Dawn of War II: Retribution: review

  • Format: PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Relic Entertainment
  • Players: 1 – 6
  • Site: http://www.dawnofwar2.com

“Not now Miss’ta Nailbrain. I’m still sassing dis stomped up Eldar” said the ork commander with a comical pirate voice as he adjusted his captain hat. The new ork campaign injects some light comedy into a series that has so far focused on the dark themes of personal corruption and planetary genocide. Dawn of War II: Retribution still has plenty of the religionesque fanatical zeal of routing out heresy with giant electric space hammers; but with the campaign mode now open to six other races, diversity is the name of this game.

The second expansion pack for Dawn of War II is set ten years after Chaos Rising and sees the familiar sub-sector of Aurelia under the threat of Exterminatus – the order from the Imperium of Man to wipe out all life on each planet through scary orbital death cannons. The new campaign focuses on how your chosen race deals with this generic doom issue, with each one having a unique story arc.

Unfortunately this has meant the narrative quality of the previous two games has taken a broadside of flak in Retribution, because six different storylines have been shoehorned into the same setting. There are about sixteen different maps and every campaign shares the majority of them – maybe with slightly tweaked objectives, but broadly a very similar experience. The dialogue between the different hero units stays true to what you expect from each race, which does offer a refreshing level of difference on each playthrough.

Bob's pest control service was happy for the hardware upgrade

As with the previous expansion a new playable race is introduced, this time allowing players to jump in the boots of the Imperial Guard for use in the campaign and multiplayer. Their infantry are numerous and extra squishy when compared with the other races, but they are supported by some seriously fearsome armour, such as the Baneblade super heavy tank that sports around six different guns.

Game mechanics are instantly familiar if you’ve tried either of the previous games. Drop four units onto a map and charge around murdering things whilst taking advantage of walls, trees and craters to provide cover for your soldiers. The main difference this time round is that hero units are now entirely made up of individuals, rather than a specialist and their two or three disposable best friends.

Additional firepower can now be recruited in the field from captured strategic points, bringing Retribution closer in line with more traditional unit building RTS games. Don’t expect the game to be easier because it is now possible to amass a larger army though. Population caps reach their peak very fast and resources are not plentiful, so don’t expect to be able to spam manpower for a guaranteed victory.

Shooting at enemies who are already on fire gives you the advantage

Another change to the formula are honour guard units. These are elite squads that you can choose to deploy on a mission in place of one of your heroes, and can be upgraded with new weapons in the field to suit different situations. The drawback to using them is that the absent hero unit gains no experience points while sidelined and so loses out on levelling up.

Speaking of levelling up, the RPG-like element of customising your characters has been streamlined. Instead of one level giving you five attribute points to assign to your various talents that will occasionally unlock a new combat ability along the line, each increase in level now allows you to unlock one new perk in a field of your choosing. This makes specialising your units with the abilities you want a whole lot easier while at the same time giving level up rewards a better sense of instant gratification. There’s also a decent range of new wargear specific to each race that helps you shape the role of each unit exactly how you want.

The multiplayer mode hasn’t seen a vast overhaul. The Imperial Guard have been added, as have super heavy units for other races including the Land Raider for Space Marines and the charming, vomit spewing Great Unclean One for the forces of chaos. The game has a couple of new maps and the back catalogue of arenas from Chaos Rising and Dawn of War II that can be played even if you don’t own them, because Retribution is a stand alone expansion.

"This won't hurt a bit, just ask your friend down there"

Fans of the instant action Last Stand mode get the Lord General as a new hero capable of putting down sentry guns and guard squads. Pleasingly, the mode also gains a new map bringing the grand total to two different arenas. The Anvil of Khorne joins the played to death Bloodied Coliseum map and really ramps up the challenge, with early waves being less hospitable than your mother-in-law after an ill-timed fart at the dinner table.

A major point to sing, dance and swoon over is the move to Steamworks from Games For Windows Live – one less service you need to sign into before playing the game. So far the connection issues that Live was plagued with seem to be non-existent now that everything is run through Steam, but some users are experiencing lengthy multiplayer matchmaking waits at time of writing.

While the campaign mode does taste very similar from each race’s perspective, there is just enough unique about the different play styles on offer to get more than one playthrough out of it, giving you anywhere between eight and forty hours of play. Add the fantastic multiplayer mode that remains just as good as it ever was, and office chair commanders have a real threat to their social lives here.

Retribution breathes new life and playability into Dawn of War II that’ll be enough to excite both fans of the series, and newcomers who fancy a change from the normal base building and unit spamming strategy games. For those who were never keen on Dawn of War II, don’t hold your breath. Unless your main criticism was the lack of an ork campaign, in which case do hold your breath – whatever that means.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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