Friday, February 06, 2009

Dawn of War 2 Online Beta Impressions

Well, despite THQ claiming this game has gone gold, Dawn of War 2 has gone into a last minute beta check and they need YOUR help, quick, download it off Steam. [If you didn't pick up on the sarcasm in that last sentence, I recommend you read the rant at the end of my last blog update]

Dawn of War 2 is very different to Dawn of War. If you are not aware, there is no base building. At all. Before you all leave to pre-order Starcraft, hear me out. This change is not a bad thing.

So, you strip out the base building, what do you have left? A surprisingly fluid RTS that could work on the console as well as the PC. How does it work, all your units are built at your headquaters. You can level your headquarters, but that is about it. Levelling up grants additional, more powerful, units.

The game flows a lot more than in Dawn of War. In the original, the best strategy tended to be: build some turrets, quickly level up, build as many units as your cap allows then attack. This was fun, but made games quite similar and also quite lengthy.

If you do that in Dawn of War 2, you will lose. Annihilation is not the aim of the game. On each map, there are 3 "Victory Points". Both players have a score, the opponents score decreases at a rate relative to the amount of victory points you hold. When one reaches zero, they lose. These work in a similar way to the requestion points in Dawn of War(which are still present).

Building units still requires energy and requestion. However, you cannot build power stations, they now must be captured like requestion points. All of this adds up to force you to mobilise your troops right from the start. If you sit in your base, the opponent will quickly be able to rack up more requestion and energy points than you (on top of the victory points, allowing him to win). When he does finally attack you, you won't stand a chance.

This means that you will constantly be sending out troops to capture points. Which in turn means you will always have less units alive at any given point(hence why it could, in theory, be adapted for the console). Less units means more control over them. Units can now get behind cover, for example. It plays more like Platoon (a demo came with a newspaper once!).

Also, because right from the start you will be battling, your commander unit (which you now start off with) plays a much more important role, helping to turn the tide of battle. Commanders now level up and, when they die, an option to revive them becomes available.

Another bonus is the game is actually balanced. Each side has a very different feel to it and yet, remarkably, the sides feel fair. Such a quick and competitive online will surely result in this game being played a lot - the true test of balance - but from where I am sat it looks balanced.

The game looks good, not quite as good as the screen shots, but the animations are really cool. The game sounds good, as you would expect from Dawn of War. Finally, the Games for Windows Live intergration is a mixed addition. On the one hand, it will mean achievements, plus neat stat tracking and a working friends list. However, no option to browse games (the custom game feature doesn't seem to work, either that or no one in the whole world was hosting a game) and having to matchmake (which is as slow as Gears at the moment) is a bit annoying.

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised. I have talked before about how I am looking forward to see what they are doing with the single player campaign. I am pleased to report the online, which was so key in the original, is shaping up to keep in sync with the fresh single player whilst offering fast, addictive online.

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