Warhammer 40000 Dawn of War II – Retribution Preview

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Posted on February 14, 2011, CJ Miozzi Warhammer 40000 Dawn of War II – Retribution Preview

Being a diehard StarCraft fan, I would often look upon other real-time strategy games with a sneer of derision as they drowned in the shadow of Blizzard’s juggernaut.

The Dawn of War II – Retribution beta wiped that sneer off my face, grabbed me by the throat, and hurled me across the room with an oven-sized power gauntlet.

The second stand-alone expansion pack to Dawn of War II, Retribution appeals to both veterans of the series and greenhorns–read on for our resident veteran’s view after my greenhorn perspective.

Developed by Relic Entertainment, DoW2-R focuses on army micromanagement, simplifying the base-building aspect of most strategy games. Players capture resource points found throughout a map to receive passive income, engaging in tugs-of-war to steal back resource points from the enemy.

Every army is lead by one of three hero units of the player’s choosing, with each of the game‘s six races possessing a selection of unique heroes. Like RPG characters, these heroes can level up and be upgraded with various equipment and abilities -as can regular units, to a lesser extent. Knowing when and how to use these abilities can turn the tide of a battle.

Players must decide how to divide their armies on the battlefield. Spread them out too thin, and they’ll be crushed by a concentrated force. Keep them too clustered, and they forfeit map control to the enemy. Map control is a critical aspect of the game, and every map plays differently.

Similar to Relic’s 2006 RTS release, Company of Heroes, DoW2-R’s two main game modes are Victory Point Control and Annihilate. VPC games are won by controlling strategic points on the battlefield, adding a new dynamic to the resource point tug-of-war. Clever players will wage wars on multiple fronts, forcing their enemy to make a tactical decision: should they prioritize defending their resource points or control points?

The objective in Annihilate is to destroy your enemy’s base. Annihilate games tend to run long–longer than necessary. The outcome of the game is determined once one side has complete map control, has decimated the enemy’s army, and is waling on his opponent’s base–yet it still takes several minutes for an army to whittle away the base’s health. Scaling down base health would solve this issue, and since the game is still in beta, I haven’t given up on Annihilate yet.

Although the beta does not include a singleplayer campaign, the multiplayer alone can provide endless play hours thanks to the staggering amount of options available: 6 races, each with 3 heroes, means 18 possible combinations to choose from. Factor in how every other player also has 18 combinations and we need a statistician to calculate the permutations–or a tabletop gamer.

Which brings us to the origins of Warhammer: the tabletop wargame. One of the greatest appeals of the Warhammer tabletop games was painting the unit miniatures to your pleasing. DoW2-R successfully captures that appeal with its Army Painter feature, modernizing the concept through the instant gratification of colorizing your troops with a few clicks of the mouse–no more hours spent painstakingly applying each brushstroke.

However you paint it, DoW2-R promises to be a game that deserves a spot on every RTS gamer’s shelf.

Ron’s Take

Relic has always been one of my favorite deveopers of strategy titles. Company of Heroes set the bar for strategy games ridiculously high, and nothing has approached it since (no, not even your beloved Starcraft 2, CJ). Great games aren’t the only reason to love Relic, though. Let’s not forget that they work with the Warhammer franchise.

Like CJ, my Warhammer roots lie in tabletop battles. Dawn of War II hearkened back to those roots, and Retribution embraces them like a familiar lover.

Gone are the basebuilding aspects of traditional RTS titles. In their place, you’re controlling discrete groups of troops led by a hero of your choosing. The variety of heroes is the key to the game, as the experience of playing any of the factions changes greatly depending on which hero you have chosen.

Your army is far smaller than in other RTS titles, with 7-8 unit groups completely consuming your population cap at times. Battles are fast and furious, with unit upgrades being critical to success.

Relic’s also done a nice job here of balancing resources available to players. Unless you turn on high resources (which are so high they make the game a little ridiculous), you’ll find yourself always watching your requisition count, mentally counting down the seconds until you can afford another unit.

Maps are varied both in terrain and defensibility. Some provide chokepoints that defensive heroes can exploit, others are wide open and difficult to hold. Some of the large maps use the smaller maps as a core, and simply open up more terrain. I actually found this fun, as the larger maps felt familiar even If I had never seen them before.

It’s not surprising to see Relic preparing to roll out another engrossing RTS title. Still, it is gratifying to know that they haven’t lost their touch. Retribution is more than worthy of the Warhammer name, and every RTS fan should give it a serious look.

You can expect to see Retribution on shelves and digital distribution sites March 1 for $29.99. If you’re interested in the beta that CJ and I have been engrossed in, grabbing a pre-order of the game on Steam will grant you instant access.

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