Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising
Oh, how to deal with a big fat spoiler? Half the people reading this will be itching to hear what it is, while the other half would rather I burned off all their body hair than even hint at it. It's especially tormenting in the case of this standalone expansion to the Games Workshop strategy role-playing game, because its best feature is in itself a spoiler.
You'll feel outraged when it happens, because something you've quite probably come to rely on is taken irrevocably away from you. That's exactly why it works so well. I was furious when it happened to me, because it occurred just after I'd unlocked an excellent-sounding new ability that relied on the thing in question.
Never got to try it, because of the turn the storyline took. Spitting teeth, I was. It's testament to how much Chaos Rising makes you invest in the people and powers it stars. This is not a simple matter of having certain branches of the tech tree cruelly snapped off. It's about giving you things to care about.
Only on a cartoonish level, of course. Dawn of War II's cast of Space Marine heroes, returning here with a couple of additions, don't really have any personality beyond Clint Eastwood Guy, Angry Newsreader Guy, Sinister Whispering Guy and Tired Robot Guy. To developer Relic's eternal credit, pairing these broad sci-fi stereotypes with immediately memorable and distinct abilities mean Avitus (big guns), Tarkus (small guns), Cyrus (stealth), Thaddeus (jetpacks), Davian Thule (mech suit) and newcomer Jonah Orion (psychic) genuinely lodge in the mind.
I can't think of any other strategy game in which I could name that many characters off the top of my head. Sure, studied players of WarCraft III or Starcraft could beat that number easily, but I'm talking about names and faces that worm their way into your memory without any effort, in the same way the catchphrase-spouting Colonial Marines did in Aliens.
Then again, it's a stretch to call this a strategy game - even more so than it was with Dawn of War II. Famously, Relic decided to drop a big fat dollop of Diablo-like role-playing onto its respected RTS series, turning it into a game of experience points and weapon drops as much as it was one of flanking and cover.
The latter element is further reduced in Chaos Rising, as you quickly end up with so many explosively powerful abilities that there's almost no room for the old mainstays of warfare. The campaign picks up where DOWII left off, raising the level cap from 20 to 30, and so the new abilities complement rather than replace the old ones.
Tactical use of the environment is increasingly important depending on what difficulty setting you're playing, of course, but rapidly and carefully deploying your 15-odd powers is what really turns the tide of battle. You've shaped your little Diablo guys into the forms you want - not just in terms of the loot you've equipped, but also to what extent you've twisted their unwitting little souls.