A strategy success (that fails to tell the) story
Dawn of War 2 is yet another game that I bought during one of Steam's crazy sales. I bought the game at the beginning of the year thinking it would help the wait for Starcraft 2. One game led to another, and before I knew it I had played and finished Starcraft 2 before finishing Dawn of War 2.
Considering the leaps that Starcraft 2 took in terms of mission design and story-telling, I thought Dawn of War 2 would be difficult to enjoy in a post SC2 world and in all fairness the game should be considered for the time it was released. If you are reading this to make up your mind on whether you should still try it though, here follow my thoughts.
Dawn of War 2 tells the tale of the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines fighting off a Tyranid invasion. The Eldar and Orks interfere along the way and all are dispatched in similar fashion. The story really is that simple and so are the characters that mostly consist of big men with booming voices and guns (that are booming and big). The opening cut-scene is of good quality, but the remaining attempts at story-telling are reduced to concept art with accompanying voice-overs.
That initial analysis may sound harsh, but when the remainder of Dawn of War 2 is considered the story and story-telling techniques do not really matter. The in-game presentation is of a high quality and the perceptive player will constantly have delightful details to pick out, especially from the inventory screen and the in-game battle animations and effects. Paired with some meaty sound effects, the presentation of Dawn of War 2 succeeds in creating a chaotic depiction of brutal futuristic war.
Dawn of War 2 plays as what might initially appear to be a simplistic real-time strategy game. There is no resource collection or base design and at any given time the player only controls a few squads. There is depth to be found however, and a player that wants to succeed at higher difficulty settings will need to effectively position to use cover and learn the nuances of each squad's abilities. This is not always easy to do however, as all the squads look similar and the execution of commands are somewhat tardy for a group of elite space marines. Once the mechanics are mastered, the experience is fluid and enjoyable.
The aspects of Dawn of War 2's game-play that I enjoyed most, however, lied outside its main game-play. Each mission yields armor and experience levels that can be used to enhance the hit points and damage output of squads and grant special abilities. The RPG aspects surrounding the core tactical experience allow the player to customize units to their play style and provide incentive for continued play, even if the story-line fails to do so. The meta-game is nicely rounded off by strategic features, such as optional missions with added time pressure and the ability to secure (and subsequently defend) strategic assets that grant tactical bonuses.
In addition to the main campaign which this review focuses on, Dawn of War 2 offers a multi-player mode and the now near-ubiquitous Horde mode called "Last stand". I did not spend a great deal of time in these modes and this review is not a reflection of them, the value is there to be had however. The game can also be played in co-op, if that is your thing.
Despite the fact that I only tackled it after Starcraft 2 and despite some minor flaws, I enjoyed my time with Dawn of War 2. Considering the lacking story-telling, future incarnations of this franchise should forgo a story-focused RTS campaign and adopt the structure of an MMO. War is constant in the Warhammer 40K universe and a strategic MMO that applies the concepts established in Dawn of War 2, could be something special.