February 5, 2010 – For anyone, like myself, who hasn’t had much of an introduction to the Dawn of War series, they have been a collection of PC-only real-time strategy (RTS) games and expansions based on the popular Warhammer 40,000 tabletop war game. Since the first Dawn of War’s release in 2004, the series has become one of the most recognizable, well received, and successful RTS franchises on the market. At a recent event held by THQ, I was able to get some brief playtime with both the single-player and multiplayer components of the series’ newest standalone expansion pack, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising. Admittedly, what I played was a tad overwhelming, coming from a complete newcomer’s perspective, but it was full of complexity and nuance that longstanding fans are likely to enjoy.
Although I’ve had almost no previous exposure to the Dawn of War series, it’s not hard to see why it has so many fans. Listening to the pre-gameplay talk of the developers, it is a series that clearly seems to have a rich backstory as well as an interesting universe in which to play. Once the warm-up talks were over, it was time to get behind the mouse and keyboard and give a couple single-player missions a go.
The first mission was said to be taken from early in the game, having a group of Space Marines trying to destroy a series of Ork groups. Being led by Jonah the Librarian, a new and admittedly overpowered (in this demo at least) character, it was quite easy to make quick work of the enemy. Thanks to his devastating smite ability, Jonah was able to take down larger vehicles and various buildings that were housing and protecting Ork groups in an instant. After this initial task was over, my group ran into a large gate that, to get through, presented me with an introduction to this expansion’s new corruption system.
The corruption system consists of a series of choices the player will need to make throughout the game to become either more or less corrupted. In this mission’s case, I had to decide whether to destroy the gate to get through and gain corruption or to use my units that had jump packs in order to find another way to open the gate. While the results of my choice couldn’t be felt at this early stage in the game, gaining corruption will have all sorts of effects from changing characters’ powers to the ending you’ll receive at the end of your adventure. However, once corruption has been earned, subsequent choices that avoid the corrupted path can help you to return to normal.
Making it through the gate, there was a brief battle with some more Orks and then the Chaos showed up. This first encounter with them played out like a boss battle, with a large Chaos enemy attacking your group. As a side note, you know you’re new to the game when you’re using a powerfully unbalanced character and the nearby developers still need to input codes during this showdown in order to revive most of your squad. Anyway, this was a pretty tough battle that involved strategically spreading out your various groups in order to minimize casualties while also attacking the powerful enemy from multiple directions.
Once the boss-like enemy had been defeated it was time to try out the second mission. This one had been obtained from later on in the game and took place on the planet of Aurelia, a new location found in Chaos Rising. This icy planet was a good setting for the tank-based onslaught that this mission lets you dole out. While I didn’t get to complete this mission due to being moved into the multiplayer session, ripping through numerous enemies, especially multiple units just like the one that had proved so difficult to defeat in the first mission, using a new Predator Annihilator and Destructor was very satisfying.
The focus of this multiplayer session was clearly on getting to use the new Chaos Space Marines but there are also a few new treats included for the other races as well. Each race is getting at least one new unit, which will be useable for both Chaos Rising owners and those who only have Dawn of War II. Space Marines will now have access to Librarians, which are host to some pretty powerful spells. Orks get the Weirdboy, working best as a long range support unit whose energy is recharged by surrounding friendlies. Wraithguards are the new short range heavy infantry unit supplied to the Eldar, capable of inflicting great damage but move about rather slowly. Tyranids make out best of all, getting two new units in the form of the Genestealer Brood and Tyrant Guard. Both are quite formidable melee units, especially the Tyrant Guard who caused me more than one headache during my short playtime due to his ability to become basically invulnerable and regain health at the same time.
Choosing from one of the three possible Chaos Space Marines Heroes; Chaos Lord for offense, Plague Champion for defense, or Chaos Sorcerer for spell casting-styled play, we quickly got into a new multiplayer mode that comes in Chaos Rising. Victory point free-for-all pits several players against one another, with the focus being on capturing strategic points on the map in order to accumulate a score of 1,000. The more points you control, the quicker your score will climb, and the more enemies you’ll earn as everyone, at least briefly, teams up to keep you from reaching your goal. Trying to balance your defenses while also assaulting nearby opponents in order to steal strategic points away from them was quite challenging, but it should provide Dawn of War II multiplayer fans with plenty of hectic battles and new strategies to figure out in order to achieve victory.
With one expansion already available, The Last Stand, and another on the way in Chaos Rising, it certainly looks like the Dawn of War II experience won’t be getting stale any time soon. We’ll have to wait for the finished product to see just how balanced all the races end up when in multiplayer, given the additions of the new units for the existing races and an entirely new race in the Chaos Space Marines. Either way, with all of its additions to the multiplayer and its entirely new fifteen mission single-player campaign, be sure to check out this standalone expansion next month when it hits store shelves.