Warhammer 40K -
Dawn of War II: Retribution
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: 03/04/2011
I'm generally a big fan of the Warhammer 40k setting (though in game terms, I prefer Games Workshop's other offering, Warhammer Fantasy Battle). Even though many don't like how its excessive GRIMDARKNESS leads to gaping plotholes and logical inconsistencies, that's part of what I like about it; it never lets logic get in the way of bloodshed and manliness.
I've had the pleasure of playing nearly everything Relic Entertainment has put out during their career, starting all the way back when they made Impossible Creatures in 2003. After that came tour de forces in Dawn of War, Homeworld 2, Company of Heroes and finally Dawn of War II (we'll forget The Outfit ever existed). All those RTS' tried something new, and Relic's fondess for tinkering with an established genre cemented them as one of my all-time favourite developers.
I didn't have the chance to review the original Dawn of War II or its expansion Chaos Rising, but the expansion did make into my top ten games of 2010 in the "Year End Staff Commentaries"Â article, so that should tell you about how good I thought it was. The strange hybrid of Diablo and Company of Heroes worked perfectly, even though it deviates a lot from the original Dawn of War.
So what's new in the final expansion pack? Read on fellow Battle Brother/Guardsman/Guardian/Nob/Termaguant.
The main new addition is that there is a single player campaign for each of the races (Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising only featured Space Marine campaigns focusing on the Blood Ravens chapter), though the maps used in each campaign are reused, but with different dialogue for each of the main factions.
The storyline takes place ten years after the end of Chaos Rising. Even with the victory against the great demon Ulkair, war still threatens sub sector Aurelia. Chaos forces and demons continue to spill into the sector, Ork raids continue to cause damage, the Tyranid remnants in Typhon are still causing trouble and the Eldar still continue to scout the sector for reasons unknown (because they're Eldar, they probably made up something so they can have a secret to keep from us puny mon'keighs).
To top it off, the Blood Ravens are still in the midst of their civil war that was uncovered at the end of Chaos Rising with Captain Gabriel Angelos and his 3rd company branded renegades by the corrupt Azariah Kyras, chapter master of the Blood Ravens.
The Imperium of Man has had enough and is sending the Ordo Malleus, The Holy Imperial Inquisition, to conduct Exterminatus, which is a fancy way of saying "complete genocide of all life"Â.
Whatever side you choose in the single player campaign, you'll play through the exact same storyline and levels, but with different enemies and dialougue, with the common end goal of stopping the Exterminatus. While it is disappointing that all the campaigns are nearly identical to one another, at the very least the ending changes depending on what faction you pick, and frankly, the levels in the single player campaign are well designed and more fun than the old "play on the same map multiple times"Â shtick you had to do in the original Dawn of War II storyline. A particular favourite is the second mission in the game where you are constantly trying to run away from a massive Baneblade tank that's trying to hunt you down in the jungle. No matter what faction you're playing with, it's exciting and fun to be running away for the majority of the mission before facing off against a giant tank at the end.
As for other modes, multiplayer is present and accounted for and is the same as it was for previous Dawn of War II games, with the addition of several new maps and the Imperial Guard as a playable faction.
Last Stand mode returns as well with an additional map and a new hero, Lord General Castor from the Imperial Campaign. While this is great news for Last Stand, it still doesn't make it as good as the excellent Killteam mod which allows for random enemy waves, 5 player co-op (compared to 3 in vanilla DoWII) and many more maps then the two available from Relic. When you're outdone by your own fans, you really need to step up.
The greatest addition, though, is the removal of the abysmal Games for Windows Live and the implementation of the vastly superior Steam matchmaking. This makes it much easier to enter into multiplayer and co-op campaign play.
Story/Modes Rating: Good
Relic has been pushing the edge in RTS graphics ever since Homeworld back in 1999, and each of their games look fantastic. Dawn of War II was no exception, as it looked fantastic when it first came out a couple years ago. The engine still looks amazing now, but with a little more hindsight we can see some of the little blemishes in this otherwise gorgeous looking game.
The animations for many of the units, such as the space marines and inquisitor Adrastia, look off, as though they're skating over the surface of the ground rather than walking over it. Another problem is how melee combat looks; while you can get some spectacular "sync kills"Â that show a particulary gory and stylish kill, most of the time you're in the old "wave swords somewhat in the proximity of each other"Â which looks primitive compared to the upcoming Shogun 2 Total War. While you can make the claim that Shogun 2 is a new game, while Retribution is working on a two year old engine, Medival 2 Total War was released two years before DOW2 and it still has a better melee animation system, and that was built on the Rome:TW engine!
Also, when firing on each other, troops simply stand around in a line shooting repeatedly at each other until they die or you give them a new order. This is strange, since it was done better in Company of Heroes, the game which the DOWII engine is based on! In Company of Heroes, when the fighting starts, troops lay prone on the ground, they dive behind the nearest cover, they reload their weapons, and they generally look animated. It has no effect on the actual battle, but it looks very convincing and helps create the illusion that you're commanding real troops.
It may seem like I hate the graphics, but I actually don't! They're some of the best graphics ever for an RTS, and I'm just nitpicking a few areas I feel that could benefit from some touching up in DoW III.
Graphics Rating: Classic
The music continues to be what you expect from a Warhammer 40k game: dark gothic orchestral music. It won't win any awards or keep you particularly entranced for days after you finish playing, like some great soundtracks, but it does its job adequately.
The voice acting, however, is on a whole different level! Just like Company of Heroes before it, every unit has several different responses to the same situation (under fire, in melee, capturing a victory point, spotting the enemy and the list goes on) and it really makes your troops come alive.
This is combined with some great sound effects that are second only to Battlefield: Bad Company 2. If you have a really good sound system, calling in an artillery barrage is the closest thing you can get to an actual battlefield without joining the army. Screams, jets, explosions and order confirmations combine to create a hectic battlefield that's a feast for the ears.
Sound Rating: Great
If you're looking for a massive overhaul of the game engine, then you're likely to be disappointed, as the saying "more of the same"Â applies here. I don't see this as a bad thing, as I liked Dawn of War II and always wanted more. The main addition is the inclusion of the Imperial Guard as a new faction, along with three new heroes leading them; Lord General Castor, Commissar Lord Bernn and Inquisitor Adrastia.
If you've ever played Company of Heroes or any of the Dawn of War games, you'll know that Relic handles resources through "resource"Â points instead of worker units, and Dawn of War II is no exception. Two resources called "requisition"Â and "power"Â are collected by capturing nodes that will steadily deposit resources into your stockpile that you use to create more units at your HQ (there are no buildings other than your HQ). While the game can be played in "Annihilation"Â mode, like most RTSes, where the goal is to go for the opponents HQ, it's not really designed around that, and the game becomes clunky. It was designed around the "victory point"Â system that is very similar to the system used in the Battlefield series of games. There are three victory points on the map, and if you control at least two, then the enemy team will start to lose battle points. When they hit zero, you've won the game.
The key difference between this game and say, Company of Heroes, is that Dawn of War II is built on team play, specifically three versus three teamplay. The population cap is severe in this game, and there is no way you can split your forces over that wide an area; therefore, teamwork comes into play, with each race and hero utilizing their own strengths and weaknesses to shore up the weakness in their allies to control as much of the map as possible. It's like the Team Fortress 2 of RTS games (well, next to World in Conflict that is), though this focus on 3v3 means that playing the game on most anything else is unbalanced and just plain not as much fun with less people running around the map.
If you've played previous Dawn of War II games, you probably already know how this game works and are probably wondering how exactly the new faction plays in multiplayer. The answer? Pretty damn well! The Imperial Guard in Retribution perfectly complement how the Imperial Guard plays in the table top game: lots of cheap infantry with plenty of tanks and artillery to support them. Basically, a WWI trench army in space. The only weakness I can see in this faction is the fact that your anti-vehicle choices are severely limited until the 3rd tier, when you get the Leman Russ and Baneblade tanks. Until then, you have to rely on Stormtrooper Meltaguns and upgrading your Tier 1 Machine gun squads to carry Lascannons. Either of those two options are meager compared to the vehicles your opponents can field, so it's imperative you reach Tier 3 before any of your opponents do, as the Tier 1 Sentinel is an anti-melee infantry vehicle with very light armour.
The rest of the game is as you remember it, but with additional units for all of the factions as well as an additional map for Last Stand and many more maps for multiplayer. It's not a huge shift in gameplay, but what do you expect from a thirty dollar standalone expansion pack?
Control/Gameplay Rating: Very Good
The single player campaign is the same for all factions with only a few differences, so while it may be fun to go through it two or three times, it gets tedious after that (the Tyranid campaign is the most different of all the races, but that's only relative to the rest of the campaign).
Your multiplayer levels from Chaos Rising transfer to the new game, so you don't have to grind levels again, but with a new hero in Last Stand and new race in multiplayer you'll have plenty of opportunity to gain levels and experiment with online battles.
Replayability Rating: Good
Blizzard has a tough time balancing three races in Starcraft, so you can imagine how tough it is for Relic to balance six races in multiplayer. Unfortunately, the new race is somewhat underpowered compared to the rest of the old races in the game, but I feel that's better than bringing them in overpowered and having everyone complain about it. It's going to take a while to smooth these things out.
Balance Rating: Above Average
This is a standalone expansion pack to a two year old strategy game set in a universe that was first introduced in 1987. In addition, none of the new additions are anything terribly exciting; more maps, more units, (one) more race(s) and a new campaign.
All these additions are appreciated, but not necessarily new or unexpected.
Originality Rating: Pretty Poor
Finishing the single player campaign should take you anywhere from 5-6 hours per playthrough, but it will be hard for anyone to go through it more than twice or three times.
The real meat of the game is in Last Stand and online multiplayer (now improved with steam!). Last Stand is a Defense of the Ancients style co-op mode where you and three other players take control of a hero and basically survive wave after wave of enemies while gathering XP to unlock better weapons and armour for your characters. It can really suck you in, but if you've played the shit out of this mode in earlier Dawn of War II games, then you might already have maxed out several characters already and only have one new map to play on; a far cry from the options in the Killteam mod.
Addictiveness Rating: Very Good
The Dawn of War series is quite popular with the PC gaming crowd, as is Relic Entertainment. Warhammer 40K is also a popular property amongst gamers who most likely have PCs to play it on.
However, this is a second expansion pack of a two year old game that's being released after Starcraft 2 and in the same month as Dragon Age 2, Shogun 2 and Crysis 2, and it just might get lost in this whole shuffle on the PC front, and that's not withstanding the launch of the 3DS eating up headlines this month.
Appeal Factor Rating: Decent
It truly seems that the guys at Relic enjoyed making this game and are in touch with the fans. The dropping of Games for Windows Live in favour of Steamworks, as well as the huge amount of memes stuck inside the game, such as the now infamous "DRIVE ME CLOSER!"Â meme, all show that.
One thing that bothers me, though, is that one of the heroes in every campaign is completely silent and doesn't converse with the other heroes. In the Imperial Guard campaign, that hero is Lord Commissar Bernn, who has some of the best in-game voice acting I've ever heard. It's just a complete waste that such a cool character has no impact whatsoever on the story.
Miscellaneous rating: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
There aren't any ground-breaking additions in this latest addition to the Dawn of War series, but the switch to Steamworks alone is nearly worth the very reasonable asking price of thirty dollars. Throw in the Imperial Guard and a decent single player campaign and you have a great game for any Warhammer 40K fan.