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Bases in Halo Wars

Halo Wars, an Real Time Strategy (RTS) game originally developed for the Xbox 360, caught my imagination recently for how unique its base mechanics appear to be. Before I go over what I find so interesting about the bases in Halo Wars, let me show you an example of the standard RTS base:

The above image shows several things about how bases work in StarCraft 2, and the majority of RTS by extension: Resources exist in specific locations, resources must be exploited and protected by a combination of units and buildings, buildings may be built within generally large areas, enough buildings built in generally the same area composes a base of operations, a stronghold, etc.

Something not shown in the above screenshot, but that is important to note: There is a limit on the resources a player can gather.

Here is a starting base in Halo Wars:

By comparing the 2 screenshots, you should immediately grasp some of what makes the bases in Halo Wars so different: Each base is locked to a single point of the map, you cannot create buildings outside of designated points, the mining of resources from the map itself has been so reduced in importance that it becomes hard to tell at a glance where new resources come from.

A base in Halo Wars is a blueprint with a series of components instead of a series of free-form buildings. 1 component is used for getting more resources, which are required for spawning soldiers and paying for upgrades. 1 component locks technology and unit upgrades behind a pay barrier. Other components enable the building of units and additional upgrades. The result is almost puzzle-like without always feeling like much of a puzzle at all, as the components you decide to slot into your base will always be slave to the demands of your greater strategy.

To top it off, you're never in danger of running out of resources in Halo Wars. You'll never face the fear of depleting resource stocks like you would in a game like StarCraft. Still, if you don't manage your space and purchasing correctly, you can easily become swamped under a tide of your foe.

So, this is why I've been finding Halo Wars to be so very interesting:

The bases in Halo Wars force the player to make choices within limits that are far clearer than they've ever been in an RTS before. At a glance, you can see exactly how many resources you're taking in and exactly how many open component slots are left in your base.

When I play StarCraft 2, as in the first screenshot, I have no idea how many resources I've got left. Even back in StarCraft 1, when you could actually select a mineral deposit and see how many minerals were left, there was so much going on, and the minerals were so multiplied and represented by such high amounts, that it was impossible to accurately guess what you had left.

Now, there is an argument to be made that knowing how much you have in resources doesn't matter. Not knowing makes a player nervous, which gives them reason to expand and take more territory, which culminates in victory. I understand the appeal in this.

The problem with unclear information is that it is, by it's very nature, confusing. I don't believe it's particularly controversial to say that the complexity of RTS has driven may players off to play far less confusing MOBAs. Yet, there clearly remains a large number of people who are fans of the RTS genre, and who would very much like to see something new.

The bases of Halo Wars offer a perspective on how simplification and clarity could help to revitalize a fading genre. It's not a perfect example; the AI in Halo Wars takes too much control and choice away from the player for my taste, the pathfinding stinks, the maps are small, and the camera is far too close to the ground. Halo Wars 2, which I tried on Xbox One not too long ago, does little more than add atop the existing formula. Still, it's a baseline I plan to build on myself someday, if only because balancing resource acclimation appears easier than balancing resources and location.

Assuming I don't get another migraine, I next plan to post on January 9th. Happy new year!