Halo Wars is a game set in the Halo universe that was originally established in Halo: Combat Evolved. The first thing that I would like to mention is that Halo Wars is NOT a FPS (First Person Shooter) like Halo, Halo 2, or Halo 3. It is an RTS (Real Time Strategy), more like a game in the Command and Conquer series. A view people purchased this game based on the halo name and were disappointed.
Halo Wars comes from developer RTS veteran Ensemble Studios, who also created the very popular Age of Empire games. While some may worry because this game was developed by someone other than Bungie, the game actually holds fairly well to the Halo universe, and even includes an unlockable time line that gives an overview of the war between the humans and the Covenant (an alliance of alien races bent on the destruction of all humans) leading up to Halo: Combat Evolved. The story follows the human ship Spirit of Fire; her commander, Captain James Cutter; Sergeant John Forge; and scientist Ellen Anders as they look into the activities of Covenant forces. The story fits well into the Halo storyline, telling a new story without creating any major plot holes. Despite this, I found the story to be somewhat forgettable, and about half way through I wasn't even paying attention to the cutscenes.
The graphics and audio in Halo Wars are both top notch. The game world is very beautifully detailed, and I never had any major problems with framerate during any of my gaming sessions. The cutscenes are also very pretty to look at. The music is great, and very much in line with the music from the main Halo games. The voiceover work and in-game sound effects also deliver. The only problem in the audio department is that the fighting sound effects can sometimes drown out instructions coming from game characters, even during scenes where the player loses camera control. It wasn't a major problem, but still noticeable.
The gameplay in Halo Wars has both its pros and cons. The system is fairly simple to pick up on, with the tutorials explaining exactly how to perform all the basic functions to control your army. The tech trees (the order of upgrades for units) is very simple, with one upgrade being available for research at a time. This can be seen as either good or bad, but it does make it easier for gamers new to RTS games to jump in. The game offers a campaign mode and modes where players can battle computer controlled opponents or compete with other players either online or through system link. The campaign is on the short side, and shouldn't take long to play through on normal difficulty. Thankfully skirmish mode and online play help extend the experience by offering more battles and challenges for players to tackle. The controls suffer a few setbacks simply because the game is on a console. Whereas on a computer it is simple to point and click which units to select, in Halo Wars one must use a cursor controlled by an analog stick to move about the map and select units and buildings. Although it is easy enough to select a large group, if you want to select only a few units, it can be a pain. Some of this problem is alleviated by the ability to select all units of one type, but not entirely. This is a problem that is difficult to escape on console RTS games, and Ensemble handled it fairly well. Another downside of the gameplay in Halo Wars is the small army size. For some reason, players are extremely limited to the number of units they can produce, even after upgrading army capacity. While this is never a huge problem in campaign, it can become very annoying in a large skirmish battle, as it can be near impossible to defend your bases and attack your opponents at the same time. Although it does have its weak points, gameplay in Halo Wars is generally very good, although it may leave experienced RTS gamers wanting more.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Halo Wars to any fan of the Halo series who likes RTS games. While maybe not the best RTS title of all time, Halo Wars is a very polished game and a solid RTS game for the Xbox.