Re-inventing the Wheel

April Fools! Just thought I'd make mention that the April Fools day post was completely NOT legit, just the usual Internet stream of April Fools day foolery...although the $100 PS2 was unfortunately not an April Fools day prank, much to the grimacing of the market. In any case, trading in a GameCube for a $150 off a Wii, while awesome, is just one of those things that is way to good to be true.

In the future, if this blog last that long, be forewarned, my April Fools day post will contain both truth and humor, so I plan on keeping you guessing.

So, anyhow, lets roll out towards today's topic, one that might be a little touchy for some people out there, but none-the-less, I think it needs to be said.

Before I even get into my argument, I will point out that I do NOT own the game in question, but the Demo's skirmish mode was quite extensive and told me all that I needed to know.

The case we are speaking about today is Halo Wars. Now, unless you've been off living in a warp pipe somewhere, you've likely heard of Halo. Halo Wars is the series first official spin-off game, one that bills itself as a Real-Time-Strategy game developed by Ensemble Studios.

I say "bills" itself as for a very specific reason, that it has been declared by its creators to be a "revolutionary" advancement in RTS design and play. But if this is revolutionary, then I'm not enthused about the 'future' of RTS games. The truth is, Halo Wars has billed itself in this way while in fact, stepping backwards down the evolutionary ladder of games in general. But before you start raving, take a look at how this is.

One of the first RTS games to exist, and in truth the forerunner of all Modern RTS's is a game known as Dune II, developed by Westwood studios and released in 1992. Dune II was the first Strategy game of its time that utilized the mouse, tech trees, base construction, differing sides, superweapons, and other such unique ideas. Dune II gave rise to a spiritual successor, Command and Conquer, that is to this day extremely well know, as well as inspiring another company to create Warcraft. In other words, without Dune II we likely never would have had any of the Command and Conquer games, World of Warcraft, or even Starcraft. Westwood's genius had hit on a brilliant concept.

But now, 17 years later, Halo wars plays like a graphically enhanced version of Dune II. With no real other improvement or enhancement. How so? Lets compare the two.

First of all, base building. In Dune II, the action took place on the desert planet of Arrakis, which is covered in sand. Since sand is bad foundation material, the players had to establish their bases on rocky outcroppings, effectively limiting the player in where they could establish their base. Halo Wars acts in the same manner. Rather then allow players to build a base where they choose, players are given a starting location and a fixed number of points to place a building which is even more limiting then Dune II's system. Players are simply given a main structure, told to improve it up the tech tree, and head across the map to the opponents comparable structure with the largest number of tanks you can manage to assemble.

Dune II also has the early balance where most units from differing sides simply were slightly different from each other. Halo Wars is also guilty of this. Playing as both sides, a large majority of units for both sides are essentially identical. Not as bad as older games, but you will find the same identical units on each side with little to make them too different from the opponents save their looks. Function is identical.

Alright, there are a lot more similarities that I don't have time to go into (if your interested find copies of both and compare them, you might be surprised) but there is one more point I would like to point out, and that is that Halo Wars just barely makes "Real-Time Strategy", instead coming dangerously close to Real Time tactical combat. Why? Army size. Supreme Commander is an RTS, with its armies of thousands duking it out, or even other lesser sized RTS's, in Halo Wars the unit cap is set at 40.

Oh wait, my mistake, that isn't a unit cap, that's a supply cap. A tank, if I recall, takes 5 supplies from that cap. Yay...you can have an army consisting of nothing but eight tanks, and that's as big as you are going to get. Personally, that is not much in the way of grand strategy.

Alright, so enough with Halo Wars faults, I'm beginning to sound like I'm reviewing the game (reviewing is something I don't plan on introducing to this blog). The point is, Halo Wars offers absolutely nothing new. In fact, instead of moving forward with "revolutionary" design, Halo Wars instead goes backwards, making a giant circle in RTS development that, if Halo Wars is the 'future' of RTS as claimed, yanks us back 17 years in time to Re-invent the wheel. In short, there is nothing revolutionary about it, and compared to modern RTS titles that have improved and expounded on the genre, Halo Wars comes off as a simple, throwback of game design. That doesn't mean you can't have fun with it, but it does not make it anything spectacular.

The most worrisome part of the whole release is that Halo Wars had the chance to be something grand, yet instead the public was pitched a 17 year old game model with flashy words all over it. After all, we know by this point that anything with Halo printed on the side will sell due to its good reputation. Halo Wars could mark a turning point, where cheap, insubstantial titles are made to milk the Halo franchises good name. Additionally, Halo Wars has sold well, thousands of Rabid fan-boys (many of them likely new to the RTS genre in general) will probably be convinced, as is standard with fanboyism, that Halo Wars is the pinnacle of RTS design compared to other 'inferior' RTS's that are 'knock-offs' of Halo Wars. Unfortunately, what they're really doing is shelling out $60 for something that was revolutionary in 1992. The implications that this has for the RTS market in general scares me.

When fans see something created in 1992 as new, developers are sure to capitilize on it.

Hey Electronic Arts, why not re-release Dune II on the Nintendo DS and on X-box Live arcade with a $5 coupon for those with Halo wars? You've already got a subscriber base there that loves that old simplicity!

Enough with my negative knocking. There is one good thing that I can see coming of Halo Wars release: The introduction of newer players to the genre. After all, the bare basics are a good place to start with a genre, even if it is, as some have put it, 'baby's first RTS". However, before that will have any effect, they will need to understand that Halo Wars is not the revolution, but rather the bottom of the mountain that is RTS gameplay. So, when your friend mentions that he'd enjoyed Halo Wars and is interested in those types of games, do him a great favor and pick him up a copy of Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft III, or universe at war for his birthday.

'Till next week!

Games that I'm currently playing: Gears of War 2 (360), Sins of a Solar Empire (PC), Castle Crashers (XBLA), Dance Dance Revolution 2 (360), Trackmania Nations Forever (PC)

1 comment:

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

Here's the thing that the people who say that Halo Wars is revolutionary are missing:

A decade down the road, you won't see brand-new copies of Halo Wars on store shelves.

Honestly, Halo Wars wasn't even too revolutionary as a console FPS. It's on par with the 360 version of Command & Conquer 3, control-wise. Gameplay-wise, C&C3, a game that came out 2 years earlier, is better, in my opinion.

Halo Wars could probably be written off as an attempt to cash in on the Halo franchise, and I wouldn't blame anyone who would write it off as such. I was expecting it to be the revolution in console RTS; the game to finally make console RTS a genre of its own, and not just a collection of games that should've just been on PC.

Halo Wars should've been on PC.

But, then it would've been harder to get the Halo community to buy the game.

It's "baby's first RTS" pretty much, which is probably why it hearkens back to the Dune II, however, it was marketed as a revolution to the genre, which it isn't.

Today, 11-year-old Starcraft brings more to the genre than Halo Wars ever will.