The original Halo Wars ends by putting itself in stasis, with the human warship Spirit of Fire coasting through void - its crew forced into cryosleep, its ultimate relation to the rest of the saga left open for debate. The in-game explanation for this uncertain denouement is the loss of the vessel's Faster Than Light drive. The creative rationale was perhaps Bungie's intense ambivalence about handing the keys to its universe over to Ensemble, developer of the Age of Empires games. Packed with all the floaty jeeps and energy swords a Halo fan could wish for, the plot of Halo Wars nonetheless sits at a careful remove from the numbered Halos, offering a separate cast and events that, for all their dizzying import, never quite overlap with the antics of Master Chief and co. Fast-forward to 2017, and even as the robust-looking Halo Wars 2 approaches release, there's the sense that the Spirit of Fire's fate has become that of Halo as a whole - a mass of trailing story threads and lost souls, waiting for somebody to give it a heading.
As Microsoft sets out to reinvent Halo yet again with Halo 5: Guardians - festooning Master Chief's crenelated bulk with jumpjets and pop-out holographic reticules, like a long-serving plastic Christmas tree - it's worth digging up the last game to take similarly drastic yet successful liberties with Bungie's old action sandbox. Ensemble's Halo Wars rumbled onto shelves at a comfortable time for Xbox, a year or so ahead of the first Kinect sensor, and was spared the pressures and mammoth sales targets of a core numbered Halo. But in other respects, the project's challenges leave Halo 5's in the shadow.
It's a big year for Bungie. Not only does it celebrate its 20th birthday but, with the impending release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, it's also formally signing off custodianship of Master Chief to 343 Industries.
In this new series of opinion pieces, some of Eurogamer's favourite writers reveal how they really feel about some of the world's most renowned, or most reviled, videogames.
Peculiar bedfellows, perhaps? There was always going to be a clash somewhere in this year's Coming Attractions as we sorted our way through 12 categories, but you could argue there's more that unites fighting and strategy than divides them. Both are about trying to take maximum of advantage of your opposition's weaknesses, both reward patience, concentration and consideration, and as of Red Alert 3 both have a thing for impractical women's clothing.
They're not messing about. Graeme Devine is in charge of the storyline of this new branch to the Halo franchise, and he's bold as a tin cockerel when he's asked about the Halo Wars mission. "What Halo did for first-person shooters, Halo Wars is going to do for real-time strategy. I absolutely think that. Because we've made it from the ground up for 360, and we didn't have to think about keyboard and mouse, and worry about whether we're going to have to port it to the PC. This game plays better than any PC real-time strategy game with a controller."
Most big, modern games are, of necessity, a team effort - so much so that it's often hard to ascribe any particular part of the experience to one person. In the Halo series, for instance, all manner of people contributed to the games, and for the most part, you'd be hard pressed to pick out a great moment and say, "this person made this". It's a team effort. Everyone's fingers are in all sorts of pies, and every pie has all sorts of fingers in it.
Microsoft's getting pretty good at not announcing Halo games. Not only did it not announce a new Bungie one at E3, but within the very same conference it managed to overlook Halo Wars completely. Given that Ensemble Studios' ambitious spin-off strategy game for Xbox 360 was announced in 2006, that raises serious questions about how long we'll have to wait to play it.
Last week, you may recall, we put on our robe and wizard hat for a look at this year's most promising RPGs. We've done shooters, racers, action adventure and sports games too, if you missed any of those.