Game Review: Dawn of War II

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
9.0 of 10
Platform: Windows
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

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I'm not that much into RTS (real-time strategy) games. There are a lot of its aspect that I find a bit boring. Accumulating resources, in particular, just gets in the way of jumping right out of the frying pan and into the action. I just find it irksome and uneventful to look for a heavy resource area in the game, secure it and then harvest it, instead of razing my enemies' base with my army. The same case with constructing bases which seems to be more like fillers than an actual game feature. It's a good thing that game developers like Relic Entertainment are reinventing the mechanics of RTS games.

A Force Commander with his gut-wrenching chainsword.

When Relic came out with Dawn of War, 5 years ago, the game was so revolutionary to me. For the most part, it is still comparable to Warcraft or Command & Conquer games. The only thing that separates it from other RTS is its method of accumulating resources. Instead of harvesting food or mining gold, Relic replaced it with point locations -currency generating areas- that players need to capture and hold. Now, Relic returns with a new game, Dawn of War II. This time they pushed the envelope even further by taking out all the unnecessary elements that hampers the fun in RTS games.

Like most RTS games, Dawn of War II is divided into two modes: The multiplayer and the campaign. Unlike most RTS, however, Relic has stripped Dawn of War II of features that might put off a lot of traditional RTS aficionados. Base construction, to my delight, doesn't exist here. You start with one base (with two turrets in multiplayer) on every game. That's it. You don't have to trouble yourself constructing other buildings and a second base anymore. There are also fewer unit choices and less upgrades in this game. All you really need to worry about is how to outmaneuver your enemies.

A rumble in the jungle: Space Marines vs. Tyranids.

I usually don't play multiplayer games but Dawn of War II has goaded me in with its fast paced action. In Dawn of War II, you get to choose from four different races (Space Marines, Eldar, Orks and Tyranids), each with their own unique units and play style. Like with most RTS nowadays, you also get to choose a hero (or commander). All races have three different types of hero with abilties ranging from offensive, defensive, stealth and support. Then, you can either play one on one or a team battle. But if your skills aren't that sharp to handle the big boys, you can always practice on an AI opponent to toughen up.

There are two ways of winning a multiplayer game in Dawn of War II: Annihilation and Victory Points. Annihilation, as much as menacing as it sounds, is actually boring because its too slow. Since the nodes (currency generating points) in the game can be easily taken and lost, the balance of power constantly shifts between you and your opponent. So it's really hard to amass an army large enough to assault an enemy base. Victory point control, however, is much more fun. You (or your team) just need to capture all Victory Points and hold it until the opposing player (or team) run out of points.

One of the campaign's mission maps.

As much as I love the multiplayer, it was the campaign that made me fall in love with this game. The campaign's gameplay is actually a squad tactical RPG (similar to Freedom Force) rather than a RTS. You control a squad of four consisting a Force Commander and another three units of your choosing (Scout, Dreadnought or 3 types of Space Marines). Just like in a RPG, all squad members gain levels and can equip wargears -which are gained either as a reward or dropped by an enemy. Once your squad is ready, you can choose your mission in the planetary map.

Graphically, Dawn of War II isn't a bad looking game. There are tons of eye candy in here, from the glint coming off from the golden shoulder pads of your Space Marines to the billowing dust clouds following your Dreadnought's wake. The effort spent in the details of this game is as meticulous as one would paint a miniature figure. Speaking of miniature figures, in homage to the Warhammer 40K table-top version, Relic also included an Army Painter in this game. Not really important but it's a nice feature nonetheless. The only thing I didn't like about the visuals is the lack of in-game cinematic and cut scenes.

Paint your armies with the army painter. There are lots of color options, from dried blood to bone grey.

The sounds are also as impressive as the graphics. I love the voice acting in this game because, due to the lack of cinematic, it really captured the fanatical and combat hardened nature of the Space Marines. I especially love hearing Cyrus and Avitus. In fact, one of the reasons that kept me playing is because I wanted to hear them talk. The sound effects, however, outshines (or should I say drowns) the voice acting. From the buzz of the chainsword to the hum coming off the Razorback, the effects are gloriously loud and made me love my new set speakers even more.

Relic outdid themselves this time. I only bought Dawn of War II thinking that it will be more of the same. But what I actually got is an entirely different game, not only to its predecessor but to the entire RTS catalog. The lack of base building here, both in multiplayer and campaign, excited me to no ends because it puts you right into action. The campaign, tweaked into a squad tactical RPG, also offers a different experience from the multiplayer feature. I know that a lot of the changes here will make most die hard RTS fans unhappy. But I say, RTS fan or not, this is a pretty awesome game and every gamer should try it.

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