Dawn Of War II Review: Once More, With Tyranids

Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War was a big hit. Relic's next game, Company of Heroes, was even better. So the company's next game, Dawn of War II, will continue the trend, yes?

Sort of.

Fans of Relic's previous two games will be surprised to find that Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War II bears little resemblance to either. Where Dawn of War shot for Warhammer's sense of epic warfare and came up short, this game goes in the opposite direction, forgoing scale for intimacy as you find yourself in command of an army of...eleven men.

Which is tiny. Teeny tiny. Definitely not the sort of thing you expect from a real-time strategy game. Which is lucky, then, because Dawn of War II isn't really a real-time strategy game. Least, not one like you've ever seen before.

Loved
Level Up - You'll only end up commanding between 8-11 men in the game, split over four "squads", and those four squads are led by heroes. Don't think of these heroes as RTS pawns. Think of them as RPG party members. They have names, they never really die, and between missions their attributes can be levelled up to make them more formidable. You'll grow very, very attached to them.

Loot Drop - The RPG similarities continue with loot, which is dropped throughout missions. You'll get better weapons and better armour for killing bad guys, which can then be used in later missions. Because the game is built on such a small scale, these items can actually be seen on your men in battle (oh, look, he's carrying his new Heavy Bolter!), which is a real kick.

Homeless - Unlike previous Relic games, Dawn of War II has no buildings. Your men are dropped into a mission, and that's it. No unit building ,no resource gathering, you don't even need to hold command posts. It's just you, your men and the mission at hand, which is really, really liberating.

Choose Your Own Adventure - Giving RTS players a choice between 1-2 missions is nothing new, but giving you a choice between 2-4 missions on each of 3 planets is. Such choice means if you wake up one day and only want to fight Orks (each enemy army plays a very different game), just fly to a planet with an Ork mission and you're set.

Not One Game, But Two - All this RPG talk of loot and levels applies only to the singleplayer campaign. Multiplayer matches are more like those found in Company of Heroes or Dawn of War, with units to be built, strongholds to be upgraded and command points to be held. This effectively means you're almost getting two games for the price of one.

Rock, Paper, Chainsword - Aside from your "avatar" character, a Space Marine Force Commander, you can only take three of the game's five other squads/heroes into battle with you. And each of these squads have wildly varying strengths and weaknesses, meaning you not only have tough strategic decisions to make when deciding who to take on a mission, but flexible tactical options at your disposal once on it.

Hated
Wash, Rinse, Repeat - Most missions involve you having to fight your way across a map to fight a boss (yes, this game even has boss fights). Actually, 95% of missions have you doing this, and while it's a blast, some more variety would have been nice, especially when the few defensive missions in the game prove to be the game's most enjoyable.

If what you've read above makes the game sound like a rich, creamy Diablo/Warcraft III/Company of Heroes soup, well, that's because that's exactly what it is. One minute you'll be using cover and flanking like Company of Heroes, the next you'll be using special powers to bring down a colossal boss character, the next you'll be collecting loot off its corpse and improving your "party" with it.

Which makes this an amazing game to play. It's like Relic have taken some of the most addictive and endearing elements of both real-time strategy and role-playing genres and smashed them together, the resulting game something that's able to appeal to fans of both genres without alienating either.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War II was developed by Relic and published by THQ for the PC. It was released on February 19, and retails for $50. Played single player campaign to completion, played multiple skirmish battles online. Did not play co-op campaign, which game also features.

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