What else could you could ask for in an expansion pack? Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Retribution retails for a mere $30, works as a standalone product, features a new sixteen-mission campaign that’s playable from the standpoints of six different races, and includes all of the series’ trademark multiplayer modes. If you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, an RTS player who has never tried it before, or even a newcomer to the entire genre, Retribution will give you exactly what you need.
To the average gamer, one problem with RTS titles is that they’re overwhelming. They often place you in the middle of a huge map and task you with fending off a bunch of opponents. To be sure, you’re welcome to do that in Retribution — you can play matches online, or even co-op rounds between some heroes and an endless stream of bad guys in The Last Stand (a takeoff of Gears of War’s Horde mode). But what really sets Dawn of War II off from the rest of the pack is its campaign mode, which puts you in charge of a small group of soldiers and forces you to make careful, tactical decisions. Also, your units level up – RPG-style – and you get new items after each level. This is a unique experience for RTS fans and a manageable one for newbs.
The controls are an especially big relief. There’s an incredibly deep strategy system lurking under the surface, but moving your units, building new ones, and attacking foes is just a matter of pointing and clicking. No matter who you are, the learning curve is so smooth as to be nonexistent.
That style of gameplay is on full display in this expansion. Once you choose your race, you watch a few cutscenes and get dropped onto a map. From there on out, your job is to slowly progress through the area, hiding behind cover, killing enemies when you find them, managing your resources (power, requisition, etc.), and accomplishing your various mission objectives. The easiest difficulty setting puts up a mild fight to keep the inexperienced on their feet, and the tougher settings will challenge even hardened vets. Between missions, you’re booted to a map screen, where you choose how to continue.
The sixteen missions take maybe a half-hour each, so together they constitute a decent campaign, even if you play it only once. The story takes place ten years after the triumph of the Blood Ravens in Chaos Rising, and, well, all of the sects are fighting again. Obviously, the fact that the same maps are used for all the campaigns placed some limits on the writers, and as a result, the narrative can feel vague or forced at times. Nonetheless, we felt this tradeoff — less narrative flexibility, more content — was worth it. When you’re done with the campaign, you can try it again with a different race, a different fighting style, and a different story, or you can venture into the online multiplayer.
The new races, each of which has its own customizable “hero” character, are a lot of fun. The Tyranids, who have traditionally been antagonists in Dawn of War II, get their own campaign for the first time, so plan on fighting back the good guys with a combination of ranged assaults and bloody, up-close melee attacks by clawed beasts. The Imperial Guard, meanwhile, stock some ridiculously impressive firepower, including some huge armored vehicles. The other races — the Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar– are more familiar, but they still feature in well-made campaigns that put a new spin on the sixteen maps. Playing the entire campaign with every single race would be excessive, but two or three playthroughs wouldn’t be, especially considering the new races, the different storylines and personalities, and the ability to ramp up the difficulty.
The multiplayer, which we tried out for our preview last month, features a few new maps for the longtime fans, has been rebalanced to accommodate the Imperial Guard, and promises hours of nail-biting tension for those of you who love hectic battles between factions. Thankfully, Games for Windows Live has been ditched in favor of Steamworks. We highly recommend that newcomers try out the campaign first, however; the experts who populate the online multiplayer will waste no time in destroying you, even if you’re merely the weak link on a multiple-player team.
The graphics are up to the standard set by the previous entries in the series, which is to say more than adequate, but not mind-blowing. The cutscenes are well-rendered, and during gameplay, the landscapes are detailed, with a good mix of nature and military structures. The animations are smooth, and the combat is deliciously bloody, from the splashes of red that fly off your victims to the pool of crimson that accumulates when they’ve fallen. In Retribution, war feels chaotic, as it should.
Also, the sound is amazing. The voice acting, from the human Space Marines to the Tyranids’ “Hive,” did a great job, and the music sets a background without getting in the way. The sound effects are another high point, with gunshot and laser blasts that really pop out of the speakers. Perhaps our only sound-related complaint is that during multiplayer skirmishes, the units make ridiculous comments when you select them.
All of that said, Retribution could use a few patches. We experienced a lot of freezing on the pre-release press build we played, though a graphics-card update seemed to solve that. Also, one of our quicksave files was corrupt when we tried to load it later, which needless to say can be a highly frustrating problem. Also, some of our troops seemed to get stuck when we moved them long distances.
None of that breaks the game, however, and we’re confident in Relic’s capability to tweak Retribution until it’s perfect. Thankfully, all the fundamentals are sound: From the well-designed campaign, to the fast-paced multiplayer, to the graphics, to the sound, this is a solid, well-constructed title that’s sure to be worth your money.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
They’re well-done, but not breathtaking. 4.7 Control
All the maneuvers are strikingly simple to execute, and a deep strategy system lurks just underneath. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work and sound effects are excellent. 4.8 Play Value
Six campaigns, full multiplayer, $30? Sign us up. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|