Dawn of War 1 was a veritable classic in the real time strategy genre, a vibrant, violent, visceral explosion of all out mayhem. There’s nothing quite like it out there. Dawn of War 2 shares many of its elder brother’s traits, with some interesting improvements of its own. But the bosses are rubbish.
DoW II off-line/coop begins more or less as it ends; you lead a limited number of squads – in fact, if you only have 1 if you play coop – against a vastly numerically superior enemy who you must apply all your knowledge of squad level tactics to combat. If you played Company of Heroes you’ll have a good idea of how it plays in this respect; i.e. carefully positioning your squads to maximise the use and/or destruction of gloriously malleable terrain. Moving on to the next levels you acquire a further squad or 2 if playing solo, and that’s essentially your lot for the campaign. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds however.
Your squads over time become obscenely powerful, and are every bit the heroic super-humans you expect Space Marines to be. It’s a genuine thrill tailoring each unit to perform a specific role, and the equipment gradually makes your band of heroes look the part too. You’ll find it impossible not to get excited when you find your first power axe for example. I think it’s clear that the standard RTS campaign is becoming more and more tired. You play missions, you get a cut-scene now and then, then you do the same again as another side. Relic’s twist on things is a very, very welcome change, and in fact, they’ve accidentally produced a fine RPG; albeit having picked up the most irritating of RPG characteristics, the boss fight. They’re arbitrarily difficult, and though tactically engaging, they’re particularly uninteresting. And they’re hugely anti-climatic. It’s just not that satisfying fighting them, especially when you find your 10 or so men struggling against one measly Warlock – it would have been a lot more interesting if you were attacking a defended position with less powerful, but numerically increased forces – sort of like if you had to take on a squad as powerful as your own. Case example: Phill and I spent some half an hour on one bloody boss because we had to sneak in, ressurrect our downed chums before we could even think about trying to reduce his health. So yes. The bosses are a dramatic misstep.
Games Workshop’s bleak future-verse is brought to life like never before in DoW II, and it hits home as soon as you get in game; from the bombastic score, to the briefing screens to the FMV, everything just feels so 40k. Particularly nice is the way the campaign map slowly changes as the game goes on. Likewise, when you get to a level you’ll find the Tyrannid influence slowly creeping in as fleshy, chitinous spires begin pincering the levels, and tiny spores replace rain. There are some niggles – the voice acting and dialogue goes from generally good, to horrifically average almost in the same sentence. The Space Marine soap-opera can thus seem a little wooden and stilted as a consequence. Other than this however, it’s very, very excellently styled. On a gameplay level too this is captured spectacularly in the campaign. Your tiny squad of super-humans will end up fighting forces perhaps hundreds of times larger than itself, especially against the Tyrannids on some levels. It feels desperate, but at the same time you just know that once your bolters are levelled, or your assault marines are raining death incarnate from above, they’re going out with a spectacular bang. Or 5: They all have ludicrously powerful special attacks. Winning missions is a case of applying a combination of tactical placement and special power use in order to fight off a far numerically superior force.
Graphically, it continues the Relic tradition, offering some truly awe-inspiring scenes and units. Get up close and you’ll notice the way bolters light up the terrain around them as they stream death into the enemy, while animations expand on those in the original DoW to give you some absolutely brutal looking combat. And I absolutely love the levels – oh the levels. They too perfectly capture that 40k feeling; they’re multilayered, and feature some amazing locations; particularly I think the ancient looking Greek style theatre ruins on one of the jungle levels. They have a physicality that just isn’t present in most games, besides perhaps Company of Heroes. Except now instead of (or rather, as well as) tanks having all the level destroying fun, you’ll be bowling your Force Commander through enemies and concrete blocks. So ridiculous. So 40k.
Online skirmishes are generally a strong point in DoW II, though aren’t without faults. The same punchy, explosive game mechanics of course make for as visceral and tactically engaging a game as the campaign, and it’s in fact quite satisfying to find that it’s almost like having 2 games in one. It seriously could do with more levels. If you played the beta, you basically saw all DoW II skirmishes have to offer, with the addition of 2 new maps. We’re certain to see more maps released I think, especially thanks to the excellent decision to go with Steam. Also on the online front is Coop. Phill and I have been playing it this way mostly, and it’s incredibly good fun. I recommend using Steam voice chat over the piffling GFWL integrated chat which seems laggy and far too quiet. Essentially with coop, troops under your personal command are halved, with the other 2 going to your partner. It feels intuitive, and makes for an even more tactical experience, with the added bonus of communication. Definitely worth a try.
Everything about DoW II screams high production values, and pushes the boundaries of just what real-time clicky-man-ordering can do for us. It combines the best bits of 3 previous Relic games; Homeworld (zero base production, hurrah!); Dawn of War (setting, hyper violence!); and Company of Heroes (tactics!); so in this respect, I suppose it doesn’t do anything totally new, but it certainly feels to me that this is where I want RTS games to be going. De-emphasis on economy. Emphasis on squad management with absurd levels of bone crunching and gooey liquid spraying.
A Pretty Good Game. Ditch the bosses, sort the bugs, and give us more maps, and you have an easy headshot.
Review too long? Didn’t read? Here’s a Haiku, all for you, about Dawn of War Two
Clash; deadly embrace,
Nob smashing my hormagaunts,
Where is my tyrant?
I’m running on an ATi 4870 512mb, an AMD 6000×2 and 3gb of RAM, on XP SP3. Performance was excellent on the highest settings at 1650*1050 with 4x AA, with a few times when it really gets hot that things slow down a touch, but nothing particularly game breaking.
Some of us are however reporting a lot of CTDs. I’ve only had 1 thus far, but some are crashing repeatedly during campaigns (though luckily saves seems to stay, meaning progress can be made.) If you don’t want to take the risk, watch this space. I’ll try to update it when they patch (said to be coming soon, which is likely, given the Steam use). EDIT: I’ve noticed a patch has come out fixing crashes. I’ll check with the others in a bit to see if it deals with theirs.
On the matter of Steam, don’t worry too much if you’re a Steam virgin. Simply download Steam (or install it from the DoW II disk, I presume it’s on there). You’ll have to create an account, which is no headache. Then simply install, and then Steam will automatically bring it up to the latest version. Easy! While you’re at it join our Steam community here and come have a chat while you’re waiting for it to update your game!
You will unfortunatly also need a Games for Windows Live however if you want to play online. It’ll ask you to create an account for it in game. Irritating I know when they’re already using the excellent Steam system, but there’s no alternative for online play at the moment. At least the achievements / stats are nice.