Dawn of War II is here, and considering the pedigree of the developers, real time strategy fans should sit up and take notice. This is the latest RTS from the guys who brought us the original Dawn of War, its numerous expansion packs, and the critically acclaimed Company of Heroes. So does their latest game stand up to what came before?
The answer to that is yes – with a couple of small exceptions. It certainly polishes things up, adds in some nicely progressive features that keep the RTS formula from feeling too stale, and generally provides a lot of fun and satisfaction when you get a hang of its concepts. However, it also has a few puzzling missteps or omissions that keep it from being utterly definitive.
The campaign is where most people will start, and it swings a bit wildly from boring to exciting. At its best, controlling a small number of specialized troops searching for a lost item/building/boss character is really fun. While it’s small in scale, the developers have packed in a lot of special abilities and so forth that keep your options open.
The campaign is lengthy, spanning several planets and a large number of territories. You’ll be fighting against Orks, Eldar, and another mysterious force that really isn’t all that mysterious. The Tyranids are the major threat of the story, which itself is long, clichéd, and generally poorly voice acted. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but I’ve never been gripped by any RTS storyline. Still, it does what it should do, and provides a good setup for varying mission types.
But what’s most strange about the campaign mode is how it’s really quite different to skirmishes and multiplayer games. You won’t be building bases or commanding masses of troops – in fact, a lot of the ‘strategy’ part of the campaign is missing. That’s not to say it’s not fun, but it does contribute to a giant disconnect between the multiplayer modes. It doesn’t help that there isn’t an actual tutorial for the multiplayer side of things – you’ll just need to figure those things out on your own, hopefully against an easy AI opponent or a kind human player.
If you are new to these games, do take the time to learn about the multiplayer – this is where it really shines. Once you’ve got your head around what needs to be done, the back-and-forth nature of these battles are very satisfying. You need to capture various strategic points to gain more resources – but these points will also win you the game. You and your opponents all have a certain number of points available at the start. If they start capturing more places than you, your points will drain. If you have more than them, however, they’ll eventually lose. It’s good fun, especially when played with a few friends.
The graphics and sounds are both highly polished. If you have a good PC, you’ll be treated to some of the better graphics in the RTS genre, with a satisfying amount of detail, explosions, and scenery. The audio – apart from the campaign voice acting – is equally well done, whether you’re listening to the stirring music or hearing Orks get slaughtered by your heavy machine gunners.
Overall, I got the feeling that this is just one small chunk of what’s to come. Much like how the original Dawn of War got awesomely fleshed out with its myriad expansions, I expect to see the DoW II universe become much richer as time goes on. No doubt we’ll get to play campaigns as the Eldar, Orks, and whoever else, and more multiplayer maps and modes will be added.
But this review is about what’s available now. As its stands, you’ll get a good number of gameplay hours out of this – just remember that if you have limited time, you’ll get more out of the multiplayer side of things. This is recommended for fans of the series, or RTS nuts looking for the latest fix, but for more casual, curious folk, I reckon it could be worth waiting for the first expansion pack.