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Dawn of War 2 Beta Preview

Dawn of War 2 Beta

Platform: PC exclusive
Publisher: THQ
Expected Release: February 2009

It’s been over four years (yes, it’s really been that long) since Relic Entertainment’s Dawn of War came along and really gave the real-time strategy genre a good shaking up. Gone were the tedious resource harvesting and throw-away units, replaced by a system that made players capture territory for resources, discouraged “turtling” defensive gameplay and made commanders start to value individual units.

The fresh approach to a genre that had arguably begun to stagnate following years of Command and Conquer clones, combined with the rich and gloriously violent setting of Games Workshop’s iconic Warhammer: 40,000 universe resulted in a gloriously fun mix of Bolters, Chain-swords and twenty foot high chaos Daemons. The series has since been followed by a truckload of expansion packs (both good and not so good) which have expanded the game to a mind boggling eight playable races.

Dawn of War 2 Beta Preview

Now, finally, it’s time for a proper full-blooded sequel, and unsurprisingly the guys and girls at Relic haven’t rested on their laurels. Over the last few years they’ve refined and polished Dawn of War’s gameplay style with the sublime Company of Heroes series, whilst also dipping a toe into the MMO pool with Company of Heroes Online, a unique hybrid of RTS and consistent RPG available only in Asia whose influence certainly seems to have permeated into Dawn of War 2 – but more on that later.

One of the regions in which Dawn of War was most praised though was its multiplayer and skirmish options, which added a huge amount of longevity to the game beyond the disappointingly brief singleplayer campaign. Despite the fact that in singleplayer you’d only taken command of the same old Space Marines, Relic let you play as all four of the game’s races in skirmish and multiplayer, and that’s something that’s been carried over into Dawn of War 2.

What’s even better is that to help refine the netcode and tweak the dreaded balance issues inherent in any new RTS game (as well as hoping to get you hopelessly hooked of course) Relic is giving everyone the chance to try Dawn of War 2’s multiplayer in the now open beta!

Getting up and Running

While past game beta tests (including Relic’s own Company of Heroes Balance beta, which has now been running for a ludicrous 9 months) have usually involved awkward beta clients and numerous incremental patches to keep the client software up to date, Relic has wisely chosen to release Dawn of War 2’s beta only via Steam. It's available right now for Dawn of War: Soul Storm owners, free to all from tomorrow, January 28th. This allows for the easy roll-out of any patches, as well as undoubtedly proving a rich mine for gameplay statistics – something that Valve has used in the past to greatly improve balance in Team Fortress 2.

Dawn of War 2 Beta Preview
The Games for Windows LIVE matchmaking system needs some serious improvements

A thorn of contention though is bound to be the integration of Games for Windows LIVE in Dawn of War 2. This is the same system that, along with Rockstar’s Social Club, turned the experience of playing GTA4 on the PC from one of chaotic sandbox fun into something akin to filling out TPS reports, so it has a real uphill struggle to win us over. That said, Relic’s original and in-house match-maker “Relic Online” didn’t exactly set the bar high in terms of reliability or user-friendliness.

Mercifully, you’ll be glad to hear that this time out GFWL is reasonably well integrated into the game and doesn’t require any installations or overblown update proceedings prior to play - Steam takes care of that as only Steam can. Logging in is just as simple as signing into MSN messenger, which is linked to your GFWL profile, and the GFWL screen is accessed at anytime within the game by pressing the “Home“ key, akin to Steam’s Shift+Tab to bring up the Steam overlay.

However, it’s still far from perfect and the matchmaking portion of GFWL in Dawn of War 2 is, in short, bloody rubbish. The true-skill system is supposed to match you against other players of your skill level, but frequently will pit you against opponents vastly more experienced. It’s hardly a warm welcome to a game, albeit a beta, when you’re pitted against a rank 14 in your very first match.

But enough of all this software platform stuff, let’s get down to where it really counts – the fighting!