Saturday, 12 March 2011

Dawn of War 2: Retribution Review!

Dawn of War 2: Retribution

Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

Available at:
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com
Amazon.de
£25.91
$29.99
29,99 €
Direct2Drive UK
Direct2Drive US
Direct2Drive EU
£29.95
$29.95
29.95 €
GameSeek (UK/EU)
ShopTo.Net (UK/US/EU)


£29.83
£26.86

Relic tantalised us in February with the beta testing of the Retribution multiplayer. Now that Retribution has been released worldwide for a week, how good can this latest installment of Warhammer 40k goodness be?

Singleplayer

Well, Relic promised us six whole campaigns for Retribution, one for each race, and they delivered on this promise. Each race has their own campaign and unique heroes which are as mouldable and flexible as the Emperor's finest we guided through Dawn of War 2 and Chaos Rising.

Being a fan of the Imperium of Man and having some sort of curiousity about the Blood Ravens, considering their sketchy past ever since Tartarus and even pre-Dawn of War 1 with Cyrene, I started off with the Space Marine Campaign.

You guide Apollo Diomedes with friendly faces, Techmarine Martellus and Scout Sergeant Cyrus, and the stony visage of The Ancient who has taken a vow of silence. The first mission plays through like a tutorial and feels quite sluggish if you've played any sort of RTS before, especially a previous Dawn of War game. You are very quickly acquainted with the ability to produce your own units out in the field. You collect 'Requisition' and 'Power' through various crates dotted around the map and build units at specific capturable points through your journey. Completing missions gives you a Reward, either a new item for your heroes or one of two upgrades for the units you can produce during the mission.

Jonah Orion and Gabriel Angelos: Can they save their Chapter or will they die trying?
After a slow start, things rather pick up after this with a fun mission which involves chasing and after a while you bump into an interesting new game mechanic: Honour Guards. You can choose to leave one or more of your heroes at home and their Honour Guard will take their place on the field. These Honour Guard are simply buffed producable units which can be resurrected for free at any HQ should they die. The twist here is that as your heroes level up, they can unlock certain abilities which will improve your Honour Guard squads if that hero is not deployed. To twist things even futher, certain abilities will improve the capabilities of your producable units if a hero is not taken. Combined, this means that there are a plethora of unit choices at your disposal and various ways which you can wreak havoc across Subsector Aurelia!

The new Squad Deployment screen showing the Heroes and Honour Guard choices
Anyone who has followed the Blood Ravens throughout the Dawn of War series will probably thoroughly enjoy the Space Marine campaign as the story unfolds then shake their fists wildly as it leaves enough questions unanswered to keep us awaiting a sequel.

Unfortunately as you start your second race playthrough, the dawn of realisation smacks you in the face and continues hitting you mercilessly. The maps used are identical. The objectives are for all intents and purposes identical. The banter between the Heroes is unique and good but repeating the same maps again is a rather dull affair in my book unless you take up the option of playing the campaign cooperatively with a friend which is a relatively simple process via Steam.

Kaptin Bluddflagg takes on a Chaosy Dredd fingy 'ead on!
Point to note: I recommend playing the Ork campaign. Kaptin Bluddflagg and his fellow Ork fighting partners (Da Boyz) are absolutely hilarious. The part Pirate, part Ork warband makes for a fun ride that at least partly blocks out the repetitive mission part of the game through the use of typical Ork ingenuity when it comes to making normal things sound funny.

Multiplayer

Not being fantastic in multiplayer RTS games, I rarely play competitively against human opponents and then it's usually against friends. During a few matches with mixed races and commanders against my friends I did notice that the new Super Units (the Baneblade and Land Raider Redeemer) are quite overpowered when well supported and can ruin the experience slightly. Whilst I know that almost any unit is effective when paired up with the appropriate support units, the Baneblade and Land Raider Redeemer can feel overbearing for their Requisition/Power cost and serve to unbalance the game slightly.

The Imperial Guard are the mainstay of the Imperium, normal man and machine which protect the Imperium from day to day threats. They make up for individual weakness with numbers and they make up for any infantry frailty by fielding some of the largest and most powerful mechanical units such as the aforementioned Baneblade and the Leman Russ. For a brand new race, they are reasonably well balanced but have their ups and downs like most races do. Considering Relic now have 6 races in competitive multiplayer matches, they are surprisingly well balanced.

We have bade farewell to Games For Windows Live (GFWL) and introduced Steamworks for all things multiplayer. Yay I hear you cry? Well, not just yet it's not. During most of the day here in Europe it is impossible to get the matchmaker to work or at least the matchmaking occurs randomly, often making users wait in excess of 15 minutes and still not matching them up despite plenty people being there for the matching. All types of game are affected, including The Last Stand. This is something which has immediately caught Relic's attention and they are already on their way to fixing it up so I'd expect improvements sharpish. Despite any such matchmaking issues I found the games to be pretty lag free and less issues with synchronisation with other players than I did under GFWL.

The Last Stand introduces a new map: Anvil of Khorne, and a new hero: The Lord General. Firstly, the new map is pretty wicked. The arena is nicely laid out and offers minimal cover whilst immediately throwing a large number of foes your way. By wave two, you are already facing off against Eldar Howling Banshees and Wraithguard foes. Vehicles come into the arena much earlier too, further enhancing the run and gun style of combat often found in Last Stand matches. What some people may find disappointing is that overall it is easier than the first map, The Bloodied Colosseum, due to a lack of Clones (Wave 16) and Revivable Heroes (Wave 20). Despite this it is most certainly a map that I find to be most fun and look forward to more sessions on it in the future.

My Lord General tackling The Anvil of Khorne with a few Imperial Guardsmen and some Grenade Launchers. Not a wise move! Khorne wasn't happy.
The Lord General is an interesting hero. Mixed somewhere between summoner and support, he is a very frail hero with some fairly potent weaponary and curious buffs which make him an excellent partner in the survival arena. Truth be told, he has some bugged weaponary and has quite a few imbalanced pieces of equipment which can take some of the fun away from playing. There has been enough excitement and debate over on the official Dawn of War 2 Forums and even on the Steam forums which I frequent about what items are overpowered and what is bugged. One of my favourite builds involves my Lord General using a Flamer and one of the special abilities of the Flamer means that the summonable Imperial Guardsman squad actually spawns with a couple of flamers. This is a dangerous close-combat move for the Lord General but it's also quite satisfying to see swathes of the lesser foes just capitulate as soon as the flames lick over them.

Conclusion

The Dawn of War series of games has been a focal point of the Real Time Strategy game industry since it was released and Retribution adds just a little bit more to both singleplayer and mutliplayer aspects. Whilst the rest of the world seemed to get stuck paying a higher price than Americans did, I believe that Relic added just enough to make it justified. 

If you play Dawn of War 2 for only the singleplayer content then you might love having 6 races to play with but could be disappointed with how 'samey' the campaigns are.

If you play Dawn of War 2 for the multiplayer content then having the Imperial Guard to play with/against is a boon and the addition of new The Last Stand content with the promise of a DLC in April will make you happy. Although Steamworks isn't quite working to it's full potential, it is very early days and teething issues were to be expected.

In all, Retribution is a bit of a mixed bag. Some people will be loving the campaign changes, the introduction of the new race and new TLS content whilst others will curse the 'samey' nature of the campaigns, the pricing debacle which saw most people paying a lot more than America for no apparent reason and the awkward Steamworks currently issue plaguing everyone who uses the matchmaking.

ElcomeSoft Score:  7.0/10 

Check out my other previews and reviews here

EDIT: After I actually wrote this review Relic introduced a small matchmaking fix. Preliminary results show that matchmaking has improved dramatically but in some instances is still being a pain in the proverbial. This is a sentiment echoed in the general chat areas within Retribution Multiplayer. Good showing from Relic though, releasing a patch rather quickly to try and address the issues.

More info:  Retribution: Collector's Edition Owners Bonus Coming...