Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

2009 in Review: Dawn of War 2

Posted by deckard47 on January 20, 2010

I’m pretty wretched at RTS’s. I don’t say this out of some kind of misguided attempt to curry favor or make myself look different in some way (I’m sure lots of people are bad at these games). I don’t have the kind of mind that can properly analyze and respond to complicated moment-to-moment tactical developments, or one that can remember what to build fastest, first. Sure, I have a fuzzy idea of what does well, but playing against a human (or a computer above Easy) I’m weak and easily destroyed.

A few years ago I welcomed (a step above my normal “tolerate” policy for RTS’s) Relic’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War. It was like a mix of an FPS control zone capture-based mode and a cool, almost squad-based RTS. I was still bad at it, but it was tons of fun. I avoided the sequel for two reasons: at the time, my computer whimpered at the site of the game’s menu, and I figured I’d explored everything Relic had to say about that world.

I was, luckily, wrong. Not only had Relic plugged an amusingly simple (yet enjoyable) narrative full of ridiculous growly men into their world, they’d done it while pretending to be making the sequel to Dawn of War, while they were really working on the continuation of Company of Heroes, Relic’s awesome WW2 RTS (which would be on this list if it hadn’t come out prior to 2009).

It seems like a lot of people compare DoW II to Diablo. I suppose they aren’t far off, in some ways. The maps do all resemble dungeons (in their similar structure and makeup), there is a lot of loot, and there are mobs, boss units, and levels to be had. Playing the game (on a higher difficulty), the last thing on my mind was Diablo. Battles in DoW 2, when not handled properly, are quick, deadly things. Upon returning to the game after a month-long break, I started up a campaign mission. I’d forgotten who my best troops were, what powers and items they had (and what each power did best), and what abilities I’d gifted them with. It was like dropping into Baldur’s Gate 2 after a long hiatus. The first hour or so is spent enduring brutal, near-instant humiliation at the hands of the game’s enemies and AI.

What DoW 2 does is actually quite impressive, when you think about it. It takes that (necessarily) cautious, often-brutal squad gameplay, lowers the difficulty (just a bit), and turns everything else all the way up, especially in the explosions and eviscerations department. While that might not necessarily be your thing, as it is not mine, it facilitates (graphically) the game’s desire to let you mess around with every map and battle. The game is constantly, entertainingly willing to let you attack your enemies using a vast array of powers, in a surprising number of tactically viable ways. Again, I’ll compare it to a Bioware game, in this case, Dragon Age: when you come up against a horde, you might lose half or all of your squad before regrouping and healing. So how do you take the enemy out? In my case, you think, and you examine your crew. Maybe you restart the mission so you can drop in different units. Then you use your sniper crew (who I quickly upgraded to have super-ultimate cloak) to utterly destroy the enemy with satchel charges. Or you send out your heavy gunner crew, alone, and have them drop two devastating sentry guns in at the last minute, just as the horde is upon them.

It takes the tense tactical play of a squad-based RPG, and then takes almost all of the standard attacks, maneuvers, and abilities and makes them seem outrageous and ridiculously fun. In that way, it kind of is like Diablo (and its story is definitely closer to something you’d find in a Blizzard game), but only if Diablo was a game that focused on smart, squad-based tactical RPG skirmishes. It’s also beautiful, and almost every unit in-game moves and attacks with obvious weight and purpose. Watching giant mechs and aliens explode through walls, while smaller units use heavy ordinance to open new avenues of attack onto sniper units for the first time, I couldn’t believe (and still can’t believe) that games can get away without including this kind of fluctuating, controllable terrain (this is beginning to sound familiar). Despite these new levels of tactical nuance, the game is also, somehow, quite laid back in its pacing. My units may attack using ludicrous space laser swords, but battles are not quick affairs.

The pacing is also just about perfect. It is just fast enough that I can lose a battle in a few minutes, but i i’s also slow enough that I can think as I play (no need for a pause button), adapting to new threats as they appear, and reallocating my units as need be. It’s a far cry from my normal thought process in RTS’s, which is normally this : “Oh shit, here they come I’mgoingtodie!” The fact that this excellent gameplay comes packaged in a silly if mostly fun universe just adds to my delight every time I open the game. I can’t think of another game released this last year, be it an RTS or an RPG, that satisfied me and made me feel smart in this way.

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2 Responses to “2009 in Review: Dawn of War 2”

  1. Yeah, the SP on this was really spot-on. I wanted to get more into the competitive aspect, but it seemed to require (like most RTSs) way more training than I could put into it. There were people with really high clicks-per-minute who could just steamroll me by throwing grenades, which were totally useless to somebody at my level of my play. Kind of a nightmare most of the time.

    • deckard47 said

      I’ve tried the MP on multiple occasions, and every time I would get instantly destroyed by my opponent. Obviously a MP offering based on the SP would be a different proposition altogether, but I’d love to see smaller, squad-based MP battles (although I’d still get my ass kicked).

      Actually, I don’t know if you’ve played Company of Heroes (doesn’t seem like your thing), but the MP there feels like a mix of DoW 2 SP and MP. It’s just a bit slower and more tactical. I think I’ve actually won a round or two of it.

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