Dawn of War 2 multiplayer is an exercise in frustration, while at the same time being incredibly compelling and simultaneously tense. It does a lot of small things right, and a few big things wrong, and some things are just a little too confusing. Like many RTS games, the singleplayer would seem to act as a tutorial for the multiplayer, and without that conditioning and slow understanding, the multiplayer is both overwhelming and wonderfully chaotic. Things happen, and you have no idea why or what to do to stop them. That, and you’re far too occupied watching your War Boss crush the exo-skeleton of some piece of tyranid scum.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Dawn of War 2 is the fact that they’ve kept all the negatives of control points with none of the positives. You can no longer build defensive structures (except for some of the defensive heroes, but they cost so much as to be relatively useless anyway), so holding a strategic points (either Requisition or Power points) means leaving troops there, but Dawn of War 2 has streamlined itself so that you only really have a maximum of 7 or 8 units on the field at once. That’s not a lot of men to hold so many points. So, inevitably, the enemy starts to go for the ones you aren’t defending, and then you rush to stop them. Then they take the one you were just defending, and it all starts to get a little… tiring.
Company of Heroes did so many things right, and it’s obviously had an impact on Dawn of War 2. You have fewer units, and more micro management, but perhaps the best part of Company of Heroes, the need to link your strategic points all the way back to your base, has been done away with entirely, meaning that the enemy can easily just slip past your defensive line and start taking points. It confuses me why they wouldn’t take such a brilliant mechanic from one of their series to the other, when they’ve done so with so many other things.
I’m focusing on the negatives, but that’s only because there’s such potential for a really, really fun game here. The convoluted take and hold strategies serve as a distraction, meaning most fights boil down to a brawl at these points, with the enemy just sending one or two units at most each time. It becomes a game of skirmishes, not battles. And Warhammer is all about battles. The only time you truly get to see the full might of your army is when you destroy the enemy base, but by the time you’ve got there the enemy is usually so weakened it can’t put up much resistance.
Relic have said they wanted to streamline the multiplayer mode, giving quick, 15 minute matches that give instant gratification. Perhaps that’s why there is no need to link points back to your base, and why it encourages sending out constant, small forces at the enemy. I think the problem I have with playing the game is the need for minute micro-management. I’m rather bad at controlling more than one unit at a time, so inevitably I just send different units at enemies, then select the hero unit and focus all my attention on making sure he can kill as much as possible. This makes me lose very often.
That’s ok, though, because losing is almost as fun as winning. I still get to see my troops mash away at the enemy. I still get to see my War Boss crushing Tyranids, it’s just he ends up dying at the end. There is a certain cinematic quality to Dawn of War 2 that makes any outcome fun to watch. The micro-management does work if you don’t get bogged down in the fights, and when you pull off a clever strategy it’s incredibly satisfying. When you hold enough of the points your resource stream means you can churn out units absurdly fast, making the enemy struggle rewardingly. And having just the one base unit is a lovely change. I just wish they’d make it even more simplified; they’ve done away with a considerable amount of the faffing involved in building a base, but kept just a few annoyances that become glaring flaws without the bonuses of it.
Maybe I was just hoping for Company of Heroes set in the Warhammer universe. If that’s what you’re looking for in DoW 2 then you’re going to be disappointed. There is a good deal of tactics required, but at the same time you can enjoy the game even if you’re not at all good at it. Just make sure you’re playing with friends rather than struggling against the freakishly perfect random internet goers.
I feel I haven’t focused enough on the positive here, because there really are many. The Tyranids are satisfyingly grotesque, and the carnifex in particular is a glory to watch. The upgrades system lends the ability to customise your units sufficiently that you feel like it’s not just building up an army and winning through pure numbers. The hero units in particular are particularly satisfying to upgrade, as you can really create a very specific toolset that definitely affects the end product. It’s a shame there are only a few really outstanding upgrades though, as most are merely add damage, add health or add armour. But that’s just nit picking.
There is enough of Dawn of War in here to satisfy fans of the series, and there is enough Company of Heroes to make the multiplayer thoroughly enjoyable, if extremely frustrating at times. The fact that I’m still wanting to play it despite it’s few grating flaws is testament to the compelling nature of it. Or maybe that’s just a testament to my love of big green men who shout ‘Daka daka daka daka’ while shooting a very big, and very unstable, gun.
Oh, and Relic; please do away with unskippable cutscenes/Logos. They are driving me nuts.