Dawn of War II

We like what Relic Entertainment’s doing with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. Instead of tossing us a few new units with slightly snazzier graphics and calling it a day, they’re making some sweeping changes to the singleplayer campaign, killing some of the RTS genre’s most sacred cows by removing resource-gathering chores, and base management. They’re also shifting the focus away from amassing swarms of cannon fodder units to controlling an elite regiment of battle hardened Space Marines.

Dawn of War II’s singleplayer campaign feels great and we love dead cows, so we were pleased to see that their multiplayer matches are messing with tradition as well. As expected, 1 vs. 1 games will be available, but Relic’s focusing on making Dawn of War II’s 3 vs. 3 matches the mode of choice.

You’ll start by choosing your faction: Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids will be available. Next, you’ll choose a commander unit. Each faction features three types of commanders that are focused on offense, defense, or support. For example, the Space Marines let you choose between the Force Commander, who has strong melee attacks, the Techmarine, who can lay down turrets and structures that help heal allies, and the Apothecary, who can heal and revive fallen commanders.

Above: If you want to build a city, play a sim. If you want to command an army, keep an eye on Dawn of War II

Instead of constructing a series of buildings to produce units, upgrade equipment, and climb the tech tree, you’ll have a single base structure that fills all these roles. This small change makes a world of difference. With a few convenient clicks, you can quickly spend your resources to unlock vehicles and purchase reinforcements. Without the need to worry about meticulously your base and clicking your way through its buildings, you can focus on controlling your army, flanking the enemy, capturing control points, and helping your teammates.

And when it comes to helping your teammates, Dawn of War II looks like it’s shaping up to be the RTS equivalent of our favorite team-based shooter, Team Fortress 2. The commander units are powerful on their own, but it’s when players work together that they truly become a force to be reckoned with. An Ork Warboss may pose a minor threat to a heavily defended control point, but combine his powerful melee attacks with an Ork Mekboy, who can buff allies with Waaagh! Banners, and they’ll be able to steamroll their way through a line of tough Space Marines.

You’ll be able to form teams with any combination of factions, and during our brief hands-on time with Dawn of War II’s multiplayer, we got to see some beautiful class synergy. At one point, our Force Commander was overwhelmed by enemy Tyranids and Orks. We retreated towards our base and passed a friendly Techmarine who had fortified one of our control points with a turret and a teleporter relay. The relay healed our commander and the turret managed to fend off the first waves of Orks and Tyranids charging after us. This bought us some valuable time, allowing our reinforcements to flank our opponents. Soon our enemy found themselves trapped between our turret and a powerful squad of Terminator Space Marines. The enemy commander units fled with their tails between their legs and it was our team’s turn to push forward in order to capture another control point.

Integrated voice chat will be available when Dawn of War II ships. But not a word was spoken between us and our teammates during this exchange. The fact that two newbies were able to combine the strengths of their commander units to fend off an attack without any direct communication speaks to the potential of Dawn of War II’s co-op-focused multiplayer matches. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s intuitive, streamlined, and most importantly, a whole lot of fun.

Dec 18, 2008