So you probably want to ask me what is so great about Halo Wars as a realtime strategy game. You especially want to do so if you're not a console gamer - you know, one of those guys who has the conceit that PCs are the best gaming platform for all those reasons you see in Alienware marketing. The answer will not satisfy you because you are a bigot and because you probably know a game that did something like this before. But I still have to say it...
Halo Wars is the best RTS ever, and not just because it has a fabulous backstory.
The simple reason Halo Wars rocks is because unlike any other RTS I've ever played, it is a campaign. Which is to say instead of getting one big world in which the technologies are fixed, you get multiple battles in multiple worlds and the technology is varied as are the foes. Now it's true that End War put you in multiple battlefields with different objectives, but the enemies were generally predictable, and you would still race to enable pretty much the same variety of technologies and weapons.
Here's an example. In episode four, HW throws a curveball. Instead of massing troops and hording technologies and other large strategies, you are tasked to escort civilians from a city as the transports, which are in three different locations come under increasing attacks. I've played the scenario three times, and I've never been able to save all three evacuation transports, and you don't even get a chance to build a base until you lose one of the three. This is a completely different scenario than anything I've ever seen.
I don't take a lot of direct guff from being a gamer, but I imagine that there are people who find the very idea of video games trifling. I have only one thing to say to them. Buy the Prima Guide. It's only 208 pages and full of pretty pictures, but once you start reading into the rules, tactics and strategies, you'll realize that this is the most sophisticated kind of game imaginable. It's a war game.
Once upon a time, not long ago, humans could beat computers & human programmers playing chess. In terms of computer and programming evolution, that was a very very long time ago. The games we play are a lot more unleashed than chess, so much so that we need artificial intelligences to direct against other artificial intelligences. One of the most interesting sorts of challenges HW provides in general is the ability for you as a single human to play with your AIs against a pure computer AI, or against another human and their AIs. With Halo Wars, you can go 1v1 2v2 or 3v3 in any number of different maps as you collaborate with other humans and their troops. The complexities are mind-boggling, but the drama is compelling.
Halo Wars is difficult.
It is not much like playing Halo at all. You simply cannot blast your way to victory. Having finished the game on normal difficulty after three days, I can attest to the fact that some online players, notably the younger ones resign before they're truly beaten. It simply requires a completely different set of skills. I'm now working on doing skirmishes to get deeper into tactics based on my brief experiences and the RPS of RTS.
Now. I base a lot of this smack talk on my experience with Rise of Nations and Rise of Legend, which were both a great deal of fun. But I have to say, even online with real opponents it felt very linear. There's also the fact that I simply hate gaming on PCs which I see as good for just about everything *but* gaming. Keyboard and mouse just does not engage any fast twitch parts of my brain, unfortunately. There is probably somebody who should smack me up from the StarCraft view of the world, and there are things to concede. However, like with Second Life, I think it's really stupid to have any game where you are likely to meet opponents several orders of magnitude more powerful than you - in which the investment of time and money runs into months. I could conceivably do so in an MMO Fallout or Oblivion universe, and quite frankly I gave Spore a shot at that. I thought Spore was a miserable failure, but that's a long story itself.
So yeah a case can be made that I love Halo Wars because I loved Halo and I have no idea what the state of the art is for PC based MMO RTS where you pay 15 bucks a month and clan up with solar system sized economies. Yeah you're right. I want something between that and chess, that I can play for a couple hours a night and be fully satisfied. And I am.