Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Chaos Rising Reader Review
Standalone Expansions are curious things. On the one hand, you get all the benefits of the expansion without having to even have the original game installed, whether or not you own it, but if you chose to do so, what do you miss out on? Are the two linked together in any way at all, or are they really two different games after all?
In many ways, Chaos Rising feels like a sequel to Dawn of War II. Thatís probably because its campaign picks up where Dawn of War IIís left off; fresh from defeating the Tyranid invasion in sub-Sector Aurelia, the battle-brothers of the Blood Ravens Space Marines face a new threat when the planet Aurelia itself reappears, now populated by Chaotic forces, after being consumed by the Warp centuries earlier. Carrying over your squad, their experience and advancements and wargear from Dawn of War II, Chaos Rising is definitely a game thatís at its best when paired with its predecessor.
I was actually surprised to find how much Iíd missed the characters of the storyline, too. Whilst your customisable Force Commander is as devoid of personality as ever, the sergeants of the various squads are still likeable, memorable characters even given their mostly stereotyped personalities and specific battlefield roles. The banter between them both in and out of missions is as welcome as it ever was at injecting a good deal of personality and atmosphere to really bring the Warhammer 40,000 world to life. Chaos Rising expands their roles a little further, given the increased level cap to 30 and a more diverse selection of wargear to utilise, but adds several new layers to the already compelling blend of roleplaying and strategy Dawn of War II offers.
Foremost of these is the introduction of Corruption and Redemption, a sort-of morality system imposed on your actions within the game. Given the pious, devout nature of the Space Marines, these are not the clear-cut good / evil opportunities most games shovel on, but rather reflect the nature of the setting. Corruption is normally gained by taking the easier route- in an early mission you can take a dangerous path to open a gate, or just bash the thing down, which will allow you to get the job done quicker now but could have longer term impact on the ability of the region to defend against future attacks. Another level tasks you with rooting out a Chaos cultist within the ranks of the Blood Ravens, but the choice is yours whether to avoid the loyal Blood Ravens defenders or murder them in order to get to the true enemy. Some weapons and armours even corrupt those wearing it, turning them further towards the side of Chaos with each mission. Embracing Corruption is easy- and tempting, since Corrupted squads have access to even more powerful versions of existing abilities and items.
Redemption is harder to come by, fittingly. There are some items of equipment that can redeem the wearer, but these usually confer penalties to the squads wearing them- penance for falling to Chaos, as it were. There are also a bunch of Wargear items only wearable by pious Space Marines, so staying on the path of righteousness has its own rewards as well. By overlaying these on top of the already strong mechanics of Dawn of War II, Relic has provided a welcome extra layer of depth that also allows for further replay ability of the campaign.
Itís probably needed, though, since the Chaos Rising campaign is considerably shorter than Dawn of War IIís. Thatís mainly because its more focussed- there are a few side missions on offer to spice things up, mostly highlighting the new units on offer for the other races, but primarily youíll be battling Chaos forces in much more structured missions than the basic Ďkill the enemies and fight the bossí types that were a little too common in Dawn of War II. Chaos Risingís missions, by comparison, feature unique layouts and objectives for every mission, with heavy scripting for dramatic effect. The story isnít massively interesting, but its solid enough to work, and since the game plays every bit as well as it ever did the intense squad-based combat still feels fresh and thrilling. As before, you can also take on the campaign co-operatively with a friend over Games for Windows Live, and Chaos Rising has its own stack of achievements to unlock as well.
Single player might be the main focus here, but thatís not to say that the multiplayer skirmish mode is any less fun. Skirmish is a little closer to the original Dawn of War, with its focus on requisition points and building up a small force to assault the enemy, but still benefits from the tighter focus here, and the new units help to round off the available armies Ė now five- without unbalancing things. Of course, there are still plenty of Warhammer 40,000 races that donít yet appear in Dawn of War II, and the addition of just one in Chaos Rising (as well as two new map types) might seem a little stunted, but you shouldnít end up feeling short changed from the standalone expansion, whether or not you have the original game.
Chaos Rising might not be the perfect expansion, but itís certainly a great one. If youíve never played Dawn of War II, the Gold Edition released alongside the expansion is the perfect time to try it. If youíre already a fan, Chaos Rising gives you exactly what you want: more of the same, and addresses a few of the smaller niggles with Dawn of War IIís single player campaign. The result is a superbly balanced strategy RPG with plenty to offer, and the best attempt yet at bringing Games Workshopís gritty Warhammer 40,000 world to life.
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