The original Dawn of War 2 was an odd beast. Coming from a strong strategy heritage, one firmly entrenched by about a billion add-ons for the original game, it decided to step away from the base-driven confines of its predecessor and into a more squad-based realm. It was a slightly confusing take on things at first, but it opened up the developers to really grab hold of one of the more appealing aspects of the 40k universe, narrative.
Chaos Rising build upon its firm foundations and takes you deeper into the mysterious heart of the Blood Ravens. One year on from the crusade against the all-consuming Tyranids, your nameless force commander is thrust back into action when a rogue planet emerges from the Warp, bringing with it a heretical legion of Chaos Space Marines.
If you’ve played the previous game, the mechanics will be all the more familiar to you, but let me break it down for the new comers. The game takes place in the Sub-sector Aurelia, named after the planet that sprouts from the Warp. You are put in charge of a group of Space Marines of different specialities and tasked with creating a four man squad to deploy on missions that pop up on a rather beautiful map of the system. You can jump between planets at will, outfit your troops, and undertake and many or as few side missions as you like (or have time for) before continuing your crusade against Chaos. It’s all a bit RPG, and it does it very well.
Chaos Rising has streamlined the experience when compared to the main game, however. Before, the numerous forces caught up in the Tyranid invasion (Ork, Eldar, Blood Raven, Imperial Guard and the Tyranids themselves) gave the campaign a much more hectic pace. As you were searching for ways and means to crush the Tyranid menace, the other forces would have machinations of their own, swanning into your territory or demanding assistance. It was the source of all your side quests, and there were a lot of them. Eldar swamping a monument to the Glorious God-Emperor of Mankind, Orks at the gates of an Imperial city, Tyranids munching their way across every continent, and your small retinue of men were all that stood in their way.
This is largely absent in Chaos Rising. Perhaps it is because of the single, uncompromising enemy force, or the more rigorously plot-driven focus of the game, but the amount of side missions present has been greatly reduced. There are so few of them, in fact, that the rewards from the previous game, the ones that would result in extra deployments on a given day, are gone. There are perhaps four or five of these optional missions during the course of Chaos Rising, and you certainly won’t need extra deployments to fit them all in.
What Chaos Rising loses in tangential adventuring it makes up in other areas, however. New to the series is a Corruption bar, a gauge that tells you how close each of your units is to succumbing to the temptations of Chaos and falling victim to heresy. In typical RPG fashion, acting like a bastard will corrupt your squads, whereas acting like an angel will redeem them. All well and good, except for the much more compelling wargear system.
In the previous game, wargear was just a means to upgrading your squads, similar to the tabletop game, and that holds true in Chaos Rising as well. The difference, however, is that Chaos Rising introduces weapons that can corrupt or redeem through use, adding an extra level to the corruption mechanic. In true 40k fashion, power corrupts literally, and some of the most powerful pieces of wargear are tainted with the soul burning filth of Chaos. Conversely, the wargear for the penitent marine will contain a negative effect amongst its positives. There’s no greater way to ask for forgiveness from the Immoral God-Emperor than through physical hardship.
This has the effect of giving the player an interesting choice: do you hold true to the teachings of the Emperor, unwavering loyalty and faith, or do you take the path of a pragmatist and sacrifice your soul for the power to save mankind?
In all, story telling has really been brought to the forefront for Chaos Rising. Previously, the main story was more a back drop, and for good reason. Dawn of War 2 was a full-blown intergalactic war. There was one goal, multiple enemies and a lot of blood to spill. Chaos Rising’s focus on combating Chaos necessitates a more cerebral approach to the tale, giving Chaos their time in the sun to spin their poisonous words. There are heretics everywhere, and it is your job to weed them out, wherever they may be. And the worst thing about heretics, of course, is that they may be right under your nose…
In terms of additions to the game itself, the most obvious one is the new army, Chaos. Khorne was the deity of choice in the old games, but Chaos Rising has taken a more Nurgle focused direction. This is evident in the game with the general pestilent features of the Chaos force, from the pustulent Plague Marines to the Great Unclean One. It’s a welcome break from the slightly-too-similar nature of Chaos in the older games, giving them a more unique aesthetic and play style. Unfortunately, no Slaanesh yet. I want my noise marines, please.
The other races get a handful of new units, but they’re not really going to make that much of an impact. This is a game about Chaos, no-one else, and while the new units are not disappointing, they are severely overshadowed by the corrupting shadow of the Warp.
As an expandalone, Chaos Rising is a nicely put together experience. On the one hand, it is a perfect entry point to the series, taking the firm foundations laid by the vanilla game and building upon that in almost every way. On the other, returning players will fit right in, fall back in love with their favourite characters, and get the old band back together for another bash at the grimdark horrors of the 41st millennium. And they can even import their avatar from the vanilla game.
If you liked Dawn of War 2, you’ll like Chaos Rising. If you like 40k, you’ll like Chaos Rising. And if you like angry men in metal suits cutting their way through a never-ending horde of hellish monsters from outside of space, you’ll like Chaos Rising.