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The fifteen imaginative missions task you with everything from rescuing civilians to dragging gear up a steep slope, and often underscore the long-term ramifications of your command decisions. This is the spine of any strategy game. But most RTS games feature complex base and resource management mechanics that may make them less approachable to newbs but ultimately allow for more tactical depth. Halo Wars, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: it's incredibly user friendly but it also constrains advanced players by eliminating much of the strategic layer.
You will never roll into an opponent's base and be stunned by his military ingenuity because it's impossible to lay out your buildings in an inventive manner; you also cannot take advantage of environmental features. The end result is that battles will blend together and become less memorable in the long run. This is no doubt a conscious decision that was made in order to ensure balance and user-friendliness, but there are places where Halo Wars' streamlining goes too far. It's hard to imagine the rationale behind unit selection controls that don't allow you to do basic stuff like gather troops into groups, order them into simple formations, or even subtract individual units from your current force. Elaborate attack plans aren't impossible, but they require unnatural contortions that felt unnecessary.
Above and Beyond
Such constraints don't limit the fan-service appeal of the many detailed flourishes that enliven the battlefield. You can only have three Spartans at once-so much for the promised "armies" of them-but watching them take out Elite Honor Guard operatives from garrisoned cover and hijack poorly protected Covenant vehicles is energizing. UNSC troops tend to be a staid bunch, cranking out personality-free chatter, but every now and then somebody pipes up about getting enemy giblets in the grill, and you can always count on Covenant grunts to say something silly. You can even collect skulls by exploring and completing secondary objectives during the campaign to unlock goofy special toggles that exaggerate destruction physics or make Grunts die in a cloud of festive confetti.
Best of all, the prequel story doesn't content itself with simple name-dropping, and instead touches on all the science fiction themes that enabled the original trilogy to capture so many imaginations. I won't spoil any surprises here, but suffice it to say that there are stranger constructions in this universe than orbital rings. Of course, the enjoyment you get out of Halo Wars' storyline will depend on how much you already love the Halo 'verse.