Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Reader Review
Warhammer 40,000 : Dawn of War II - PC
This is a game I've been looking forward to ever since I first played Dawn of War. The developers, Relic Entertainment, have a habit of producing exceptional RTS games, with new and interesting twists on what has become a crowded and increasingly stale genre. Aside from Dawn of War, you only have to look at Company of Heroes for evidence of their talent. Even their expansion packs raise the bar, often playing more like completely new games and easily supplying many hours of game play. I'm pleased to say they haven't disappointed with DoW2.
The Dawn of War series takes place in the brutal and violent universe of Warhammer 40,000. Man has colonised the galaxy, but following a series of increasingly disastrous setbacks, they now find themselves beset on all sides by a myriad of opponents. The galaxy is home to many races, all out to totally annihilate or enslave each other. The billions of humans that occupy the galaxy, are protected by The Emperor. He was an enormously powerful psychic, now preserved on Earth for many thousands of years. From there, he guides human ships through the warp (the chaotic sub universe that allows travel across great distances, but also contains a host of nasties) and provides inspiration to his people. His greatest gift to humanity, was to supplement the forces of the Imperial Guard, with armies of genetically engineered super humans, equipped with powerful mechanised armour and weapons; they became known as Space Marines and only they are capable of taking on the greatest foes of humanity. This series has been following the exploits of the Blood Ravens Space Marine Chapter and Dawn of War 2 continues in that vein.
You take on the role of a newly promoted Force Commander, rushed in to deal with the threat of an Orc Invasion of the Blood Ravens home worlds. This is taking place whilst the majority of their forces are far away, on another campaign.
It quickly becomes apparent, that the generally mindless Orcs are being manipulated by the sophisticated Eldar; an ancient technologically advanced race. Soon enough, these two races are joined in their campaign of destruction by a Tyranid Hive Fleet. The Tyranids are a race of beasts, who travel from one world to the next, stripping it of everything useful, adding its resources to their "Biomass", in order to grow. Tyranids are generally thought to be the greatest threat facing the Imperium. They originate outside the galaxy, where they have devoured thousands of planets. Their presence is generally thought of, to be a very, very bad thing. With their arrival, the race is on, your small group of Blood Ravens must find out what is going on, work out a plan to prevent the annihilation of their worlds by three powerful enemies and forever defeat this particular Tyranid Hive Fleet, before it can spread further through the Empire.
The game itself is split into two areas - the campaign map and the missions. The campaign takes place across three planets, each with five or six zones. These zones will offer either randomly generated or storyline missions. These are presented a bit like quests in an RPG, with your mission goals and a reward for completion in display. Each mission takes one day, and some missions have time limits on when they can be completed - failure to do so can increase the Tyranid infestation level of the planet, success can reduce it. If you do particularly well, you can be rewarded with the opportunity to take on another one or two missions on the same campaign day, preventing time from rolling on and allowing you to clear out a backlog of missions.
It is also from the campaign map where you can manage your units. You are given five squads plus your commander, although you can only take three of the five with you on any chosen mission. The squad leaders are awarded xp for gaining kills, completing missions and for trading in unwanted loot items.
As you progress you will accumulate new levels, and therefore new skills. You can choose to boost your squads in different ways - health and stamina, ranged warfare, melee warfare and special abilities. Each skill tree has a number of special abilities associated with it, such as the ability to use certain pieces of equipment, special attacks or traits; as well as passively boosting their stats. You will also be given items of "wargear" for completing missions (they also occasionally drop from defeated opponents). These appear to be mostly randomly generated, apart from a few rare named items. Wargear follows pretty much the same looting system seen in World of Warcraft - white standard items, green special items and blue rare items. These items vary from different types of armour, to various different types of weapon and unit upgrades (such as grenades, demolition charges and health packs). This is a nice system and adds replayability to the single player campaign.
The different squads under your command all have different roles to play - your scouts can move unseen, snipe single targets or blast them out of cover and lay demo charges and traps - but are lightly armoured and won't last long in a stand up fight.
The tactical squad are good all rounders, equipped with ranged weapons and basic melee gear, they are most useful because of their versatility and their extra equipment slot.
The Assault squad are equipped with jump packs and close combat gear, they can jump great distances, scatter opponents where they land and get stuck in with a meaty array of hand to hand combat weapons.
The Devastator squad are equipped with deployable heavy weapons - heavy bolters, missile launchers or plasma cannons. These weapons take time to deploy, have limited firing arcs, but do either heavy damage to their target, or suppress them, keeping them from moving or fighting effectively.
The Dreadnought isn't a squad per se, it's a cross between a terminator and a tank - a hulking walking machine, equipped with claws and heavy flamers or a massive assault cannon. The dreadnoughts have always been a particular favourite of mine in the DoW games - they are a truly brutal and awesome weapon of war.
Last, but not least, is your Commander, IE you. He can be specialised in ranged or hand to hand combat and is your most powerful unit. He has access to numerous special abilities and an additional branch of wargear such as battle standards and teleporters.
Later in the game, all of the squads can be upgraded with Terminator super heavy armour (assuming you have boosted the appropriate statistic). This changes how they behave somewhat, making them much tougher but slower. They can't be suppressed but they can't use cover either (they destroy it when they walk near it). It can also radically change the roles of the squads - whereas early on you may task your devastators with vehicle take down duties and your assault squad to scatter and hold up your opponents, that switches with the arrival of terminator armour. The devastators gain access to the infantry busting assault cannon, whilst your assault squad get vehicle mashing thunder hammers. You don't have to use the new armour, but it makes it feel like you have more squads to choose from than you at first may think.
Clearly with all this talk of wargear, levelling and limited specialised squads, DoW2 is not a traditional RTS and what is more, it is very different from the original DoW as well. The actual game play, for me, seemed to compare more closely Company of Heroes than Dawn of War. Units capture control nodes across the map and use the terrain to provide cover from incoming damage. But pretty much all similarities end there. With generally only four squads under your control at any one time, it becomes much more about absolutely maximising how each and every one is deployed and used. For example, leave your Tactical or Devastator squad out of cover, or open to swarms of melee units and they can quickly succumb and using your Commander against hordes of weak creatures is generally a waste of his talents.
Squads can never be completely defeated. Squad members die, but can be replenished for free when near a control node. Squad leaders become incapacitated and must be revived by another squad or your commander. If all your units are incapacitated then you have failed the mission. That actually never happened to me though, I played through on the default settings and found the challenge to be about right. The key missions never felt too easy and quite a few times I only scraped through a mission by the skin of my teeth.
The story missions are generally well thought out. There is plenty of chatter between your squad mates to set the scene, lots of scripted events and sudden challenges to overcome, as well as plenty of tough boss fights. In fact the boss fights are nice addition to the genre; usually at the end of each mission is a unique, very tough, opponent to fight. How tough varies a great deal, but these opponents range from unique Tyranid Warriors and Orc Meks right through to massive Hive Tyrants and Eldar Avatars. These fights will require the use of tactics, timing and your special abilities and equipment to get through.
All of this is rendered with some impressive graphics and sound. Units and maps are colourful and varied. Everything is well animated and there are some fantastic graphical effects - blood splatter, muzzle flash, explosions, terrain deformation and the destruction of foliage and buildings all look impressive. The big special attacks look as impressive as they should be, filling the screen with firepower and devastation. Units emit battle cries and screams of pain at appropriate times and the weapons and explosions are full of bass and carry real weight, the assault cannon and heavy bolter sound especially meaty. The music also fits well to the game, generally you don't notice that it is there, which tends to mean they have got it right.
The in game graphics and sound all help bring this game to life, but they are also accompanied by CG cut scenes, rendered with great detail and produced with excellent voice acting. In fact the voice acting throughout is perfect, all the briefings are given verbally and there is a lot of conversation between characters during the game.
The last area of the game to touch on is the multiplayer. I particularly enjoy playing coop games of DoW, so it is nice to see that it is still possible to do that, but they have also added the option to play the entire campaign through cooperatively, each player taking control their own troops as you both try to achieve your goal.
The competitive play is mainly based around a Battlefield 1942 style system of controlling key locations. Each side starts with 500 points, controlling two or all three of the key nodes will see your opponents points reduced. There is no way to get these points back, which helps keep the game time down and generally presses home the urgency of securing these nodes.
You can play any of the four races featured in the single player game. You choose your race and one of three commander types - generally offensive, defensive and utility classes. You are then given a base, through which units are trained and are sent off to start securing the resource nodes (resource and energy) needed to produce new units. There are no buildings to construct and place and typically the fighting will start within the first couple of minutes and not let up from there.
Units that are killed in multiplayer, except for the Commander, really are killed and will have to be completely replaced. There are three tiers of units and tiers two and above can have additional upgrades purchased for them, as well as gain levels through combat. Sadly, the depth of the single player campaign characters is gone though, you are given a small selection of upgrades to buy for them and no wargear to use. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not - perhaps some kind of persistent online competitive multiplayer campaign would have been a nice thing to see.
At the time of writing the online play is not without its problems, although these are generally to be expected so soon after launch. The ranked match system tends to takes too long to locate a game and there are some minor balance issues that I'm sure will be addressed in time. That said non ranked system seemed to work well and without any noticeable problems. Overall the online games are fun, fast paced and offer a unique take on competitive RTS game play. Having said that, I do miss the build up and additional layer of tactics that larger numbers of units and base building offered - just a personal feeling and one that I'm sure won't be shared by all.
Whilst the multiplayer is not quite perfect, it is a very solid online game that offers a new take and new set of challenges in the genre. The single player campaign is well thought out, well implemented and engrossing, the only problem being the repetition of some of the randomly generated missions.
With Dawn of War 2, Relic have once again delivered a visceral game world, engrossing story line, interesting characters, incredible CG and impressive graphics and game engine, all combined with another successful new take on the RTS genre. It's great to see their efforts to keep doing something different paying off and hopefully it will stand as an example to others, that you can consistently innovate and obtain success, even when maintaining your long running franchises.
9 / 10