Saturday, 21 February 2009

Dawn of War II Single-player Impressions

I tend not to be very good at RTS games. I feel that I don't have the attention span for the basebuilding and resource management necessary in the typical empire-builder, and as a result am crushed by whatever enemies confront me. The nuances of large scale combat similarly escape me, as I see that I have brought far too few units, or too few of the type I need, or too many of the wrong type, to the battlefield. Superweapons are little comfort, for as a huge fan of mutually assured destruction I tend to proliferate rather than annihilate. My foes, however, have no such reservations, and gleefully rain nukes/vacuum imploders/virus bombs onto my (poorly built) base.

Conversely, I seem to have something of an affinity for small-scale strategy. In Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty 4, I have a sort of mental heads-up display, denoting enemy team positions, flanking routes, the opposing team members to watch out for and such, and do my best to help with team organisation (no easy task in the wilds of a public server). Setting up lethal crossfires in Socom: Tactical Strike came very naturally to me.

With this in mind, coupled with a lingering love of the Warhammer 40000 universe, I hotly anticipated Relic's newly released Dawn of War II. Here was promised the near-complete obliteration of basebuilding. Here was promised small numbers of small squads, gaining experience and attaining wargear as they progress, using cover and special abilities to engage enemies. Here was promised, in other words, exactly the sort of small scale, intense strategy that I crave.

Upon completing the Steam download, I promptly loaded up. Watching the opening movie, the anticipation grew. Presented with the main menu, with its display of a Space Marine, with the classic chainsword in hand, surveying the field before him, I felt a little pang of joy, an unfamiliar sensation for my grim mind. I selected start new campaign, and was prompted to enter a name for my Force Commander. Often in these matters I go for comedy value (Big Steve of Vault 101 can testify to this.) Not here. This man was to be my representative in the battles to come. The Space Marines under his command deserved a properly named leader. I named him Crucius, for the pain he would inflict on the enemies of the Emperor. And so, with a Deathadder for my chainsword, I dropped into the battlefield.

First of all, the game plays very nicely. As promised, basebuilding is all but nonexistent. You select the squads to drop onto the field before combat and they are who arrive. Occasionally you must build turrets or capture structures, but there is no actual unit production. The squads available to you are based around a named squad leader. These leaders level up as they are used in combat, with each having different specialisations- a versatile Tactical Squad, heavy-weapons wielding Devastators, Assault Marines with jetpacks and close combat weaponry, and stealthy Scouts. Only 4 of these can be taken on missions, including the commander, giving something of a tactical element before the battle even begins in your choice of squads. Personally, I usually have the tactical squad attack while the Devastators set up, before jumping the Assault Marines into the fracas, along with the commander, but there is a huge amount of choice in tactics used. These squads gain experience and level up as they are used in combat, allowing them to gain new traits and abilities, but the real point of interest is wargear.

Wargear is equipment obtained through missions. Your choice of wargear is what really generates attachment to the units, and what can give an edge in combat. You will regularly have to choose between different items, depending on what role you allocate to each squad, and on the mission objectives. Frequently, I pore over the wargear selection screen, allocating the kit for maximum effectiveness; some items of wargear are unique, and as such offer some sort of bonus along with a little backstory regarding the reason you should be excited about carrying this relic into battle. This is particularly intersting for a fanboy like myself, but I'm sure will hold some degree of interest for a novice to the world.

The campaign is lengthy- I have put in over 15 hours playtime since release, and am still in the thick of it on Sergeant (the second hardest) difficulty. Story is as per usual as far as these games are concerned, obviously particularly appealing to fans of Warhammer 40000, but not unintelligible to other individuals either. Interestingly, as is becoming common with RTS games, cooperative campaign is available. Only briefly have I played this, but the deal seems to be different players control different squads- player one controls the commander, while player two operates the tactical squad etcetera. This should make for interesting play, but as mentioned, I have but dipped a toe here.

Multiplayer impressions coming soon.


  1. Hey you know how to destroy a franchise?

    That is correct ladies and gentlemen by making a completely different game and calling it the same thing. Now this doesn't always kill a franchise but when the second instalment is crap compared to the first then you have a problem.

    Dawn of War 2 is a shocking attempt at a good game and Relic effectively bent over the fans of the original and its expansions by filling them with hope of an awesome sequel in which you could go tyranids (big alien thingies) but instead they raped the franhcises name and then did a dump on the fans chest

  2. Well, Thomas, you are, of course, entitled to your opinion in these matters. However, I'm not sure I can accept some of your statements. Though I will certainly agree that Dawn of War 2 is thoroughly different to its predecessors, I do not think it has changed for the worse, or if it has, not franchise-rapingly so, and no more than can be expected from going from the well-expanded original to the comparatively minimal sequel. Dawn of War was always a combat-focused RTS, and I feel that this sequel has merely amplified this quality. The game has also recieved mostly positive reviews and remains in the top ten PC games, so surely it isn't as bad as you say?

  3. I'm interested as to what makes somebody feel that a game is bad?

    It would make sense that one would not like or enjoy a game that they are not good at. Perhaps that fuels my dislike for racing games. Perhaps they feel the game does not have a good story or feel to it. Perhaps the game just sucks.

    Well as for my first point, i would like to think that i am not bad at the game. Maybe the pumping that i just gave you is testament to that.

    My second point that the game doesn't have a good story or a good feel well i don't think that applies to this game either. The 40K universe is very engrossing. Games like supcom lose me here a bit. But not this one.

    My third point that perhaps the game just sucks, is not much of a point. But, i fear that this is the category where this game falls into. Relic called it Dawn of War 2 as though it would be bigger and better than the original, but i believe that this game is not a dawn of war game. The game has narrowed its focus down to pure fighting and objective capturing, however, i do not feel this benefits the game at all.

    There are not enough races, albeit the expansions will come so thats not a grat point.
    There are no where near as many units to build.
    The battles, while you feel more in control, are not as grand or good.
    The single player allows you to play as only one race.
    The game is horrificaly unbalanced which completely and utterly ruins it.
    The scope of the game has narrowed and the advantages that this brings do not outweigh the sheer awesomeness of the aspects of the original it has thrown away.

    I think i have rambled a bit, maybe becoming a bit of an Ian but my main issue with this game is that it is not a Dawn of War game.

  4. Ah, Thomas, you seem determined to undermine me! Very well. I will play your game.

    You say that calling it Dawn of War 2 makes it sound like it is bigger and better. However, I don't think this is at all the case. What it implies is not enlargement, but progression. As I say in a newer post, I feel that Dawn of War 2 is a progression from the original. The original was a departure from other RTS games in its viscerality and its high emphasis on combat. These are the same things that have increased in the sequel. I feel that Dawn of War 2 is, as the title suggests, the next stage in the progression.

    You say there are not enough races. However, 4 unique races is at least standard for RTS games, and is the same number as the original without expansions. As you say, more of the 40K races will doubtless be brought in the future.

    Your point about there being fewer units to build is somewhat moot- the engagements in Dawn of War 2 are on a smaller scale than the first game. It is only logical that some of the meatier units, such as the Land Raider or Squiggoth are not present. But as for the rest, how many have actually been removed? Probably less than you might believe. And would the game be improved for their inclusion? I suspect not drastically.

    The battles being less grand is probably inevitable due to the increase in detail. But this increase in detail means that fights, while smaller, are probably at least as impressive.

    Yes, only one race is available in single player, and this is a failing, but it is nevertheless a very impressive campaign. I'm sure the campaign mode will be improved with the expansions, however.

    As for imbalance, this is inevitable in any new release of RTS game. There is a large patch releasing soon that hopefully addresses many issues.

    As for narrowing in scope, it is your own opinion that this is a bad thing. However, I feel that Dawn of War 2 is at least as awesome as the original game.

    And finally, you say that it is not Dawn of War. But what I say to you is- no it isn't Dawn of War 1. But it picks up where that game left off in terms of the developer's vision for the franchise. And THAT, I suspect, is exactly as it should be. Good day to you!