Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Game Review – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
Dawn of War 2 (DoW2) is a strange beast; it’s a blend of Diablo and Company of Heroes (CoH) with lashings of the original Dawn of War (DoW). Gone is the base building and resource management of CoH and DoW and in are the colour coded collectible items (or ‘drops’) and character leveling from MMORPGs. Does this mash up of gaming styles work or is it a disgusting mix of milk and Coke?
This is my very simplified version of the game setup. I could mention the names of the factions involved but let’s face it, if you’re a Warhammer fan you already know and if you’re a newcomer I don’t want to overwhelm you with silly names. You play a Force Commander of the Space Marines. You spend your life flying from planet to planet killing aliens in the name of your boss, The Emperor. Aliens are currently invading your Chapter House planets (where you gather recruits) and it’s your job to boot them out of your sector of space. To help you achieve this you have several specialist squads armed with various weapons and abilities. The game usually involves crossing a map to combat the enemy and destroy a boss character. Along the way you can capture strategic points in order to respawn and heal your troops and give you bonuses for later missions.
For the most part DoW2 is a success but there are some annoyances that may grate after a while and some aspects of the game can be a little underwhelming. Allow me to break it down in my usual lazy Pros/Cons fashion:
It’s a pretty game. The troops are detailed, the environment and buildings explode in a satisfying fashion and the character designs are spot on.
It’s a game that can be played in small chunks. There are many missions and all of them are short, which means you can get a 20 minute fix if you’re strapped for time.
You can level up and improve your troop’s skills. Your troops improve after every battle which allows them to eventually unlock fearsome abilities such as teleportation, Terminator armour, and invisibility (to name a few). This means that your troops don’t stagnate and become even more effective as the game goes on.
The campaign is flexible. You can complete the mission in any order and there are plenty of ‘side’ missions to distract yourself with before you decide to complete the final mission (also the game warns you that it’s the final mission, allowing you to potter around a bit more if you’re not quite ready to finish the game.)
Loot. The game contains loot drops. Everyone loves loot, especially when it’s torn from the corpse of a dead Ork. The equipment varies in quality but they all offer bonuses to stats and whatnot like a regular RPG. Some Warhammer fans may hate this but I personally think that it’s a decent approximation of the tabletop game where commander characters are usually weighed down with ridiculous artifacts. Also, obsolete loot can be trashed for experience points, which is nice.
There’s a campaign co-op mode. I haven’t tried this yet but I heartily approve of co-op strategy/RPG titles (I especially can't wait for the Empire Total War patch that will allow multiplayer campaigns, but I digress).
The strategy element is rather basic. Due to a combination of map design and a cover system that doesn’t quite work, the strategy on offer isn’t very challenging. Most challenges are overcome by a combination of heavy weaponry and melee-death-from-above. Or you could be a sneaky git like me and use the Scouts to destroy everything before letting the other troops sweep up. Either way, there isn’t much variation. You certainly won’t be having the glorious battles that could be found in CoH and the original DoW.
The artillery bombardment power is rubbish. I love the artillery strikes in Company of Heroes, they were beautiful and horrible at the same time as troops and buildings were instantly ruined by explosive rounds, and I expected a similar devastating effect in DoW2. Unfortunately the artillery strikes do very little damage and don’t last very long. Rubbish. The Cyclone Missile Launcher and the Dreadnought’s Hellfire rounds do make up for some of this disappointment but it’s just not the same.
The Dreadnought unit is a pansy. In the original DoW the Dreadnought was a one man army, capable of singlehandedly ruining bases and slaughtering squads of Eldar. Now he’s a waddling machinegun emplacement or a lumbering melee troop that is outclassed by the Assault Squad. He doesn’t even have great dialogue like the originals. Boo hiss.
There are very few maps. You will become bored of playing the same layout over and over during the campaign. Whilst the campaign makes clear that you’re revisiting the same planets and sections thereof, it doesn’t make it any less boring. A few more maps would have helped to maintain long term interest here.
The boss fights. I think this is probably one of the most controversial aspects of the game; basically each level ends with a boss character, complete with a giant health bar, which you must defeat to complete the mission. The boss fights are challenging but it just seems so, well, WRONG. The boss fights lack personality and I found them to be very jarring in what is essentially a strategy title. Plus they were very repetitive; there isn’t much variation in their attacks or behaviour.
The installation process. I have already complained at length about this.
I enjoyed DoW2 but I wouldn’t go running back to it to play through the campaign again. There are certainly many positives and it’s an interesting experiment in fusing the world of RTS and RPG but I think it ultimately suffers from trying to be two things. This could almost be a casual version of a strategy title or a sampling of the RTS experience without the fiddly base building and resource management bits. This could entice an audience that the original DoW didn’t have and I’m intrigued as to how well this title will do in the long term. I’ll certainly be watching for news of expansions or mission packs with great interest. If you’re a fan of Diablo or Titan Quest then you may want to give this a try even if you don’t usually enjoy strategy titles.
Arbitrary Score Out Of 10: 7.5