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Wednesday | September 26, 2018
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Warhammer: Dawn of War II (PC)

Warhammer: Dawn of War II (PC)


Warhammer: Dawn Of War was a hugely successful real time strategy game and developer Relic have been hard at work on the much awaited sequel which is due for release in a couple of days time. There are some key changes set to breathe life into the franchise and today we will find out if it has been worth the wait.

Relic have broken with tradition and you no longer have to build bases to complete the objectives. They have adopted aspects of role playing titles in which you control squads who are able to move from mission to mission and grow and evolve while keeping their equipment and skill sets from previous battles. They have also lifted the cover elements and destructive environments from Company Of Heroes and the capture point mechanic for resource acquisition is also in place.

The game is divided into campaign mode and skirmish mode, both of which feature a fully fledged multiplayer system. With the campaign setting Relic give the player the option to play cooperatively with two players able to mount attacks on the enemy although it is only the host player who reaps the persistent based rewards. In Skirmish mode players participate in 1V1 or 3V3 games online with others or against computer AI controlled opponents of various difficulty levels using Eldar, Space Marine, Ork and Tyranid units.

In campaign mode you play solely as the Space Marines and the omission of base building is something easily noticed. Instead of constructing a linear mission to mission campaign the developers have opted for a regigged version of the persistent campaign map that showed up in the Dark Crusade and Soulstorm expansions to Dawn Of War. This time there is a far stronger storyline blended into the action. As a newly promoted Force Commander for the Blood Ravens chapter of the Space Marines (genetically modified soldiers with superhuman abilities) you battle all the other races to save your home planet.

Your center of operations is onboard the Starship Armageddon and you only ever amass six squads throughout the campaign. You also never build a unit generating structure either and you only capture relays and buildings to reinforce squads and get other bonuses. Its up to you which four squads to bring into the given missions as well as how you want them equipped. Unlike real time strategy games from the past where units have specific functions with a couple of ways to change them via research Dawn Of War II lets you gradually collect a plethora of equipment throughout the campaign that considerably alters the combat mechanic. These are either collected as rewards after completing missions or are dropped from enemies in battle the equipment consists of power axes, bolt units, chainswords, armor and various bombs to destroy vehicles and buildings.

Once a mission is completed you can adjust your load outs so you can alter your system of attack in the forthcoming battle. Tired of long range combat? then equip some of your units with power swords for up close and personal style combat. With items such as teleporters, Terminator armor and Thunder Hammer’s and Storm Shields you can see how much variety is possible for melee combat. The teleporter is a great way to escape from dangerous situations and is one of the most desirable units to bring into battle. Orbital strikes in combination with a teleporter are a great combat tactic, as you your heavily armored melee unit can walk into the fray of battle, call for an orbital attack then teleport to safety to watch the ensuing carnage.

Individuals now have abilities which can be enhanced by investing points into the squads as they level up. Points are earned by capturing structures, killing enemies, completing assignments and after levelling up skill points are allocated to that unit to be distributed however you like however with the unit’s progress capped to level 20 you can’t just max every skill bar to the limit. This means you can specialise specific ways of attack to key units and ignore unwanted attributes. As these points are added to the skill bars new abilities get unlocked as the overall category is strengthened which is quite reminiscent of the Mass Effect mechanic. This objectively means that there will be certain abilities you never see until you replay the game.

So by now it is clear that Relic have taken certain aspects of the RTS genre and flipped them on their head and this would be something you would expect more from a Diablo style game not an RTS. Surprisingly however the whole mechanic works very well and it makes for a more immersive style of game as you simply can’t rebuild killed units at the click of a mouse button. You get a stronger connection to the units and as they move from mission to mission, it is possible to have units from days ago still alive and earning more points.

From the starship you move between three planets selecting missions of importance or side missions to make a diversion from the main storyline. It is a diverse and capable system which allows for wins and losses and if all your squads die then a mission is closed off forever. If you are successful however then each mission offers a reward and after each performance you are rated on the number of enemies you have destroyed and how many of your squads survived without requiring a revive … you are also rated on the speed the tasks were accomplished. The tactics are strong and the pacing is solid, which means that most of the levels last around 15-25 minutes. Playing on harder difficulty settings means extra care is needed and slower progress will be required to stay alive.

The main missions are strong and are very tightly connection to the story, however the side missions are a little repetitive and generally stick to the same set of goals and mechanics. It won’t be something you notice in the first few hours of gameplay but after a while you being to realize that the same style of boss keeps reappearing and that you are sure you defended the same building before. That said, they are all pretty short so you are never tied for hours into replaying something that ends up rather mundane.

The game offers multiple difficulty levels and the ability to grind in side missions to try and acquire better equipment and the campaign offers a good 30-40 gameplay hours if you make the most from it. After you beat this then you can enter into the Skirmish mode which is a lot of fun. In this mode the three other races are opened up including the Tyranids for the first time. With these extra factions there are a whole new array of tactic options opened to the player and it adds a considerable amount of re-playability to the end user.

If you add to this three selectable heroes for each race, each with individual skills and the ability to level up and be equipped with performance improving items then you can begin to see that there is a lot of depth involved with tactical decisions. In skirmishes you have one base structure but it exists from the beginning of the level. A few units however are able to construct defensive and reinforcement structures of their own but the majority of success in battle is being able to quickly move out into maps and capture resource points to feed unit production. This is a great mechanic to ensure that people don’t turtle, build up base defenses and avoid attacking for as long as possible. You can be almost assured that within a few minutes of starting a level that combat will occur on some level or another. If you combine this with the low population cap and limited number of troops available it means that every troop on the field is very valuable.

There are seven maps included with the game, three 1V1 and four 3V3 and the environments are smaller compared to previous titles which lend themselves to fluid battles. While a few of these maps do facilitate structures and routes that players need to follow there are rarely hard and fast choke points. If there are issues there are normally two or three ways to reach a specific destination which means that tying down a location to be safe and secure is a hard thing to achieve. Games are therefore open ended by nature and in a constant state of flux in regards to owning the control points. Company of Heroes has a similar system and as Dawn II is using the same basic system this is to be expected.

I mentioned earlier the destructible environments and this plays an integral part of the game strategy because buildings and cover positions can be destroyed and larger objects can be broken into pieces by explosives and vehicle collisions. You are therefore never able to permanently hold a position regardless of how strong it is initially as everything can be destroyed over time with enough firepower and explosives.

The levels of violence and gore are high and just like before there are bits and pieces of flesh and giblets erupting from injured bodies. Units can explode into pieces if hit with hammers and there are plenty of death sequences to emphasize the darker side of battle.

Graphically the game is impressive with high levels of detail on all the characters and the animations are very smooth and effective with larger creatures moving realistically with slower animations. The sound effects are also spot on with great ambient clashes and booms depicting the various weapons and explosives.

The presentation levels are also high and the narration is another strong point with a focused, solid storyline paving the way. The interface is intuitive and proved no issues during our testing with everything laid out in an easy to access manner. The game even automatically assigns hotkeys to your units as they are produced during skirmishes which also helps usability. As these campaigns progress you are scored on overall performance which means that people will replay to beat their own results. Leaderboards, race statistics and a custom army painter are also included which adds a certain customization to the online play.

Bugs are sometimes apparent but they are not in abundance. We noticed some glitching with units firing through solid objects from time to time and a few who should have been killed by an attack who walked through unscathed, but in the overall scheme of things these issues were small. For online play however this game uses Microsofts Game for Windows – Live, which means you need to sign up for a free account. The title also features achievement points which might appeal to some Xbox 360 gamers.

Relic have managed to create a game which breaks from tradition with a standard RTS game and brings some fresh and interesting ideas into the mix. The elimination of base building ensures a fast paced and dramatic game mechanic but equally so this might alienate a large portion of the fan base who enjoy that aspect of an RTS title. I know that even though I adapted to the new system pretty quickly that at times I missed building fortifications and defenses to survive an enemy onslaught. Combining elements of an action RPG has been a stroke of genius however and I think this game will appeal to many followers of games such as Diablo. As an overall product however it does bear serious consideration to any strategic gamer.




Great singleplayer campaign and some solid online gaming action as well.
Smooth animations and the engine runs well on a variety of hardware.
Voice acting is a little weak but there are some strong ambient effects.
Very replayable both online and offline.

A solid package which has changed the RTS genre in many ways for the better. I still miss building bases however.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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