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Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising Review

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Tom Dann

Chaos Rising, like most modern games, is split into two very distinct game modes, which makes discussion of an overall experience problematic. The campaign mode will be most players first port of call, however, making it the best place to start. The story picks up shortly after the events of Dawn of War II, and sees the return of the six heroes from that game. The Aurelia Sector, home to the Blood Ravens Chapter of Space Marines, is witness to the reappearance of a long lost planet, along with a distress signal. What follows is an epic tale of betryal and corruption, unfolding through the eyes of the purest warriors in the 40K universe.

The Space Marines are genetically enhanced warrior monks, who have essentially forsaken humanity in order to better protect it. They rate very highly on the scale of awesome, though the heroes in Chaos Rising are fairly short on character. This is to be expected, since Space Marines, in Warhammer lore, tend to spend most of their time praying and training for battle. Unfortunately this means that players will have little emotional connection to the characters during the campaign, especially the player’s avatar, the Force Commander, who remains an empty vessel for the player to inhabit. There is also the missed opportunity to explore the Space Marines’ sacrifice of their human lives in order to be protectors. There is room for great drama here, and we do get an insight into some of the heroes views of humanity: Thaddeus, the youngest marine, sees humans in the best light, though Avitus, the grumpiest marine, sees humans as weak and a nuisance. Overall there is little room for characterisation, as conversation is strictly limited to plot exposition.

The story itself sees the return of a previous Dawn of War villain. Again, he isn’t explored in any detail, though the forces of Chaos are effectively used as a dark mirror for the Space Marines. Chaos Space Marines are corrupt Space Marines, who fight for the glory of their dark gods and, frequently, just the fun of it. The new corruption system, which sees the player’s troops either succumb to the lure of corruption or remain steadfast and pure, taps into the idea of good and evil existing on a sliding scale rather than being total opposites.

The sheer wealth of background history that’s accumulated for the Warhammer 40,000 universe is a double-edged sword for developers of videogame adaptations. On the one hand, the universe already exists, which saves a lot of time and energy creating background story. On the other hand, the game cannot rely on the dense and often complex mythology, as this will be inpenetrable for anyone not intimitely familiar with the tabletop game. Chaos Rising strikes a happy medium, opting to avoid most of the more intricate background, instead relying on the broader aspects of the mythology in order to keep enthusiasts happy while catering for the newbies.

The great pleasure of the Chaos Rising campaign, as in Dawn of War 2 before it, is collecting wargear and unlocking new abilities for your heroes. Nevermind that the heroes don’t have personalities. Chaos Rising, as a strategy game, cannot generate the same kind of immersion in the world as a game like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, or Half-life 2. It instead focuses on other elements of gaming that gamers adore: collecting and improving things. And providing endless numbers and statistics to prove that things are, in fact, improving. The RPG influence on Chaos Rising is most apparent in this respect, mimicking games such as Diablo and Torchlight.

The time in missions is characterised by gleefully brutal violence. No effort has been spared with the kill animations, giving the game a cartoonish level of ultra-violence, which is endlessly entertaining. In a time where games are receiving negative media coverage regarding “realistic” violence in immersive games, here is a game unafraid to spill a little blood, confident in the knowledge that the player will enjoy the imagination poured into the destruction. The player orders his limited number of troops around a battlefield, defeating enemy troops using a combination of firepower and cunning. Movement is vital to the game: troops in the open are vulnerable to fire, while troops behind cover are safer. Once the movement is sorted, however, it’s down to the aforementioned firepower: explosives, machine guns, tanks, chainsaws. The destruction is entertaining, and acts as a reward for the clever use of your troops. Objectives are, unfortunately, firmly rooted in RTS convention. Search and destroy, defense and escort are all present and correct. Not that the gameplay is boring: the RPG crossover aspects and colourful, tactical gameplay keep things interesting. It’s just a shame the missions aren’t more unique to complete the package.

Chaos Rising is proof positive that there’s life left in the RTS genre, and, more importantly, there’s still room for it to evolve. The RPG elements allow for greater control over your troops, and even stretch to multiplayer where they improve the longer you keep them alive, thus rewarding careful, thoughtful gameplay. The frantic battles are married to gleefully brutal animations, which perfectly bring to life the complex and distinctive Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Copyright Tom Dann 2010

Buy on GamersGate

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