Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

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Dawn of War 2 cover

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
PC
Developed by Relic
Released in 2009

While many praise the original Dawn of War for its excellent gameplay, those few who actually played the second installment in Relic’s franchise were a lot less excited to tell me about it. Curious I began playing the game in the wake of the upcoming release of Dawn of War III and quickly found that what made it the black sheep was also what made it appealing to me. Allow me to explain.

Home turf advantage

Rather than expanding on the adventure Gabriel Angelos had in Dawn of War, we now take control of a new, rising star in the Blood Raven chapter. We get to name a silent commander and control him as he leads a handful of units in battle. Battle where? The very home of the Blood Ravens.

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Orks are now massing for an attack on the home system where the Blood Ravens live and recruit their space marines from, making this a conflict to decide the very faith of the chapter. With Gabriel and his army weeks away from the fight, the defense is up to you and your superior officer, which becomes daunting when every other nasty in the Warhammer universe decides they want to fight too.

Between missions you receive briefings from your cast of allies who discuss the state of the ongoing fight, which is a better medium than the in-game cutscenes used in the previous game. However, despite of the stakes being as high as they can be for the Blood Ravens, I find the story to be not as interesting due to the characters involved. Gabriel’s adventure had a more personal touch to it, which is usually the way to go as every Warhammer story is basically the same thing. Dawn of War 2 is more zoomed out and its various characters are not as endearing as the previous cast.

Nevertheless it’s a cool story well told, and it’s not too far behind the original.

Story score: 7/10

How dare they change things?!

Whereas Dawn of War was a straightforward strategy game where you build your base, recruit and upgrade troops, and do research to unlock new stuff, Dawn of War 2 is kind of a hybrid between a strategy game and an RPG.

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You don’t build bases, you don’t manage resources, you don’t do none of that stuff from before. You pick between four heroes you want to take into combat along with their small squad, so you can have assault marines, devastators, tactical marines, or scouts, alongside your commander who goes solo. You control these lads as they move around the map to fight groups of enemies and claim control points. Standing around while at these control points replenishes any men you have lost, though reinforcements do run out over time.

Each mission has a clear goal marked on your map and you can usually try to conquer a special building that provides a static bonus anytime you do another mission on that same planet. The controls are similar to Company of Heroes where you click on squads to command them (or use hotkeys) and send them around the map. Cover is a lot more important now since your guys die fast when in the open, but just like the first game the AI is absolute rubbish. Squads frequently take cover on the wrong side of walls, even though it indicates where they are supposed to stand when you issue the command. They also have a tendency to move towards targets rather than shooting them, which is especially problematic when your sniper decides to charge a really strong foe or the guy with the bazooka decides to hug an enemy turret instead of blowing it up.

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An oddity is that everything you do rewards your squads with experience and you run into a lot of weapons and armor that are dropped from dead foes. Between missions you can upgrade your squads by assigning the stat points they earn upon leveling up to health, melee, shooting, and will. There is not a whole lot of choice here since it’s pretty obvious which units benefit from better shooting and which ones need to punch hard, but growing your health pool and deciding if will (which improves special abilities like throwing grenades) is worth the bother makes it a little interesting.

The items you get are also equipped between missions and come with a load of stats and special effects, which is actually kind of nice. I ran into a heavy bolter (basically a portable turret gun) that had an 11% to cause area-of-effect damage and other neat stuff that really allowed me to specialize my units any way I wanted to. The kind of foes you are likely to face also informs you on what to take along, so when fighting Eldar you might want the scouts to have snipers for taking out their nasty special units, whereas Orcs and other horde armies are better tackled with a flamer.

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The mission structure is a tad repetitive and it’s not the deepest RPG or RTS, but as a hybrid of two genres this is an interesting beast that works well and had me hooked from start to finish.

Gameplay score: 6.5/10

Orks make everything great

Being a strategy game the areas you visit aren’t that interesting to look at and mostly just serve as a backdrop to the fighting. I don’t really recall any specific details about the worlds I fought to save, only that there was at least some diversity, with deserts, cities, and a jungle or two. In other fields the game also fails to really stand out, with none of the music being particularly memorable, and the voice acting not hitting any strings despite the all-round strong cast. Only the Orks lend some much-needed hilarity to the battle.

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Units are nicely detailed, however, though you need to zoom in further than is ideal for play to really appreciate them. The Warhammer units are nicely recreated for this game and in the multiplayer you can color them to match various sub-factions.

Presentation score: 6/10

Abandoned multiplayer

Besides a skirmish mode, the game also features a separate co-op campaign for players to tackle, except nobody actually plays this so without a buddy willing to join you may never get to try it. The skirmish mode is also a tad bizarre, as it tries to mix the new gameplay style with the old base-building mechanics. It’s kind of awkward to play since the story mode doesn’t prepare you for it at all and it’s kind of baffling they bothered to produce all of this extra content just for the multiplayer.

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If you get over the initial confusion it’s an interesting mode to play against bots and allows you to play with some toys that aren’t available in the campaign. A total of five factions are present and, as mentioned before, you can color them after your favorite sub-faction (Imperial Fists for the win), though this won’t have any actual effect on the types and quality of units you control.

Extras score: 6.5/10

Verdict

If you are a strategy game purist that really needs to manage a base, gather resources, and research stuff to get your kicks, then Dawn of War 2 can be safely skipped. Personally, as a connoisseur of everything weird, I found the quirky, hybrid gameplay on show here to be rather fun as it gets down to a more basic appeal in strategy games: deciding where and when to move units. Upgrading them between battles was also enjoyable, though I will admit it all needed more polish and the AI is not developed enough.

65/100

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