Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Review
I really enjoyed the original Dawn of War game and its numerous expansions. Part of it was due to the game's setting in the Warhammer 40K universe – how could you not get excited by orcs (known as the Orks in Warhammer 40K) and Chaos demons battling it out with Space Marines across the galaxy? A big part of it though was that Dawn of War featured some very well-refined real-time strategy gameplay. A combination of innovative features and a refinement of the real-time strategy gameplay model that has evolved over the past fifteen years worked to make Dawn of War a joy to play for fans of the genre. If you played Dawn of War then you'll know what I mean, and you'll be just as surprised as me to find that most of those gameplay innovations and refinements have been tossed out the window in Dawn of War. In fact, Dawn of War 2 eschews many of the gameplay features associated with real-time strategy games. There's no base-building, no resource nodes, no unit generation, no tech tree, ... and the list goes on. Dawn of War 2 could more accurately be called a real-time tactical RPG than a real-time strategy game. At first, this change may sound like sacrilege to Dawn of War fans, but that shouldn't scare them away from Dawn of War 2 because this game is a lot of fun in its own right.
The gameplay in Dawn of War II is squad-focused. You have a small number of squad leaders at your disposal, each with his own specialty such as stealth, melee, or ranged fire. Before each mission you can select which squad leaders to deploy, but once the mission begins you won't be able to make any changes or call in additional squads. The two or three soldiers that fill out a squad can be replaced at strategic supply points that you control if they're killed in combat, through. Fallen squad leaders can also be revived on the battlefield by another squad leader, so you're never really out of the fight until your final squad leader falls.
Since you must complete each mission with the squads and equipment you select before deployment, you may think that selecting which squads to deploy is critical to success in the mission. In some ways it is, but only so far as requiring you to use the proper tactics with the squads you choose to deploy. You won't get very far using your scout squad as melee shock troops. It's in this proper use of tactics in which Dawn of War II stays true to its real-time strategy roots. Although on the surface the gameplay may resemble that of an action-RPG, you can't simply brute force point-and-click your way through the battles. The scout unit can sneak up on an enemy position to soften up their defenses by placing a charge on a garrisoned structure. The heavy weapons squad can dig in behind cover and suppress enemy units at a distance, and then the melee squad can jump in and decimate the leftovers. It's very satisfying to execute a plan of attack to perfection and wipe out an enemy force with lightning-like precision.
The game's missions generally fall into three categories: defense of an asset, capture and hold, and an assault that leads to a confrontation with a boss enemy. This last category is the one that will have you feeling the most like you're playing an action RPG, especially with defeated enemies dropping loot on occasion, although the need to continually think about applying sound squad tactics to each fight will prevent you from having more than an occasional fleeting feeling that you're playing Diablo in space. There's certainly a strong similarity between the missions, but I never really found the game to be repetitive. The variety comes from the skirmishes in the mission – each one is a bit different and requires you to think on your feet while determining the best way to utilize your squads in each firefight.