Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Preview (PC)

Warhammer 40,000 may conjure up images of miniscule painted models to the uninitiated, but the first Dawn Of War shifted enough copies to spawn three expansion packs, garnering favourable reviews across the board. Now four years on, Dawn Of War is back with a sequel that aims to not only please the fans, but also net an audience of newbies with its engaging streamlined interface and structure.

The single-player mode has been overhauled to ensure the entire experience is absorbing, entertaining and challenging above all else. Utilising a squad-based mechanic, each mission begins with the loadout menu where you take the time to equip your troops with weapons, armour and special abilities. As the narrative progresses youíll gain extra units each with their own area of expertise. And youíll need to utilise their abilities if you want to best each of the gameís taxing missions, which include lengthy battles with nasty uber bosses. Question is should an RTS really feature boss encounters?

Mass destruction and devastation like this is fairly commonplace in Dawn Of War II
Your jetpack crew become an invaluable aerial asset in the campaign's early stages

During our hands on with the game, we got to try out the opening four missions of the single-player campaign and we can confidently report that the bosses we fought didnít disappoint, offering up a decent change of pace from the rest of the action. The core of the single-player game is a solid tactical romp through expansive levels filled with hundreds of enemies interspersed with a variety of additional tasks that keep things varied. Relic have made every effort to ensure the single-player mode is much more than a mere afterthought extending far beyond the standard one-player campaign youíd normally expect in the usual Command & Conquer vein where cut-scenes bookend each mission.

While thereís still a focus on micro-management, this revolves around customising your squad members rather than building bases and generating resources. Assembling your Space Marine force is a quick process and after just a few missions youíll already have three crews to choose from. Our hands-on revealed a spy crew for stealthy infiltration with the ability to briefly turn invisible, heavy gunners and Marines equipped with jetpacks for leaping long distances across maps to launch surprise attacks from the air. How you use each of your squads is up to you and as the single-player campaign progresses and more crews are unlocked, youíre given more choice of specialist troops to deploy for each mission. Youíre allowed a maximum of three additional support teams upon loadout; so choosing the most effective combination for the task at hand is key.

Sadly, we were unable to sample multiplayer due to an issue with Games For Windows. Oops. But you can check out the beta
One of Dawn Of War II's menacing uber-bosses. They're pretty huge and intimidating and take a lot of perserverance to defeat

Dawn Of War II takes its cue from Relicís other major RTS franchise Company Of Heroes, affording the game more visual polish than before. Also, where that game offered an absorbing and deeply involving single-player experience where you were made to actually care about the characters in your team, Dawn Of War II aims to repeat the same trick. Happily, this doesnít appear to come at the expense of the hardcore crowd who previously enjoyed Dawn Of Warís demanding multiplayer challenges and fans fearful of the experience being diluted or over-simplified to cater to more casual tastes can assuage their fears now. Dawn Of War II is every bit as hardcore an RTS as any of Relicís other strategy titles and anyone who fell in love with Company Of Heroes will find a lot to love about this game since the two share so much DNA.

There's a pretty high level of visual detail in the game and a lot more polish on show than in the first Dawn Of War
See the beardy weirdy with the furrowed brow? That's us, probably clicking the restart tab for the umpteenth time

In fact, Dawn Of War II does almost everything right by offering a game that successfully fuses a simultaneously testing and enjoyable non-linear single-player narrative with a resolutely hardcore multiplayer mode. That it strips away some of the staples such as base building isnít of detriment to the game at all as there are still more than enough tasks to keep you occupied. Capturing enemy bases and factories prove to be huge battles of attrition against swathes of hostile units, while securing spawn points to replenish your bedraggled and depleted armies can be nail-biting skirmishes that can leave you vulnerable if youíre not careful. Finding cover is enormously important and as such the AI will sometimes leap into it if under heavy fire. At the time of playing, we found the odd issue where the AI would get stuck or fail to avoid a devastating boss attack, but otherwise it does a pretty sound job of surviving. There are also guard towers that you can clear out and use for your own ends, setting up entrenched gun emplacements that offer decent protection against sudden attack.

Thereís a lot of care and attention to detail evident in what we played of Dawn Of War II and our interview with Jonny Ebbert (available to read now) is certainly a testament to how hard the team at Relic have worked to make this the best game they possibly can. We hope that in the six weeks or so leading up to release they ensure the whole thing is up to scratch, but with an RTS pedigree like Relicís thereís no doubt that this will be something very special indeed and a fine reward for Warhammer fans and strategy fans alike.

Dawn Of War II is pencilled in for release on 20th February.

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By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Jan 14, 2009
Yeah! It's time to serve the emperor again! It is better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself!
By BlitzKrieg (SI Veteran Member) on Jan 16, 2009
haha nice speech, original!, but i just cant wait, i love DOW!!!!! its awseome, and this adding to that awseome!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Feb 09, 2009
The first reviews are out, with Australia's PCPowerplay mag giving it an 8/10. Just beware that this is a strictly a Space Marine campaign, with each mission about 10 minutes long. It is very different to the original, and so adds to the Warhammer 40K universe, instead of replacing the original.
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
Jeez this game looks hardcore :)
and it sure reminds me of Starcraft LOL
anyways i would give it a 8.5/10
But i aint seen the game itself so I may change my mind :)
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
Hey anyone played the Boardgame?

its nice you get to color your own Units and make them look cool with customizations :P
By 101ghost1 (I just got here) on Mar 30, 2009
Does any1 know where i can get it cheap?