Home > Previews > Dawn of War II: Retribution Multiplayer Preview

Dawn of War II: Retribution Multiplayer Preview

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Tom Dann

Dawn of War II: Retribution will be the second expansion for Relic’s 2009 Sci-Fi RTS. The game follows the template the original Dawn of War set out: several expansions gradually adding new races and units from the incredibly rich Warhammer 40,000 background. Retribution’s addition to the game is the Imperial Guard, the humans of the 40K universe. Men in 40K are comparatively weak and numerous next to the other races, and consequently rely on big guns and big tanks. The Retribution campaign will follow the model laid out by the Dark Crusade expansion for the original game: a Risk-style map, that must be conquered with your race of choice. This is far more exciting than Dawn of War II’s previous campaigns which, while decent, only let players choose the Space Marines. But the campaign will be reported on elsewhere: the Retribution multiplayer beta has been running for nearly a week now, so while it’s not fully representative of the finished product, it’s giving us a pretty good idea of the changes to expect.

The multiplayer component of Dawn of War II has been incredibly resilient. Many people still play regularly, and this is probably thanks in part to Relic’s continued support of the game. Balance patches are rolled out regularly to keep the game fair and fun, as well as new maps and game modes from time to time. A new expansion tends to upset the balance, however: by introducing a whole new race, as well as new units for the existing races, all at once, it’s no surprise there will be kinks to iron out.

 

First things first. This is still very much Dawn of War II. If you’re someone who was turned off by the lack of base-building and smaller scale, then things haven’t changed at all in your favour. Games are still short, fast-paced and brutal. On the other hand, if you were into this kind of gameplay, then nothing broken has been fixed. This is still the same game as last year, and the year before, just expanded. Which I suppose is the point of an expansion. For those unfamiliar, a multiplayer game of Dawn of War II begins with a HQ, a hero and a squad. Your hero is chosen before the game, and brings with it unique abilities. You can build new squads, which have a variety of upgrades and abilities, as well as vehicles. The objective is to capture and hold strategic points on the map to gain resources. What differentiates Dawn of War II from other RTS’ is, firstly, the smaller scale, where every squad you buy plays a big role (and, importantly, gains experience, so keeping them alive is a must) and, secondly, units special abilities, which means as well as keeping your mind on your overall plan, you have to think very carefully about every single encounter.

The new race, the Imperial Guard, made their original Dawn of War debut in that games first expansion, Winter Assault. The key to the Imperial Guard has always been numbers and firepower. If the Space Marines are always outnumbered, never outgunned, then the Imperial Guard are never outnumbered, never outgunned. The range of tanks they have access to is huge, though you’ll only see a snapshot of that in Retribution (dozens of tank options would be unnecessarily complicated.) As it is, their main tank, the Leman Russ, does come with several weapon configurations for some more variety (as well as adaptability, depending on how the game is going). The units available represent the Guard well, and the heroes are characterful. The General, for example, is a defensive hero and has several abilities involving off-map artillery bombardments, which made me feel like I was playing Company of Heroes again (in the best possible way). Other unit abilities include the standard Guardsmen’s ability to construct small walls for cover: essential later in the game when all the cover has been blown away.

 

In the original Dawn of War, each race had a “Relic Unit.” Each map contained several Relic’s which could be captured, and these unlocked the most powerful units. Because of the decreased scale of Dawn of War II, such units were not included (except for the Eldar’s Avatar). In Retribution, each race now has a “Super Unit” that can be called upon very late in the game (for a huge resource cost). The Imperial Guard have access to the Baneblade, for example, a gigantic tank the size of several houses, covered in guns. The Space Marines now have access to the Land Raider Redeemer, a variant on the Land Raider found in the original Dawn of War, a very large tank (not as big as the Baneblade, though), mounted with flamethrowers and assault cannons. The Orks can now build a Battle Wagon, an absurd piece of Orkish design that’s held together by force of will alone, but acts as a heavy tank. These new additions are characterful, and make the late game more exciting. However, if one player is a little behind anyway, they’ll have very little chance of pulling themselves back into the game if their opponent gets one of these rolled out. That’s not to say it’s impossible, some quick thinking and good micro-management can still bring one down, as long as the battle is so hopeless that the offending monstrosity has an entire army in support. In any case, these units probably won’t make much of an appearance except in team games and incredibly close fought one on ones.

One of the highlights of the Dawn of War games have always been the brutal animations. Known as sync kills, you’ll often notice in the midst of the mayhem that one of your soldiers performs an execute move, or shoots an enemy in the face, or other such kill move. These add real character to the game, and bring the game world to life in a way that generic animations can’t do. Unfortunately, there is a downside to sync kills, and that is that, in order to complete the kill, the units involved become temporarily invulnerable. This is normally fine, though it can alter the balance of smaller skirmishes. Relic seem to have picked up on this, and drastically reduced the frequency of sync kills in multiplayer. The reason for this is balance and responsiveness: it is, admittedly, annoying if you need your hero elsewhere, but he won’t move because he’s busy eviscerating an enemy. Characterful, but impractical. Relic appear to be keen for Retribution to be played far more competitively, and removing sync kills, while reducing immersion, makes the game more streamlined. Admittedly, in the midst of a tense game, you won’t notice most of the sync-kills anyway. Here’s hoping they’re still around in single-player, though.

One of the most anticipated updates for Retribution, from the existing Dawn of War II community, at least, is the dropping of Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live matchmaking tool. The service has been consistently problematic for the last two years, frequently lining up wildly uneven battles as well as making it difficult for Relic to update the game as efficiently as they’d like. The switch to full Steam integration is a welcome one, then, along with a new matchmaking system that promises to be far more accurate.

 

Despite the new faction, units and matchmaking, very little has changed in the game. The graphics are much the same as ever: they look good, though are beginning to show their age. Of course, with a competitive online RTS, performance is far more important than visual quality, so it’s understandable that Relic aren’t going out of their way to update the game visually. Since you’ll be spending most of your time zoomed out for the best strategic view, the visual shortcomings are virtually invisible anyway.

Retribution is due for release on March 4th, and is shaping up to be an exciting entry in the Dawn of War franchise. It won’t push the RTS genre into new territory, nor will it change the core gameplay, but it’ll consolidate and improve what is already one of the most polished and playable RTS’ around. Relic have still got three weeks to learn everything they need to from the beta, and then apply it. Come March, expect a well balanced, exciting multiplayer experience.

Copyright Tom Dann 2011

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