Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Along with its three expansion packs, the first Dawn of War was a great RTS title that gave players the ability to play almost all of the major races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. But the game has gotten a little stale, especially when compared to the developer's follow-up effort, Company of Heroes, a title that I reviewed a while back and absolutely loved. I wasn't sure if Relic could top the World War II themed classic but Dawn of War II manages the impossible: the continuation of the Space Marines' saga usurps Company of Heroes and claims the RTS throne.
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Welcome back to the Blood Ravens, Commander
Like the original, the single-player in Dawn of War II focuses on space marines of the Blood Ravens, one of the most respected chapters within the Imperium of Man. The campaign takes place in sub-sector Aurelia which is comprised of the three worlds where the Blood Ravens gather their recruits -- obviously this makes the area a critical stronghold. As the campaign starts you assume the mantel of a newly promoted commander who is tasked with repelling the Orks; of course, the more you investigate, the more you realize that there is a much more serious threat behind the attacks. Involved are the mysterious Eldar as well as the Tyranid Hive Fleet, a ravenous alien race that poses a threat to Aurelia.
Much like the last two expansions for the original -- Dark Crusade and Soulstorm -- DoW II's campaign strays away from the standard RTS formula and includes a meta-campaign that focuses on story missions and side missions where you defend critical installations, gain valuable new war gear, and reduce Tyranid infestation levels on each of the three planets.
We must recover the chapter relics!
Though it does share some similarities with the original, Relic has largely gone back to the drawing board for DoW II. They've done away with what many might consider some of the core tenants of the RTS genre, placing a much larger emphasis on the evolution of a core force. Gone are the standard base building and unit creation concepts, replaced by four squads of Space Marines, each of which have unique skill sets and leaders which gain experience as the campaign progresses. There's an RPG-lite system where you units accumulates experience for the kills they amass; they will periodically level up, increasing their attributes and unlocking new special abilities. They can also acquire special accessories such as melta-bombs and drop pods that they can use in combat.
There is a tremendous amount of variety when it comes to the make-up of your squad and it allows you to tailor your forces accordingly. You can, for instance, outfit your commander as a strong ranged fighter or turn him into a durable tank unit for close-quarters combat. You won't be able to fully max out your squads over course of the campaign which automatically gives the game a tangible sense of replayability.