Responding to a fan on Twitter, Xbox division boss Phil Spencer admitted Ensemble Studios’ Halo Wars was an “under-appreciated” title, specifically praising its cinematics and real-time strategy controls. “I agree, under-appreciated. Cinematics in Halo Wars were great for the time and controller RTS worked,” he said. “Reminded me of StarCraft on N64.” Unfortunately, Halo Wars was developer Ensemble’s last game before being shut down in 2009.
Even though it ended getting mostly positive review-scores, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Halo Wars. Developer Bungie reportedly never wanted an RTS version of Halo, with Ensemble Studios Founder Tony Goodman saying Bungie saw Halo Wars as “whoring out” the franchise. Nevertheless, the game managed to sell over one million copies. Halo Wars was officially unveiled at the X06 Xbox show in 2006. Ensemble designed the game specifically for the Xbox 360 controller, in an attempt to circumvent issues present in previous console RTS. Ensemble was closed by Microsoft before the game’s release, but soon after Robot Entertainment was founded by many of Ensemble’s former employees; this new company continued to support Halo Wars with updates and downloadable content.
Halo Wars received generally positive reviews. Reviewers lauded the game’s pre-rendered cinematics, attention to detail in replicating the Halo universe, and intuitive control scheme. Complaints against the game included the lack of an option to play as the Covenant faction in campaign mode as well as the lack of strategic options during play. Halo Wars takes place in the science fictional universe of the Halo series, during the 26th century. In 2525, a collective of alien races known as the Covenant attacked humanity, declaring humans an affront to their gods, the Forerunners. The game takes place in 2531, roughly 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Six years after the Covenant invaded the colony of Harvest, human UNSC forces are still locked in battle on the planet.