The Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II beta test is happening now, but only for Soulstorm owners until 28th January. See elsewhere on Eurogamer to find out how you can get your hands on it this weekend regardless.
It's been argued that videogames are about escapism. As I'm writing this, Barack Obama is being inaugurated as President of the USA. The change in attitude in the western democracies is much discussed, with words like "hope" and "change" being uttered by those who a year or so back would have cynically snorted at the concept. In such a climate, what could be more escapist than being forced into a realm of conflict in the far future where billions of men die in futile battles as part of a gleeful fascist empire? Nothing comes to mind. No hope. No change. Only war. Dawn of War II's chosen its moment.
Much like kicking around the bisected corpse of a Space Ork who looked at you funny, it's a game of two halves. The single-player is about a continuing campaign, managing a small team who gather snazzy War Gear and whatnot. Apparently, anyway. I haven't played it, because this is the multiplayer beta, and as the name may suggest, it contains multiplayer-specific content. And the actual multiplayer is much more a traditional RTS experience than the single-player.
Relic seemed to get a little annoyed at people assuming the multiplayer would be based on the radically different approaches adopted by the single-player game when they'd never actually said any such thing, which was a problem of their own making. When you only reveal a game that's not much like the original and refuse to elaborate on multiplayer - for the self-serving reason of trying to have a slow-release of new features in the hype - you can expect people to reasonably assume the game they've been shown is what the game's going to be like. A simple "The multiplayer will be a much more traditional experience" would have sidestepped it, for the record.
As such, Dawn of War II multiplayer initially feels a lot like you would have expected Dawn of War II to feel before we knew better. That is, the best bits of the original, plus extra gubbins from the definitive RTS of the last five years, Company of Heroes. Plus new stuff. And Tyranids, which will make your average Dawn of War fanatic about as happy as adding Skaven as a playable race would do to your average Warhammer Online fanatic.
The beta includes all four races in the whole game, with each of their three hero types. There are both head-to-head and three-versus-three conflicts available - two of the former, three of the latter - which utilise an expand-to-gain resource format similar to the first game's. In other words, there are only certain points on the map that can be used to generate resources. Control of them will help you win indirectly. There are also the victory control points, command of which will lead to a victory. However, rather than being based on a timer - as in, owning most of the points for a period leading to your triumph - it's based on points. If you hold more of the victory areas than the opposition, their points start to drain away. Whoever gets to zero first, loses.
And if that sounds too complicated, you can always stomp on their heads with your big mechanical feet.