DOW2 is another highly recommended strategy title of outstanding quality from a developer who clearly know their craft.
Wolverine_r wrote this review on .
The most striking design choice in the game is the complete removal of base-building from both the singleplayer and multiplayer portions of the game. Despite scrapping the most basic gameplay aspect of real-time strategy games, the developers manage to make the online portion of the game really addictive and engaging. However, the campaign entirely loses its "strategy" focus and plays out more like an action-RPG. That is not exactly a bad thing because it is still fun and exciting. Just be sure to go into the game expecting nothing more than real-time tactical gameplay plus RPG-style leveling up and you should enjoy the heck out of it.
Dawn of War 2's campaign focuses on the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines in their defense of the Aurelia subsector of the Warhammer universe. Basically, this region is the recruiting grounds for the Blood Ravens and is very critical to their chapter's survival. The initial portions of the story concentrate on battles with the Orks and Eldar who are trying to disrupt space marine operations in the sector. These portions can be interesting as you are trying to figure out the exact reason why the Eldar are initiating the Orks against the humans. However, the story becomes pretty straightforward once the larger threat of a Tyranid Hive Fleet comes into the picture and your main goal is to stop it from entirely consuming the region. Overall, the plot is pretty decent and there are some interesting back-stories for the game's main characters but it certainly is not going to be your main focus as you proceed through the campaign.
The gameplay is where your focus is going to be and, needless to say, it is very good. Though not entirely strategic in the way you may have come to expect from the developer or other strategy titles, the action-RPG style gameplay focusing on individual squads works well within the context of the game and the overall story. The main character in the game is the Force Commander (whose name is provided by you) who will be assisted by a number of squads of various specializations. The first of these is the Tactical Marine squad led by Tarkus which will be your main ranged infantry specializing in bolters, flamers, plasma guns etc. The second will be the Devastator Marine squad led by Avitus which will focus mainly on providing suppressive fire. The other squads include a scout squad led by Cyrus which can infiltrate and be fitted with sniper rifles, an assault marine squad led by Thaddeus which will be your main melee focus apart from your Force Commander and a Dreadnought whose origins is best left discovered on your own.
The campaign is structured in a manner similar to Dark Crusade's (the second expansion to Dawn of War) risk and turn based campaign but is presented in a slightly diluted manner. Initially your orders will be to defend the planet of Calderis from the Orks and Eldar, but once the Tyranids show up, you will be battling across three different planets choosing between a number of different missions. Apart from the key story-driven missions in the game which you can tackle at your own pace, almost all the optional missions are timed. Basically, each day has a set number of deployments available and most optional missions have to be completed within a set number of days. This leads to some interesting decisions later on in the game where you will have to choose between three or four missions depending on the wargear reward and possibly risk losing strategic assets to finish some of the more important missions. The missions themselves are not drastically different, however. They mostly involve mowing through Ork, Eldar or Tyranid infantry to reach an end-level boss who can vary between easy to insanely difficult depending on the difficulty level you are playing. Some variety is provided in the form of defensive missions requiring you to protect a strategic asset. However, most of the missions as well the maps you play on do begin to get repetitive by the time you close in on the end of the game which means how much you enjoy the game will depend on how much you enjoy hunting for wargear and leveling up your characters.
As you complete each mission, each of your squads earn experience points and gain levels allowing you to spend points on health, ranged damage, strength and energy. This aspect adds some much needed tactical depth to the game since you can choose to improve your squads in a variety of ways. For example, you can make your Force Commander a tank and a melee warrior who can absorb and deal tons of damage while Tarkus and Avitus do the damage from range or you can make Thaddeus your melee mainstay and focus your commander on ranged attacks. This kind of squad level tactics combined with the fact that you can only take four squads into each mission means that some of your squads are going to be underdeveloped. Nevertheless, this also adds a lot of replay value to the campaign since you can try out a variety of tactics in each playthrough.
Wargears and hunting for improved pieces of equipment is probably what is going to keep you coming back to the campaign. Although each mission in the game has an associated wargear which you can obtain once you complete the mission, most of the wargear will be picked off fallen infantry and these are all color-coded similar to World of Warcraft. The wargear maybe a superior weapon or armor or it may also be an item which allows you to augment any of your squad's abilities. This certainly keeps the battles fun and exciting till the end of the game since you never know what is going to drop in one of your smaller skirmishes with enemy infantry.
Both leveling up and wargear contribute in keeping the singleplayer exciting for the 20 or 25 hours it will take you to complete it once. Apart from this, you can invite a friend over to play the entire campaign co-operatively over the internet. And since you can do this at anytime during the campaign, it makes for a fun time to be had with your buddy. However, since these are the same missions with the same structure, multiplayer is probably going to grab your attention after you complete the campaign.
The online portion of Dawn of War 2 is drastically different to the singleplayer in a manner that is going to surprise you if you go into it expecting yourself to be prepared after the campaign. It borrows liberally from the best aspects of Relic's previous two games, Company of Heroes and Dawn of War. Like the former, you are going to have to make a choice of commander which will define your playtstyle before you even begin a game. Each faction in the game has three different commanders who mostly fit into offensive, defensive or support type roles. So, for example, choosing a Force Commander or an Ork Warboss will allow you to move on the offence pretty quickly since they can take a ton of damage before dying, the same does not apply for an Ork Mekboy or an Eldar Farseer both of whom will probably have to evade some skirmishes initially until better infantry support is built.
No matter what your choice of commander, you are still going to have to go out and get into the thick of the action immediately because the resource gathering portion of the game is very similar to the original Dawn of War and the tabletop games and is tied directly into gaining as much map control as possible. The main resources in the game are Requisition and Power, both of which are obtained mainly by capturing requisition or power nodes scattered all around the map. Apart from this, there is a third resource in the game which has different names for each faction and this is like an energy meter which fills up only when you kill enemy troops in combat. This third resource is not important for building basic squads but it also cannot be really ignored since it provides you some very powerful global abilities that can turn the tide of battles. So, like the original Dawn of War, the emphasis here is on all out combat which is what you want from this type of game.
As mentioned previously, there is no base-building in the online game also. The game starts off with your commander and one basic infantry squad for your faction plus a single base from which you are going to build your units. The main online mode is called Victory Point mode -- although an annihilation or destroy the base mode is also available -- where the only way of victory is to count your opponent's victory points to zero. Therefore, apart from moving out to capture requisition and power nodes, you will also have to capture victory points to start counting down your enemy. All these aspects when combined with the small size of all the maps mean that there are always going to be a lot of smaller skirmishes happening apart from very powerful end-game battles between larger units and vehicles. This is especially true of the co-operative modes since they are the most exciting and strategic when combined with the various commander choices between the teams.
The shipped version of the game only included head-to-head and 3-on-3 games plus a handful of maps for both modes. However, a string of recent patches has seen the addition of a 2-on-2 mode and an increase in the number of maps for all modes. Apart from this, Relic have already announced a major patch which will not only add more maps but will also contain a map editor which is going to provide modders with the ability to release their own maps. So, you can expect the game to increase in value over the coming months as more maps are released.
Relic Entertainment has always been known for excellent audio-visual presentation and Dawn of War 2 is no different. The game uses an upgraded version of the Essence Engine which was used to power Company of Heroes and it shows. Right from the various buildings scattered around on Meridian to the trees and jungles of Typhon to the desert lands of Calderis, there are great textures to be seen in every location in this game. Also of special mention are the textures on each of your individual units that look especially delicious after zooming all the way in. The particle effects during explosions and the sync-kills that occur when a particular unit kills another unit are just some of the minor visual flourishes that are worth noting in a game that is filled with such an outstanding level of visual quality. There is also liberal use of full-motion videos to introduce a majority of the important characters in the campaign. Although these are great to look at, they are quite short in length except the opening and climactic movie sequences. With such high-quality graphics also comes the requirement of a pretty high-end system to be able to display it in all its glory. The game will still play on lower-end systems but the need to reduce quite a few graphical options robs the game of some of its visual appeal. Nonetheless, it still looks great and plays without a hitch which is all you want from PC games these days.
The soundtrack for the first Dawn of War was composed by Jeremy Soule who has become synonymous with PC gaming soundtracks these days. Although that is quite a name to live up to, Doyle Donehoo delivers on all accounts with a truly orchestral score that enhances the mood of the game both in the campaign and also when you are playing online. The online soundtrack deserves special mention because the tracks will change depending on the race you pick and each track really fits in with the individual factions. First-rate voice-overs are also critical in realizing a majority of the singleplayer squad characters and this also helps in identifying them as actual people instead of disposable soldiers like previous strategy games. The voice-overs are also important in online play for adding personality to each of the factions. It really is great when you can differentiate from the stupid and naïve mind of the battle-seeking Orks to the disciplined and focused mind of the Eldar. The attention to detail is evident in the sound as well such as the muffled sounds of squad voices or weapons coming from off-screen portions of the map or the sound of an approaching vehicle through the fog of war alerting you even though it may not necessarily be in sight. Such level of quality really draws you more into the game world and makes for an immersive experience both online and off.
A few other aspects have to be necessarily mentioned as well. Firstly, Dawn of War 2 requires a Steam account to play. Like all Valve games, your purchase of Dawn of War 2 is linked to your Steam account. Therefore all of the game's updates are available via Steam and are applied immediately. This mainly ensures that everybody has a level playing field online and the compatibility issues from previous games where newcomers will have to download loads of patches to bring their game to the correct and most recent version are virtually non-existent. Also, the in-game online option is executed via Games for Windows Live. Trueskill matchmaking which is the basis of Xbox Live is used where your relative level of skill is measured after each match and your Trueskill rating is increased or decreased accordingly allowing you to find better matches in your skill level. Although the service did have some issues initially, most of them have been ironed out through updates and you can find an online match quickly and easily these days. The Live service also tracks your achievements similar to Xbox Live which gives you further reason to play through the campaign more than once to earn some of the achievements.
Really, there is not a bad thing one can say about Dawn of War 2. Albeit the action-RPG style may not be suited to everybody, it worked for me because of the looting and leveling up aspects as well as the overall presentation. Added to this, the addictive multiplayer will keep you online for days as you try to improve your trueskill rating in any of the game's three modes. And not to be discounted is Relic's support for the product. Right from the beta days, they have been listening to the community for balance issues and incorporating their requests in future patches. Both the 2v2 mode and the soon-to-be released map editor were added for free at the community's request. Relic have already announced they will be supporting the product by adding a lot of DLC content to the game and by releasing expansion packs similar to the original game. All of these elements combine to make Dawn of War 2 a product of such outstanding quality and value, coming from a developer who clearly know their craft, making it easily recommendable to anyone who has even a passing interest in the strategy genre.