Writing this review may be hard. Not because the usual reason that RTS reviews are difficult (constant re-balancing patches and the fact that I generally suck at them), but because Harry is jumping up and down with joy. It’s very distracting and my keyboard keeps getting knocked around ‘neath my fingers.
Why our resident Relic-aholic is so happy that Dawn of War II has just been released should be self-evident to anyone with a finger even remotely near the pulse of PC gaming. Not only is this the latest and greatest strategy game from the makers of Company of Heroes, but it’s also one that has tried to push things in a slightly different direction.
It promises old-school charms with all-new tweaks – though promising and delivering are two entirely different races, just like Space Marines and Tyranids.
One of the major departures for Dawn of War II’s singleplayer campaign lies in the very viewpoint the story is told through. The plot for Dawn of War II is focused pretty exclusively on the Space Marines, to the extent that there are no other playable factions in the singleplayer.
A major reason for this is that it seems Relic has tried to explore what kind of stories can be told within the RTS genre; war and political struggles are pretty much a given, but is it possible for more personal dramas to become a compelling part of the story? Relic thinks so and has designed the entire singleplayer game around the idea.
The most obvious way that the developer has done this is by scaling back a lot of Dawn of War’s scope. The 40K universe may be one of never-ending war, but at the core of that is a rich fiction that Relic has tapped into by eliminating the idea of build queues and countless, faceless soldiers. Your forces are no longer innumerable and anonymous; individuals matter.
The actual plot for Dawn of War II isn’t anything wholly remarkable, it has to be said. The story starts on the distant planet Calderis, training ground for the prestigious Blood Ravens chapter, which is being assaulted by barbaric hordes of Orks. As time goes on new enemies are introduced and you take the fight to planets new, but at its core it’s still just the same never-ending war that’s always kept the 40K universe ticking inches from extinction.
Except it isn’t the same war, not at all. Relic’s controversial and startling re-tooling of the RTS set-up has changed how the scale of the war is perceieved, casting it all from a different light. The commanders and their troops suddenly have faces, names and motives and abilities. They feel distinct and personal, so that you actually care about them and want them to win out of sympathy and not just out of a desire to see the ending cinematic. You cast yourself as a character on the battlefield and it changes everything.
Not that the cinematics aren’t cool though – the game has a great, if abrupt intro sequence, and the voiceovers and such that pull you into the game are fantastically done. It’s hard to believe that Relic could find actors who all sound identically gruff while still being distinct, but they managed it somehow.