Despite the closure of long standing and well respected Halo Wars developer, Ensemble, Microsoft have stayed true to their word regarding post release support for their impressive console RTS title. With the first of what we presume are many content updates, Halo Wars’ Strategic Options downloadable content focuses purely on the multiplayer aspect of the title, adding 3 new modes for 800 Microsoft Points.
The first of the three modes included and possibly the standout mode of the pack is Keepaway. An RTS slant on the traditional capture the flag game-type which really makes for some interesting moments. Players start the match as usual steadying themselves for the upcoming combat when after a minute a sentinel flag will spawn in the middle of the map. Players must pick up the flag and then instead of taking it back to base, must run the clock down to score the point. If the flag holder is destroyed, the flag will respawn with a fresh timer and the action kicks off again. Possibly the most interesting aspect of Keepaway is when one team has the flag, because what develops is a game of cat and mouse whereby one team is running for dear life to score the point whilst the other player chases in the hope of taking down the flag carrier. It can create some amusing and unique moments that we’ve yet to experience before in the Halo Wars multiplayer universe and we welcome it with open arms.
The second mode is Reinforcements, which falls somewhere between a standard skirmish match and a deathmatch. The concept of the game is initially built on resource harvesting against a recurring timer and with whatever resources you have amassed when the clock hits zero, being transferred into your army (although you get no choice over what units your given). Whilst the idea of the mode may sound unique, the problem with Reinforcements is that it rarely plays out any differently to a standard skirmish/deathmatch game. You essentially build your base and get given troops as a reward for your resource management to unleash hell on one another. If anything, it is more luck based than the standard modes as you can’t always tell what you’ll get and what you’ll be matched up against, although usually you are given a good mix of units.
Tug of War is the third and final Strategic Options match type and it basically does exactly what it says on the tin. The rope pull in Tug of War is based on the strength of your army. Simply put, whoever has the strongest team will have the rope advantage, and the winner is the person to pull their line right the way across by having a supremely superior army. It may seem like a novel idea again, but truth be told, like Reinforcements, it usually plays out the exact same way as a standard skirmish match, and that’s with the strongest army usually ending up on top.
Strategic Options brings with it 4 new achievements as well worth a paltry 100 points. The four new achievements will have you testing out and doing a certain task in each of the game modes with Reinforcements doubling up to take two achievements. The achievements are pretty simple on the whole especially since you can do most against the easy AI, and the one on the legendary AI doesn’t really test you. However, getting a Scarab to spawn for one of the Reinforcements achievement is entirely luck based. You can literally have amassed 3,000 resources, have 20 free reinforcement slots and have a level 3 energy upgrade, and you still aren’t guaranteed a Scarab. Luck based achievements are a bloody pain in the arse.
While on the face of it, three new game modes might seem like a great exchange for 800 points, let me tell you, it simply isn’t. The fact that two of the three play out exactly the same way as any normal skirmish match is a bit of a disappointment. However, a few rounds of the pretty unique gameplay experienced in Keepaway and it almost makes the 800 points seem worth it ... if only for a second. Strategic Options doesn’t seem to have been strategically priced and at 800 Microsoft Points, it’s hard to recommend to anyone who doesn’t bleed Spartan blood. The content lacks variety and doesn’t really have a whole lot of anything outside Keepaway. That, and we’re sick to death of the original maps now ... it would have been nice to see some news ones. Is that too much to ask?