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"This is Spartan Group Omega. If they want war, we'll give them war."
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A Real-Time Strategy spin-off of the Halo franchise released in 2009 by Ensemble Studios. It was toted as an ambitious attempt to bring the RTS genre to consolesnote  and fulfilled the original concept of Halo as an RTS series instead of a First-Person Shooter.

The game takes place in the early part of the Human-Covenant War in 2531, roughly twenty years before Halo: Combat Evolved and its sequels. It centers on the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, a former colony ship turned warship that uncovers a plot by the Covenant to accelerate their genocidal campaign on humanity through some newfound Forerunner treasures. The prequel setting draws from all corners of the Halo expanded universe, including more Spartans, preceding Arbiters, other human colonies, and even a Forerunner shield world. It also introduces numerous new units and vehicles, from enormous Vulture airships, to Cyclops mecha and mini-walker Locusts, among others. Being an RTS also dramatically increases the scale of Halo battles. Thought fighting two Hunters as the Master Chief was a challenge? How about twenty of them, supplemented by a fleet of Banshees?

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Multiplayer allows one to play as the Covenant as well as the UNSC, with both sides offering different bonus and exclusive units based on the specific leader of the player's army, whether upgrading units quicker, creating mobile mini-bases, allowing ODST troopers dropped across the field, or even calling a Covenant ship to rain fire from above.

A sequel, Halo Wars 2, was released on Xbox One and Windows 10 in February 2017.

An Updated Re-release was released on Steam, Windows 10 and Xbox One in April 2017, titled Halo Wars: Definitive Edition, which includes all the DLC, as well as improved graphics and new achievements.


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Halo Wars provides examples of:

  • A Commander Is You:
    • UNSC - Elitist/Generalist: Their units tend to be good all-rounders and tougher in a one-on-one fight against their Covenant equivalents. Their tech tree ranks up through building Reactors, which mean they are vulnerable to hit-and-run attacks. Each leader comes with a offensive power they can call-in, two unique units (one of which upgrades an existing unit, and the other is new), and an economic bonus which improves an aspect of construction.
      • Captain Cutter - Spammer/Industrial: Cutter's speciality is creating a large infantry-focused army as fast as possible. To help with that, each base he constructs starts a level higher than normal, giving him more flexibility in unit construction. His two unique units also fit the theme: the Elephant functions as a mobile Barracks for creating infantry on the frontlines, while ODST's can be deployed anywhere you want.
      • Sergeant Forge - Brute/Economist: His economic ability involves constructing Heavy Supply Pads by default, making it easier to afford higher-value units and upgrades. His two unique units support this by encouraging the use of an aggressive, vehicle-focused army. The Grizzly is a powerful Scorpion upgrade, while the Cyclops can keep vehicles fully repaired.
      • Professor Anders - Technical/Research: She gets a discount and a speed bonus on upgrades, ensuring that her units will unlock useful abilities and other tech faster. The Hawk is a Hornet upgrade, while the Gremlin is a unique offensive unit with the ability to both chain attacks together as well as slow down the rate of fire of units it is targeting. The Cryo Bomb ability is devastating against aerial units, but requires follow-up when used against land armies.
    • Covenant - Spammer/Technical: Their units are usually weaker and more specialist, but also more numerous than the UNSC's equivalents. They upgrade their tech level through advancing through 'Ages', which are more expensive and take longer to research than the UNSC's Reactors, but they also cannot be knocked down once they do reach a tier. The Covenant leaders take a physical presence on the battlefield as unique Hero Units, and they can be an imposing threat especially in the early game, though they do require careful micromanagement.
      • Prophet of Regret - Generalist: The Elite Honor Guards are useful melee units, though Regret himself only really has the ability to upgrade himself into a flying unit to set himself apart from the other Covenant commanders.
      • Arbiter - Brute: Can deploy Suicide Grunts for powerful, one-use attacks. More than any other Covenant leader, however, the Arbiter is built around throwing himself into combat, with the "Rage" ability powering him up and putting him in direct control of the player. Once upgraded, the Arbiter earns both the ability to regain health for fatalities he inflicts, as well as empower other units around him.
      • Brute Chieftain - Ranger: This commander adds the more powerful Brutes to Grunt squads in place of Elites, which combined with the replacement of the Ghost with the Brute Chopper, improves the Covenant's strength in the early game.
  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time Gregg Berger has voiced a soldier named Cutter.
  • The AI Is A Cheating Bastard: In Skirmish. It's subtle, but if you check the stats after a game (on high difficulty at least) the enemy AI will have far more resources than it had any right to.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Unlike other Forerunner AI in the series, the ancilla in the "Cleansing" level doesn't even recognize humans, instead referring to them as an unidentified alien intrusion. It then tries to wipe out the Spirit Of Fire's crew in addition to the Flood.
  • And This Is for...: During gameplay, Spartans will occasionally say "For Samuel!"
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Halo Wars has a quite restrictive limit on the number of units you can have at a time. Not that you can't kill your way through several dozen Covenant with Scorpions, Hornets, Spartans, Warthogs, and MAC Blasts.
  • Arbitrary Minimum Range: Some vehicles such as Scarabs are unable to attack extremely close range opponents.
  • Ax-Crazy: The Arbiter of this game, unlike his more calm and rational successor in the FPS games.
  • Bad Boss: A few of the Black Boxes go into detail about how badly the Covenant treats its footsoldiers. One of them reveals how Ripa 'Moramee deals with newly-discovered Forerunner relics: Send a group of Grunts strapped with explosives to explore it. At the first sign of danger, blow them up. Another reveals that after winning a battle, the Prophet of Regret has his soldiers celebrate by fasting and observing the executions of those who failed in their duty. Yet another details an order by the Prophet of Truth to have Jackals execute 1 in 64 Grunt workers of their choosing every day until their ship is installed with a Luminary.
  • Badass Boast:
    • The Spartans will sometimes say "War Is Hell, and I'm the Devil!"
    • The following one is delivered by Forge after offing the Arbiter:
    Forge: And for the record, I woulda kicked your ass the first time if the lady hadn't stopped me!
  • Badass Normal:
    • Sergeant Forge. Not just any marine can face an Arbiter one-on-one and win. And that's not all. One of the game's unlockables hints he got into fight with Spartan Douglas-042 and held his own.
    • The Marines you can train in-game fit as well, but the ODSTs take the cake.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Spirit of Fire's crew manage to destroy the Shield World and prevent the Covenant from acquiring the Forerunner ships on the planet, but they had to sacrifice Sgt. Forge and their slipspace drive to do so, meaning that they have to go into cryostasis without any way of getting home. At least, not anytime soon.
    • Halo: Escalation initially seemed to turn this into a downer ending, as the final panel of issue six shows empty cryotubes on the Spirit of Fire while Flood infection forms are floating around, with the ship itself flying into a planet. However, a tie-in comic released with Halo: Tales of Slipspace resolved that plot thread.
  • Bond One-Liner: Forge to the Arbiter: "And for the record, I'd have kicked your ass the first time if the lady hadn't stopped me!"
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Warthogs. While they start off like dung, they can be outfitted with Gauss Cannons and troopers on the side with grenade launchers.
    • The basic Marines, which can be turned into ODSTs.
  • The Cavalry: 20 minutes into "Arcadia Outskirts", Spartan Omega Team will come to give your army a hand. (Funnily enough, this is enforced; beating all the Covenant before Omega arrives will not end the mission, all so Omega can still come and "rescue" you.)
  • Clown Car Base: The Elephant. You can train 40 squads - that's 80 Hellbringers or 240 marines - out of it, despite the fact it looks like it can hold no more than 20, maybe 30 (and even that's pushing it). In fact, if you kill off your guys, you can train even more units all the way to infinity from this wondrous pachyderm. An achievement requires you to train 100 infantry out of an Elephant in a campaign level.
  • Cold Sniper: Jerome-092 is listed as a Sniper in the game. He actually uses a Spartan Laser, but due to its long range and pinpoint accuracy, it acts like a sniper rifle.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: The only way to get the additional resources needed to build the upgrade buildings and factory buildings needed to get more military manpower.
  • Continuity Nod: The Pillar of Autumn is mentioned when the Spirit Of Fire arrives at Arcadia. It aids in deploying Rhinos for the third mission there.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Hellbringers, who wield flamethrowers. They're fantastic against infantry but since Video-Game Flamethrowers Suck and most players prefer to pump out vehicles instead of infantry, Hellbringers tend to be too short range to be of any help. Compare that to the Covenant anti-infantry unit, Jackals, whose beam rifles give them very long range. Hellbringers are best used against Marine/ODST and Hunter rushes, particularly early in the game, but against aircraft and tanks they're useless.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: In the final level's opening cutscene, the three Spartans of Red Team absolutely demolish the Arbiter's small army of Elite Honor Guard.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Serina.
    "Recalling surface squads so we can all die together, aye sir."
  • Death by Irony: After the Arbiter almost beats Forge to a pulp, he gets ready to run Forge through with an energy sword, when Forge tells him to look him in the eye. The Arbiter grabs Forge by his head, lifts him up, and says, "My face will be the last thing your pathetic eyes ever see." Forge promptly stabs the Arbiter in the face with a knife, steals the energy sword, and runs the Arbiter through with it, not only killing the Arbiter the same way the Arbiter intended to kill him, but making his face the last thing the Arbiter sees.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: A collectable Black Box reveals that Douglas-042 got into an argument with Forge after Anders was captured by the Covenant. The Spartan recommended that the Covenant ship be destroyed to prevent classified information from getting out, leading Forge to fight him and hold his own against the Supersoldier. From then on, Forge and Douglas always ate together in the mess hall. That said, the cutscenes imply that the Spartan in question was actually Jerome-092.
  • Distressed Damsel: Anders is captured by the Arbiter so the Covenant can use her to activate the Forerunner ships. Though once their back is turned (literally), she escapes on her own.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: A complicated example. Halo Wars began life as an experimental RTS game with the aim of creating an intuitive control scheme for consoles. Simultaneously, Ensemble Studios was working on a Halo MMORPG with the Working Title Titan. The two projects essentially fused, as Microsoft cancelled the MMORPG while recommending that the RTS game be set in the Halo universe to make it an easier sell to Xbox owners.
  • The Dragon: Arbiter Ripa 'Moramee takes up this role for Regret and the other Hierarchs. He's much more threatening than they are as well.
  • Dyson Sphere: The last arc takes place on a Forerunner Shield World.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Forerunner Shield World is destroyed by having the Spirit of Fire's slipspace drive overload in its sun, causing it to go supernova and destroy the planet.
  • Elite Mooks:
    • Spartan Group Omega; Spartan-II super soldiers distinguished by their roughly 7-ft. height, olive-colored Powered Armor, and ice-cold combat dialogue.
    • ODSTs as well, who are basically space Force Recon Marines.
    • The Prophet of Regret's unique units, Honor Guard Elites, which can cloak, have shields, and wield energy swords.
  • Enemy Chatter: In true Halo fashion, units (infantry in particular) have a staggering array of context-sensitive lines - they complain about the cold on snow-filled maps, they cry out in panic when a friendly leader or powerful unit dies or an enemy leader attacks them, and they cheer when they're winning.
  • Enemy Exchange Program: Like in the shooters, Spartans can hijack most enemy vehicles.
  • Expy: The Grizzly Tank = The Mammoth Tank. They each have 4 sets of tracks, 2 cannons, and crush anything when deployed en masse.
    • The Cobra is very much a siege tank. A vehicle with two powerful cannons that unfolds into a stationary heavy artillery emplacement.
    • On that note, Hellbringer flame troopers are similar to Firebats: space marines armed with short-ranged flamethrowers which simply don't do as well pound-for-pound as regular marines.
  • Embarrassing First Name: The Arbiter's given name is jokingly stated to be 'Shirley' in the Main Menu tips. His real name is Ripa 'Moramee.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Especially since the game ends with the Spirit's crew stranded in space.
  • Guns Akimbo: Spartans Alice and Douglas both dual-wield SMGs while defending the Apex in the "Monsters" cutscene.
  • Harder Than Hard: Legendary difficulty, which features endless respawns of Covenant dropships every minute and dropping a dozen Hunters outside your base.
  • Heroic Sacrifice/Unplanned Manual Detonation: Sergeant Forge stays behind to detonate the Shaw-Fujikawa drive bomb.
  • Hold the Line: "Arcadia City" and "Arcadia Outskirts", two missions one after another, are of this variety.
  • Hot Scientist: Anders is a decided example.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When the Prophet of Regret inspects the captured Anders, he says of her, "Such a frail thing. You would hardly think them a threat." This is coming from someone who never leaves his hover chair.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Done in the "Monsters" cutscene, where scenes of Red Team effortlessly curb-stomping a small horde of Elite Honor Guards are contrasted with scenes of Forge struggling to beat the Arbiter.
    Arbiter (to Forge): Like the rest of your race, weak and undisciplined. *Picks up Forge by the head and slams him into a vehicle.*
    *Scene cuts to Spartans demolishing the remainder of Ripa's minions.*
  • It Has Been an Honor: Jerome to Sgt. Forge, after the latter takes his place as the guy to activate the slipspace bomb.
  • Kill It with Fire:
    • Hellbringers, aka flamethrower marines, which are great against other infantry. Against vehicles and aircraft... not so much.
    • Flamethrowers are an excellent way to deal with the Flood's forces, so your base's defense turrets can include them.
  • Large and in Charge: The Arbiter is noticeably larger and more muscular than even the normal Elites.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: "Spirit of Fire", the leitmotif of the eponymous ship.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The Vultures, especially after the upgrade. Likewise with the Wolverine units.
  • Magikarp Power: Marines are a relatively low-power starting unit for the UNSC, and are easily outclassed by higher tier units. However, pour enough investments into them, and they get upgraded to ODSTs and can be dropped ten squads in a row anywhere on the map via Drop Pods.
  • The Medic: Unlike the UNSC, Covenant cannot heal their units whenever they want. Instead they must build Engineers, which serve as passive healers. Combining them with the Scarab makes it nearly unstoppable.
    • The final upgrade for standard marines (unless you're playing as Captain Cutter) adds a medic to the squad, who heals the other units when not fighting.
  • Mini-Mecha:
    • The UNSC Cyclops, which is based on the Mark III exoskeleton (a predecessor project to the Spartans' MJOLNIR Powered Armor). It's not as big as the later Mantis from Halo 4, but it still towers over humans and some vehicles.
    • The Covenant Locust, best described as a mini-Scarab.
  • The Last Thing You Ever See: The Arbiter tells Forge that "[his] face will be the last thing [Forge's] pathetic eyes ever see". They're his Famous Last Words, and it's Forge's face that is the last thing he ever sees.
  • The Needs of the Many: The heroes use the Spirit of Fire's slipspace engine to destroy Shield World 0459 in order to deny the Covenant use of its Forerunner fleet, despite this effectively dooming the Spirit's crew to being stranded in space.
  • Neutrals, Critters, and Creeps: Certain maps set on the Shield World have Flood nests, and others have Forerunner fortresses, while maps set on Harvest or Arcadia have rebel camps. These usually guard capturable structures, such as base sockets or power plants.
  • No Campaign for the Wicked: Ensemble wasn't even going to consider having a Covenant campaign in Halo Wars unless they were some kind of rebel heretic faction, and therefore presumably not evil enough to fall under this trope.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The Flood are never referred to by name in the game by any character, not even by the Covenant. The Forerunner ancilla on the Shield World instead refers to them as a "high order infection".
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Vultures and Scarabs are already so powerful that they can not be driven by Spartans (aside from one campaign mission for the latter).
  • One-Man Army: Covenant leader units like the Arbiter, Brute Chieftain, and Prophet of Regret are powerful enough to engage dozens of enemies on their own. Spartans do well against infantry armies too, though without hijacking they'll need support against vehicles.
  • Orphaned Series: For six years; as soon as Robot Entertainment left, 343 Industries initially treated it as a distraction at best. However, a sequel was ultimately released in 2017 on both Xbox One and Windows, bringing back hope that the series might continue even beyond that. Notably, Halo Wars 2 employed a Time Skip in order to bring the Halo Wars characters into the Halo 5: Guardians era.
  • Planar Shockwave: When the Shield World is destroyed.
  • Powered Armor: The Cyclops powered exoskeletons, and of course the Spartans' MJOLNIR suits.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The perspective from which the game is played created some necessary exaggerations. For example, Spartans commandeering vehicles do a lot more elaborate gymnastics in the process of doing so, because more subtle animation would be hard to pick out at that scale. Likewise, the Cyclops's original design called for something similar to the early, pre-Spartan, MJOLNIR Powered Armor as Mighty Glacier infantry. However, this was changed to make it a Mini-Mecha because the scale made it difficult for players to identify them at a glance on a busy screen.
  • Psycho for Hire: The Arbiter, who is described by his own allies as evil and picked up right out of prison, to boot.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Every time Forge tries to shoot the Arbiter, he might as well be throwing tissue paper at him. The most success it has is disabling one of the Arbiter's Energy Swords.
  • Saved by Canon: Regret appears as the Big Bad, but since the game takes place over two decades before his appearance in Halo 2, there's no question he'll survive. Indeed, as soon as the Spirit of Fire is detected over the Shield World, Regret is evacuated to High Charity while the Arbiter takes over commanding the Covenant fleet, sparing the former from the Shield World's destruction.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shoot the Medic First: Engineers are priority target when fighting against the Covenant, as enough of them can heal units faster than you can damage them. Since they are air units, Vampires excel against them.
  • The Stinger: Beating the game on Legendary will play a voice clip of Serina waking up Captain Cutter from cryosleep and telling him that something has happened.
  • Stop Poking Me!: Grunts will sometimes say "Yee! Tickles!" when they're selected.
  • Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: Infantry are cheap Zerg Rushers who can fielded by the dozens, but are wiped out by vehicles who are rarer, more powerful, and durable. Said vehicles are then weak to aircraft, who tend to be weaker but faster with a healthy range of firepower, and then those aircraft are trumped by the infantry.
  • Take Me Instead: Anders surrenders herself to the Arbiter on the condition that he spares Forge's life.
  • Timed Mission: "Shield World" and "Escape" are of the "mission is failed if time runs out" variety.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Arbiter scoffs at Forge, "Like the rest of your race: weak and undisciplined." Forge turns it into almost a Sedgwick Speech.
  • Units Not to Scale: Due to gameplay limitations, the Scarab is much smaller here than in Halo 2 and Halo 3, but everything else is the same size the rest of the series depicts it as.
  • Villain Ball: After the Arbiter has Forge on the ropes, he chooses to Neck Lift him rather than kill him immediately, allowing Forge to stab him in the head then grab his energy sword for the final blow. Justified by the sheer arrogance the Arbiter has displayed throughout the game.
  • Wake Up Call Mission: The first three missions won't give you too much trouble. Mission 4, "Arcadia City", will come as a shock - protecting multiple fragile targets and managing at least two bases, all whilst under almost constant enemy attack, serves as a notice to players that things only get harder.
  • War Is Hell: The opening of the game really drives this home:
    "Captain's Report, Feburary 4th, 2531: Five years. Five, long, years. That's how long it took us to get Harvest back. At first it was going well. Then setback after setback, loss after loss, made what was going to be a quick and decisive win into five years of hell. Of course that's all Harvest is today. It's hell down there. But now it's ours again."
    • The Spartans manage to turn this into a Badass Boast: "War Is Hell. And I'm the Devil."
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Might be the fate of the crew of The Spirit Of Fire due to sacrificing their FTL reactor so that all the Forerunner ships are destroyed.
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