Dawn of War II Review
A very well made and rather unique RTS with fantastic competitive multiplayer which makes up for a forgettable and repetitive single player campaign
It seems that Relic Entertainment have figured out that there is no real strategy in building bigger and bigger armies, then throwing them against other huge armies in a ongoing battle of attrition, so with their latest games, Company of Heroes + Expansion packs and Dawn of War II, you control a very small number of squads with distinct roles and pronounced rock-paper-scissor purposes. This is even more apparent in DOWII, where there is no base building, and you are forced to use just a few squads in the Single player campaign and in multiplayer games. The strength and mainstay element of DOWII is clearly in the Multiplayer, although there is a lengthy and relatively fun albeit repetitive singe player campaign which I will talk about first.
Relic decided to totally revamp RTS conventions with the single player campaign; it plays more like an action RPG because you have a set number of squads for each mission, and you can level them up and upgrade their equipment separately. Your squads cannot die, they only get knocked unconscious, after which you must revive them using another squad. Each squad has distinct roles, such as breaking defensive formations, suppressing enemies, sneaking around and flanking enemies, etc. You will need to play each squad to its strength to be successful at the game, if you just click on your units and tell them to kill enemy units, you will fail; yes, this means that unit control is very micro-management intense. The single player campaign is a good length, but will start to get repetitive seeing as how all of the missions occur on a handful of maps on three planets, creating a kind of pseudo freedom in which you can choose which order to do missions in.
Unfortunately, the missions themselves are generally bland and uninteresting. Objectives are usually just ‘go and destroy x buildings and kill z boss.’ You are told in cheesy between-mission dialogues that doing so will ‘strike a huge blow against the enemy,’ but other than that there is no real story-driven incentive to be completing these missions. The only thing that makes them interesting is the excellent tactical combat, which is very engaging and usually very fun. There is the odd mission that is much more exciting, such as one in which you must defend an important location against waves of incoming enemy troops, or one where you must try and open a gate while being attacked by huge numbers of enemies. Sadly, these missions are few and far between, and the lack of a mid-mission save function means even the longest of missions usually won’t crack 15 minutes; gone are the epic 2 hour battles that were found in Company of Heroes. The single player portion of the game is worth playing, even if it’s only to get used to the game mechanics for the multiplayer.
The multiplayer is definitely the meat of the Dawn of War II, and will not disappoint those after intense and frequent action. The game is rather difficult to get into; I lost the first several games I played, but was impressed by the community as they would help me out and give me tips during and after matches. Once you are used to it, and have found a favourite race to play as (there are four: The space marines, which you play as during the single player campaign, the Tyranids, the Eldar, and the Orks), the multiplayer is simply fantastic, and can be very addicting. Unfortunately, there are a few problems; the matchmaking system, which will supposedly find fair matches and even teams, can be really wonky at times, pitting a team of new players against seasoned veterans, creating some rather unspectacular single-sided battles. There is also only one real game mode, in which you fight for three control points, or "Victory Points," which are scattered throughout the map; if you gain control over the majority of the points and hold them, your team will eventually win.
You will also have to collect resources to build new units and upgrade your single base building from which all your units will come from. There are only two different resource types you will need; power and requisition. In many games where the two teams are evenly matched, the battles for resources often become more important than those for victory points, since a large amount of power is required to upgrade units and the one base. In many matches, the team that can put out the first armour will often gain the upper hand, so the race to get a ton of power on will lead to some of the most frantic and intense battles the game has to offer. The multiplayer is excellent, and Relic's continuous support means that Dawn of War II will be a mainstay RTS multiplayer game for a long time to come.
Now I will talk about the technical aspects of the game; visually the game looks similar to Company of Heroes, but the engine has seen a few upgrades since its last outing on the battlefields of World War II. It looks really good overall and the fully destructible environments add a whole new layer to the tactics you use, especially later in matches when you will gain access to some pretty crazy weapons. Special effects and landscapes look particularly impressive in the game, with environments being varied and usually very interesting, ranging from desolate desert planets to lush jungle environments. The sound is also very good, and the voices work well with the game, with the exception being the voice acting in the single player campaign where you see your commander talking in the top left corner of the screen. The musical score is tense and foreboding, and works well with the game design.
Overall Dawn of War II is an excellent RTS, although it will disappoint traditional RTS fans in that there is no base building, and you are unable to amass huge armies. To win a game online, you actually need to use strategy and tactics, which is refreshing compared to many RTS games currently on the market. Anyone who loved Company of Heroes, or enjoys the action and strategy in an RTS, should definitely check this game out, although it should be known that it is in no way a traditional RTS.