When you buy Relic’s “Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II,” it almost feels like you’re getting two games for the price of one.
On one hand you have an intense, action-packed and very RPG-feeling strategy campaign for one or two players. On the other hand, you have a slightly more traditional real-time strategy game experience that’s a multiplayer blast for up to six players.
Let’s back up a bit. For the uninitiated, “Warhammer” began as a table-top fantasy war game way back in 1983. Since, it has been the subject of many video game adaptations – most recently, “Warhammer Online,” challenging “World of Warcraft” in the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG space.
In 1987, Games Workshop released “Warhammer 40,000,” a science fiction spin-off. The 40k series has since taken a life of its own, and like “Warhammer” proper, has seen its share of video game adaptations.
The biggest of these games would probably be “Dawn of War,” which was released on the PC in 2005. Despite doing several new things as well as being an extremely polished and entertaining game, it felt quite a bit like other games in its genre – namely Blizzard’s “Warcraft III.”
The sequel, “Dawn of War II,” changes that.
The quality hasn’t been changed, that’s for sure. “Dawn of War II” has just as high production values as its predecessor. But the gameplay isn’t much like the original’s at all – and depending on whether you’re playing alone or online, the gameplay is more different still.
Let’s start with the campaign:
“Dawn of War II” doesn’t make you fret about base-building or resources. You don’t have to worry about trading gold for wood or “teching up” to heavy tanks and the advanced power plant.
Instead, “Dawn of War II” says, “Here are some badass units. Go.”
The key is that these units are mostly squad commanders, making one unit really be three or four. More importantly, though, is that these units level up – much like in an RPG.
As you mow down hundreds of enemy units on the battlefield, you gain experience points to level up your squads however you see fit. Each level you earn gives you points with which to upgrade melee power, health, ranged power, etc.
Your units will also collect “war gear,” which is new equipment that upgrades your stats.
All of this combines to make you feel almost as if you’re controlling several “Diablo” characters at a time rather than playing an RTS. The “strategy” in real-time strategy plays a much lighter role here than you might expect.
However, the results from this more RPG-like gameplay make for a campaign that’s a blast to play.
You can also tackle the entire campaign in cooperative mode online with a friend, which should be a major draw for some.
The campaign has its setbacks, however.
For one, the only race you play as is the Space Marines, leaving the stories of the Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids untold. It would have been interesting to see campaigns from their point of view. Hopefully this might be fixed via expansion packs.
Furthermore, bits of the campaign feel like a missed opportunity. The game often gives a strong impression of non-linear, strategic mission selection. But the end result is unfortunately traditional and fairly linear.
Multiplayer is an entirely different beast.
Here, all of the races in the game are playable, so fans of the green-skinned Orks can rejoice.
There’s still no base-building, but you do manage some resources in order to pump units out of your single base structure. There’s more freedom (and a great deal more strategy involved) here with unit selection.
There are only seven maps currently, but they are well-designed and well-sized for the one-on-one or three-vs-three matches you will be playing.
As expected, these multiplayer skirmishes are best played online, but the AI in the game is also an enjoyable enemy if you’re somehow without an internet connection.
While the single-player portion of the game is fantastic, it’s likely this multiplayer component that will keep you coming back.
With both sides of the game combined, “Dawn of War II” is a fantastic game that strategy fans should highly consider picking up, and that action-RPG fans might want to at least consider.
“Dawn of War II” is available now on the PC, either as a retail box or downloadable through Steam.