Relic Entertainment and THQ bring the brutal savagery of the Warhammer 40,000 universe back in Dawn of War II
The harsh landscape of 40,000 years in the future of the Warhammer realm is captured once again as team Relic plunge the proud and unrelenting space marines into all out chaos against their hated foes.
Much has changed since the days of just sending waves upon waves of squads to their noble deaths in the vain hope they’ll break the defensive lines of your enemies base. Relic take a page from one of their other hot RTS creations – Company of Heroes – with Dawn of War II playing huge emphasis on the squads themselves, with each feeling critical to success. To this end maps are littered with cover spots everywhere bringing the intensity of battles to new highs as you literally throw everything you have to gun, grenade and charge your way through. To help keep the relentless tug of war going on the fields of battle, units are better equipped with talents and abilities which don’t feel over bearing or cheaply tacked on; in a tight spot they can turn the tide quickly.
Outfit your squads and choose their specialization in the campaign.
You decide when and where to defend the galaxy from invaders.
As squads knock off more bad guys they’ll gain experience, but now managing them juggles the responsibility of prioritising what traits and attributes to chase as well as combing through levels to pick up as much wargear as you can to better equip them. You collect upgraded or even unique weapons and armour for your guys, and depending on what class they are will decide what loot they can apply. These aren’t minor little bonus objects either as they deliver some powerful punches if you pay attention and take the time to look them over. As you increase your troops levels you’ll start to unlock passive or selectable traits and combat abilities, like for example the space marine scouts can stay in stealth mode and will not won't drain any energy if they stay still giving you a great way to spy on enemy lines; another adds permanent range to weaponry or boosts the impact of a heroic charge attack and so on.
Gameplay has its focus pulled, if not ripped away from base building and reinvested completely on the thrill of frontline action, forcing you to think and plan your way forward with little room for screw-ups. Buildings themselves mostly stand empty but can be garrisoned to provide cover for you and deadly encounters for nosey and clumsy opponents. The whole situation focuses the player on upfront and gritty close-quarter exchanges instead of distracting you with managing a base. The idea is sound as when you step into the campaigns you feel liberated from having to grind your way up to building a fully operational base before churning out the squads endlessly to go beat your opponent with, now you just get to the arse kicking part straight away. The same almost applies with multiplayer matches but you do have a primary building to look after that builds your army.
In Dawn of War II you won’t be plopping down power cores or anything, instead you’ll need to be proactive in taking strategic points throughout the maps to secure resource income which can be upgraded to output more. These fuel your war machine and let you upgrade your headquarters and enlist more deadly units. The design of the buildings and units are strikingly detailed thanks to the new graphics engine, which surpasses the works of the original and its expansions by far. The bug-like Tyranids call an organic and squelching abomination their HQ with each squad looking as if they’ve just been given birth to, gross but cool.
The campaign follows a non-linear fashion as it lets you choose what regions to advance to next. You’ll notice also that each level can have special structures that help you in future battles, but to keep things from going your way too quickly you’re limited to being able to capture just one of these special strategic buildings at a time. If you want the chance to nab the other then you’ll need to be dragged into conflict there again, which ties in with the personal ranking you have attached to the Commander you created, awarding them defence and offensive ranks. To help massage your ego or even laugh and point at your lacking of tactical manhood, the game will also keep track of numerous stats through play and ‘promote’ your Commander in two separate categories; Savior and Warrior.
Always watch for drops of loot, or ‘wargear’ as it’s called.
Bosses slap your guys around the place, and even use special moves.
Completing a level brings up a small summary that shows you what, if anything, you’ve earned from the battle and how well you scored. The scoring takes the form of award stars that cover factors like the percentage of enemy forces vanquished, keeping your own team numbers high and how fast you blazed to victory. As you would expect some missions are far easier than others in the campaign, but those that prove more challenging are usually playing home to a boss for you to defeat. These are tough mean mothers who won’t go down easy and play out more like a major encounter from World of Warcraft than what RTS players are used to. The fights themselves are great fun and are filled with banter and special moves you need to keep aware of and it’s these showdowns that will have you clicking like a mad man as you reposition your squads and fire off their special talents. You can tell if the battle is going well or not with the huge boss health bar slowly running down at the top.
One thing that can’t be faulted is the audio that accompanies you on the field. Hearing chainsaw noises as your force commander chops and slices through ork bands is greatly satisfying. All the effects Relic have put in sit perfectly in place as guns fire and grenades explode and the clashing of armies is a symphony of carnage. The voice-over’s and narration aren’t as grin-inducing but the obligatory violent intro movie sequence gets you in the mood for Warhammer style blood lusting.
As you play more levels you begin to work out the best tactics you like to use. I myself prefer getting heavy gunners behind some thick cover hopefully near a tight corridor or pass and then using another to lure the enemy into a spray of death. You can suppress enemy squads so they dramatically lose advantage and make good easy targets for a grenade or satchel toss. If this ever happens to your own side you can issue an order to retreat which will get your guys to run their legs off for a short while with their tails between their legs to the nearest rally point. If you lose some squad members during the campaign trail then you need only capture a relay, which will call down reinforcements when an undermanned squad gets near it. These are usually well guarded at first and it’s always a good idea to punch through and grab as many as you can, luckily the enemy as a general rule has limited numbers.
The campaign only follows the space marines, not the other three races.
Cover is your new best friend, neglect it and pay sooner than you'd like.
The game is tied with the Games For Windows Live program which means you can earn achievements but also at any time you can invite a friend to co-operatively play through a campaign – a feature that’s becoming all the rage recently. This means you’ll also be using it to setup multiplayer matches but you can also host your own local area network games. Once again you have the army painting tools at your disposal to give your team a more unique look if the standard themes aren't working for you. The one thing that was lacking I felt was a tutorial; in fact there isn’t one at all really. Instead you’re given helpful tooltips at the side of the screen but these can be a little too distracting when starting out, luckily the game has a fast learning curve.
WARHAMMER 40,000: DAWN OF WAR II VERDICT
Relic Entertainment has taken a great step forward as the team shirk off the weaker fragments of the previous iterations and embrace more of what Warhammer 40,000 is really about; the intense carnage. In pursuit of that they’ve ditch the more traditional aspects of the RTS, like base building, and instead offer a more streamlined approach to getting your war on. Team Relic has pulled off a tremendous job of managing to prune away a lot from the first game and yet given gamers so much more to experience in Dawn of War II. Any strategy gamer worth their salt should grab it with both hands and lovingly choke the life out of it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
You just can’t beat the entertainment of a good mash up as space marines and orks collide; it’s almost like ballet, with guns.