Review by Rampart77

"Definitely worth the price of admission..."

Dawn of War 2: Retribution is the latest standalone expansion to Relic's Dawn of War 2 featuring a new race, the Imperial Guard, and campaigns for all of the races. This broadening of focus from one race (Space Marines) to all of the six featured races reminded many of Dark Crusade, the second standalone expansion to the first Dawn of War which, like Retribution, featured a campaign for all of the featured races in lieu of the one campaign featured (Space Marines again) in the first Dawn of War. In Dark Crusade the campaign was non-linier, a first for the series, which coupled with a way to upgrade the player's commander's wargear and the two new races to play with (as well as many other important changes) led to a game that could be called an instant classic.

In a very real sense Retribution is the spiritual successor to Dark Crusade, and so I'll be making comparisons between not only Dawn of War 2 and Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising but Dark Crusade as well.

Story

The story picks up where Chaos Rising left off and ties up looses ends while also showing the in this installment from the different perspectives of all the playable races.

This was a bold move for a game that is following two other titles where the perspective comes from one side out of four, five in the first expansion. Relic was, for the most part, successful in this endeavor; having played the campaigns of all six races thoroughly I can honestly say that while most of the stories ARE well thought out there are a few where it seems the writers just didn't know a way to tell the story from that particular angle.

For me the most enjoyable campaign, in terms of story, was definitely the Ork one; where many of the races have become predictable in the speech patterns of their main characters, the Orks are refreshingly silly and almost random with their comments in between missions. During missions as well their commentary often had me laughing more than I've ever laughed while playing a strategy game. The ending was priceless.

The stories and characters of the other races run the gamut from fascinating to face-palm-inducing, with most being a study in mediocrity. Honestly, there were very few characters in any of the campaigns that I could say that I felt really added something to the game other than what amounts to a guy telling you where to go next, with the notable exception of the Orks. In the Tyranid campaign, for instance, the comments from the hive mind (or whomever) are…always…like…this. Always brief, about four words spaced out with an ellipsis. Yeah, I know they are predatory monsters, but there HAS to be a better way to present their view of actions in Sub Sector Aurelia.

Single Player Campaign

The designers attempted to stick with the overall gestalt of Dawn of War 2 while incorporating features that would also cry a return to the roots of the series…with mixed results. Many of the features of the campaign are good ideas but a few of them were poorly implemented, some so much so that they detract from the game rather than adding to it.

The best example of this is the manner in which new units and upgrades for existing units are unlocked; after a mission the player is given a choice between a new piece of wargear for one of their hero units or one of two new units/upgrades for existing units. The upgrades are linear with a clear progression shown on the campaign map, so you can see what units you have access to and what upgrades you have and don't have, and before taking the mission it will show you what your choice of rewards will be. (I should note here that you do acquire one reward from completing the mission, and then chose another from the list of three).

This all sounds great, but the implementation of this idea leaves much to be desired; many of the upgrades offer only a marginal increase in the effectiveness of your units and having to unlock what could be considered basic units is very frustrating. In the Space Marine campaign, for example, you have to actually unlock the Tactical Squad, which could be rightly considered the backbone of that faction. Not only are the upgrades sometimes not really all that and a bag of potato chips, you often have to wait an absurdly long time to find a mission that offers one that you find yourself needing, and if for whatever reason you chose not to upgrade a squad or unlock it at a certain point in the game the upgrade is often not offered again. This leads to some frustration, especially when considering that one of the reward options for each mission is wargear that you will often desperately need as Relic scaled back the drop rate of wargear during missions. It is not uncommon to play for several missions with heroes who have no armor equipped at all, and this to me is a major flaw in the game's balance.

Of course the wargear that you can opt to take as a reward is often VERY nice, but having to chose between unlocking/upgrading squads and having heroes that are actually geared at all (to say nothing of effectively) is just…stupid. I honestly don't understand how the developers could consider this to have been a good idea.

Another complaint that I have about the campaign is that the resources you use to purchase and upgrade squads during missions is poorly thought out as well. In one mission near the end of the campaign, when you would expect (and be correct in your expectations) to need resources for units there is barely enough to build a respectable force. At the same time many of the earlier missions have an overabundance of resources but such a severely limited unit population that you'll still have tons of requisition and power at the end of the scenario. I understand the concept of gradually increasing difficulty throughout the course of the campaign and that balancing how you spend limited funds on units you need is (or is supposed to be) one aspect of the game's challenge, but the way this challenge was presented lacks the sophistication of Relic's previous titles. Simply put, resources, like mission rewards and unit unlocks/upgrades are occasionally unbalanced and don't make much sense. While the many of the missions are balanced well enough, there are just a few too many that aren't for my tastes and too many for you to be able to say that it has something to do with a gradual increase in the game's difficulty as you progress through the campaign. More than anything else it resembles a lack of forethought and poor mission design.

Another beef I have with the campaign is that there just aren't enough missions and there is little to no variety in how the story unfolds as you play. Every race gets the same missions with only one real difference in any of them aside from the dialogue. Again, bad design decision.

Despite all of this there is a lot of good things in the campaign. The way in which your heroes develop has been streamlined, and while the maximum level is now 10, you will be able to unlock fully two thirds of the skills available to your heroes…which to me is a vast improvement over the system as it was presented in both Dawn of War 2 and Chaos Rising. Not only that but many of the abilities seem more useful or potent and there seems to be much less filler in this regard. Also, the versatility of your hero units seems to be much greater in most cases. While there are some heroes that are definitely geared for one role (like the Ork Warboss) and some are capable of filling any role you can think of (namely the Eldar Autarch) and generally doing well in any of those roles. Of course the limited wargear does rear its ugly head once again in this instance; more starting wargear and more frequent random wargear drops during missions would definitely solve this problem.

Despite the occasional resource imbalance during missions and the fact that you are essentially playing the same missions six times each (if you play through the campaign with all six races), the missions themselves are actually fun to play, with none of them being cringe worthy…unlike some other titles such as Starcraft 2, where most of the missions have some sort of time limit and are thus frustrating and annoying rather than challenging and enjoyable. There are very few missions in Retribution that feature any sort of time limit and only two that I can think of that have on overt timer. In both of those instances the missions are still more fun that irritating.

One thing that I feel I should comment on in this review is that each faction only ever seems to field a very small amount of the units that are actually available to them in the table top game, Warhammer 40,000. A very small fraction. Not only so but many of the options available to players in the table top game (such as squad size and equipment load-out) aren't featured in this game. While I hate to be the like the guy who complains that the movie isn't as good as the book, a little more variety would have been VERY nice in this latest installment of the Dawn of War series. At the very least it would have been nice to customize the army colors of the faction that you play with during the campaign.

The Blood Ravens are great and all but I'm getting sick of their color scheme. I shouldn't have to play multiplayer or against the computer in a skirmish in order to customize what my army looks like. But this like my feeling that the game needs a bit more units from the 40k universe are really just my opinions and don't affect the score of the game. On the other hand I do felt that both of those points need to be made because they point to a lack of available options for user customization in a game that is screaming for it. In future iterations of this franchise the score of the game will likely be negatively affected (for me at least) if an option for a custom army paint scheme isn't featured in the campaign.

Multiplayer

Online play is great for the most part, though it can take a while to find someone to play with. The Last Stand mode has been given a new map and a new character from the Imperial Guard faction, the Lord General. The new map seems much more challenging and the Lord General is really fun to play with. Seriously. I can't think of anything negative to say about Last Stand in general or the features they added with this expansion.

On the other hand the other multiplayer options have gotten pretty old pretty quickly for me. Mostly I have played head to head games due to the time spent waiting to find other players and the limitations of my hardware. It takes a WHILE to find someone for a one-on-one game so I haven't even wanted to try a game where I was attempting to find even more players to fill slots, but this has more to do with there being not as many players online as there are for games like Starcraft 2.

Overall the multiplayer aspect of this game is great and does exactly what it sets out to do.

Graphics and Sound

This game is one of the best looking, if not THE best looking, real-time strategy games ever…even on my system, which is getting pretty old. The game runs smoothly most of the time on my seven-year-old system and should run well on almost any machine out there. While I can't enjoy all the bells and whistles that this game features graphics-wise (and it features quite a bit), I do still enjoy the game, and the graphics are still much better overall than any other real-time strategy game I've ever played.

Sound has never been all THAT important to me for a number of reasons, notably that I prefer to watch TV or a movie while I play a game, but when I do have the sound on I was satisfied with the quality in this game.

A Note on Hardware

I was actually forced to lower the sound quality in the game in order to increase performance, something players with older systems like mine should try if their frame rate is dropping; I spent about five hours one night with Chaos Rising trying to figure out why my frame rate was so low. I made very adjustment I could on the graphics and couldn't figure out why the game was still so slow…until on a whim I lowered the sound quality to its lowest settings. That fixed the game instantly, and after that I went through and carefully adjusted the graphics settings. I was VERY surprised at how high I was able to set them and still have a great frame rate.

Lowering the sound quality in Retribution produced the same results; the game plays quite well despite my system (specifically my processor and motherboard) being pretty old. I'm using a K8N motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 3000+ CPU…and the game is still on reasonable high graphics settings. My graphics card is an ATI Radeon HD 3600 AGP card; a bit newer but far from top of the line, and I only have 2 gigs of RAM.

The point of all of this (and why it's in a review) is that users with older systems shouldn't feel that they have to skip this title until they can upgrade; if your system is comparable to mine you should be fine…though I should mention that I am using XP, so if you have a better system in Vista (or possibly 7) I can't help you.

Summary

This is a good game and definitely worth buying even though it does have a few flaws. Some may be more annoyed at these flaws than I was, some may pick out some that didn't occur to me, while others might not think that the flaws that I pointed out were all that valid. Regardless, I feel that in the end this is a very solid game and definitely worth picking up, especially if you are a fan of the Dawn of War franchise.

Cons
- Story is only so-so
- Lack of unique campaign missions
- Mission rewards/wargear/unit unlock/unit upgrade needs work
- Uninteresting characters in campaign
- Some balance issues with resources during some of the campaign missions

Pros
- Great graphics
- Game play during missions is very fun and highly addictive
- Campaigns for every faction
- Runs well on an older system
- Some very entertaining moments during the Ork campaign


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/11

Game Release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution (US, 03/01/11)


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