rather good, but the important thing here is, THE GREGORIAN CHANTS ARE BACK!!!


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