February 22, 2009

Review: Dawn of War II

Dawn of War II's very focused, tactical gameplay make it a unique and enjoyable strategy experience not to be missed.

Well, over the last few days I have had the chance to play a fair bit of Dawn of War II's single player campaign as well as enjoy some of its multiplayer offerings, and I have to say the game is quite good and a title that any strategy gamer should definitely check out. That being said, the biggest thing to be aware of is how much this game differs from its predecessor. Outside of being based in the same universe, and having some allusions to characters and places from the previous games, the two games have relatively little in common, at least in how they play. Proceeding along the same line of thoughts as Relic's Company of Heroes, the game focuses very strongly on tactics and micromanagement of your units, instead of economy management and base building.

There are no longer bases to build, and all the resources used to produce the game's units are found out on the battlefield, where they can be very hotly contested. In addition, moreso than any game I can think of, units are very expensive compared to the rate at which you acquire resources, so it's imporant to know exactly what kind of units you need in a given battle and try to keep them alive as long as possible. Units also acquire experience and multiple levels of veterency by defeating other units, further encouraging you to keep your units in the fight. Throughout a battle, you will only ever be dealing with a handful of units which allows you to focus very intently on making sure your units are positioned well and use their different special abilites effectively, and nowhere is this more true than in the game's single player campaign.

Dawn of War II's single player campaign has you commanding a very small team of space marines against hordes of aliens including the Orks, Eldar, and a new comer to the Dawn of War series, the Tyranids. In any mission, you can have at most four squads deployed, with each squad having only a couple units a piece (except for your force commander who chooses to run solo). Each squad has unique advantages and disadvatages for ranged and melee combat as well as defense. In addition, throughout the campaign the squads gain experience allowing you to choose how they should progress in order to gain better statistics and new abilities. Finally, similar to a classic dungeon crawler, some of the enemy combatants will drop 'loot' in the form of different equipment you can use to outfit your squad. Together, these two systems allow for a great deal of customization, so you can really make your squads suit your playstyle.

The campaign also has an interesting structure that sits somewhere between the completely open style of the Dark Crusade and Soulstorm expansions and the linear style of the original Dawn of War and Winter Assault. At times, you will have to take very specific missions in order to progress the story, while at others you will have a number of missions to choose from including optional missions that can be used to improve your squads, acquire better equipment, and improve your overall score in the campaign. In addition, the game has the option for you to hook up with a friend and play through the game cooperatively, which actually works out very well. With each commander controlling two of the four squads, each player can put additional focus on managing their units and communication is a must. The cooperative play is very good and, in my opinion, feels much more natural than Red Alert 3's cooperative gameplay from last year.

Finally, the last thing to bring up is the game's competitive multiplayer which comes in two flavors: one-on-one, head-to-head matches and three-on-three team battles. Both experiences are very enjoyable and add to the game's already impressive replay value. In both modes, each player controls one stronghold which produces all that player's units. From there, the player must capture points on the map in order to generate requisition (the main resource) and power in order to build units. One-on-one game's feel very tight and action-packed, while the three-on-three matches offer a real battlefield experience with player's coordinating attacks across multiple fronts with many units involved in the skirmishes. The only real complaint I have about the game's multiplayer offerings are the very small map set the game ships with, only 7 in total: three 1v1 maps and four 3v3's. Compared to the twenty or so from Red Alert 3 (my most recent multiplayer RTS) the selection seems a bit thin. Relic has said more maps should be coming soon (ostensibly for free), but no specific details at the moment.

All in all I have been very happy with my time with Dawn of War II and I would definitely recommend it to any strategy gamers. To fans of the series, it's definitely not the same game as its predecessor, so you should definitely try it before you buy it, but if you give it a chance, I think you'll find there's a lot to love about Dawn of War II. Now I've got some aliens that need purging...

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