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While the boys at Bungie are stealing all the limelight with Halo 3, Ensemble Studios are going about bringing the Halo -verse to 360 in RTS form quietly under the radar. There has been some skepticism about whether RTS’ can really work on a console but the notoriously protective Bungie has already thrown their full weight behind the project; and if anyone’s going to be able to pull it off, Ensemble Studios is, being the best in the business and all.
The sheer importance of the Halo franchise to Microsoft means that you know the finished product is going to be quality. Sure, there’s a film on the way (at some point… maybe), Halo 3 and Peter Jackson’s Halo project, but while Microsoft is determined to maximize the strength of the Halo brand, and make pots of cash in the process, they refuse to do it through cheap, hastily-put-together crap. Put it this way: we’re a long way from Halo Kart and Master Chief Pinball Arcade.
But we have got a sneaking feeling that if all goes to plan Halo Wars will be the beginning of another Halo dynasty. Why? Consider what we know. First, Ensemble has said that the trailer takes place before Halo: Combat Evolved, during the first encounters between humans and the Covenant. This means it’s likely that the storyline will follow the 27-year-war which broke out following the first clashes, putting you in control of UNSC forces including squads of Spartans, Marines and all of your favorite vehicles.
Although 27 years isn’t necessarily that long for RTS games (Civilization spans millennia, and in Age of Empires the decades fly by too) it would make a convenient period to set the game in. And unlike these games, your goal isn’t to establish a dynasty but battle against The Covenant. While resource management (like building units and setting up bases) is a given, it’s unlikely that you’ll have to deal with the economics of creating an empire, and the technology is already out there. Put it like this: you won’t have to get scientists to research the windmill so you can build a Pelican a thousand years down the line. The other compelling reason for a small time frame? Yep - sequels. If this goes well, you can definitely expect Ensemble and Microsoft to build another competition-smashing franchise. Which is good news for them.
And it’s good news for you.
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