Despite Halo Wars developer, Ensemble Studios, disbanding earlier this year, the second downloadable content for Halo Wars has managed to fight its way onto the Xbox LIVE Marketplace with help from the game’s new developer, Robot Entertainment. The downloadable content titled “Historic Battles” contains four new maps for the title’s Skirmish mode, each of which extends the Halo Wars experience; some, more than others.
The first of the four new maps is “Barrens,” a 1 vs. 1 map that boasts difficult terrain challenges. However, it’s not the terrain that proves to be a challenge; it’s more to do with the map’s layout. The vast majority of the maps in Halo Wars contain a direct path, leading towards the opponent’s base, with alternate (usually slightly longer) paths, also leading to the same location. “Barrens” proved to be an exception, with the inclusion of just the one path, winding its way past Flood bases, leading directly to the opponent’s base. This wouldn’t be such a problem if these bases didn’t prevent troops from easily passing. Therefore, more precious time and resources have to be spent and used to ensure the path is clear, something that is more of an annoyance than anything else.
Despite its problems, “Barrens” is an good map. Its size is perfect for 1 vs. 1 play, being not too big, though at the same time, not too small. The positioning of the Forerunner artefacts behind the Flood bases is also a key element to the success of the map. Obtaining possession of these artefacts is likely to give players the much-needed advantage, though they aren’t necessarily easy to obtain possession of, due to the enemies in the way, making them a risky, yet at times vital, reward.
The next map in the “Historic Battles” pack is “Blood River,” another 1 vs. 1 map, though despite the similarity with “Barrens,” there are major differences between the two. Possibly the best example of this, is the high number of pathways players can take to their opponent’s base. The map is a simple valley, with the player’s bases situated at both ends, and a wide array of bridges and routes in the middle of the dip, leading directly to the opposing base. Regrettably, being a small map, the pathways and bridges are generally fairly narrow, possibly too narrow, meaning defending the base is very-much an easy task.Nevertheless, the narrow pathways can also prove to be one of the map’s advantageous points.
Close battles, that tend to occur on them, make the gameplay more intense, with players having to be constantly aware of their opponent’s movements, as well as their own. Another great feature of Blood River is the positioning of buildings and features. Forerunners are placed close to each base, permitting extra supplies to be quickly obtained by each side and rebel bases are positioned to the sides of the map and therefore are no obstacle when crossing the map, though are easily accessible when players are looking to expand. These features make “Blood River” a very enjoyable map to play on.
“Glacial Ravine” is the third map within the downloadable content and also the biggest, being a 3 vs. 3 map. The incredibly big map is split in two by a snow-topped mountain range, with a narrow passage in the centre. However, this can be blocked off by taking control of energy walls, extending the blockage and therefore momentarily preventing any ground presence from making their way through. This can prove to be a worthy strategy, due to the positioning of the player bases.
Player bases are positioned at opposite corners of the map, around the centre, with rebel buildings and forerunners pretty much all over the place. Therefore players can build up fortresses on their side of the blockage, and increase their units before making a larger attack. Regrettably, the map is only suited to 3 vs. 3 play due to the sheer size, and with the majority of Halo Wars players opting for 1 vs. 1 or 2 vs. 2 play, this map will rarely see the light of day, which is a shame, since it’s a fairly competitive, yet enjoyable, experience.
The final map is “Memorial Basin,” and a personal favourite of mine. The 2 vs. 2 map is very open, which can either be seen as an advantage or disadvantage, depending on personal taste. The layout of the map sees player bases positioned in each corner, with only a wide, open space connecting them, due to the map’s lack of obstacles, which come in the form of garrisonable cover, requiring player’s own infantry input to provide a real threat.
Regrettably for the player, the obstacles are unavoidable and must be overcome, due to the addition of rebel bases, positioned along the two sides connecting the rival bases, ensuring players are unable to sneak along the side walls. Therefore, players must send waves of units through the middle, where they are highly likely to clash in the centre, as they make their way across, causing a bloodbath. “Memorial Basin” is the highlight of the “Historic Battles” map pack and stands out, due to its different, yet effective, approach.
With no other inclusions or updates, the Halo Wars: “Historic Battle” downloadable content isn’t the best of game add-ons, with only two of the four maps proving worthy additions. It, once again, feels like these maps could easily have been included on the disc, and at 800 Microsoft Points, only regular Halo Wars players, looking for extra playtime, should splash the cash.