Resident ne’er-do-well Dave Barlow and ARandomGamer’s Ross Polly team up for a mammoth review of Relic/THQ’s latest offering in the Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War series. Will their opinions collide like two fat guys noticing a cake sale sign over each other’s shoulders, or will they bond in their mutual disdain or love of the title? [I kind of hope it's the fat guy thing – Ed.]
Dave Barlow: It’s impossible to talk about Dawn of War II without mentioning its predecessor. And no, I don’t mean the original Dawn of War. In fact, it might help to describe Dawn of War II by first looking at what made Company of Heroes so great in the first place.
At a time when most real-time strategy developers were enhancing their engines so that we can throw EVEN MORE (gasp!) enemies in one large cluster at the other team, Relic decided to scale down the numbers, ramp up the tactics and make a game that not only challenged players on a different level other than ‘He has 15 tanks. I must need 16 over there’, but one that could also afford tiny graphical and animation details that would just be wasted from a wider angle. What we were left with was characters that we felt more attached to, a sense that any skirmish can be won with the right tactics, and not a swarm tactic in sight.
Ross Polly: The first thing you must realize about the Dawn of War 2 campaign is that it has little to do with your average RTS. There is no resource management or building up a horde of units. Instead Dawn of War 2 reaches back to its table-top roots. Before each mission you choose up to four squads of men to come with you to battle. These are the only units you will have for the entire mission. The only exception is that once you secure a strategic point, your squads will replenish. As the game progresses you will find additional war gear that may be given to your squad leaders, allowing customization
similar to that of the table top game.
DB: With Dawn of War 2, Relic have delved even further into the realm of attaching the player to the units for the long haul. And we’re talking more than just recurring characters. Hero characters will level up during combat, and skill points can be spent upgrading abilities. Do you want your main character to be good from long range and use plenty of healing abilities, or will he act as cavalry for your suppressed units with his chainsword? There’s even the addition of loot, which can be distributed in a similarly tactical fashion between missions.
RP: The campaign is more or less run by the player. As the story unfolds you are given various missions on several planets within the system. Each mission has a certain number of days that it must be completed in. Each mission attempt takes up a day, but if you are especially successful on a mission you earn an extra deployment for that day. Success is gauged by three factors: How many enemies you kill, how many squads you lose and how much time you took to complete the mission. These three factors also determine how much experience your squad leaders get, so they are important to take into consideration while playing.
Choosing which units to bring with you on any given mission greatly affects which tactics you might use. Scouts infiltrate, unseen by the enemy, but are weaker in combat than other units. Devastators lay down incredibly deadly suppressing fire, but have a limited firing radius and take time to set up. Assault marines can jump into combat quickly and are great assault troops, but can quickly be overwhelmed if they don’t get enough fire support. Even the mighty dreadnaught has its downside, being unable to regenerate health on its own. Finding the right balance among your units is essential if you are going to be successful.
Should you not complete a mission before it expires, the Tyranids’ infestation on that planet will grow. Needless to say, this is a very bad thing. It is therefore important to quickly and efficiently complete missions for those extra launches. Getting the loot, experience and strategic locations that are a part of each location are additional incentives.
DoW2’s story flows fairly well and takes advantage of the deep Warhammer 40k universe. Orks are once again being manipulated into attacking a world where a Space Marine chapter has a vested interest. Instead of the forces of Chaos it is the crafty Eldar behind the Ork attacks. When confronted, the Eldar begin their usual mutterings about more sinister forces at work and exclaiming that the humans have doomed us all. After a bit more Eldar and Ork killing, a pack of the bug-like Tyranids ambush you and everything quickly goes down the tubes.
DB: The combat itself will be very familiar to veterans of Company of Heroes, only you’ll generally be controlling even fewer units. I can give you three tips when you start playing: cover, cover and cover. Leave your troops out in the open for longer than a couple of seconds, and even a scout squad will mince them easily. Even moving between cover to gain a better vantage point has to be a calculated risk. Cover is logical, with solid, impenetrable objects (denoted by green dots) generally being the best places for your guys to hunker down. More flimsy or small cover is denoted by yellow circles, and is generally best used for a short time as you’re manoeuvring your squads, or as a last resort.
RP:For the best cover you can move your squad into a building. A quick grenade by the enemy, however, and your squad is in big trouble.
DB: After selecting a squad or unit with the left mouse button, move orders can be made with the right mouse button. By holding the right mouse button, the player can also specify which direction the unit should face when they reach their destination. This is mainly useful with certain weapons, such as machine-guns, which have a set-up time and can only fire within a certain arc. Vehicles, faithful to the source material, have areas of strong and weak armour, so this comes into the tactics of a fire-fight. Another free tip – it ain’t clever to show your tank’s arse to a guy with a rocket launcher. Just saying.
All in all, it’s pretty simple to throw your troops around at pretty much the speed of thought (or at the very least, the speed of mouse pointage). Troops will even find cover in the vicinity if you rush your order and don’t quite click precisely where you meant to. Groups can be assigned shortcut keys and can be selected by hitting numbers on the keyboard (as in any self-respecting RTS), and because there are so few units, 99% of the time you’ll find yourself in full control of the battlefield, knowing what’s going on and where at all times. For those few times when the stinky stuff’s hitting the fan and you’re not looking, audio alerts and visual pop-ups on the mini-map will grab your attention pretty sharply.
RP: The multiplayer aspect of the game is really where the strategy truly comes into play. Victory is achieved by successfully balancing unit building, holding requisition/power points, and actively pursuing the objective. The objective is either to annihilate the enemy or to hold various strategic points. Either way, you will have your hands full. Rather than wasting time constructing buildings and managing resources, DoW2 forces you to explore the map in order to gather resources, which inevitably thrusts you into combat very quickly.
DB: Whilst some may find the speed at which you’re expected to play multiplayer daunting at first, the choice of hero goes a long way to rectifying this. Play as a defensive hero, and you can hang back and reinforce each tactical point as your offensive counterparts strut forward and do their thing; use assault troops and you can be the second thrust of attack after your teammates’ tactical troops have moved into place. The opportunity for communication and tactical teamwork is staggering, rivalling the intensity with which I, my friends will profess, partake in a “game” of paintball. God forbid you’re playing on my team and you let us get flanked, even though I specifically told you to put some tactical troops behind that wall. But it’s all friendly banter. Honest.
RP: The only downside to the multiplayer is the options are somewhat limited. There are only two game types and seven maps to be played either 1vs1 or 3vs3. Even so, multiplayer is very fun and exciting. Prolonged games feature some of the biggest, meanest monsters of the Warhammer 40k universe battling it out on an epic scale.
One interesting feature is that you can have a friend join you and play the campaign co-op style. There is no matchmaking, so you will have to know your friend’s Windows Live ID. Another downside is that your partner doesn’t get to keep the rewards they earn when they go back to their own campaign. Other than that, command duties get split between you and your partner, allowing a little more flexibility to experiment with various tactics.
Ross Polly’s rating: 4/5. Overall the game is well made and contains hours of fun. The campaign is far from a traditional RTS, but is still good in its uniqueness. The multiplayer is fast paced and full of carnage. No matter which you prefer, Dawn of War 2 will offer you hours of fun.
Dave Barlow’s rating: 5/5. The game excels in all areas. It’s frantic, yet never overwhelming; accessible, but almost infinitely deep; lengthy, but in a rewarding, engaging way. More fun than Warcraft 3, more varied than Company of Heroes. In all honesty, Dawn of War II is the greatest real-time tactical game ever crafted. It almost received four stars, but apparently “I wish it was an MMO” isn’t a valid enough reason to dock points.