reviews\ Mar 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution Review


The Dawn of War series has evolved pretty drastically over the years—from the linear story-driven campaign in the 2004 original to the “Risk” style conquest campaign in 2006's Dark Crusade, plus the addition of customizable heroes and the removal of base building in 2009's Dawn of War II. Retribution represents a throwback to Dark Crusade, arguably the highlight of the series, with a more customizable campaign and larger scale overall.

For those who have never played a Dawn of War game, the setting is Games Workshop's hugely popular Warhammer 40,000 Universe. In the 41st Millennium, mankind has colonized planets across the Galaxy and together form the Imperium of Man. They are beset on all sides by various Aliens and from within by the taint of Chaos. Mankinds greatest warriors are the Space Marines, genetically modified super-humans and the futuristic equivalent of questing knights. The Dawn of War series has always focused on one Chapter of these warriors, the Blood Ravens, whether the story centers on them or just involves them. Retribution brings the story arc that was started six games ago, in the original Dawn of War, to its end.

Sub-Sector Aurelia, home to the Blood Ravens, is in chaos. Most of the population, Space Marines included, is being seduced by the promises of Dark Gods and Daemons. The Ordo Malleus, Holy Inquisition, see only one response: Exterminatus, the complete destruction of all life in the sector, guilty or otherwise. This impending destruction is the driving force behind the narrative. After all, the easiest way to make a situation more intense is to add a time limit.

In the Space Marine campaign (the “main” one), you play Captain Diomedes, who, along with a few familiar faces, must fight his way to the source of the corruption in order to halt the Exterminatus, no matter what the cost. The other factions' have their own campaigns and storylines, though many of the missions are the same from one campaign to the next, with only a few changes. It's disappointing that there aren't unique campaigns, but when there are six to choose from—each supplying over eight hours gameplay if you count optional missions—it's a forgivable loss. This choice is one of Retribution's selling points for fans and evokes Dark Crusade brilliantly without retreading it, as the campaigns here are more story-driven.

The campaign structure from Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising remains largely intact. You take a group of heroes through various missions, earning loot and XP, RPG style, while you fight battles, RTS style. It's a neat combination that works. Dawn of War II has been criticized for being too small scale, and it's understandable: In the first game, you rarely had more than ten soldiers at your disposal. Relic has taken that criticism on board for Retribution, increasing the scale drastically. You still have a handful of heroes to upgrade and equip, but during missions you can capture bases and relays to call down more troops. In many instances, you'll have an even larger force to deploy in multiplayer. The squads and upgrades you have access to are determined by which rewards you chose after victories. You can focus on unlocking all the squads, deciding more carefully which weapon upgrades they have access to, or even ignoring these and choosing wargear for your heroes. Anything goes, and Relic is quick to emphasize that you can approach your campaign the way you want.

To underscore this choice, you can even swap out heroes and deploy replacement “Honor Guard” squads instead. Honor Guards could be found in Dark Crusade, albeit in a slightly different form (they were powerful units you could build on the campaign map, and take into battles with you). In Retribution, these Honor Guard are affected by the experience levels of the heroes. For example, certain abilities might improve the health of a hero or a particular Honor Guard if you choose not to deploy them. This makes them more powerful than your standard troops, as well as better equipped and, more importantly, free to replace should they fall in battle.

As if all these extra troops weren't enough, Relic has also included super-heavy units for all races that didn't have one already. The Space Marine example is the Land Raider Redeemer, a variant on the Land Raider found in Dawn of War and its expansions, but deemed too powerful for the smaller scale of Dawn of War II. The tank is covered in guns and has a huge amount of health. The Imperial Guard Baneblade and Ork Battlewagon are similarly armed and armored, while an assortment of large monsters and Daemons act as super-heavy units for the other factions. These units give Retribution a greater sense of scale, one that was missing previously. This should make quite a few Dawn of War fans very happy.

One element of the game that hasn't particularly changed is the multiplayer suite. Relic has been constantly updating the game; however, so far the current offering is vastly different to what shipped with Dawn of War II two years ago. These updates have been gradual and free, so it's not fair to recommend Retribution as essential for the multiplayer element, though the super-heavy units definitely add to the chaos and destruction near the end of a big team game. If you're a fan of the Imperial Guard, the human army of the Warhammer 40,000 Universe—think WWII with added lasers—then Retribution is a must, as the Guard make their first Dawn of War II multiplayer appearance.

Last Stand is also here, now with the addition of an Imperial Guard General as a playable character. Again, the game hasn't really changed so there's not much to say. You still pick your character, fight off waves of enemies with a few other players, and earn more abilities as you level up. It's still great fun.

Retribution is probably the best Dawn of War game yet. The additional faction campaigns are a mixed blessing. It's great to take the colorful heroes through missions, upgrading and arming them, and if you already have a favorite race then you'll be happy with that. It's just a shame each campaign doesn't have it's own unique, compelling storyline. Because many of the missions are shared, you probably won't want to play every campaign, but if you do there's a lot of content for a mere expansion. In other areas, Relic has reconciled the different styles between Dawn of War and Dawn of War II, making the campaign mode more epic and more customizable. It's quite clear that single-player has received most of the attention, and the multiplayer suite remains largely the same, only with a new faction, new units, new maps and some balancing. It may be based on a two-year-old game, but Retribution looks, sounds, and plays brilliantly and is virtually impossible not to recommend.


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