Warhammer 40.000: Dawn of War II
It’s always a joy to find a new Relic game in your mailbox. If you’re an RTS fan like me there is no way you don’t at least have some respect for those boys and girls from Vancouver. Over the last few years they have been one of those studios still dedicated to innovation in the RTS genre rather than investing in sequels to sequels to spinoffs that just deliver more of the same. True, most of their games are so successful there usually is a sequel but all of those sequels have offered more and took community criticism in account. With Dawn of War II they decided to really cut into the RTS principal and throw out all the clutter leaving nothing but pure core action, but will there be enough left?
With all the extra weight thrown over the side of the RTS-boat one might wonder what still made the cut. Well, the biggest difference with mainstream strategy games is the lack of base building. That’s right, no city hall, no barracks, no towers, no nothing. Just you as a commander and some allied squads to control. No need to harvest any construction materials or valuables to support your economy and your tech tree.
So while most other RTS titles have some squad missions to break the base building rhythm, this game has nothing but them. Not to worry though because there are enough features to keep you entertained during the campaigns. For starters, to fill the void of the RTS elements that didn’t make the cut, some RPG elements were chosen. Your commander and the squad leaders of your allied team collect experience points as they kill units and complete objectives. Each time they level up you get skill points that are to be divided over different categories to improve them and unlock special abilities. A second RPG influence is used to replace the economy and tech tree. Instead of creating and upgrading you are obliged to loot crates and chests around the map to collect weapons, items and armor.
The changes in game buildup are directly translated in gameplay as soon as you fire up mission one. The core action of the game is just plain fun. The lack of base building allows you to just dive into the game and proceed to carry out instructions. At first it’s just your commander, his squad and some brute firepower. It’s quite spectacular to see the units at work as you overtake your first few packs of baddies.
After some missions, when you have other squads to control, with all having different abilities and specialties, the need for tactics starts to kick in. You need to start playing the game as a micromanagement RPG. That’s right, the tactics require some serious micro skills if you want perfect ratings and prevent casualties but the game itself is played a lot like an online RPG. You have some fast units to scout ahead, a tank with serious melee skills to attract most of the opponents, ranged but slow moving units and so forth. The basic buildup of a game also looks a lot like those RPGs. You start at point A and need to go to point B to defeat a ‘boss’. Along the way you encounter packs of mobs that increase in difficulty the closer you get to the final destination. When you defeat that final boss, you are rewarded with some nice loot to upgrade your commanders. So either this game plays a lot like an MMO, or my World of Warcraft addiction is finally getting the better of me after nearly two years of not playing.
Well, there you have it. The campaign of the game is made up out of fun gameplay and challenging tactics in which you can really let your inner warlord plan out cunning ways to defeat mobs and bosses. It’s a real thrill to force your adversaries with their backs onto the wall after playing out some crossfire combined with well timed melee rushes and then have your Assault Marines combat-jump right in the middle of them with their jetpacks knocking them all down so your scouts can toss an explosive right in the middle of those foes leaving nothing but a pile of dead opponents.
There is one major letdown to the game though. It gets old very fast. Most missions are really too straight forward. It’s just start here, capture there, there and there to get reinforcements. Collect some clues, have mission control guide you until you need to kill the boss. If you’re not doing that, you are either protecting something or someone, or you have stumbled upon a side mission which usually consists out of similar things like destroying a tower, freeing some allies or collecting a certain object.
Thankfully most missions are over after fifteen to twenty minutes if you stick to the main quest but if you want to complete all objectives or kill all the enemies on the map you will be occupied with same repetitive goals for quite some time. At first I really ate this all up. I was loving this game and everything about it. But after a mission or twenty I found it harder and harder to get back to after a hard day at the office. So let this be a warning, Dawn of War II could become a chore after some time if you plan to really do everything.
The multiplayer is something really different. You are not limited to Space Marines only, you get to choose from all factions. But the biggest break with the campaign is the fact that there is base building and a tech tree. Once you choose a faction, you need to choose one of the three available Commanders. Each of them offers a different playing style from offensive over support-oriented to defensive. Even though there is some base building, the focus is still on combat and tactics.
There are two modes, the classical destroy-everything-the-other-player-has and the more innovative Control Point Victory mode. In the latter one, you and your opponent have a counter of Control Points which runs down. The more points you control, the faster you opponent’s counter runs down. Simple enough, but tons of suspense and fun guaranteed. Eventhough you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or FFA, the most fun (and the most played) is the 3v3 mode. With the options available one can really choose to battle the opponents in a certain way and it must be said, this works very well.
Too bad there are some issues with the multi as well. First off, it seems that a lot of games are virtually over once one side can develop a certain unit (I’m not going to say which one) which can only be destroyed by a certain other unit. Many players don’t realize this and are really sitting ducks while others just do nothing else but develop these units and you get a cat and mouse game with the same 5 units until one meter reaches 0 only seconds before the other one would have.
The other issue is more a technical one: Disconnects. At a certain point half of my games either had me disconnect or one of the other players went bye-bye. Really frustrating.
So to conclude. Dawn of War II is a great game with certain flaws and many strong points. At some times I felt like Relic rushed it a bit (certainly when I saw their target video a few weeks back. Just Google it, you’ll see what I mean) and missed the opportunity to make a fantastic game. It’s the first time one of their games lost a bit of appeal to me after some time.