The Dawn of War games have built a loyal following among real-time strategy (RTS) players since the first title was released in 2004. Their emphasis on combat over resource collection treated fans to some of the fiercest battles in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. With the futuristic sci-fi setting and devoted audience that it’s attracted, I've wanted to get in and see for myself what it's all about. Granted, I’m a few installments late, but I am just in time for Relic’s newest standalone expansion, Dawn of War II – Retribution.
Those new to the series, like me, are placed in the middle of the fight between the Space Marines and several opposing factions. Unlike the core game and previous 'Chaos Rising' expansion, Retribution offers up six different campaigns: the Space Marines, the Tyrannids, the Chaos, the Orks, the Eldar, and the Imperial Guard. Each offers a different narrative and provides a new perspective into the overarching war.
I started off with the newest race to be introduced to the series, the Imperial Guard. The Imperial Guard is a group of human warriors, who overwhelm opponents with sheer numbers, firepower, and strategic warfare. General Castor leads the several different infantry types that make up the Imperial Guard. Much of their campaign consisted of running through large, open areas and completing various objectives. These objectives often consisted of taking out large waves of enemies and capturing strategic control points, before taking down a hulking boss character to end the level.
Fights would often be won easily, especially once I called in troops from forward bases and equipped them with beefed-up weapons, like flamethrowers. Having previously spent a good amount of time on Company of Heroes, Relic’s other acclaimed World War II themed RTS series, understanding the Imperial Guard’s playing style was simple. The idea was to push forward, suppress approaching enemies, and call in reinforcements when needed. Since the two games play similarly, I instinctively knew what to do when vehicles, like tanks, were introduced in later levels.
Completing each level grants a reward of experience and a selectable bonus. Some of the choices included an extra commander, spruced-up weaponry, or stronger soldiers. More experienced players will know which selection best suits their needs, but rookies will likely just pick whatever sounds best. Considering that some of these end-of-level choices include unique weaponry and units, it’s a great reason to play through many of the campaigns a second time around for a whole new experience.
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The other races had their own unique styles, but felt similar enough overall that I was able to get the hang of them. Series veterans may lose patience with the early levels, as they’re heavy on tutorial content and, with six campaigns to cover, can total over an hour with the training wheels on. I didn’t feel that the heavy tutorial content took away from the game, considering how chaotic the later levels become. Each campaign lasts several hours and the experience can be extended by playing through optional missions that are unlocked as the campaign progresses. Those looking to play through the campaigns with a friend can do so as well; the game includes support for online co-op.
Of course, as much as Relic goes out of its way to make newer players feel at home during the Campaign mode, there’s not much that can be done to help new players through multiplayer. If you’re new to the Dawn of War series, tread into multiplayer if you dare. Thanks to Steam, connecting to multiplayer matches was a quick and painless process. The hurt came once the game started, as I found myself quickly overwhelmed and crushed like a bug, regardless of whether I played with Space Marines, Orks, or any of the other races. Long-time DoW fans will enjoy matching wits against one another in different types of skirmish modes, such as Victory Point and Annihilation. Newer players looking to stay away from aficionados do have the option of playing against the CPU to practice their skills before properly stepping into the online arena.
Relic has always understood that the key to drawing in new fans is through a great story and a user-friendly interface. Dawn of War II – Retribution offers both and will allow new fans and veteran players an equal opportunity to jump into the action. If you’re an RTS fan, there’s really no topping the Dawn of War series. And with its generous $29.99 price tag, Retribution makes a good opportunity to get into the battle for those who've watching from the sidelines as well.