Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II represents a return to form for the Dawn of War RTS franchise.

Along with its three expansion packs, the first Dawn of War was a great RTS title that gave players the ability to play almost all of the major races in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. But the game has grown a little stale, especially when compared to the developer's follow-up effort, Company of Heroes, a title that I reviewed a while back and absolutely loved.

I wasn't sure if Relic could top the World War II themed classic but Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II manages the impossible: the continuation of the Space Marines' saga usurps Company of Heroes and claims the RTS throne.

Welcome back to the Blood Ravens, Commander

Like the original, the single-player in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II focuses on space marines of the Blood Ravens, one of the most respected chapters within the Imperium of Man.

The campaign takes place in sub-sector Aurelia which is comprised of the three worlds where the Blood Ravens gather their recruits - obviously this makes the area a critical stronghold.

As the campaign starts you assume the mantel of a newly promoted commander who is tasked with repelling the Orks; of course, the more you investigate, the more you realise that there is a much more serious threat behind the attacks. Involved are the mysterious Eldar as well as the Tyranid Hive Fleet, a ravenous alien race that poses a threat to Aurelia.

Much like the last two expansions for the original - Dark Crusade and Soulstorm - DoW II's campaign strays away from the standard RTS formula and includes a meta-campaign that focuses on story missions and side missions where you defend critical installations, gain valuable new war gear, and reduce Tyranid infestation levels on each of the three planets.

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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - recover the relics!

Although it does share some similarities with the original, Relic has largely gone back to the drawing board for Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. They've done away with what many might consider some of the core tenants of the RTS genre, placing a much larger emphasis on the evolution of a core force.

Gone are the standard base building and unit creation concepts, replaced by four squads of Space Marines, each of which have unique skill sets and leaders which gain experience as the campaign progresses.

There's an RPG-lite system where you units accumulates experience for the kills they amass; they will periodically level up, increasing their attributes and unlocking new special abilities. They can also acquire special accessories such as melta-bombs and drop pods that they can use in combat.

There is a tremendous amount of variety when it comes to the make-up of your squad and it allows you to tailor your forces accordingly. You can, for instance, outfit your commander as a strong ranged fighter or turn him into a durable tank unit for close-quarters combat.

You won't be able to fully max out your squads over course of the campaign which automatically gives the game a tangible sense of replayability.

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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II represents a return to form for the Dawn of War RTS franchise.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - war games

While just about all of the changes are positive, there are still some disappointments, the largest of which is that once again only the Space Marines are given a campaign.

It makes sense considering their widespread appeal but I would have liked to have seen a campaign for the Eldar, whose involvement in things is pretty well fleshed out, and the Tyranids. (Sorry Ork fans, they're mainly props that push for the real action forward.)

The campaign also recycles maps over multiple missions-in many cases you'll comb over the same map multiple times, especially if you decide to take on a lot of side missions. That said, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II's campaign is by far the best in the series so far, and one of the best designed I've seen in any RTS.

Combat itself is also much improved over the last rendition and to a great extent borrows and improves on the elements present in Company of Heroes.

The use of cover and suppression fire elevates the gameplay above the standard RTS concept of drowning your enemy in waves of disposable units.

With only four squads available - this equates to about a dozen Space Marines in total - the focus has been shifted dramatically towards actual combat tactics.

Where resource management and expansion is often the critical factor in most RTS games, DoW II's focus is on squad tactics and how you use their special abilities.

Because you only have a limited number of units at your disposal - downed units are only lost for the current mission and rejoin your forces later -tactics become key. Rather than throw units at your enemy's base, you have to use your Devastator Space Marines to set up a base of fire and suppress the enemy while Assault Marines jump into the midst of them and engage them in melee combat.

It is a satisfying change of pace from the last game, where combat was far more simplistic and much more tied to resources. Although some will undoubtedly find this change to be a negative, it definitely works. Also, gamers who don't find the regular RTS formula enticing will appreciate it as well.

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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - for the glory!

Besides the main campaign, Dawn of War II has also has fairly robust skirmish and multiplayer modes. In contrast to the original, this time there are only six maps in total evenly divided between two and six player varieties.

Much like the single-player campaign Relic has also changed up much of the focus in multiplayer as again almost all of the base building aspects have been removed in favour of gameplay that favours tactics and expert handling of individual units.

The familiar resource methods are still in use however, with requisition, power, and victory nodes still in play; multiplayer matches feel very much like Company of Heroes, where territory is held less by static defenses and more by well placed units such as Devastator squads armed with heavy bolters that can suppress an area.

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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Specs

  • Windows Vista SP1/XP SP 2
  • P4 3.2GHz (single core) or any dual core processor/AMD Athlon 64×2 4400+ or any Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1GB (Windows XP) 1.5GB (Windows Vista)
  • 5.5GB hard disk space
  • 128MB nVidia GeForce 6600 GT/128MB ATI X1600, or equivalent (must have Shader Model 3.0 to run the game)/256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT/256MB ATI X1900, or equivalent
  • DirectX 9.0c compliant card
  • internet connection required for product activation and multiplayer
  • Windows Vista SP1/XP SP 2
  • P4 3.2GHz (single core) or any dual core processor/AMD Athlon 64×2 4400+ or any Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 1GB (Windows XP) 1.5GB (Windows Vista)
  • 5.5GB hard disk space
  • 128MB nVidia GeForce 6600 GT/128MB ATI X1600, or equivalent (must have Shader Model 3.0 to run the game)/256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT/256MB ATI X1900, or equivalent
  • DirectX 9.0c compliant card
  • internet connection required for product activation and multiplayer

OUR VERDICT

I have no doubt that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II will be remembered fondly in the years to come. Relic has helped push the RTS genre into new directions and their latest effort represents the culmination of their work so far. Some gamers will no doubt hate the new direction they've taken but the game is much improved and definitely deserves its fair share of love. While it still early, I wouldn't hesitate to nominate it for PC Game of the Year honors come December.

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