It has been 10 years since Blizzard Entertainment took the real-time-strategy genre by storm with Starcraft. Many games have attempted to take over as the de-facto RTS game but none have been able to top the mammoth that Starcraft is. However one game did come very close to knocking it off its perch and that was Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Dawn of War was very well received and a sequel was all but assured but that was five years ago and Starcraft II looms on the horizon. While Blizzard tinkers with the settings and story for its massive three game project for Starcraft II, developer Relic Entertainment has seized the opportunity to beat Starcraft to the punch and delivered Dawn of War II. What many believed might be the next best game in the RTS genre.
Role play elements
For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer 40,000 story there are four key factions: the humans, the Orks, the Eldar and the Tyranids. The humans are set up as the heroes of the story as they try to advance their society into the further reaches of space. Players will control the human faction for the duration of the single player campaign although the Orks and Eldar are playable in the multiplayer modes. Unlike most RTS games though, Dawn of War II's campaign forgoes base building and resource management completely.
In fact, even calling Dawn of War II an RTS is a little misleading. Whereas the original Dawn of War simplified some aspects of the RTS genre, Dawn of War II obliterates them. This game plays nothing like a traditional RTS, instead handling more like a space marine themed Diablo with squad control. The game does still require some tactical strategy but everything is on a more local level than ever before. When I compared the game to Diablo I wasn't joking. The game has a host of simple role-playing elements and each unit leader can be upgraded with better equipment, abilities and statistics as the game moves on over the course of its 20 hour campaign.
There are a few different unit types, like a scout who has the ability to slip into enemy territory undetected and is proficient with sniper rifles or heavy duty unit who lays down suppressing fire and carries frag grenades, and learning how to use them properly and using them consistently is a key to victory.
Almost every mission has players starting at point A and moving to point B to defeat a boss enemy. Sometimes this formula is changed up to include defense missions or tactical scouting that help advance the story but for the most part the game sticks to the A to B format. Unless you are a die hard base builder though, these changes are welcome, if a little drastic. It makes for something fresh in a relatively stagnant genre.
If you do happen to be a hardcore base builder though, the multiplayer suite may appease you somewhat. Multiplayer play is generally more traditional, with bases having to be defended and units having to be built. It never gets anywhere close to the days of early Warcraft where peon farms were often times used as base walls but it is more traditional than the single player gameplay. Multiplayer can be fast and furious and for those that came into the genre with this game quite difficult. Like anything though the more you play the better you will get.
Visuals and sound
From a graphics standpoint, Dawn of War II looks nice. It certainly isn't going to stress your system a whole lot but it looks good and runs fast, something that a game of this type needs to do consistently. If there is a complaint about the graphical look of the game it is that many of the levels are drenched in the same brown and red color pallets which can make the game look very similar over the course of the 20 hour story.
The story itself is fairly well told, mostly through in game conversations but sometimes through fully rendered cinematics. The biggest knock on the story is the over-the-top voice acting. Characters sound like they belong in a He-Man cartoon yet they are talking of religious wars and tactical strategies, it never really flows or is believable. It is however quite entertaining and over the course of the lengthy campaign that is definitely a good thing.
Dawn of War II is not the game that many people were expecting. It is not going to replace Starcraft as the king of RTS games as it mostly sets out on a new path of its own. That said, Dawn of War II is still a fantastic game in its own right and should be given a chance by any RTS fan looking for a new challenge.
Streamlined gameplay focusing more on squad tactics than micro-management.
Core RTS Sfans will be disappointed by the changes that have been made.