Total Combined Playtime: 214 hours
DoWII: 80 hours
Chaos Rising: 56 hours
Retribution: 76 Hours

Dawn of War II: Company of Astartes

This is more me coming to terms with my own rose tinted glasses than it is a review of DoWII and it’s expansions.

I have a pretty decent history with Dawn of War II. As you can see I’ve invested a nice chunk of time into each game, and believe it or not I actually got into the multiplayer beta back before the game was originally released in early 2009. DoWII was, essentially, one of the first “deep” experiences I had in the Warhammer 40k setting. And I loved it – I drank up every little drop of flavor the game had.

Needless to say, I have really fond memories of playing Dawn of War II.

Sadly those memories don’t really hold up now, eight years later. Gosh has it really been that long?

When Dawn of War II first came out I remember playing through the entire game on the hardest difficulty and loving every painstaking minute of it. I did the same for Chaos Rising when it released a little over a year later. However, my enthusiasm with the game waned by the time Retribution was released in 2011; as the quality of the game dropped significantly. Despite putting such large chunks of time into each game, I only ever played through the story once per release.  The main thing that kept me around was the “Last Stand” mode – as I never really took to the multiplayer.

Having come back to Dawn of War II late last year, I found that the game was… Well it was just boring. I found that the gameplay was slow and unresponsive, and playing on “Primarch” (the hardest difficulty setting) just made the game a chore. I don’t remember the game having these issues back when I first played it. Perhaps eight years worth of balance patches, and two expansions have altered the experience… Or maybe my tastes have just changed. I’ve even tried playing on an easier difficulty… But the game doesn’t feel rewarding at all.

The multiplayer doesn’t fair much better sadly.

There are a lot of similarities between the pacing, and controls of Dawn of War II and the Company of Heroes franchise. But, it’s as if when Relic designed DoWII they didn’t want to infringe on the ‘feel’ of Company of Heroes… So, when it came to implementing its mechanics they only went half way. Which highlights the poorer elements of CoH’s gameplay – namely the slow pace, and relatively small scale. However, Company of Heroes made up for this with great map design, an very interesting resource system, fully destructible environments, and a feeling of progression baked into each skirmish.

DoWII tried to accomplish these things, but unfortunately fails. Like Company of Heroes, Dawn of War II has resource points that you must maintain control of to actually gain resources from, however it lacks any of the supply line mechanics that go along with it. As well, the maps are so small, that there are only a handful of points to secure. Putting even more importance on each individual point.

Instead of a doctrine (essentially a tech tree) you invest your resources into a hero unit. Which I have always disliked in RTS games, and I find DoWII’s implementation particularly bad. Each hero is slow, weak, uninteresting, and they all get killed far too easily. Why even have them? While your Hero can become powerful late into a game, they will always get focused by any half decent player – and when they die you must pay valuable resources to revive them. Which can be your death knell if you’re already being pressed for resources…

On top of this, Relic removed base building. Which at the time I thought was brilliant… But now I see it as a huge mistake. Without base building, there is almost nothing to do! Unless you’re currently locked into an engagement with your enemy all you have to do is watch your guys run across flat boring patches of dirt. And yes, you should obviously be planning your next move… But even that is a passive activity! This game just moves at a snail’s pace! Everything in the multiplayer is so underwhelming and boring…

It’s like DoWII exists in-between two states of mind: it wants to focus on slow small-scale cover based skirmish combat, while also trying to capture the epic nature of 40k as a whole. And personally, there is a big disconnect between the two. Especially in a setting that spans tens of thousands of years across an entire galaxy with something like eighteen different factions…

In fact the gameplay of the Singleplayer and Multiplayer also reflect this dual-mindedness. The campaign plays like a slow methodical ARPG more than an RTS. With you controlling four customizable hero units rather than an army. And instead of using this to their advantage and creating custom missions, with unique objectives – Relic instead designed a set of around eight maps to be reused for 49 missions of varying levels of quality. That’s a lot of recycled content…

Some missions are scripted, with set pieces and unique objectives… But most just involve moving from point A to point B, killing everything in sight, and capturing a point. After awhile, I just couldn’t bring myself to slowly crawl through the same map one more time to spend fifteen minutes killing a tank.

So I installed Chaos Rising to see if it was any better… I didn’t get through the tutorial. Because it was just more of the same, slow, boring grind.

And while Retribution does actually have unique maps for each mission with somewhat unique objectives for each… They’re just boring. They opted to make a single campaign that could be played by seven different factions. And in doing so they made generic missions with no flavor whatsoever, and nothing of interest. There was maybe one actually fun mission out of the whole lot, and it was just a simple point defense mission. Instead using the different perspectives of each race, and maybe pitting them against each other with a short but unique campaign for each. Everyone gets the same, boring, thing.

Basically: It’s like communism

On the bright side, the single player campaigns do a better job of capturing the “epic” scale of Warhammer 40k – For example: in the first game you have to defend an entire solar system from multiple threats simultaneously. While traveling from world to world holding off each threat individually while also capturing and defending valuable resources… However, the idea that a single chapter of Space Marines – consisting of one thousand marines – could defend an entire sub-sector of space from an Ork Waaaagh, an Eldar Farseer’s meddling, and a nearly limitless Splinter Tendril of Hive Fleet Leviathan at the same time is kind of stupid…

Ork Waaaghs cripple entire star systems, plunging them into brutal chaos.

Eldar Farseers are literally capable of seeing the future, and can manipulate events for thousands of years. Plus the Eldar is general have incredible guerilla warfare.

And the Tyranid  can irrevocably poison the atmosphere of a planet, conquer entire worlds in a matter of days, and strip a planet of all biomass in just over three months…

Even with all these factions fighting each other at the same time – it still doesn’t add up.

And honestly I think that’s one of the reasons that I have kind of soured on this game. It’s a little dumb. Even in a setting that is known for being unbelievably over the top.

With that being said… The Last Stand mode is pretty fun, although in the hundreds of matches that I have played it I’ve never won a single time. It’s brutally difficult, and suffers from the same sluggish gameplay as the various other modes. But, it is fun, even with randoms.

All in all, Dawn of War II is decent. It won’t blow your mind – but if you can look past the methodical gameplay it can be pretty fun at times. It’s a slow and methodical mash of up ARPG and RTS systems that is carried by the Warhammer 40k license. I can guarantee that if the game was not set in this universe it would not be as well received… But with that being said: If you’ve never played Dawn of War II and its expansions, and you’re interested in checking out a game in the Warhammer setting… Well, maybe grab this one on sale. Although honestly Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, while dated is probably a better RTS game.

Now… If you want to play the last stand: You can buy the “The Last Standalone” separately and play just that. Which honestly, that’s the best name for any DLC I’ve ever seen.

What do you think?

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