Retro review: Halo Wars’ co-op campaign is still a blast in 2021

There’s no shortage of awesome new experiences for fans of the Halo franchise in 2021 with Halo Infinite’s multiplayer mode making a surprise-free appearance earlier this month. Yet, somehow, we ended up spending our Monday night playing Halo Wars, a spin-off game from over a decade ago.

2009 was a fantastic year for video games. It brought us Batman Arkham AsylumBorderlands, and Dragon Age: Origins among many other top-notch titles. You’d be forgiven for skipping Halo Wars in favor of more popular games, including the franchise’s own Halo 3: ODST.

And, in the years since, there’s been no shortage of great RTS titles. But last night, we were determined to play some Halo and, after finding it inexplicably impossible to link up for some FPS action via the Master Chief Collection on Xbox Game Pass for PC, we opted on Halo Wars due to its relatively small download package (about 10GB).

An hour later and we were up and running. I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Halo fan and I only remember playing about a dozen or so hours of HW when it launched. But the reward for getting into the franchise is hundreds of hours of excellent gameplay and fantastic cinematic experiences spanning over half-a-dozen AAA titles. Not to mention the movies, books, and anime.

Once we got Halo Wars up and running on Game Pass for PC, the rest was relatively simple. I created a lobby, invited her, and started the first mission in the campaign.

The graphics in the Definitive Edition on Game Pass are more than passable for the modern era and the sound is still top-notch. Best of all, the controls are tight and responsive. For a game that’s over a decade old, it holds up quite well on the initial reactions test.

This isn’t surprising, Halo has always been lovingly cared for by the various developers who’ve handled projects for the franchise since Bungie launched it with Combat Evolved back in 2001.

What I did find shocking was how well-crafted the game was for co-op play. It took us a matter of minutes to get into the swing of things and start having a blast.

The starting units on any given map are separated into green units for player one and purple units for player two. At first, you’re just moving your little units around the map and completing objectives (usually either picking up resources or attacking enemy units). Each player can send their troops where they want, giving players the option to combine forces to attack a powerful enemy army or to split their efforts to maintain multiple fronts.

As the campaign goes on, however, more avenues of strategy become available. At one point I found myself spending more time base-building and managing upgrades than participating in combat, but my partner was focused on taking the fight straight to the enemy, so our combined efforts paid off with a quick and efficient victory.

On another mission, however, we quickly learned that splitting our attention merely resulted in the complete and utter obliteration of our troops and bases. It quickly became apparent that there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy that would grant us victory, but that working together and adapting to the challenges at hand was the only way to win when things got tough.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend a playthrough of Halo Wars before diving into the more modern sequel and, if you’re not in the mood for shooter action, a nice break from Halo Infinite to revel in the lore.

It’s not a perfect experience. Modern games have spoiled me with constant unlocks, perk upgrades, and experience point systems that make everything from NBA 2K22 to Call of Duty feel like a roleplaying game, but Halo Wars just kind of expects me to be happy with completing a mission to earn a cutscene and a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

Aside from the lack of challenge trophies and carrots-on-sticks, Halo Wars holds up quite well in 2021. In fact, I can’t wait to dive back in and finish the campaign so we can roll right into Halo Wars 2.


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