More DoW2 Multiplayer Wordthinks

By Jim Rossignol on January 23rd, 2009 at 12:12 pm.


So I’ve had a bit more time on the Dawn Of War 2 multiplayer beta, and some thoughts come to mind. I’ve written them up after the jump, and I’m fairly certain you’ll tell me whether or not you agree.

Different, and yet agreeably samey. Less of a battle and more of a brawl. That’s how I’m feeling about Dawn of War 2. I love the spread of options that the four races (and three hero-types per race) provide, and I’m also glad of the absurd Warhammer 40k bombast that was so perfectly pitched in the original. Fights are ostentatious, macho, and bloody. Not-quite-cartoon brutality that makes this entertaining even when you lose. Just the way we like it. The entire game is a little closer in, and much better defined. Everything, from the main menu inwards, is swathed in useful detail. It has a sense of purpose. I love the jungle map, and the Tyranids hiss and shriek just so.

Early on, I wasn’t so sure. The focus on your units, particularly your hero, rather than your structures, is a distinct and far-reaching change. And it’s blatantly clear that the game can be won or lost in the opening couple of minutes, which I’ve heard a few grumbles about. That’s true, but this does not mean that it will be lost in that period, which is quite a different conclusion. In actual fact, if teams manage to deploy fairly evenly in those opening moments, and keep their core assets reasonably well defended, then a proper scrap can emerge.

That’s not to say it’s quite what I wanted. I do miss being able to build a large complex of buildings, and especially turrets. As that kind of player I was, of course, drawn to play the defensive hero classes. The techmarine was particularly satisfying, and I managed to do fairly well in early games by spamming Tarantula turrets across my most sensitive areas. Immediately these kinds of units begin to reveal what is interesting about DoW2, with the techmarine levelling up, and the turrets suppressing enemy units. The heavy weapons really do feel heavy in this game, not just because of the suppression effect, which slows enemy assaults, but also because of the visual splatter of them. The effects rip across the map in a most satisfying manner. They are big guns wot shoot like big guns should

And assuming things don’t fold in the first few minutes, the game really does begin to open up in an interesting way, thanks to that levelling dynamic. The fights become fiercer, more likely to be turned by the sudden burst of a special power. (Possibly at the risk of there being too much micromanagement? I can’t tell yet.) This time the upward spiral of firepower is not simply thanks to base upgrades giving you more tiers of units, but in the clear focus on sexy equipment. Pretty much everyone can be upgraded, with the hero getting three slots for special abilities and additional powers. Once these are in-play then the micro-level of the actual fights become a good deal more compelling. Once again Relic have aced the fighting animations, and watching an Ork warboss beat the hell out of a Tyranid hive tyrant makes for happy nerding.

All this stuff benefits from the lessons learned via Company of Heroes too, with the use of both cover and structures. This I really do approve of. Dawn of War battlefields are no longer fancy, but essentially featureless, playing fields. Instead – as in CoH – the entire thing is enriched by their being made up of a network of possible chokepoints and entrenchment lines. This makes the battles feel far more malleable: you sense there’s more to master, and more options to play with. More to worry about, too. The cover system doesn’t always seem to work for squads, with one dude almost always standing out in the open, but it’s an addition that seems to genuinely rejig the way you have to think, if you want to win.

Of course, having been a complete junkie for hugely unit-rich base-building mega-battles in the original game, I do feel a little disappointed by the pared down, smaller feel of the multiplayer ways, and it makes me fear for the single player too. But that feeling is nevertheless offset by the general new-and-improved shininess of the game. This is one of the instances where a small step up in technology and design talent makes a rather major difference. They’re a couple of games wiser and smarter, and my newer, beefier PC is happy to shoulder the extra graphical load. The tigher focus seems to have brought some details to the fore, and make the large units all the more essential, and impressive.

Once again the Relic team seems to have captured what’s interesting about Games Workshop’s grim 41st century of Only War, and yet still made it colourful and approachable. So approachable, in fact, there’s something quite Blizzardian about it. It’s got that kind of sheen, which seems appropriate, given the history. And that user-friendliness will make the contrast with ultra-traditional Starcraft 2 all the more interesting. It does feel like Relic are making the bolder moves in the RTS world, but whether that will count for much in the race for sales and general acclaim, it’s hard to say. Maybe. I hope so.

We’ll be talking a load more about Dawn Of War 2, which is set for release on 19th/20th February, in a couple of weeks.

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122 Comments »

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  1. Okami says:

    Bought Soulstorm, downloaded the Beta of DoW2, started playing, realized that the game runs absymally on my pc, even with everything set to “low”, stopped playing, cried a little.

    It’s a real tragedy that the game won’t run properly on my rig, since what little I experienced of it really sold it to me.

  2. SwiftRanger says:

    Loving it after some first hours of weirdness. And yes, the Tech Marine is awesome, though not so much for its turrets (once vehicles pop out they’re toast) but for that teleporter array which is a bit like a mobile base to refill squads again.

    Got some worries about the power of vehicles though (especially the big melee smashers), I have the impression that in most late-game fights infantry squads are nowhere to be seen, only for capping points.

  3. Nick says:

    Okami – did you try turnin the sound quality down? I’ve heard that can have a positive effect on performance.

  4. davidAlpha says:

    very nice, I expected the game to be more “zoomed in”. How would you compare a game like DotA to this game? I feel like games like dota have caused a shift in newer strategy games. The focus seems be more on squads and units. With the exception of supreme commander of course.

  5. Primar says:

    From what I’ve heard (PCG review), multiplayer takes the form of 1v1 or 3v3 only. Assuming that’s correct and I didn’t misread the text, any idea why they’re leaving out 2v2, or FFA?

    Had a quick google, but can’t seem to find much info on the subject.

    Still looking forward to it though – the idea of RPG-esque combined arms tictacs in co-op singleplayer gets me all excited.

  6. Homunculus says:

    It’s like the RTS evolutionary branch that was supposed to occur when Myth was released has suddenly snapped back into the proper timeline.

  7. SwiftRanger says:

    2vs2 is still possible on a 3vs3 map but not in a ranked game, only in custom games. The beta also doesn’t reveal how going up in ranks tweaks your heroes’ wargear, the army painter isn’t in either. I still have quite a few questions about that.

  8. Dolphan says:

    I can’t get Steam to stop crashing when I try and launch games. Even by reinstalling it. *Cries*

  9. Bjbrains says:

    DoW2 really does a good job of bringing the RTS forward, with gameplay that’s less about mashing hotkeys and more about directing units. I have to say that the people who claim that this game is “shallow” or “dumbed down” have *not* played it enough. It takes some games to get used to the differences, but once you do it is extremely fun.

  10. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Bjbrains

    not played the DoW2 Beta yet but i know that a lot of people called CoH shallow simply because they hadn’t played it enough.

  11. The Poisoned Sponge says:

    @Primar I’ve heard they’re going to release a few extra maps in the first few weeks after release, so hopefully there’ll be at least one 2v2 map in there.

    On the subject of DoW2 MP, I’ve said what I want here, but I found the inability to properly defend my strategic points infuriating, to say the least. Perhaps it’s just the way your hero dictates your playstyle so drastically that’s hard to begin with. Maybe I’ll get better.

  12. jalf says:

    The beta only has 1v1 and 3v3 maps. That doesn’t mean 2v2 isn’t possible of course (If nothing else, you can just close a slot on each side in a 3v3 map). I assume dedicated 2v2 and probably 4v4 maps will get added in the full game.

    FFA is more doubtful though, since you have two fixed teams, similar to CoH. (Although unlike CoH, you can freely mix factions, so you can have SM and Tyranids vs Orks and Eldar)

    About late-game infantry, in my experience they’re still there and they still play a big role. It varies a lot by race, of course, but infantry still provide a lot of the base ranged firepower simply by having more guns than vehicles could ever hope to manage. In fact, I’d say Relic has done an extremely good job in ensuring that no units ever become obsolete.
    Orks, which are probably one of the simplest and most straightforward races, have basic sluggas for plain melee, shootas for ranged, and later on they get lootas for heavy supporting fire *but with setup time and limited arc of fire* so they can’t quite replace shootas.

    Later still, you get nobz which are brutal in melee, but they’re so hideously expensive, you can’t afford to ditch sluggas but have to rely on a mix. (plus sluggas get flamers, which can be handy)

    There are units you use more often than others, of course (I hardly ever use ork stikkbomberz or tyranid raveners), but I can’t think of a single unit that gets entirely superseded by a higher-tier one.

    Oh, and ‘nids are deliciously weird to play. I think Relic has got them just right though. They feel like a swarm of big, squishy bugs. Most of them suck in isolation, they’re all about, well, zerging, and about the various synapse aura effects that some key units provide buffing up the rest of the army.

    They also die like flies no matter what. You’re lucky as a ‘nid player if you take fewer losses than all other players combined… in a 3v3. Even if you win. ;)
    Big, cheap squads.

    In contrast, they really made Marines feel like a few superhumans. Their squads are small, and insanely expensive (a squad of 3 tactical marines cost literally twice as much as 8 ‘nid hormogaunts), and powerful as hell.

    Good fun

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Dolphan: are you running the latest service pack for your version of Windows? That has been a problem with some people’s Steam installation.

  14. Ging says:

    I had my squad of tactical marines nicely tucked into a rock formation, beautiful cover… until my dreadnought plowed through the lot and left them standing around looking confused and ready to cry.

    I approve of this destroyable cover stuff, it amuses and dismays all at once.

  15. jalf says:

    Ging: The destroyable cover is almost too much though. It’s silly how heavy units *just don’t even notice* cover. They don’t try to walk around it, they don’t get slowed by it, they act as if it wasn’t there. And after they’ve been though, of course, it isn’t. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess. But it does seem a bit silly when you can get a dreadnought to destroy an entire wall spanning most of the map, just by ordering him to walk from one end of it to the other.

  16. AndyK says:

    Is all cover destructible? A dreadnought ploughing through brick walls is completely correct of course, but there should be a few bits that give them trouble..

  17. Gap Gen says:

    On the point of special weapons, I never liked micromanaging to the degree that I was any good at them. I preferred Starcraft to Warcraft III on the basis that Warcraft III was *all* about build order, special abilities and optimal path through the tech tree, rather than tactics. World in Conflict is a bit better as the focus is on micromanaging a smaller squad, but as someone on here said, it would be nice for units to drop flares if they’re locked onto, etc. Ground Control’s special weapons were particularly silly – you could destroy a tank in one shot with one, so battles were often about who could unload their special weapons first.

  18. SwiftRanger says:

    After a stalemate the game does ‘create’ more cover with craters and such but it’s never as ideal as the destroyable original map cover.

    Gotta try those lategame squads, it’s just a bit harder than in most RTS’s to come up with something anti-vehicle here especially as heroes can only slow vehicles down at best.

    Also, has anyone ever used that Terminator Squad special power? :)

  19. Walsh says:

    Techmarine haywire grenade + plasma cannon squad = ork dread killer! Too much fun.

  20. jalf says:

    [quote]Is all cover destructible? A dreadnought ploughing through brick walls is completely correct of course, but there should be a few bits that give them trouble..[/quote]
    Everything except buildings that can be garrisoned.
    Also, I feel there’s a bit of difference between “being able to plough through brick walls” (which makes sense), and not even noticing the wall.

    I’m not an expert on the fluff, but I’m willing to be that a dread would prefer to walk around walls, if it wasn’t too much trouble. If you have to cross a wall, sure, walk through it. If you have to walk parallel with the wall, wouldn’t it prefer to walk *next to* the wall than stomp through it end to end?

    I’d also expect it to be slowed down a bit, at the least.
    As it is, it seems like they simply ignore cover entirely.

  21. jalf says:

    Remind me again what the deal is with the edit button. I’m pretty sure it was here yesterday, and now it’s gone. Does it depend on which computer I’m posting from or something? O.o

  22. Dolphan says:

    @Jim

    Yeah, Vista Business with service pack 1. It was working fine until a week or so ago when it stopped launching football manager. I’ve looked round the net for similar problems and found nothing. This is the problem with relying on Steam for most games – it stops working and I find myself considering reinstalling the OS to fix it …

  23. StalinsGhost says:

    I’ve still yet to play it :/

    GFWL refuses to work in-game (it loads up outside) on my PC…

  24. Turin Turambar says:

    The beta unsold me on this game.

    And yes, compared to CoH, it’s dumbed down, imho. Shorter games, faster paced, fewer troops but more micro needed for them (lethality is high on this game, you always have to control closely your troops), smaller maps, more armies but with much fewer troop types, no supply lines, no base building (nor global upgrading apart of 2 for tiers in HQ), no forward hq or tank trapas or sandbags, etc etc.

  25. Dante says:

    @ Ranger,

    I can’t say I’ve found vehicles that much of a challenge myself. It’s all about using the upgrades well, many squads can be upgraded to include anti tank capabilities, including melee squads.

    Between that and a well positioned heavy weapon you can keep even the Ork AIs hordes of dreadnoughts in check.

    @ Sponge,

    Defending points is something you get used to, I remember how frustrating it was in Company of Heroes at first. It’s all about finding a defensive line and holding it, with the occasional fast attack unit behind the lines sweeping up anyone who made it past the choke points.

    My only real criticism has to be the AI, it’s almost exactly the same as Dawn of War in it’s insistance on just rushing units right at you asap. Beating you by build speed alone. I thought CoH made big steps forwards in this regard, but sadly this seems to have been forgotten.

  26. Optimaximal says:

    If you log into the forum, the edit option is available.

  27. Dante says:

    And now it makes sense. And I look like a madman.

    Weird.

  28. Pags says:

    My little brother has been playing this and he likes it immensely, though apparently it crashes when he tries to play 6-player maps and it can’t even create the .dump file necessary to inform Relic of this little bug. So, uh, if you’re reading Relic…

  29. Tei says:

    Great RPS article, this one. Thanks!.

  30. hahaha says:

    Mh, to me it sounds like an amazing update to WarCraftIII, set into the future. Less units and a bigger focus on Hero Units. Is this impression correct or just withful thinking?

  31. Turin Turambar says:

    No, it doesn’t have that much focus on heroes, and there aren’t creeps anywhere to farm levels.

  32. Butler` says:

    Indeed it does sound like very WC3-y, mainly the hero- and micro-centric gameplay and the prolific “slippery slope” aspect of matches.

  33. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    Going to have to wait until this is publicly available till I get a chance to try it out, so can’t really comment, but from the sounds of things I would say that it isn’t very much like WC3. The importance of unit positioning seems to the be route they are going, like CoH, rather than the need to learn umpteen hotkeys and the use of specific build orders, as in WC3.

  34. Heliocentric says:

    I like comebacks in RTS games, things like unit upkeep help manage this.

    I lost my big army when i attacked your big army, but now i’m making money faster than you. But heroes leveling up and having abilitys that further pressure the loser? This is great in free for all games where fighting is expensive and best avoided otherwise.

    I remember in sacrifice you only had the pathetic units unless you had been brawling, so even though you might have the most souls you had restricted access to power.

  35. Pahalial says:

    I’ve been loving this beta – people who are saying vehicles become the be-all end-all in late-game are probably not examining their units well or diversifying enough. No, your shuriken cannons and guardian squad will not stop the enemy deff dread even a bit, why don’t you lure him into my brightlance + banshee squad + powerclaw-equipped hero instead?

    Honestly, with a good unit distribution only extremely-late-game units should last long at all in a pitched battle.

    This game is only getting better the more I play. I need to improve my ‘nid style though, they’re probably the toughest to play decently.

  36. Erlam says:

    The amount of supposed Micro here is making me think I should probably find my RTS elsewhere.

    When I read about how one ‘counters’ things by building specific units with specific upgrades with specific attachments, I start to worry. Mostly because in the first game all I did was give each squad rockets, and either annihilate vehicles, or bounce melee around with the explosions.

  37. Gorgeras says:

    The level of micro depends on your opponents. You really do have to be like water in a jar and not rely on a single fave tactic, otherwise you’re going on pure-chance that their equally random fave tactic is inferior. Unless they know what they’re doing, in which case you’re buggered.

    It helps if you totally do not think of it as an RTS and more like Baldur’s Gate on roids.

  38. Dan Harris says:

    I’m not going to play the beta. I’ve pre-ordered the Steelbook Edition from Amazon, and am waiting for February 20th like it’s a ten-month early Christmas Day with one present.

    Essentially, whatever anyone had said about this I was going to buy it anyway, out of my love of Space Marines.

  39. jalf says:

    Mh, to me it sounds like an amazing update to WarCraftIII, set into the future. Less units and a bigger focus on Hero Units. Is this impression correct or just withful thinking?

    No, it is *nothing* like WC3. Yes, it has “special” hero units, but that’s about the only similarity. There’s no basebuilding, and far more focus on your individual units. WC3 was far simpler. You selected a unit, ordered it to move, and clicked on a few buttons when you wanted it to use a special ability. In DoW2, unit positioning and orientation matters. Place your ranged units in cover, and if they have a heavy weapon, make sure it’s facing the right way. And you have to keep track the mix of melee and ranged combat. Your ranged dudes won’t shoot if they’re engaged in melee, and similarly, your enemy’s ranged units can be disabled by forcing them into melee, even with crappy weak units that are going to ultimately lose. They prevent the enemy’s infantry from using their big guns. And unit preservation matters, which it didn’t in WC3. Every squad gains levels, and it is always cheaper to reinforce existing squads than to train a new one (and doesn’t block the build queue). So you need to use the retreat button liberally.

    I’m still ambivalent about levelling, for the reasons Heliocentric mentioned. It can easily become a slippery slope, further strengthening the guy on top. But it’s mitigated by said retreat button. You can usually keep most of your squads alive, even when you’re losing, which means you’ll gain levels as well.

    About the amount of micro, it depends on your perspective. Yes, you could say it’s almost all micro, but on the other hand, this is the first RTS I know of that allows you to *focus* on microing, which eases the burden a lot. You don’t have to keep track of build orders or base building as well as the fight. And you rarely have more than 5-8 squads in play at a time. (which also means that every single one of them always get a small icon at the side of the screen showing their hp status and allowing you to select them quickly.)

    So I don’t feel the micro is overwhelming at all. But yes, you have to be adaptable and adjust your unit composition and their upgrades, as well as positioning and other factors.

    Or to put it another way, I never got the hang of microing in WC3. I was always too busy to worry about the fiddly spells and special abilities that some units had. And to some extent, I had the same problem in DoW. I did fairly well in the game overall, and I used the most important skills on my most important units, but I hardly ever used grenades, for example, because sheesh, how could I? I had so many squads to manage, and they kept running around.

    In DoW2, I’m actually finding it intuitive to use all the abilities from all my individual squads. I only have a few squads, and they’re easily selectable, so switching to my ork kommando to get him to throw a grenade, and then follow up with a waaaaaagh on my regular boyz just isn’t such a big deal. And the squad icons at the side of the screen shows me when a squad is low on health, and then I just select it, and hit X (the hotkey for retreat, and they run back to HQ to heal up)

    There’s a lot of micro, but the game does a lot to streamline it and for once allow you to focus on it.

  40. Jeremy says:

    Honestly, it doesn’t sound that much different than the upgrade balance from the original(only without having to manage buildings galore), granted I haven’t played the beta so I could be missing something. I’ve been in many situations in the original where simply tweaking a couple of Marine outfits can turn a battle around. As for “just throwing rockets” on a marine, it doesn’t seem like you’ve played many rounds of DoW, that tactic just isn’t efficient (maybe in the single player campaign it would be). Spreading out flamers, plasmas, rockets and heavy weapons really diversifies your ability to take on multiple opponents and rockets aren’t effective with assault marines or other “jumper” units once they’ve closed the distance. For me, the micro doesn’t really turn me off, because the original had a fair amount of micro as well, but at the same time having to manage the 10 buildings that had separate (and seemingly random) upgrades to dole out amongst units. I’m excited at the prospect of an RTS that solely focuses on the battle at hand, really puts Strategy in the RTS acronym I think, rather than the RTBO (Real Time Build Order) that most games in the genre have become, very excited to try the beta in a few days.

  41. Nick says:

    There was apparantly no 2v2 in the review copy either.

  42. groovychainsaw says:

    Well, I’m generally terrible at multitasking and can’t cope in this when it gets to more than 3-4 gorups stalking around. I certainly couldn’t beat a human, the ‘easy’ AI beat me 5 times in a row when i first started. Some races seem more reliant than others on micromanaging and timing their feats. I can see it translating well into single player though, which is what I’m interested in, given my abject lack of ability at playing anything against humans…

  43. Kieron Gillen says:

    “About the amount of micro, it depends on your perspective. Yes, you could say it’s almost all micro, but on the other hand, this is the first RTS I know of that allows you to *focus* on microing, which eases the burden a lot.”

    Quoted because it’s a key thing. It’s a game that’s removed base-building economic stuff because it totally demands your attention on a squad based level.

    KG

  44. Nick says:

    It’s a shame the single player aspect soundss fairly neglected.

  45. Pahalial says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen it bandied about a lot that this is more of a RTT than an RTS game. And that’s certainly accurate if you’re willing to agree to the distinction between the genres in the first place.

  46. Rich_P says:

    Since we’re talking RTS games, is Empire Earth II the only one that’s used a “war planner” interface? Basically you opened up a map and coordinated attacks from various unit groups. SupCom could’ve really used something like that (unless I’m missing something).

    I hate micro when it’s needed in addition to base building and resource management. Better to focus on just one, ya know?

  47. ohnoabear says:

    @kieron,

    That’s the crucial difference between CoH and DoW2 as well, to my mind. CoH was a game that demanded your complete attention on a tactical level, while also including the standard base building and tech treeing. This made the game a bit overwhelming if you weren’t able to switch between moving up your newly-built units into position, building new structures, doing research, making sure you had the appropriate economic points captured, capturing back all the points the computer’s scouts captured on his frequent bastard runs behind the battle lines and managing a constant multi-front battle line at the same time. The player’s attention is the most valuable resource in an RTS, but CoH was just overwhelming.

    DoW’s scaled back approach is much easier to get into, and usually gives you some time to sit back and watch as your heavy bolters plow through the Tyranid wave rushing at you.

  48. Heliocentric says:

    Multiplayer coh is intense. But with the limited sides and conflicts that can occur its quickly learned. Coh with the expansion has 4 combat relationships betweent the sides to learn.

    Without any expansions dow2 has 10. 10 specific pairing in 1 vs 1 that can occur. 10 game flows and comparative abilities to consider.

    To me thats a big difference in the time it will take to learn, but a monster to balance. An expansion that adds 2 sides would add 11 more combat relationships (one for each side against itself, one for each side against the original 4 and one for each of the 2 sides against the other.)

    Expansion 1 will place them at 21 combat relationships*.

    Expansion 2 will place them at 36 combat relationships*.

    Coh(with its expansion) has 4, you can learn them, they can be multilayered. They can be rationalised.

    *assuming 2 races per expansion.

  49. El_MUERkO says:

    Tech Marine turrets piss me off!

  50. Danarchist says:

    Anyone know if you can get the dow2 beta thingie if you already own a full copy of soulstorm? Or do you have to buy the one from steam?