Who doesn't love the Imperial Guard? These guys have belonged in Warhammer all along. Dawn of War II always felt a little lacking without them. More so than the heavily armoured, genetically modified Space Marines, the Imperial Guard are the vanilla humans we can relate to. They're in over their heads and maybe a little freaked out, but they brought along enough big guns, heavy machinery, and bad-ass commanders to get the job done.
Making them a playable class in Retribution adds an interesting wrinkle: there's now a touch of Company of Heroes in your Dawn of War II. The Guardsmen build defences, leaders call down bunkers, and the heavy artillery is available in a couple of forms. The Imperial Guard are all about digging in and holding back the alien tides. They look great in their smart fascist uniforms and clanking heavy gear.
They sound even better, all British and stiff upper lipped. And most importantly, they play differently to any other race, combining the massive numbers of the Orks with the flexibility of Space Marines – they even exhibit a touch of the challenging frailty of the Eldar. The three Imperial Guard heroes vary from the Inquisitor's magic to the Commisar's melee to the Lord General's extra manpower. Here is a great mix of men, guns, and machines. Welcome to the war, boys (and Miss Inquisitor) - you were missed.
Unfortunately, there's not much for Imperial Guard to do in Retribution beyond jumping into multiplayer matches. The skirmish A.I. in Dawn of War II remains useless for anything other than a session of whack-a-mole against lone units scurrying between capture points one at a time. The computer has no regard for the bigger strategic picture, and arguably can't play the game Relic has designed. Considering the excellent skirmish AI in the latest Starcraft and Supreme Commander, Dawn of War II is an embarrassment to the genre.
This lack of meaningful AI is particularly annoying for how it limits the single-player campaign, which is nothing like playing an actual real-time strategy game. As with the previous Dawn of War II campaigns, all you get is a series of trips down twisting corridors with trigger points that spawn enemies. Your little army is like a wad of roughage traveling down a winding intestinal passage, scouring it clear of clots of brain-dead flotsam that pass for an enemy army.
The main selling point for the campaign is that it lets you play all of Dawn Of War's races, putting them each through the same sequence of corridors. It's a nice change of pace to equip, say, the Tyranids and Eldar with new wargear, even if there is a sense of futility to the whole thing. Retribution adds new upgrades to the armies you can recruit, which makes it play ever so slightly like an actual RTS. But the fact of the matter is that if you just want to move a small party of heroes down corridors, there are far better games than this – Dragon Age, for instance.
New multiplayer maps do offer a welcome change of scenery. A new last stand map for advanced heroes lets you skip the tedium of replaying the default map for 15 waves before things get challenging. But the bottom line is that buying Retribution is just paying for a new faction and not much else. It's a great faction, to be sure, but beyond that it's a damn shame that Relic squanders its energy on frippery like the silly campaign, when important issues like the A.I. remain unresolved.
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