Reviews: Dawn Of War

Retribution: What I Wish Had Been

I did like Retribution. I want to clear that up right away. I was happy with the finished product overall, except for one thing: the campaigns.

My problem with Retribution's campaigns is that all six are fundamentally the same, right down to the same maps. It felt like to fit six campaigns in, they had to remove a lot of the depth of previous instalments, right down to the removal of the Karma Meter which made Chaos Rising so interesting and a great simplification of the RPG element to the squads levelling. The hero units in Retribution also feel less epic than the squads did. They're generally less developed, with a few exceptions (chief among them being Diomedes). The thing is, I imagine this was done because Chaos Rising's multiple endings made them feel they were forced to reset things to allow players to imagine what they like happened (this is likely why the Force Commander's absence aligns with every ending except perhaps the Pure Ending).

What I wish they'd done was brought back the Force Commander, perhaps reintroducing him after a period of Kyras-induced exile when Gabriel Angelos sends his signal to oppose Kyras. Allow players to import saved campaigns from vanilla and Chaos Rising (a feature I liked for its Mass Effect-like continuity, albeit a shallower version of that series' take). Bump the level cap to 40, or hell, 41, introducing new skills as appropriate, remove whichever squad was the traitor in your Chaos Rising playthrough (default to Avitus if playing just Retribution) and replace the traitor with Martellus (unless you did pure in Rising). Maybe even retain Rising's Karma Meter and the ability to use Chaos skills to add more depth to the campaign.

I just feel like for the players who were really invested in the series and the campaigns, it would have been so much more satisfying if they were able to bring in their Force Commander once more and have him be the one who defeats Kyras, bringing the series to a close with the protagonist who opened it. You could even keep Gabriel becoming Chapter Master and have the Force Commander become some appropriate position.

Great gameplay; terrible story

Having not partaken in anything involving the Warhammer 40,000 brand before this series, I went in with no real expectations. I knew it was a completely outlandish series, but that's about it. After playing the first game and two expansions, I can't say I care to buy anything else.

Don't get me wrong: the gameplay itself is great. It has good control, a good escalation rate, great variety, the battles flow well, and there is a real feeling of tactical importance in your actions. The first game and expansion have some balance issues, but Dark Crusade irons those out pretty well. I can see it being a tournament mainstay, complete with new approaches being developed every day for all factions. Once my burnout fades, I'll probably play it more.

No, my issue is with the plot. The games throw completely jumbled, tossed together at the last minute stories that go nowhere real fast and hold no suspense whatsoever. The first game talks a lot about a warp storm; it stopped mattering the sixth time they said it. It's not going to do anything. False verisimilitude like that drenches the series and I found it hard to care what happened to the paper-thin, unrelatable characters.

It didn't take long before I realized the story is just an excuse to market the brand. Contrive a reason to cram in as many factions with as many units and catch phrases as possible. A writer didn't make this; a marketing executive did.

Beyond the game's shallow depiction of its source, the setting itself is just utterly outlandish beyond anything resembling suspension of disbelief. It doesn't even really feel like a plausible course of history so much as a tall tale contest between hardcore space opera fans. "Oh, yeah? Well, my setting has chainsaw fists!" I kept wondering if people are meant to take this seriously, but judging by the obsession over what must be six encyclopedias worth of canon, they obviously do.

I do have to give credit where it's due: the Orks (and, to a lesser extent, the oxymoronic Legions of Chaos Undivided) are very entertaining, but that might be because they feel like parodies of themselves. Nobody can write "We will deliver PURE EVIL into the heart of the battle!" and honestly mean it. If Games Workshop ever does a pure parody piece of their own franchise, I'll be the first in line to buy it.

Retribution: A great finish to the DoW II series

Let's get this out of the way: I love Dawn of War, but I found Dawn of War II to be a much funner, faster-paced game. Chaos Rising made things even better, with an incredibly good story campaign, the awesome return of Chaos, and one of the best uses of a Karma Meter I've ever seen. While Retribution cannot quite match the prior expansion's level of quality, it is nonetheless an excellent RTS, and well worth your time even if you're new to Dawn of War II.

First, you have a new army: the Imperial Guard. Gone are the bottom-tier, low-morale, late-game bloomers of the first series. This IG has apparently soaked up some of the new codex, because they're now a far more viable force. They're still squishy as all heck, suppress easily, and don't get their really good units until the third tier, but now their lesser units can deal and take more damage, you have a better selection of units and powers, and you don't need to keep pumping out leaders to keep them alive.

The campaign begins ten years after Chaos Rising. The various xenos invasions, the return of Chaos Space Marines, and the apparent treachery of the Blood Ravens' Chapter Master has forced the Inquisition to mark the entire sector for Exterminatus. Each of the six armies has its own story, but unfortunately, play through the same maps, with at most only slight variations between each. The changed narrative helps take some of the strain, however, and the maps are designed well enough to support multiple plays.

Multiplayer comes in two varieties. The main mode is based around capturing strategic points around a map, defending them from the other player(s) while slowly draining their victory points. There is almost no base building, save for building power nodes and generators and updating your HQ. Instead, the emphasis is on pumping out lots of units quickly, upgrading as soon as possible, and pimping out your commander. I have yet to try "The Last Stand," but it's more or less a multiplayer survival mode, and is one of the more popular online modes.

All in all, if you like Dawn of War II, this game is a definite buy. If you're new to the series, it's a good starting point.