By hsvlad 1 Comments
1001 Videogames I must play before I die!
No.0017 Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
It probably should be said right now that I'm a huge fan of the 40K universe. I'm about as liberal a person as you're ever likely to meet but I have an unexplainable love for Sci-Fi that revolves around fascism and the Imperium of Man seems to grab my attention like nothing else! I love the fiction, I love the art and while I stop just short of actually playing the table-top game I do love painting the miniatures and I have a pretty sizable collection of them. So when I heard that Relic were going to make an RTS set in that universe I was very excited. I'm not entirely sure why, but all previous games set in the 40k fiction had never turned out that well. They were either functional but not all that great like Fire Warrior or they were turn based and overly complicated like Final Liberation. Final Liberation did however have god damn AMAZING FMV!!!!
Dawn of War didn't really do anything exceptionally new, it was just incredibly well polished. No other RTS at the time put that kind of detail into the actual combat that occurred between infantry, especially where hand-to-hand combat was concerned. Watching a Dreadnought pickup an Ork, crush it against the ground, light it on fire and then hurl it across the battlefield was a level of drama that hadn't really been seen in RTS games before. The game wasn't just about spectacle though, it was a well made and fun strategy game. The single player campaign followed the Blood Raven chapter of the Space Marines as they came to aid the Imperial Guard stationed on a world that had come under attack from an Ork Hoard. They soon found that there was more to the situation then that and the Eldar and the forces of Chaos soon arrive.
The gameplay was standard fair for the most part, but there were systems in place to make tactics like tank rushing less useful. The maps had several capture point dotted around that provided resources as well as allowing you to build near them. There were also points that acted as shrines, these points were a requisite for building some of the more powerful units in the game. This meant that active players could cut off their enemies funds and deny them their most powerful weapons. You could no longer just turtle up and build and huge force to rush your opponent with. The games started with just four races, but over the course of three expansions that number swelled to an absurd nine! I've never played much of the final expansion pack, Soul Storm, mostly as the two races it added, the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle, were the two I find the least interesting in the whole universe.
Coming back to the game, it all seems to stand up fairly well. The story is still interesting and the expansions increased the graphical fidelity with each release, but there is one very odd thing that I noticed. The camera is very low to the ground. You can adjust the angle and height but the maximum height is still much too low for my liking. I never felt that way when I first played these games so it difficult to say if its a byproduct of running the game at a higher/widescreen resolution that it was not built for. I was able to get used to it eventually and you can adjust the angle all the way to nearly first person. I have to admit I was grinning like an idiot that my PC could now do this and not drop its framerate at all. The computer I originally played the game on would slow to a halt if I tried that!
No.0018 Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Dawn of War II is a very different beast. Between the release of the last expansion Relic produced for the original Dawn of War (DOW), they brought out Company of Heroes. The new ideas that went into that game began to show up in DOW II along with other changes to the format. The single player section of DOW II plays more like an Action RPG. There is no more base building and you no longer produce units. Instead you have persistent squad leaders who develop and level up. This unlocks new abilities and grants access to more advanced equipment. In fact its probably best not to consider this game as an RTS at all! There are random loot drops and boss fights. You have, essentially, a player character and party members. Many people didn't like the drastic change between the first and second DOW and while I would have loved a more faithful sequel to the original, DOW II is probably one of my favorite games of the last few years.
While its possible to say that DOW II isn't a real RTS it can't be said that it doesn't require tactics. Those tactics are just not as grand in scale as they once were. Squad tactics are the name of the game here. Using one team to cover the advance of another, suppressing an enemy unit so that another can flank them and move into hand-to-hand. The strategy is all still there, it just works very differently. You will need to learn those tactics as well because the game isn't exactly a cake walk. Knowing when to tell a unit to retreat and reinforce is just as important as knowing when to attack and the boss fights will take some serious cunning to defeat if you want to avoid having any of your units incapacitated.
While the game feels quite different to its predecessor, the story has a startling amount of continuity to it. Characters from the previous games return, with the same voice actors, and they have developed in the time since we last saw them. Even lower ranked characters like your squad leaders have impressive back-stories that intertwine in some clever ways with the original game and its expansions. The multi-player component of DOW II was not really something that interested me I must admit. It plays something like a crossbreed of the first and second game and the single player for the second DOW II expansion, Retribution, is more similar the multi-player experience. There are still persistent characters but there are also more expendable units that can be brought into the missions. I played through it as the Imperial Guard once and I had had my fill. Compared to the four times I've played through the original campaign and Chaos Rising, I think its safe to say I preferred that style of game.
In the end, both Dawn of War games are really fantastic despite their differences. If you want to understand where those design changes came from just play Dawn of War then Company of Heroes and then Dawn of War II and it will all make perfect sense. I'm really looking forward to what ever Relic ends up doing with the sequel which is due to be shown off some time this year. Will they make the same kind of radical changes again? Who can say, but honestly, I liked it the last time they tried that so I'm not gonna cry foul if they say they're doing something different again.
P.S. I know I disappeared for a month back there, real life finally caught up with me.