Genestealers! Their begged and bayed for inclusion in multiplayer is almost enough to make Chaos Rising an automatic must-sell for Warhammer 40,000 enthusiasts. The betaloned, baldy death-beasts haven't had much gaming action since Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels. Their welcome addition to the Tyranid ranks in this first standalone expansion for Dawn of War II represents just one of the affectionate nibbles to the earlobes of 40K fans.
Relic seems conscious the parent game caught a fair bit of flak from DOW buffs, so they've tried to address the major complaints with Chaos Rising. Something is required to win the crowds back, though - hence Genestealers, a Space Hulk Tribute level, masses of hitherto-unknown back story for the Blood Raven Space Marine chapter and a new, playable Chaos faction that tips its hat to all four Chaos gods, not just boring old Khorne again.
Yeah, yeah, Blood For the Blood God and all that - but what about change for the change god, plague for the plague god and sex for the sex god? In fact, it's the plague god, Nurgle, who's closest to centre stage this time around. Take control of the murderous collective of mutated marines, self-sacrificial Heretics and slathering demons that is Chaos and your ultimate reward, your top-end, game-changing unit, is the Great Unclean One.
That name will be instantly familiar to anyone who's never purged their adult minds of all the 40K lore they absorbed in their youth. But if not: basically he's a skyscraper-sized ball of pus who keeps being sick everywhere. You'll know when he's out and about, put it that way. Clashes between this pestilent fat boy and the Eldar's own supersized angry person, the Avatar of Khaine, are likely to be the game's most spectacular sight.
The rest of the Chaos roster is broadly similar to the Space Marines. Chaos Marines are an obvious parallel; Chaos Havoks are similar to Devastators but with a choice of heavy weapons, including anti-tank rocket launchers, and then there's the Chaos Dreadnought.
Lest hearing that one of the tier 3 units is a Predator tank in Chaos adornment has you rolling your eyes with sad over-familiarity, know that there'll also be two types of demon - tier 2 Bloodletters, heavy melee-hitters, and tier 3 Mounted Bloodletters, who are really heavy melee-hitters. Most interesting, though, is the upgrade paths for some of these guys. The Chaos Marines, for instance, can swear allegiance to different Chaos gods, each of which grant different special abilities.
The cheapie Heretics, meanwhile, are a large gaggle of weak fighters, little more than resource-snatchers and cannon fodder - but they can sacrifice themselves to provide a significant combat boost to any nearby friendlies. Messy suicide in the name of power is as good a summation of the Chaos take on things as anything else. All the existing DOW2 factions are getting a new unit too - the healtastic Librarian for the Marines, the semi-magic, teleporting Ork Wierdboyz, and the Eldar Wraithguard, a smaller, cheaper variant of their Wraithlord walking tank. The cheeky Tyranids get two - the aforementioned stabby and stealthy Genestealers to appease fan outcry, and the hulking tier 2 Tyrant Guard.
In terms of Chaos' hero units your offence guy is the Chaos Lord, a biff-in-the-face sort wearing Terminator armour and able to siphon enemy health and summon bonus Bloodletters. If you're playing defence you'll want the Plague Champion, a Paladiny ranged type who bothers the enemy en masse with debuffing auras and can lay down deadly turrets.
If you're all about the amorphous role that is 'support' you'll want the trickery of the Chaos Sorcerer, who gets a few summons of his own, can teleport a bunch of lads all over the place, and can turn invisible. In other words, despite some of the more superficial similarities to the existing Space Marine faction, Chaos are a much more devious bunch than their pure-military nemeses. They look and feel good on the field, falling somewhere between the Marines' stout gunplay and the Eldar's otherworldly weirdness.
DOW2's unit count always felt a bit meagre compared to the gigantic army roster it ended up with after three expansions, but introducing a fifth faction, and especially one of the most iconic ones in the 40K universe, palpably livens things up - making for a much fuller-feeling game. In other words: barring an enormous balls-up, Chaos Rising is likely to be about as must-own an expansion as DOW2 could possibly get.
The aforementioned Chaos Sorcerer, incidentally, carries over to the expanded Last Stand mode. In case you've left DOW2 gathering dust since launch, it's worth explaining what that is. A recent patch introduced a new multiplayer mode, intended as a response to solo campaign-orientated players who felt that the main multiplayer mode was too dramatically different, and brutally inaccessible, to the single-player game.
Last Stand's entirely co-operative - it's you and a few chums (or random pick-ups) controlling just a single hero character, and fending off as many waves of AI enemies as you can before turning into so many sticky red puddles with bits of spiky armour in. As you do so, you level up and unlock exciting new pieces of wargear.
It's simple but super-fun, and with none of the daunting skill requirements and cries of noob suffered by those who don't know the chapter and verse of online RTS brawls. Though it's worth mentioning there's a new two versus two traditional multiplayer mode for those who are pre-converted.
In DOW2 core you can only play Last Stand as Space Marines, Eldar or Orks. But if you own Chaos Rising, the titular Chaos and the Tyranids (specifically, their Hive Tyrant) enter the playable fray. Oh yeah - which races you have access to depends on which versions of DOW2 you own. If you own both DOW2 and Chaos Rising, you get the lot, but if it's just Chaos Rising you only get Chaos and the Nids.
Also, only having CR installed gives you the new single-player campaign and the option to play as either Chaos or Space Marines in traditional multiplayer, but none of the other races. Relic doesn't want to split the fanbase, however, so there'll be a day-one patch for DOW2-core that enables folk who own just that to play against people who own both games, or just CR. Which means Chaos and the assorted new units for the other races will be folded seamlessly into DOW2-core, for free - they just won't be playable.
CR's new multiplayer maps will be, though. So, while CR may suffer the now-traditional expandalone curse of carrying an oofsome £25 RRP, at least no-one's being left out in the cold, staring mournfully at empty multiplayer lobbies because they can't afford or don't want to shell out for CR. There'll also be a Gold edition, containing both DOW2 chunks, released at the same time, for around a tenner more than DOW2-solo.
This is all on top of an expanded, rebooted single-player mode that ditches the tiresome glorified skirmishes in favour of set piece-laden, bespoke missions throughout. If Chaos Rising can get all its mutant ducks in a row, it could be as much a do-over for a somewhat troubled game as it is an expansion for it. Even the gripiest of Dawn of War II gripers must admit there was something good there, underneath some wobbly implementation. Chaos Rising should make it all okay. Even if it doesn't, hey - Genestealers!
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising is due out for PC on 12th March.