Imagine for a second, if you will, that the first Dawn of War, Company of Heroes and Diablo all had a three-way.
A child is born out of that crazy, drunken night, but no one is quite sure who the biological parents are because the kid seems to have traits from everyone involved.
Dawn of War 2 would be that war-hungry, bloodthirsty child. You could also call it a breath of fresh air. It's an innovative genre bender that definitely takes risks, but pulls them all off very well. It has a both a great single-player campaign and a fantastic multiplayer game. And most importantly, it's a lot of fun!
Dawn of War 2 is an RTS with a strong focus on tactical decision (the cover system from Company of Heroes is here) as well being equipped with a lot of RPG features. The RPG qualities are mostly in the single-player game where you have a limited number of squads; eventually you'll be given a maximum of six to choose from and you can only take four with you on each mission. These squads can be equipped with a large variety of wargear (loot – in an RTS! It's even colour-coded for rarity), and they can level up and gain new abilities as you choose whether you want to put their experience points into health, energy, ranged attack, or melee attacks.
It's a very robust system which is well designed, and it will cause you to spend a lot of time between missions deciding how to best equip your squads and which squads you'll want with you for the next mission. There are a ton of different strategic and tactical options to suit a variety of different play styles. Some might like to take their time and sneak around with scouts, others might want to be aggressive and use their assault team to jump right into the fight with their jetpacks. It's fun, exciting and always leaves you ready for more.
In fact, I don't think I have ever experienced an RTS where I thought to myself "just one more quick mission" the same way I would when it comes to quests in an RPG. Part of this is probably due to the length of missions. The average mission will take anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. For each successful mission, you'll get a new piece of wargear, plus there's always plenty or wargear that is randomly dropped by killed enemies. Even failure has some rewards, as any experience or wargear collected remains in your possession. You cannot have multiple saves though, so if you fail a mission you have to live with that. Some missions can be repeated, others you just lose and it's gone. This is because the campaign is on a day counter and each mission takes one day, although if you perform well on some missions you can get an extra mission during that day.
This forces you to make some tough decisions, because you spend the game freely able to travel between three planets and each planet has a few different territories you will battle on.
Some missions are timing sensitive so you will only have a few days to complete them, otherwise you lose that territory. So sometimes you will have to decide; do you defend a territory from an Eldar attack or do you fight off an Ork Warboss in order to stop their movement on the planet for good? Most of these are optional side missions. The main story actually isn't all that fantastic. It gets the job done, but it's no StarCraft. It's basically a decent excuse for these four races (Space Marines, Orks, Eldar and Tyranids) to be in the same place to try and kill each other.
The missions do start to get a bit repetitive after a while, and there aren't anywhere near enough unique set-piece missions. I can only think of a couple of times where I would stumble upon two other races fighting one another and we would have a great three-way battle (hmm, this review seems to have a theme huh?). The game could have done with a few more missions where three or even all four races were fighting at the same time. Not only would it make things more interesting and fun, it would have made for some great battles to watch and hear.
While the voice acting isn't exactly the best in the business, the rest of the sound is definitely among it. The sounds of all the weapons and chaos of the battles are just fantastic. You definitely feel like you are in a warzone. A very good looking warzone at that, as Dawn of War 2 sports some of the best graphics in an RTS you will see for a while. The level of detail is impressive and I haven't even mention the great battle animations, destructible environments and the fantastic looking effects. Dawn of War 2 is a true pleasure to behold. In fact it's one of the first RTS titles I've found that is fun to just watch, even if you're not the one playing, simply because the battles are fun and exciting.
The real champion of the single-player however is the fact that you can play it co-op with a friend online. This is hugely entertaining and adds another great layer to the gameplay. Simply put, each player will control two of the four squads, and this allows you to better execute tactical attacks at a quicker pace as well. Much likes Gears of War 2's Horde mode, I think Dawn of War 2's co-op is something many people will ignore at first but once they give it a go they will get hooked.
The competitive multiplayer is actually very different from the single-player, but still retains that quick flavour. It also forgoes the traditional base-building of most other RTS's, as instead you have a single building which you build your units from. Almost all other upgrades and research can be done on individual units out on the battlefield. Multiplayer also allows for you to play each of the four races in the game (single-player is Space Marines only). You must also select a hero commander at the start of each match (there are three options for each race) and they will alter your strategy, as they all play very differently and grant different global abilities for your race.
You gain resources by fighting for and capturing special points around the map, and win a match by holding more special victory points for longer than your opponent. You often find matches being a good back-and-forth struggle over these points. Like the single-player they are usually quick and very exciting. A few well used units can make all the difference. Also, because units level up and it's cheaper to recover units from a squad than to buy a whole new one, you will want make use of the all-important retreat button. There are only seven maps for multiplayer which is extremely disappointing, as I can imagine people will get bored of them fairly quickly. While I am sure we will be seeing many more in an expansion pack, I really hope Relic decides to release some free ones sooner than that, otherwise they may find their multiplayer dying down a bit.
Also, beyond 1v1, Dawn of War 2's multiplayer is strictly "team 1 vs team 2". Am I the only one who enjoys a good free-for-all match? Or the classic 2v2v2? Perhaps I am, but dammit I love those kinds of match ups! So it's personally a little disappointing that those kinds of games aren't possible here. But as disappointments go, it's a pretty small one.
Dawn of War 2 doesn't feel like the first game with a new coat of paint. Nor does it feel like Company of Heroes in the Warhammer 40K universe. Instead Relic took a chance on something very unique and different, and it works. Not only that, it works really well.
Some die-hard strategy fans may complain that it has been dumbed down, but I would argue that there is a lot more depth than it may seem at first, plus it's a lot of fun! And isn't that the point? This is the first RTS that I honestly think would make a lot of sense to be ported onto console, but in the meantime us PC gamers are very lucky to have this fantastic RTS/RPG tactical blend to enjoy.