Dawn of War II ushers in a new chapter of the acclaimed RTS series, taking players to the brutal frontlines of war to lead an Elite Strike Force on a mission to save the galaxy. With a focus on fast-action RTS gameplay, Dawn of War II brings to life the science fiction universe of Warhammer 40,000 like never before.
It’s the 41st Millennium in the Sub-Sector Aurelia, a cluster of worlds on the edge of the Galaxy and you play a recently promoted promoted Force Commander for the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines. You operate from the starship Armaggedon with a total of six squads at your disposal, from which you take a choice of 4 into each mission.
During these missions you will build absolutely no buildings whatsoever, you don’t recruit units and you don’t collect resources. I can hear some people thinking now – “how is this still an RTS?” Well, DoW2 does things a little differently to what you might be used to – and before you dismiss it thinking that the game would be shallow, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Your six squads each have completely different abilities and can be ‘specced’ in a few different ways. Each squad gains experience as you go through the missions, which allows you to level the squad up and assign it various attributes which provide more health, firepower, melee strength, energy, etc. As you increase these attributes, the squads unlock various abilities, both passive and active which provide a significant bonus during missions and really enhance the gameplay from a tactical point of view.
For example, your commander has the ability to charge at enemies, knocking them down and causing great damage. Later in the game he unlocks an ability which makes him invulnerable for a short period of time each time you use this ability. Similarly, one of your other squads (Tarkus, a Tactical Squad) gains an ability which changes his grenades into an energy based ability without limited uses. The dreadnought can unlock great abilities such as self-repair and a hailstorm of bullets.
On top of this, Dawn of War II adds further RPG elements through equipment. Each squad has slots for armor, weapons (including dual wielding melee+pistol weapons), accessories and commander items. These items have a HUGE impact on how your squads perform, and tinkering with their equipment set-ups can be great fun. You can also turn unwanted gear in for extra XP – so there’s always a use for more drops.
Each mission gives a guaranteed reward which is displayed prior to the mission. You will also gain various drops during each mission, by killing enemies and bosses, but that loot is completely random. This is very positive from a replayability point of view as each time you play the campaign you will have different equipment at your disposal, which has a huge impact on your choice of squads and their builds. However, it can also be a little frustrating sometimes when you don’t find any good gear whatsoever for one of your favourites. (Dreadnought, I am looking at you!)
Missions are selected from on-board the Armageddon, and play out on 3 different planets. You can fly between these at any given time, and you choose which mission you want to do – usually you’ll decide this based on the rewards. You will also be offered optional missions, some of which are time-limited. These include defensive missions, where failure means losing a captured foundry or shrine. Missions involve battling Orks, the Eldar and the very menacing Tyranids and generally take about 15 minutes – so the game plays at a very nice pace.
At the end of each mission, you gain the promised reward and you’re rated on Fury (number of enemies killed), Survival and Speed. If your score is high enough, you gain extra deployments – which can be pretty useful if you plan to do all of the missions that the game throws at you. (Normally you can deploy an x amount of times each day, and several missions are time-limited as we mentioned earlier. We’ve not had any problems doing all missions the game offers though.) Because of this rating system there is a reward for people who like playing as quickly as possible, but also for those who like to take things easy and kill absolutely every single opponent on the map.
The campaign in Dawn of War II can be entirely played in co-operative play with 2 players, controlling 2 squads each. There is absolutely no difference between the single player and co-op campaign, which is great news for those people who enjoy a good co-op experience. The co-operative mode works extremely well, is an ease to set-up and seemed very stable. We actually played almost the entire game in co-operative mode for this review, though we did complete a good 10 or so missions in single player as well to judge adequately on the differences. (Of which there were none)
Evil Tactician: Personally I found the campaign in single player a little tedious. Managing 4 squads at once, with all their activated abilities was just a little much for me to handle. Maybe I am getting old, but it made me feel a little too distanced from my squads. The game is still very enjoyable in single player – but I found it a lot more stressful.
As soon as I started playing with Zyle in co-operative mode this problem was entirely gone. 2 squads is the perfect amount to manage in Dawn of War II – and the amount of enjoyment I was getting out of the game increased tenfold. Honestly, this game is one of the most awesome co-operative experiences we’ve yet to play and I highly recommend people give it a go.
Zyle: Playing through the Dawn of War II campaign has provided some of the best co-op fun I’ve had in ages. Being able to swap squads around freely in between missions (except the commander, who stays with the host of the game throughout) also means that you both get a chance to try out different squads and therefore different tactics, which kept things fresh too. Like ET, I enjoyed the campaign much more on co-op mode than in single player.
In multiplayer mode, the three other races are opened up. This includes the Tyranids, offering a zerg playstyle for those who prefer it. You also gain a choice of several heroes per army – and upgrades for your regular units so it is highly recommended to run a few practice matches before going head to head with other human players.
It’s in some ways a shame that the other races cannot be played/experienced during the campaign as there’s a whole lot of gameplay that gamers who only focus on the offline aspects will miss out on. In skirmish you do have a base, and several units can place defensive and reinforcement structures, so there’s a lot of new things to learn here.
Relic is still releasing patches for Dawn of War II even today, and constantly makes tweaks and improvements to the gameplay. This game is incredibly well supported, which is really encouraging to anyone who bought and loves it.
Graphics & Audio
Dawn of War II looks and feels like Warhammer 40,000 – and is incredibly pretty on higher graphic settings. The game looks a lot different with all bells and whistles turned off, but still looks very respectable even on the lowest graphics settings.
Most terrain is destructible – buildings can be flattened and defensive positions destroyed. This is especially evident later in the game when your dreadnought and terminator armor make short work of anything remotely resembling cover. (I controlled both of these units and had Zyle shouting at me constantly. Unfortunately the Dreadnought isn’t a nimble athlete who spryly jumps over barriers.)
The combat is incredibly intense with units and various body parts flying in all directions. Smoke, fire and blood is all present in large doses and most units have special kill animations which are triggered at a very satisfying rate. Seeing your dreadnought grab a large enemy unit, squeeze it so hard that its spine breaks and then casually chuck it aside is just plain spectacular.
And then the sound – that just tops it off. The voice acting is fantastic, and your units respond in a very satisfying way to your commands. The sound effects all add to the immersion perfectly as well – in terms of sounds it’s really one of the best implementations of any RTS I’ve played to date.
The only negative point about this game is that it requires Games for Windows Live. We have nothing against GfWL but being on Steam AND Games for Windows Live at the same time just seems overkill. Plus, Games for Windows Live doesn’t seem to do its job properly all the time and requires THREE reboots of the game the very first time you install it. Why it doesn’t just patch itself in 1 go, God only knows.
Anyway besides for that small detail there is absolutely NO reason why you should not already own this game. This is one of the most enjoyable RTS experiences of recent years – and the co-operative mode doubles that fun.