Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution is the second stand-alone expansion to Dawn of War II, a real-time strategy/tactical role-playing game set in the Warhammer: 40,000 universe. Chaos Rising, the previous stand-alone expansion, required ownership of DOWII if you wanted to play the original's factions in multiplayer. Retribution goes one step further by allowing you to play all six sides in both the single-player and multiplayer portions of the game without owning any of the preceding titles. Keeping everything fantastic from its predecessors and improving upon their flaws, Retribution is a must-have for DOWII fans and a great point of entry for newcomers.
The highlight of Retribution is its campaign, which is set on the long-suffering planets of subsector Aurelia. After decades of warfare and demonic infestation, Aurelia has now been slated for destruction by the Holy Imperial Inquisition. However, the true source of the sector's problems is the corrupt Space Marine Chapter Master Azariah Kyras, and his destruction may stay the Inquisition's hand and spare the sector its fiery doom. While the campaign's story and opening cutscene are decidedly focused on the Space Marines, the five other factions have their own reasons for opposing Kyras (beyond a desire to save Aurelia for themselves). Their motivations generally make sense, but the need for each faction to experience the same basic story arc leads to occasional holes in the plot. An unnecessary case of Eldar on Eldar violence is particularly inexplicable. Less problematic are the simpler narratives of the Orks and Tyranids, who are motivated by, respectively, a desire to obtain an Inquisitor's hat and an instinctual impulse to consume everything in the galaxy.
Regardless of which of the six factions you decide to play as, Retribution's campaign feels like a hybrid of Dawn of War II's campaign, which focused on micromanaging a handful of hero units, and a more traditional RTS. During each mission, you can collect resources to spend on building units or temporarily improving the stats of your heroes. For instance, you can buff up the Imperial Guard Commissar Lord Bernn's health and have him punch tanks to death, or you can field a few tanks of your own. Likewise, when picking mission rewards, you must choose between grabbing better war gear for your heroes and making your army "more killy" by unlocking unit types or upgrades. This can be a tough call because heroes are insanely useful when properly micromanaged, especially if you carefully choose new abilities while leveling up. For instance, you might be able to take out a teeming mass of Orks by slowing down time with one hero while setting the area on fire with another. If you tire of micromanaging heroes and prefer a good old-fashioned tank column, you can leave most of the heroes behind for a mission in exchange for an increased population cap and powerful honor guard units that may be rebuilt or reinforced for free.
Mission objectives are more diverse than in the original Dawn of War II, where you'd repeatedly replay the same maps and where the goals generally consisted of defending power generators or defeating a boss. In Retribution, you play each map only once per campaign, and there is only one optional power generator defense mission. Some of the boss battles in Retribution offer additional variety. For example, in one level, you fight an Ork tank that takes a good 20 minutes to kill with conventional weaponry, but which can be baited into rolling over explosive barrels to its destruction. Other mission highlights include fleeing from a gigantic Baneblade tank, ambushing Ork convoys, and escaping from a planet while an orbital bombardment tears it asunder.
Though the campaign is generally excellent, it suffers from a few bugs that occur almost exclusively while playing as the Imperial Guard, the new side introduced in this expansion. Lord General Castor, the chief hero in the Imperial Guard campaign, is particularly cursed. During the second level, there is a cutscene where a bridge is destroyed, and without fail, Castor's bodyguards get stuck on inaccessible ledges beneath the bridge. Unfortunately, Castor and his bodyguards are considered to be a single squad, so he remains trapped in place until his stranded squadmates perish. Furthermore, using Castor's special ability to air-drop a tank onto the battlefield causes multiple bugs on maps where you normally couldn't build tanks. In one instance, the game wouldn't recognize that the mission objective had been completed; in another, game-pausing messages about a "Fatal Scar Error" popped up constantly. Without these "forbidden tanks," the missions were bug free.