On March 3, Microsoft Game Studios will release the latest edition of one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. "Halo Wars," which is available only for Xbox, is a strategy game set in the larger "Halo" world, the basis of "Halo," "Halo 2," and the record-setting "Halo 3." The new game was created to be played by multiple players in the recently-launched Xbox Experience, the newest version of Xbox Live.
When "Halo Wars" launches on March 3, "players will command the armies of the UNSC warship Spirit of Fire, consisting of familiar and new UNSC units in its initial encounters against the Covenant, an alien coalition threatening to obliterate mankind.
In "Halo Wars," players will investigate the "Halo" universe in a chronological period before the original "Halo" game. The idea is that they will get to take part in many of the events that precipitated the original "Halo" story line.
In the new "Halo Wars," "with the guidance of Serina, a spirited artificial intelligence persona, gamers will direct legions of UNSC soldiers, Warthogs, Scorpions, and more, each group having its own strengths and uses in battle."
The first three "Halo" games were developed by Bungie Studios. But "Halo Wars" was developed for Microsoft Game Studios by Ensemble Studios, which was previously best known for its work on the "Age of Empires" franchise.
In the "Halo Wars" campaign mode, players who finish the kill objectives, for example, "Kill 100 Grunts," will have a skull appear on their map. Also, they'll discover that "Black Boxes" unveil new information about the "Halo" timeline.
In the new game, barrels and methane tanks can explode into each other, resulting in destructive chain reactions. "You would be surprised how many things you can kill sometimes," tout the game's press materials.
In "Halo Wars," players receive a big benefit and boost from staying in cover. According to the official game materials, one Marine squad that stays in cover maintains as much combat potential as three normal Marine squads.
Microsoft is clearly hoping that "Halo Wars" will drive significant new business to the Xbox platform, including its online Xbox Experience. Previous versions of the franchise have helped sell large numbers of Xboxes.
"Halo 3," the previous edition of the franchise, set what was the all-time record for revenue for an entertainment product in a single day--at the time, anyway. It earned $170 million in its first 24 hours.
Microsoft is touting "Halo Wars" as evidence that it has more attractive exclusive titles for the Xbox 360 than Sony has for the PlayStation 3. Of course, Sony has its own exclusives, but it's hard to argue with the value of the "Halo" brand.
While Bungie Studios produced the previous versions of "Halo" for Microsoft Game Studios, it became independent after "Halo 3." However, Microsoft retained the rights to the franchise, which is why Ensemble Studios made "Halo Wars."
With the economy stumbling, Microsoft--as well as the retailers who will sell "Halo Wars"--needs the new game to do well, both because of the revenue the game itself will bring, as well as the Xboxes it could sell, and subscriptions to the premium Xbox Live.
"Halo Wars" is the last announced game in the "Halo" franchise. But given the success each of the previous iterations has had, Microsoft may well choose at some point to keep the franchise alive. And, given that the demo for "Halo Wars" broke the record for most downloaded demo on Xbox Live, with more than 2 million copies downloaded, there is every reason to expect "Halo Wars" to do well.