I bet you are thinking Dawn of War II is a real-time strategy (RTS) game. You can be forgiven for thinking this, because that's what the first Dawn of War was, and the sequel looks like an RTS game at first glance. But it isn't really an RTS game.

Relic sees the RTS genre today as becoming stagnant. They're all more or less the same, and rarely involve new concepts to overcome the same learning curve, which can be quite intimidating if you are new to the strategy genre.

With Dawn of War II, Relic aims to take things to a whole new level, effectively blending elements from RPG and RTS (or rather, RTT - Real Time Tactical) genres. It uses a similar cover system to that found in Company of Heroes, along with an updated Essence graphics engine, but adds even more destructible cover.

Base building is out. Instead, you have a team of squad leaders who have names and personalities that you will get to know throughout the single-player campaign. They will level up as you go through the game, and you can choose how to upgrade them and what skills they will get. Plus, as you progress, some enemies will drop loot. At the beginning of each mission you can choose which loot (called "wargear") to equip your squads with, which can drastically change what kind of a squad they become for each mission.

When a squad dies, the leader doesn't. He's just made unconscious, and you can use one of the other squad leaders to revive him. The problem is that his squad mates will die and therefore make him weaker, however if you give one squad medpacks then they have the ability to heal other squads that have lost health during the mission, which can hopefully avoid anyone dying or being made unconscious.

There's about ten to twenty hours of gameplay depending on your ability. It's fairly non-linear as you fly around on a space ship, and can therefore choose which planets to go to and which missions to take. You won't be able to do all the missions in a single play-through, though. There is a day counter in the game, and you can only do a certain number of missions per day. Come the next day, some missions may not be there any more, and this can have an effect on the rest of the game. Some main story missions you will be guided to, but for the most part it is completely up to you and the decisions you make along the way will have an effect on the ending.

It's definitely a new and interesting way for a strategy game to go, and we got the opportunity to check it out first-hand at THQ's Sydney HQ recently.

Unfortunately we only managed to see about five minutes of actual gameplay. This was because the taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong place and we had to walk about eight blocks to the right place. This made us late and all of our appointments for the day were on a strict schedule. But what we did see was very impressive - as a fan of the series, I cannot wait to see more and actually get some hands-on time with the game.

Fortunately we did have time to put some questions to one of the developers from Relic who was showing us the game, so the war was not lost - there's even a small hint towards the inevitable expansions... which of course they are already thinking about!

GP: Are there any new factions?

Relic: Right now for the initial release we're just going to have the Space Marines as the playable faction (in the campaign) and you'll be playing against the Orks, Eldar and Teranids. I can tell you that for multiplayer you will be able to play as all four factions, but that's something I can't really talk about right now. We're taking the wraps off that next month. Multiplayer is going to have a little more traditional style, with resource gathering and building, but still going to be very streamlined compared to our competition or any of our past products. And it's going to be very cooperative. Team Fortress made an example of that sort of thing in multiplayer of different roles.

Like in a 3v3 game it's good to have a good mix of players to complement each other. It also gives the ability that the really skilled players can be supported by the less skilled players, who will still have an actual contribution to the game even if they aren't click monsters like some of the really good guys are. It's also over the top and quick.

GP: So if you lose a guy and he's got some special rare weapon can you still get that back?

Relic: Yes, everything that's on him you get back. But if you, say, lose the guy carrying the medpacks, that could hurt. Because while he's unconscious you can't access his abilities.

GP: Are the mission times set? For example, on day fifteen the same thing will always happen?

Relic: Oh no, it's based on your actions. I think it's at day forty-five there's one event that happens but it's actually possible to finish the game before day forty-five, so it's up to you. Every time you deploy to a planet it advances the story one day. But if you do very well in a mission and do it very quickly we actually give you a bonus employment, so you can do two missions in a day which is a good thing. If you fail a mission and all your squad members die, they are taken back onto your main ship and they've lost a day.

If you go back to that mission, everything you've earned, all the wargear you've found, you keep. So we don't just reset the game, and depending on what mode you've picked for the campaign we may make it easier, or give you the option to say, "no, I wanna do this the hard way."

You could go through the game in about twenty-five missions but if you do that you're going to miss out on a lot. You're going to miss out on achievements you can unlock, experience and narratives you might experience. So if you want to play it all the way to the end we've got about sixty missions, which puts you close to twenty hours. And even twenty hours is fairly short for a game these days, but we really wanted people to finish it, so that way they get the best experience and are more keen to buy the expansion (laughs). I know it's mercenary but it's true. People are more likely to buy the expansion pack for a game if they've finished the first one. Otherwise why would they need any new content if they haven't finish the old content?

We're still kicking the ideas around but we're probably thinking that when you get the expansion pack you'll be able to continue with the Space Marines where you left off. So if you got the level twenty, you'll continue at level 20 and work your way up. If you've got good gear, you'll still have it, and if you're a new player we'll give you a default set of level 20 heroes and take it from there.

We'll introduce different races for you to play through, so you'll be able to play through the campaign from a different perspective in the same timeline, but you'll be playing as Ork or Eldar for example, and with different objectives and narrative.

GP: Is the enemy levelling up as you are?

Relic: Yes. Well, there are some fixed levelling, like you might find some one guy where you're like "this guy's just too damn tough, I can't beat him, I'll have to come back later." Some of the stuff levels with you. It's not quite as much to the level of, say, Oblivion, where it's just "why bother even levelling if it just makes it harder?" But we do have to do some levelling just to extend it and make it harder. We've found that really works well.

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