Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Since 2004, Relic Entertainment has been an unstoppable force in creating some of the PCís most endearing RTS games since the likes of Westwood and Blizzard. The original Dawn of War was one of the first licensed Warhammer games that wasnít just a poor and misguided use of the name, and it actually came out during a lull in the RTS genre. After a string of interesting, yet truly unfulfilling expansion packs, Relic has finally released the epic sequel all the fans have been waiting for. But with so many games released between the original and now, and with the likes of a new Starcraft on the horizon, does Dawn of War II really stand out anymore?
The first, and quite possibly most important thing to note about Dawn of War II is the lack of base-building. Inspired by their own innovative Company of Heroes series, Relic sought out to make some fundamental changes that allowed this new Warhammer title to have a quick startup, with emphasis on ďmicroĒ, or micro-management of your troops. With no buildings to worry about, players can jump right into capturing one of the various capture points in the game to gain resources. Even power, which was gotten in the original DoW via power generators, is now received by capturing and upgrading a new kind of capture point called a power node. Now the only thing that really stands in the way between you and your opponent is your skill in controlling your troops.
So what else has changed since we last visited the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium? Compared with the last expansion pack for the original game, Soulstorm, you could say a lot of other things have changed with DoWII. For starters, we are back to four races. Of course, the venerable space marines, the mysterious Eldar, and the silly yet brutal Orks are all here. In lieu of Chaos, though, this time the Tyranids are included for the first time in the series as a playable race. The lack of any other races is very disappointing, but it is logical that Relic would want to try and balance four races before jumping back to seven or eight once again.
There is a new system for abilities unique to each race based on kills, captures, etc; they are determined by which hero you use in the game. These abilities can allow for special moves like the Eldritch Storm, a powerful spell that engulfs a small radius of the terrain in a deadly electric storm, destroying almost anything in its path. There are also special units you can only get here, like the Venerable Dreadnought, as well as normal squads that can be placed anywhere on the map.
The new game engine, which is based on the existing technology used in Company of Heroes, allows for far more cover than the original, and DoWII now features destructible environments, such as crumbling buildings or craters from explosions which can affect the battlefield. Moving your units behind a wall will allow them to fire while taking cover, but tall buildings can also block their line of sight, making the game very similar to not only the real world, but also the tabletop game, where line of sight and cover played a very big role.
Dawn of War II is easily one of the best looking games Iíve played when cranked up to the highest settings, particularly in the RTS genre. The amazing effects and textures really make the game look incredible. Things like the orbital bombardment, which is a giant ion cannon blasting from space down to the ground itself is so ridiculously detailed that it might even slow down you or your opponent if their machines arenít up to spec. Speaking of which, the price of admission here is quite high, so if your computer isnít somewhat newer you may need to look into an upgrade.
Once you jump into a game, youíll notice that there is somewhat of a lack of units to choose from in Dawn of War II compared to its predecessors. Thatís not to say there arenít enough, but clearly some didnít make the cut either due to balancing or for other reasons. Youíll be glad to know that pretty much any squad can be upgraded, however, making the game even more tactical than simply having a large number of units to choose from.
There are three tiers (main tech upgrades that allow for more powerful units to be built), as before, but this time Tier III has even fewer things to choose from, opting instead for just the most baddass of units, abilities, upgrades in the Warhammer 40k universe, including the Predator tank, Nobz, the Avatar, Terminator Armor, Rokkit Launchaz, Orbital Bombardment, and a few others that will surely entice fans of the series. The bulk of the game is still played in Tier II, where many useful upgrades can be had for Tier I units, and most of the classic units like the Dreadnought can be used.
The new hero system, which allows you to choose one prior to the start of the match, also allows these powerful units to be fully customizable. The way this works is a bit different than simply choosing a new move or attack to upgrade with, as you can choose up to 3 different abilities, stat upgrades, pieces of weaponry, or armor, each making your hero better or worse in different situations. For example, the Warp Spider hero for the Eldar can choose to upgrade his melee weapon to power blades, which are very effective against vehicles. This also means that he wonít be as effective against infantry had he upgraded to the heavy gauge deathspinner, which has a knockdown effect as well as increased damage against regular enemies. Some upgrades are passive, allowing a character to have a greater firing range. At any time can you change what youíre using, so no matter what the situation you can always be prepared.
The campaign mode is a tad disappointing, but still very playable. Like the original Dawn of War, the Blood Ravens are the focus of the singleplayer, as you lead them to victory through different battles. The missions are quite repetitive, and in the end the only reason to go through them is to get some experience and learn the basics of the game. Relic can do a lot better, and really the campaigns in the last few expansions have also been somewhat boring and phoned in. There are some cool things brought over from those games to Dawn of War II like the wargear system, where you can gain powerful weapons that work outside of the normal hero upgrades present outside of singleplayer, but in the end it just doesnít turn out as a worthwhile investment of time. It should be noted that you can play cooperatively, though it’s still the same game but with control of the troops divided in half.
The multiplayer, however, is the real meat and bones here. With many of the new changes, matches in Dawn of War II can be decided in mere minutes. There are two different modes of play in the multiplayer: annihilation, which is your typical ďdestroy everything and everyoneĒ gametype, and the new victory point gametype, which requires players to take and hold three different capture points. With the latter, each side starts with a score of 500 and as your enemy holds on to one, two, or all three of the victory capture points, your score will begin to drop; once it hits zero you lose. I find that many new players will be put off by this new frantic gametype, as it means there isnít much time for any mistakes. This also means that if you start the match off even a little bit slow, it can cost you dearly in the end.
There are some flaws with the multiplayer, though. With a lack of maps and somewhat shoddy netcode powered by Games For Windows Live, the online experience in Dawn of War II can be a mixed bag. Lag is a big issue, especially for 3-on-3 matches, where losing a teammate due to dropping or being kicked by other players can ruin the entire match. There are only a handful of maps, all of which are meant for 1-on-1 or 3-on-3, though you can do different variations on the bigger maps. That said, getting into a match with a nice connection is an amazing experience, and I really hope we see some work put into fixing some of the problems with online play. Playing offline against the AI is still fun as well, and they actually have a nice range of difficulty in comparison to other games in the genre.
As it stands, Dawn of War II could be the best RTS on the market right now, with very little competition for the moment. With the new Red Alert 3 standalone expansion, Starcraft II, and a few other new franchises starting up, Relic will certainly be facing some stiff competition this year. However, DoWII is so unique that it could just as well co-exist with the other traditional RTS games, as it has a focus in places that the others donít. That said, there still needs to be some new additions and fixes to the multiplayer, as sooner or later the same 6 or so maps will get boring and stale. Definitely worth a buy for RTS fans, but perhaps those that are skeptical should take a look at the demo first before they jump in.
Eight out of ten
- Incredible graphics
- Top notch RTS action
- No more base-building
- The new hero system is great
- The campaign is boring
- Not enough maps in multiplayer