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Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising

So, after defeating horde upon horde of alien horrors collectively known as ‘The Great Devourer’, you’d think the old Blood Ravens Space Marines would be in line for some rest and relaxation, but no – these guys absolutely love an intergalactic moral crusade. The Blood Raven’s primary enemy this time around is the titular demonic force of Chaos, who have returned from the Warp and who may or may not be engaging in some kind of rising-based activities. The plot sees the return of the Chaos Space Marines’ Black Legion, whose favourite pastimes include genocide, enslavement, treachery, speaking in comically evil voices and – when absolutely no one’s looking – horticulture. These Chaos psychos are always trying to corrupt Space Marines’ minds and recruit them to their unholy cause, so themes of mistrust and paranoia are rife throughout the plot. The story moves along at a good pace and, although it has its moments, it’s very similar to that of the original Dawn of War.

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With regards to the game’s predecessor, although you don’t require Dawn of War II to play Chaos Rising, playing through it first is certainly recommended. Completing the original campaign will give you the option to import your time-invested characters, experience and equipment into this new campaign as well as giving you the whole background story. The level cap has been raised from 20 to 30, so the RPG elements like gaining experience are still highly important this time around. If you just have to get your Chaos-fix, though, you can jump right in and spend free experience points to level up your characters.

The Black Legion’s forces are brutal and highly durable adversaries. Much of the Chaos army is based upon the Space Marine’s squads and heavy armour (tactical squads, heavy weapons teams and evil-twin versions of the dreadnought and predator tank), but there’s also plenty of new nasties (daemons, heretic cultists and massive obese green dudes with corrosive barf) to battle. So, just as in Dawn of War II, careful planning of equipment and squad selection before each mission is essential to successfully overcoming the despicable forces of darkness. Reading the mission briefs prior to deployment will give you an idea of whether or not you’ll need to focus on long-range firepower, close quarters combat or anti-vehicle weaponry. An additional tactical factor has also been introduced, however, in the form of a new selectable character. Now, he’s called Jonah and he’s a librarian, but in this universe, Space Marine librarians are, thankfully, walking monuments to psychic-powered bad-assery. Jonah can be equipped with special tomes that give him handy abilities such as instant healing, lightning blasts, teleportation, increasing squad speed/strength and various other up-sleeve trickery. This new addition to your forces is best used as a support to your offensive troops, serving as an empowering beacon from behind the frontline or, alternatively, just left behind reading a good tome.

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The weaponry and items collected on the battlefield are an improvement (multi-melta ahoy!), on those found in Dawn of War II, and there’s a cunning equipment-based twist this time too. Some items snatched from the death-grasp of your fallen foes are so gnarly they can end up corrupting you. These Chaos-imbued items are, of course, inherently cooler than the standard ‘pure’ items and it’s certainly difficult to resist their deathly appeal. But that’s always the way it goes, isn’t it? Being bad is good. After all, who would you rather be: Ghandi, or Castor Troy from Face/Off? The more you use these occult items, the more corruption points your squads will receive – which is shown on a red-meter of DOOM. Once you’ve meddled with the dark side enough (which can also include nefarious in-game actions), your squad’s abilities and traits will start to morph into alternative and sinister versions. This is exactly the same as eating a large bag of Twiglets and then disembowelling a nun. However, if you don’t want to go down that questionable path, you may reduce your corruption level by undertaking special in-game actions to become pure once again. Although achievements are rewarded to you based on how pure or corrupt your squads are, this factor won’t affect the storyline much – which could’ve added an interesting element to proceedings.

The missions are varied in terms of objectives and map-terrain. The maps are mostly memorable and well crafted, as promised by Relic. Unlike those in Dawn of War II, no two missions feel overtly similar and there are plenty of surprises and challenging moments throughout. One particularly noteworthy factor is the game’s unfathomably tough bosses, whose hit-points can often stretch into the tens of thousands. But, given they’re often aligned with the Chaos gods Khorne (‘blood for the blood god!’) and Nurgle (rot, pus and corrosive stomach bile on toast) – this factor is true to the universe. A small criticism is that the campaign could have been lengthened slightly with more conflicts against the Orks, Eldar and Tyranids, especially as they’ve been given additional units, via a simultaneously released patch, to bolster their ranks. For instance, the missions that take place aboard conquered space marine starships are a highlight as you face off against new Tyranid units such as the genestealers and tyrant guards. Not only do these missions present the classic sci-fi scenario of battling xenomorphs within a confined metallic space, but for old-school 40K fans, these missions will directly invoke fond memories of the Space Hulk video and TT games. This is only a minor gripe though, as the game’s multiplayer is arguably its most popular feature.

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The excellently supported multiplayer arguably (constant balance issues) just keeps on improving – players certainly can’t complain about a lack of new content. The Chaos race fits in nicely amongst the established races and they’re a pleasure to control and master. Indeed, bearing in mind players have now had over a year to develop tactics for each race in the various multiplayer modes, the inclusion of a new playable race will present players with a strong new challenge besides extending the already stellar replayability on offer. Relic have even gone so far as to reset the online leaderboards in some kind of effort to revert the Dawn of War II community back to year zero.

Although the game is a sufficient continuation of the series, Chaos Rising does leave a few things to be desired. It’s disappointing there are no missions that allow you to employ all of your squads together, as this would’ve been particularly rewarding and beneficial in the final conflict. Further to this, although the last battle is suitably immense, there are loose ends left rather unsuitably open. As this is a standalone expansion, it should be properly wrapped up at the climax. Even though it was a quality game, Dawn of War II did draw criticism for the repetitive elements of its single player campaign, and the less said about the in-game bugs the better. Relic has duly noted these criticisms and has created a worthy expansion to the series in Chaos Rising.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2009. Get in touch on Twitter @P_Worth.

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