Relic has come up with a clutch of ways to raise the stakes, sensibly giving up on any lingering pretence that DOWII's single-player is anything like a traditional RTS in favour of plunging you into enormous fights that, while they might look unwinnable, are invisibly tilted in your favour. DOWII's handful of rinse-and-repeat arenas seem like a slightly boring dream once you're brain-deep in Chaos Rising.
The story's good too, mostly due to that thing I can't tell you about, and because your lovely/nasty actions will affect its outcome. Again, it's a long way from being strategy as you know it, but there probably hasn't been a single-player RTS campaign this enjoyable since WarCraft III. And it's also playable in co-op.
There's no saving it all up for skirmish and multiplayer here - by removing the old rules, Relic is able to rocket-launch the story missions to brand new places. It's what Dawn of War II should have been, though sadly it's a little on the short side. I hit the raised level cap a good few missions before the end, which killed the impetus a little.
What of the multiplayer itself? Well, it hasn't enjoyed anywhere near as sweeping changes. It didn't need to, either. While the removal of base-building from DOWII multiplayer felt like a slap to the face of some Dawn of War fans, it made the classic build-and-bash model a little more accessible and a little more tactical.
That approach is maintained here unwaveringly, but with the addition of Chaos as a playable faction and a few new units and tweaks for the four returning races. In many ways it's not a dramatic difference, but it makes a game that once felt a little small into the size it should be. The choice of factions, and in turn the battles, feel significantly bigger - scale through visual variety rather than headcount.
There was always a Chaos-shaped hole in the game, and it's been filled with twisted aplomb. That said, I didn't find their units quite as wild as I'd hoped, as Relic has largely concentrated on using Chaos-ised Space Marine stuff. The abilities and tech trees are different, but as a visual force they can look over-familiar.
However, keep at it and you can summon the giant ball of apocalyptic, vomiting pus that is the Great Unclean One, Chaos' super-unit. He's the most startling, impressive and horrible thing in the game, and there's no pretending that Chaos are just Space Marines with rustier armour once he's on the field.
They absolutely need to be here, but if you didn't get on with DOWII's multiplayer before, their pestilent presence isn't going to provide a way in. Flock instead to the revised Last Stand mode, a co-op standoff against waves of attackers, now playable as any of the game's five races. It doesn't have the last appeal of the multiplayer, but it's a splendid and instantly rewarding way into playing DOWII in company.
All in, Chaos Rising is about as generous an expansion as you could possibly want. The single-player mode could stand to be a lot bigger, but it's gone to incredible lengths to address the main complaints about Dawn of War II. If you passed over DOWII on release, the Gold package released simultaneously with this makes a beautifully fatted offering. The strategy element might have gotten even more lost in favour of spectacle and looting, but it's absolutely worth it. As an epic, brutal adventure in the ever-adored 40K universe, there's nothing to rival it.
9 / 10