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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Review

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Dawn of War II successfully introduces RPG elements to its single-player campaign and provides a polished, if familiar, online experience that focuses on brisk combat.

Relic has done a good job distilling the campaign down to the core combat.
Relic Entertainment clearly had two agendas at hand with Dawn of War II, its latest Warhammer 40K strategy title. The single-player portion of the game plays like an action-heavy, party-based RPG with persistent units who level up and equip loot. The online game, however, takes a more traditional real-time strategy approach with higher unit counts, field upgrades, and some light base-building. Although players might not welcome both sides of this coin, both are polished to such a degree that it's hard to fault Relic for trying to open the game up to two similar but notoriously fractured groups of PC gamers.

Although there are four playable races in the game, Dawn of War II's campaign plays entirely from the perspective of a squad of Space Marines known as the Blood Ravens. Your group of persistent heroes jumps between three worlds, trying to fight back an onslaught by the insect-like Tyranids, while the brutish Orks loot the battlefield and the technologically advanced Eldar treat everyone like ants and try to obliterate the infestation. Though there are a few epic scripted sequences during your fights, the mostly forgettable story is told between missions before deployment. Your involvement in the Blood Ravens' fate will likely be more influenced by your attachment to the Warhammer 40K source material than this game's specific narrative.

Although the main story arc is a structured affair, the game allows you to choose some optional missions in any order, with the caveat that these optional missions themselves are only available for a limited time. Because every mission has some form of loot reward and planetary faction bonus tied to its completion, time can be an important factor, and you'll need to make some choices about what missions you're willing to take on, and when. It's not going to provide a drastically different experience through replay, but the choice is a nice touch that at least lets you avoid portions of the game you might not enjoy.

Online, you'll find a more traditional RTS game.
Aside from some lengthy late-game battles, Dawn of War II's missions are short affairs; you'll likely complete each one within 20 minutes of being dropped onto the map. That brisk pace alone marks a radical departure for the genre, and since you often control only four units at any one time, the campaign feels closer to a Commandos game than a Command & Conquer one. Almost every mission features a fun boss fight of some kind, even though the encounters eventually become a bit predictable.

During missions, your units will earn experience, level up, and find loot that they can equip between battles. Your unique play style will be influenced by a number of factors, such as choosing which four units to deploy, and whether to focus those individual units' development on energy and ranged attacks versus more stamina- and strength-based abilities. On the whole, this system breeds a greater level of attachment to your units than you'd ever feel for the nameless dudes churned out of the nearest factory in other strategy games.

The fighting itself in both the campaign and the online experience will be instantly familiar to those who played through Relic's last game, Company of Heroes. Like that game, the heavy emphasis here is on suppression, cover, and destructible environments, and you won't build a single base over the course of the entire single-player game. The campaign is pretty easy even on the harder difficulty level, mostly due to the low unit count and small-scale battles.

The skirmish and multiplayer components of the game play much differently from the campaign, and feel fairly standard for a strategy title. When playing online, you'll start with a pre-built base and have to capture control points and power nodes to requisition new troops. For some this is going to be a jarring experience, as you'll have to learn new skills and menu elements that don't exist in the single-player game. For those familiar with more typical RTS games this won't cause a problem, but if you're coming to the Dawn of War II with more action-RPG-oriented tastes, you may find yourself in a strange new world after you complete the campaign.

There's something here for all strategy fans.
Along with choosing one of the four races in multiplayer matches, you'll also get to choose one of that race's three hero commanders. Each race features a balanced but unique play style. In truth your commander choice seems to most impact your overall strategy, as it defines whether you are playing an offensive, defensive, or support game. With 3v3 and 2v2 matches available in either annihilation or control-point victory mode (think Battlefield), it's important to mix and match your commanders between teams. Focusing too heavily on any one discipline can often spell disaster.

The game requires both Steam and Games For Windows Live and includes achievement points for Live. The integration with both systems works well for the most part, though along with some other users on our forums I didn't receive achievement points for completing the game, which is a minor blemish in an otherwise nearly spotless execution. Dawn of War II also features a co-op mode for the campaign, which makes the game ridiculously easy, though it's a nice addition for those who like playing with their buds.

Overall, the only major problem with recommending Dawn of War II is its minor identity crisis. If you normally don't like RTS games but are a fan of light role-playing that focuses more on the combat than the story, you'll likely find much to love in this game's campaign, and that should be enough to satisfy. However, if you're a fan of traditional strategy games like StarCraft or even the original Dawn of War, you might be underwhelmed by the simplified gameplay of the sequel's campaign, and may want to jump straight to the deeper online experience. Both halves are well done, though there's no guarantee you'll like both of them equally.  Whichever choice you make, Relic has done a commendable job trying to kill two birds with one stone. You might just wish they had focused more on the portion of the game you enjoy most.
Dave Snider on Google+
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Posted by LiveOrDie1212

ALRIGHT! Snider's first review, good job Snide!!

Posted by Coltonio7

Awesome review Snide! Seems like a hella different take on RTSes...es?

Edited by RedSox8933

oh man, i was looking forward to a snider pic.

nice review, i already picked the game up.

edit: Theres the icon!! still would be cooler if it was actually snide.

Posted by Sweep

Dude, Snide needs to get some review expressions up in this joint!! Get the robots working on some new staff-art!!

Moderator
Posted by snide

I forgot about the icon. Fixing that now.

Edited by Death_Burnout

I don't think they really can get Bob to draw a rare Sinder picture, or even picture set!...But im all for it!

Wow Dave nice review!

My only "real" complaint with the game, a lack of multipayer maps at the moment, im sure that won't last too long.

Posted by Coltonio7

I'd be up for a Snide pic. It should be Justa Moustache.

Posted by License_To_Bill

I'm no Ben Coello, but I feel you need a portrait.












Posted by JJOR64

Awesome review.  I thought of picking this game up.  Need a strategy game on my computer.

Posted by TheHBK

Ahhh, Dave needs his own pic, I dont see one.

Posted by Kombat

Nice review, but Snider needs his own epic review portriat!

Posted by TheIneffableBob
Posted by snide

If Andy gets to be a robot, i'm totally being a knight!

Posted by TomA

Dave must have played alot more today or last night because on the bombcast he was sayin stuff about the game that was tottaly untrue.

Posted by RedSox8933

lol snide, knights rule.

Posted by Alphazero

I really want to get this one. I loved Company of Heroes (although recreating Normandy in video game form left me a little uneasy). That it's both on Steam AND has those sweet, sweet achievement points are nice bonuses.

I just hope my six year old Dell laptop can handle it. I'll be on the minimum system requirement side of things, I'm afraid.

Posted by LordAndrew

Now we need images for the other ratings, even if they never end up being used. ;)

Posted by Kajaah117

I demand cartoon Snider!

Edited by SunKing

I can't believe that the words 'DIablo II' haven't been mentioned once in this review; It had far more in common with DoW II than Commandos ever did. But - yeah - it's a weird little beast, this one. It's an RTS, but isn't - in a way. But it's not an RPG.

Dave, you couldn't have put it better when you said the game suffers from an identity crisis. It really does.

Posted by kagekage

nice first review snide

Posted by StarFoxA

Great review, snide.

Posted by MichaelBach

And where is the cartoon Snide???

Posted by FlipperDesert

I tried out the multiplayer beta a while back and enjoyed it, it's a nice change of pace from standard RTS stuff to me. I might get it later on in the year.

Also, yay Snide review! Knights do indeed rule.

Posted by RHCPfan24

YEAH! It is Dave! I would get an expression, though, dude. You deserve it.

Posted by AndrewB

I have no doubt that the game is good, but I would still like to try out a demo before I were to buy. I suck at RTS games, and yet, somehow, I like them, so I'd really like to know how i would personally do with this game.

Online
Posted by Death_Burnout

I'm almost Coello's long lost brother, i mean, current theif, i could totally draw a cartoon Snide, but yeah, great that you get to be a knight instead of a robot.

Like i said earlier, Nice one!

Posted by Wright

did dave get a haircut? game looks pretty awesome.

Posted by LiveOrDie1212

no cartoon impression for the Snidester??? SHAME!!!!!!

Posted by mrhankey

i have to say i've only played 40mins of the campaign and i'm really enjoying it. I think i'm going to beat the campaign, do co-op with friends and then play some online with them. There is just something about the new DoW that i love

Posted by MattBodega

Solid Review, Dave! And you hit on the only "real" problem with DoW II: that schizophrenia between being a Loot lust rpg and a less traditional but still pretty standard RTS game. That's how I've been trying to phrase it for my review.
Noice work! You can actually help Giant Bomb REVIEW  games for the ol' PC. Keep the dream alive!

Posted by Media_Master

Sounds cool to me!

Posted by HandsomeHubby

Dave, I felt review was a bit rote and by the numbers, until the strong finish with schizophrenia discussion.

I don't 100% agree with you, but you bring up an interesting point. Frankly I think that Relic was bold to throw away the Sim-City parts that have been in RTS's forever for no good reason.

Forever I've wanted RTS to feel like a combination of playing toy soldiers and Warhammer in real time, but this is the first game that I feel delivers on that promise. The gameplay of cover and micromanagement is deep, if a little too unforgiving in the Multiplayer.

Despite the online problems relic has, I fear that I'm going to have a hard time going back to starcraft. DoW2 made Halo Wars completely unplayable, much like checkers is close to unplayable when you learn chess.

Posted by daniel_beck_90

Fantastic review from Snide

Posted by Metal_Mills

Awesome, I was hoping for a DoW2 review! Now lets see that Total War one. :)

Posted by ReTarDedFisHy

ReTarDedFisHy kind of wishes that they kept that distinct "Dawn of War-ness" and gameplay of Dawn of War instead of making Company of Heroes: Dawn of War. Still, he loves this game. Also loves Company of Heroes. But yeah, ReTarDedFisHy just wishes it were a bit more RTS.

Posted by eznark

Personally, I think the game benefits from the identity crisis.  I found the RPG elements dovetailed perfectly with the tactical gameplay.  I'm on my second play through, upping the difficulty, and the need for tactics definitely increases at higher difficulty settings.

The real star, however, is multiplayer.  While I love playing CoH, the matches take so long that it's an investment.  In DoWII they can be over in 15-20 minutes since the maps are small and fortifications are at a premium. 

FIrst great game of 09 in my opinion.

Posted by PapaLazarou

Snide for more reviews!

Posted by Kohe321

You write good reviews Snide! I already bought this because of the forum thread you made, and it's awesome.

Posted by MattyFTM

Cool Review Duder. Now stop wasting time playing games and writing reviews and get back to making the website more awesome :P

Moderator
Edited by TaintedSun

See, I'm still lost. I'm a Starcraft fan and a long time Warcraft 3 fan, enthusiast, commentator and writer. So where do I fit in? I have no idea, and even less of an idea after reading this review. What I want is a demo. Sure, I should have jumped on the beta train when it was rolling around, but it slipped my mind. Release a demo. With so many RTS games that fall flat, even when they are reviewed well, I need to play the game to get a sense. There are quirks that I require to be included in an RTS game to make it even remotely playable, thanks to my many years doing work for Warcraft sites. My taste is fine tuned.

Demo please.

Edit -

I noticed in a member review that one, the game lags online, and two, matchmaking doesn't seem solid. Lag + poor matchmaking = horrible RTS experience for any fan hoping to put forth a lot of time. RTS games live on their fanbase and the sites they create. A game has to build that base with a stable and moderately fair matchmaking system. If you don't have that, you're dead in the water. I give this game a few months until it s fades away as just another creative RTS that everyone remembers, but no one plays anymore.

Posted by CitizenKane

Dave writing a review?  What is this madness?!?

Anyways, nice review.  I've heard a lot of good things about the first Dawn of War and I loved Company of Heores.  I might pick this game up later this year when it goes down in price.  Damn you money!!!

Online
Posted by Crono

Great review Snide - Although your icon scared me a bit lol.

You know, it is great that DoW2 tried to please both parties but it ended up doing nothing at all for me.  I just wasn't impressed one way or the other.  Company of Heroes IS a good and solid game but I never enjoyed it as much as StarCraft and C&C, heck even War3, and that is probably where my lack of interest comes.  This game is too similar to CoH for me to enjoy.

The identity crisis you mention seems like it will be in StarCraft 2 as well though (not to go off topic).  The game is supposed to do something similar between its single player and multiplayer; singleplayer will have hero units in it that can use/equip items and level up while multiplayer will have none of that.  I think because single player has heroes it will, a majority of the missions, focus on smaller scale battles (with exception to end-game missions) and the online will be more about the large scale.

Posted by darkjester74

Great job on this review Dave!  Not sure if its your first one on GB, but either way looking forward to more!

Also, reading the review has interested me in checking out DoW2, which is saying something since I usually don't play RTS games.  Thanks for the insights!

Posted by ElectricHaggis

If I had a PC capable of running it, I would definitely play it.  Nice review Dave.

Posted by Jayzilla

great review dave, and awesome job on the bombcast. you need to make your own pic for reviews now, and i want a Snider T-Shirt!

Posted by NoXious

Great review Dave, hearing you on the bombcast I could tell you had a good impression of how the game works :)

I played the Multiplayer Beta a bit, and I was a bit disappointed at how quick the multiplayer seemed repetitive. Sure it was a Beta, and it lacked alot of maps. But the tactics on each map never seemed different. You have no way to tech-rush such as in games like StarCraft or Red Alert 3, because you NEED power point and thus you need an army since the enemy wont let you cap em easy-mode. So it seemed like games were extremely linear, where the only factor was who can micro his units better. And I personally prefer multi-tasking base building and units when it comes down to Multiplayer.

That, unfortunately, only makes it seem like a great single player experience - but there's plenty of games doing that already (Spellforce series comes to mind). I think I'll just enjoy my Red Alert 3 multiplayer until StarCraft 2 hits the shelves. 

Posted by snide

Yep NoX. Essentially the only thing that I think people will fault with this game, like it seems you did, is that you'll naturally like one part of it over the other. All in all though Relic did a great job with this one and if you have any interest in light RPG games, you should definitely pick it up for the single player alone. Multiplayer in RTSes are really a stylistic preference, you either like the way the Relic way or the Blizzard way.


I'll be checking out Empire: Total War next and though they are completely different games, it'll be nice to see how it holds up. There certainly isn't a lack of RTS games coming out over the next 2 months.
Posted by NoXious

I can't wait to see your review on Empires: Total War. The demo has been out on Steam for a while, and I am already hooked on the combat part of the game. To top it off, it's got Holland as a playable faction, that's Bonus points ;)

The only Make-or-Break factor on the game right now is it's World Map management, they didn't show that part in the demo. You can't really nail that in a demo anyway, without practically putting the full product out on the market for free. But if it's anything like Rome, I bet it wont disappoint.

Posted by MrMiyagi

I really want to pick this one up.

Posted by drifter13x

Keep them PC reviews coming Dave. I am loving the game so far, and you're right the Live integration is better than I've seen it before on PC.

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