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Dawn of War II: Retribution Review

By Tom Dann

Retribution – Noun. The act of punishing or taking vengeance for wrongdoing, sin, or injury.

In the Warhammer 40,000 Universe, as it quickly becomes clear, there’s plenty of wrongdoing, and therefore plenty of vengeance. As Obi-Wan Kenobi preaches, truths depend greatly on points of view, and, in Warhammer 40,000, there are a lot of points of view: Retribution is the first Dawn of War II game that lets players command any faction throughout the single player campaign. The game is the next chapter in the increasingly complex story of the Blood Ravens Chapter of Space Marines, which is interwoven with the stories of several other factions and characters. There are plot threads here that link back to the very first Dawn of War game in 2004, which is satisfying for those who have followed the series closely, but could prove daunting for newcomers.

Retrbution starts a decade after Chaos Rising, the previous expansion for Dawn of War II. The Sub-Sector Aurelia is in crisis. Still reeling from the Tyranid invasion from Dawn of War II, the Blood Ravens were barely able to deal with the Chaos incursion, one that highlighted corruption festering in their own Chapter. While they believed the forces of Chaos were defeated, the taint of Heresy began to spread. Cults and insurrections have sprung up all over the system, while only a handful of Blood Ravens know the truth: the Master of the Blood Ravens, Azariah Kyras, is a traitor, and has declared the only ones who can oppose him as renegades. The Imperial Inquisition, utterly intolerant of any sign of Heresy, have called for an Exterminatus: the utter destruction of Sub-Sector Aurelia and everyone in it: guilty or innocent. As far as the Inquisition are concerned, the only thing that differentiates an innocent person and a guilty person is that an innocent person isn’t guilty yet.

As mentioned, Retribution is the first Dawn of War II game to offer players the chance to play as a faction other than the Space Marines in single-player. There are six factions to choose from, each with a roughly five to eight hour campaign, depending on which side-mission you take on. For a mere expansion, that’s a lot of content, though much of each faction’s campaigns is shared with only minor differences. While each faction gets its own story, it’s the story of the Blood Ravens that forms the heart of the game: each other race revolves around that central conflict. Its a shame that more wasn’t done in that regard, but additional complexity for each story could have felt contrived, and it’s the fun of customising your characters that’s the main draw anyway: the plot itself is definitely secondary to accumulating loot and xp.

Dawn of War II was accused of taking place on too small a scale. Each mission allowed the deployment of only four heroes and their accompanying squads, meaning you rarely had more than ten characters in your army. Retribuition maintains this more personal element, including earning xp and new abilities, and finding new wargear (though, unfortunately, new armour no longer changes your heroes’ appearance), but cleverly combines it with a return to larger scale warfare. In missions, you can capture strategic points and relays, which allow you to call down more squads as reinforcements. It’s a simple change that works wonders: the additional troops allow for a greater variety of strategies. You could swarm infantry, for example, or (my preference) swarm tanks. You could focus on ranged or melee troops, or perhaps stealthy or guns-a-blazin’ troops. You can approach each mission in your own way.

Another neat change is the option to leave behind any of your characters (except your main hero), and replace him or her with an “Honour Guard.” These squads bulk out your numbers, and also gain several abilities from upgrading your heroes. It won’t be an easy decision who to leave behind, though. If an Honour Guard Squad gets wiped out in battle, they can be replaced for free instantly from a captured Relay or HQ. This is handy, but goes against Dawn of War II’s ethic of encouraging players to keep their squads alive.

The only real criticism of Retribution is that it’s still the same game. It’s not really a criticism as such: Dawn of War II was a very good game, and with constant updates and nurturing it became an even better game. If Retribution was released two years ago, it could well have been one of the great strategy games. As it is, it’s an expansion that refines and generally improves an already very good game, albeit a two-year old game. As well, the campaigns are all a little too similar, borrowing as they do missions and story points liberally from each other. Relic shot themselves in the foot in a way: by offering so many campaigns, the quantity ended up outweighing the quality. There could have been fewer campaigns, perhaps: the Order / Disorder campaigns in Winter Assault was a well conceived way of making each faction playable in the storyline. There could have even been fewer, better campaigns. The problem is, every option would have upset somebody. As it is, Retribution’s single-player offering is excellent if you just want to play as your favourite faction, or merely good if you want your money’s worth and play through all of them.

Copyright Tom Dann 2011

Buy on GamersGate

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