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.