Friday, February 20, 2009

Dawn of War 2 First Impressions

Well I have now spent 3 days playing Dawn of War 2 and, while I don't feel like I have fully experienced it, I certainly think I can do quite a detailed first impressions.

Firstly, I just want to say a huge thank you to Relic (the developers). For the first time in a long time, I won't have to say, it's just another sequel. This game is not "another RTS", it is not just some nice graphics stuck on to an age old model. This game is different and, err, fun.

Another thing I didn't think I would ever say; I think I prefer the campaign to the skirmishes. Me, as in the person who played all of one mission from the first two parts of Dawn of War 1 and never even finished the campaign in Dark Crusade. Me, who loved the Rome: Total War campaign and, despite spending hours in the game, never finished the campaign because I preferred skirmishes. Me, who never even touched the campaigns in Age of Empires 1, me who didn't notice there wasn't a campaign in Sins of a Solar empire and me, who doesn't even bother with scenarios in Civilization 4.

However, the campaign in this is loads of fun. You control a maximum of four units (choosing these four units quickly becomes one of the many interesting decisions that make up this game) The reduced numbers quickly makes the game incredibly focused. In any other game, the amount of handling you have to do for each unit would be unhandleable micromanagement. Admittedly, at times it does feel a little intricate. For example, you have to point you Heavy Bolter units in the right direction for them to shoot, you have to constantly be activating special abilities and moving all your units around to face the onslaught on enemies.

However, it is doable. The game manages to keep you under pressure whilst not overwhelming you. On the lower difficulties, it isn't actually very difficult, but it feels like it is and that you are only just making it through because of your command.

Part of this is down to the decisions. Sid Miers once famously said that "a game is a series of interesting decisions". In this game, every decision is non-trivial. What equipment do you give your units, which units do you take, do you push for the heavily defended fortification to provide you with bonus equipment or focus on the main objective.

Also, because of the intricate combat, your stratagies feel much more relevant. In traditional RTS's, the actual tactical element is largely just amassing troops. This is out of the question in this, not least because the enemy will always out number you. As a result, you must constantly be using the terrain around you to make best use of your units. The weaker units that in most RTS's are just throw away units are as vital as any other, no unit is dispensable.

The press release said that you would care for your units on a personal level. Sadly, this isn't true. The characters are clich├ęd at best and are simply to shallow to ever feel like you know them. They are not loveable enough and it is very difficult to empathize with them. Also, the game made it so that units do not die, they are simply knocked unconscious. This is an interesting decision, and was no doubt taken in part because each unit's leader plays a part in the story. None the less, this once again stops you caring about your units.

Levelling up your units also features in this game, and it works really well. At first glance, it seems fairly simple, upgrade your heavy bolters with ranged and your jump pack troops with close combat. However, as you earn enough points in a certain area you get a perk. These perks are tailored to the unit, so every path is viable. For example, upgrading your heavy bolters in close combat makes them able to carry on "focus firing" when they are in combat.

As far as I can work out, when your unit is knocked unconcious, they don't loose all their experience, they just earn less. This could have been a way of appeasing the story whilst making you care about the units. Or it might just have been annoying.

I could talk about the campaign till the cows come home, so I will move on. Rest assured, this is the first RTS campaign that I have enjoyed that isn't done in the Total War style, and in some ways, I might even prefer it to the Total War ones. Story wise, it is a bit "whatever" and the voice acting is pretty much mediocre, but aside from that, the campaign has a few neat mechanics, interesting missions and fairly varied objectives.

With all that good, what is there left for the skirmish side of things. I have talked before about it quite a bit with the beta. However, I didn't actually try a team battle. The team battles work better than the 1 v 1s. One thing they do wonderfully is recreate the wonderful feeling when playing the board game with many people. The 1v1s, the battles, whilst fun and frantic, always felt a little empty. A quite effective strategy was to run around securing the victory points after the enemy has left them (you don't have enough units to defend every point on the map).

In the team games however, you really feel like you are taking part in a big battle. Normally with team RTSs, you invest a lot of focus back at base, meaning you can't really co-ordinate with your team. However, now it is capture victory points, you are forced out of your turtle shell and stand next to your brothers.

And I was only playing with AI!

The game isn't perfect, the army painter is fairly basic with only a minimal selection of badges and only four customisable colour parts. Another slightly annoying thing is you can't even use your painted armies in the campaign. Another thing I encountered was during the campaign, the game crashes immediately after the cut-scenes. It didn't matter, once I loaded up the game again, it resumed right where it left off, and the cut scenes aren't very command but a bit annoying any way.

Overall, get this game, this is the change we need (in the RTS genre at least). Apologies about the length, the final review will be more orgaised.

Full, more formal, better structured, review on Sunday.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:28 PM

    First of all, thx for the review. I am a big fan of the warhammer 40k series and i always wanted a change in the gameplay rather than the usual adding of more races. The armies seem small but i believe this was done in favor of a more strategic approach. Dont forget that the game is influenced by company of heroes( which focuses heavily on team play & strategic thinking). Despite some problems i think that it has a good solid gameplay and will appeal to most fans, especially for its team battles. I just hope they incude the chaos faction in a future expansion :)!!

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  2. Guard for me! I'm pretty confident that they will release all the races seeming as it is relatively easy money.

    The small armies certainly do create a much more tactical game. I was aware of Company of Heroes, but never got round to playing it.

    Like I said, this game forces you to make much more interesting decisions. In most RTS's it is about amassing a huge army, selecting them all and right clicking on the enemies one at a time.

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