Dawn of War II
The real time strategy genre can sometimes get tarred with “no innovation” brush, which overall I think I’d probably agree with. That said it’s such a closed genre that changing things drastically like one would in say a first person shooter could easily become too innovative and the end result would be the RTS crossing over too much into another genre, and in the process losing its RTS roots.
Dawn of War II (DoW II) does shake things up a bit, and as a result its RTS roots do remain intact, but with some extra RPG goodness bolted on for good measure. After zombies, it seems the latest trend now is adding so called RPG elements to a game, but DoW II does manage to pull it off with some rather nice results.
Characters gain experience through the regular outputs, enemy killing and by meeting objectives – the usual thing. Once they’ve gained enough experience to ‘level up’ you’ll then have the ability to increase their battle prowess by raising their stats. While the game only offers a somewhat basic stat system it still provides you (as the player) enough choice to customize your characters as and how you want. Fancy having your predominately melee character taking up more of a heavy weapons role? No problem, just distribute the stat points accordingly and you’re good to go.
The stat system actually works rather well, as not only do characters become stronger with each point allocated but there’s also a good number of skills available, with the more powerful ones as you’d expect situated towards the end of a stat pool, so some forward planning is advised before you start dishing out points willy nilly.
Along with taking a stat system from its RPG buddies, it also uses a fairly decent item system where during missions you can find (as well as be rewarded with) various items, ranging from armour to weapons and accessories. Items even come with an RPG style requirements system, which although only focus on level or character, it does offer a bit of variation within the item system.
It’s a simple system in truth but it does work well, taking core concepts from the RPG genre and bolting them onto to its RTS interior. Anything more complex and I feel it would have taken a lot away from the RTS game which sits at its core, which would have only ended up being detrimental to the overall feel of the game.
Genre cross overs are all well and good but without any actual gameplay it’s all for nothing. Thankfully though, DoW II has a plethora of options available to you, so there should be at least something for everyone.
There is of course the standard issue single player which sees you take command of the Blood Ravens, a terribly badass squad of Space Marines. Throughout the campaign you’ll find yourself in battle against a couple of enemy races, in particular Orks, Tyranids and Eldar all of which have their own unique units and characters that slot in alongside Warhammer 40k cannon.
The races actually work quite well, and it’ll take you a good few missions fighting against each individual one before you start to learn what sort of units they have at their disposal and probably more importantly, the best way to combat them.
The campaign is played on a per mission basis, but with a bit of freedom available meaning you can give yourself a bit of variety should you wish. The missions that accompany the main storyline are really well done and you’ll have a good time wading your way through the corpses of your fallen enemies. Sadly the optional missions tend to let it all down a bit, and despite sometimes being a welcome distraction from the main storyline they do tend to get a bit repetitive.
Defending a small base or marching across the battlefield to kill an enemy general is all well and good the first few times, but towards the end of the campaign you may well find yourself opting to ignore any of the optional side missions and instead just ploughing your way through to get it all over with.
It’s not that the campaign is severely flawed in any way; it just seems to be a case of trying to do too much when in reality a less is more approach probably would have worked just as well. Even with its flaws the campaign does offer a fun and enjoyable experience, which at the end will leave you feeling like you have just saved a load of planets from total annihilation, and it will leave you wanting just that little bit more.
If you liked the campaign that much you can even decide to play through it again with a friend and it’s great to see a game offering co-op features of which DoW II does a fine job in providing a solid co-op setup that adds a decent amount of replay value to the campaign.
Multiplayer is always one of the big guns of any RTS game, and DoW II is no exception. With support from 2-6 players in a multiplayer match you’re bound to find your niche, whether you like small local battles or big over the top carnage inducing ones.
Unlike the single player aspect of the game, multiplayer actually allows you to choose a race other than the Space Marines, meaning those Orks, Tyranids and Eldar you blew to pieces earlier on can now become your newest weapon of mass destruction.
In terms of game type, the multiplayer is considerably different from others in the RTS genre, as instead of building up a small base of operations and marching across the field to annihilate your enemy you’re posed with the challenge of capturing victory points. The more victory points you control the quicker your opponents counter will start to decrease with it ultimately sealing your victory, of course if you prefer the total annihilation route then that’s all good as well, just don’t expect a heavily fortified base to fall back into if it all goes a bit sour.
There’s a definite Company of Heroes feel to the multiplayer (and even single player for that matter) which comes as no surprise as both are developed by Relic Entertainment, so players that have jumped from that RTS to this one should feel relatively at home.
Despite being built on solid ground I do think the multiplayer could have added that little bit extra, in particular I would have liked to have seen more options in terms of base building. It would have just completed the experience if, to accompany your totally badass army that you have a really badass base to go along with it as sometimes building a good defence is just as much fun as going on the offence.
Obviously this isn’t what DoW II is about so I’m not going to knock it too much, but that said I do think it would have benefited greatly from it.
Throw in some visuals which although nothing special are very polished and do a good job at making the game look aesthetically pleasing and this has a really good effect on the combat. Gunfire trails flying across the battlefield, explosions from rockets and grenades adding to the effect, it all makes it come alive and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game.
The only negative area with the games visuals are with the game worlds, and with only a small number on offer you’ll soon grow a bit bored as you traipse around the same old places. It’s nothing major, but it would have been nice to get a bit more variety.
Visuals are nothing without audio and the audio team working at Relic have done a sterling job. Most notable of all audio is the vocals, of which the Blood Ravens over the top battle cry’s really hit all the right spots. Boasting lines such as “Lead with righteous fury” with enough reverb to shake an African Elephant to its knees.
At the end of the day you are a commander of an elite strike force of Space Marines and nothing says “come and have a go if you think your hard enough” than some over the top voice work.Pros
• Good blend of RTS and RPG elements.
• Solid campaign.
• Cooperative play.
• Enjoyable multiplayer.
• Bit repetitive in places.
• Visuals suffer from lack of variety in terms of game worlds.
Dawn of War II has quite a bit going for it, it has a fairly solid single player experience which is backed up with an round good cooperative feature. Multiplayer is good enough that you will easily find yourself spending countless hours waging war with friends and strangers alike, either across a LAN or online.
The mix of RTS and RPG although not on a massive level does offer a bit of difference and it’s nice to play an RTS that’s trying to do something slightly different. Fans of the genre will definitely want to check it out, and its easily approachable campaign will have even relative strangers of the RTS made right at home.
It’s a shame the campaign has its repetitive tendencies; otherwise we’d be looking at an almost perfect gaming experience instead of just an excellent one.
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