Games Review: Dawn of War 2: Retribution

In the Dark Future of the 41st Millennium, there is Only War…

The latest expansion – or rather, “expandalone”, as it doesn’t require any of the earlier versions – of Relic’s Dawn of War 2 series was out on Friday and as a big fan of both Relic in general and the Dawn of War series in particular, I’ve been playing it for much of the weekend. In fact, due to Relics decision to allow owners of earlier iterations early access to the Multiplayer “beta” I’ve been playing it a bit longer. So, what’s it all about, and is it worth a look?

Dawn of War 2: Retribution is set 10 years after the events of its predecessor, Chaos Rising, when the Imperium of Man has finally got so sick of there being Only War in subsector Aurelia that it’s sending in an Exterminatus Fleet to eradicate the whole place with fire and toxins. The Big News is that unlike earlier games, all the factions available for multiplayer have single-player (or co-operative) campaigns and given that there are six of them, including the new Imperial Guard, that’s a lot of replay value right off the back. Of course, the nature of it is that you’ll end up doing many of the same missions with different factions but they’re sufficiently varied that they play fairly differently, especially with the difficulty turned up.

The Armoured Fist of the Emperor has arrived. And it has a funny Scottish accent.

Gameplay has taken a step change from earlier games too. DoW2’s campaigns removed almost entirely a lot of the more traditional RTS elements in favour of a small roster of hero squads, making it feel more like 3rd-person action game with strong tactical elements. Whilst the hero characters are still prominent, and level up, and acquire loot and new abilities, within levels they also earn requisition that they can spend on either temporary boosts to themselves, or they can start to spawn a more traditional RTS-style army around them. This quickly leads to a bigger feel to the game, as your still-prominent heroes charge around the map now followed by infantry, walkers, tanks and the like, and big, colourfully destructive battles tear up the terrain.

There is a wonderful sense of diversity throughout the single player campaign. The six factions (for the record: Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Eldar, Orks, Chaos, Tyranids) are all pretty unique and varied in tone from the wonderfully righteous Marines to the loot- and combat-obsessed Orks to the whispered and portentous prophecies of the Eldar and whilst I can’t see anyone but the most fierce completist finishing the campaign six time I can easily imagine two or three run throughs being the norm. Plus of course all the campaigns can be played two-player, which in my experiences more than doubles the fun factor anyway.

In the Dark Future of the 41st Millennium there is Only Waaaaaggh! And Nice Hats.

Multiplayer is a less glowing story though. It’s pretty similar to early DoW2 games, with the base building elements of RTS largely gone in favour of a tech tree system and single, hard-to-destroy main base. The decision making is largely the same; spend resources on units, or tech, but I still miss the sprawl of late-game bases from Dawn of War itself and other, more traditional RTS games. Victory is by default based on area control, gaining points for holding key areas of the map, making matches feel a little inconsequential at times as you skirmish around the centres of a map seemingly indecisively. Mechanistically, it’s fun, but victory feels strangely unsatisfying without the catharsis of crushing your enemy beneath your boots.

The other weakness is the flip side of one of the games strengths, and that is that the somewhat epic diversity of the potential units on display can make for a slightly confusing battlefield.  Units are nicely marked up with their role whatever they’re faction but it’s easy to miss, and the joy of your Dreadnaught smushing infantry to the sound of bolter shells pinging off it’s hull can quickly turn to horror as an Anti-Vehicle unit you’ve missed in the scrum quickly turns it to the scrap metal. There’s none of the crisp, transparent clinicism of say, Starcraft 2, lost in favour of rolling brawls and the game’s wonderfully colourful character animations.

Elves in Spaaaace! Now With Wings….

All that said, I’ve still largely enjoyed the Multiplayer, with the caveat that playing 1 vs AI is a pretty frustrating and unrewarding experience, but other people, and larger co-op vs AI skirmish is a lot more fun. Retribution also comes with the Last Stand survival mode, where you take your lone hero (or band of heroes, if playing with friends) against ever increasing waves of enemies, which sounds simple enough in concept but can be frantically good fun as you learn to pull out all your characters special abilities to survive.

There’s more too, that I’m really running out of space to mention. The technical networking is now done by SteamWorks, ditching the somewhat terrible Games for Windows Live, which is a huge plus. Much of the dialogue, from plot exposition to unit barks is well written, and well acted. There’s a level where you get chased across the map by a Scotsman driving the biggest tank you’ll ever see. There’s just so much, brought forward from the earlier games, plus a whole load of new stuff, that makes it immense value, and, niggles in the MP aside, immense fun.

Tanks for reading!

GS Reporter: Matt

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus.

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