Hands On With DOWII: Retribution

We sent RPS infiltrator Dan Griliopoulos to THQ’s UK office to play the latest Dawn Of War II expansion. What he saw contained Noise Marines, Inquisitors, and no GFWL. The game is out 4th March 2011

Everyone has a reason to be on Typhon. Eliphas the Betrayer is there to, y’know, betray stuff; Captain Diomedes of the Blood Ravens wants retribution (duh) on his traitorous Chapter Master; the Eldar are looking for something amazing buried in the planet’s surface; the Inquisition-commandeered and gloriously English Imperial Guard just do what they’re bloody well told; the Tyranids are… hungry. Well, everyone except the Freebooters. These demented Ork pirates are there because someone shot their Krooza down and because hat-fetishist Captain BludFlagg has taken a shine to the lady Inquisitor’s topper.

The reason Inquisitor Adrastia is there, is because she’s investigating the Blood Raven’s Chapter Master Kyras at the request of Gabriel Angelos (after the events of Chaos Rising); Angelos is hoping that she succeeds, because floating through space to the Blood Raven’s home sector is a fleet of Ordo Malleus ships, carrying the ferocious Exterminatus technology, to wipe every habitable planet in the sector clean of life, as a solution to the endless alien incursions and corruption riddling it.

With a plot twistier than John’s knickers (when you mention game addiction), it’s hard to believe that Dawn of War ever started as a pure strategy game. In the upcoming Retribution standalone, which we’ve been playing at THQ’s glamorous Woking offices, Relic have jammed in six unique story-lines across sixteen or so shared missions, and more RPG elements than a rocket factory. I played through nearly all the beginning missions, and what’s striking is that the stories are mutually exclusive; in each of the intro missions, your chosen band of heroes / rogues / horrors alien beyond Kieron’s darkest fantasies kill a character from another storyline and alter the plot fundamentally. The first boss the Freebooters face is the Elven Autarch – who they stomp Elf Jam whilst chatting casually to the Inquisitor about her hat; similarly the Tyranids make a nice snack of first Sergeant Merrick, then Lord General Castor of the Imperial Guard. If there’s any chance of another Dawn of War II expansion, there is only one way of making anything that happens here canon; kill every last playable character. In the grim darkness of Relic’s script department, we suspect they’ve taken great joy in making so many memorable characters, then killing so many of them off.

Of the selection of 20+ heroes (four for each race, and the ronery Tyrant), each character has its own unique advancement tracks, with the Hive Tyrant and Chaos Lord Eliphas taking the plaudits for their highly customisable and deadly upgrades and wargear. Even more than before, you can mould each character; I chose to make Merrick a heavy-weapons specialist, but he could easily have been an effective infiltrator, a damage sponge or a passing-off lawsuit for Jason Statham.

Moreover, the stories, though they take place over the same missions, ramble through a range of styles, in the briefings and in the cutscenes; the Blood Angels intone ponderously; the Eldar catfight and bitch endlessly about their doomed schemes; the Freebooters provide a laughter track; the Tyranid campaign is deliberately without individual character, and often told in the third person; finally, the Imperial Guard is something of a motley crew with the tough-as-nails Merrick, pragmatic Inquisitor Adrastia, disciplinarian Commissar Bernn (who executes your guardsmen for a variety of buffs), and toff huntsman Lord General Castor. There’s just a huge cast, and the plot justifies their motivation for each mission marvellously. Though no-one needs much motivation for escaping an orbital bombardment, especially if it’s your fault…

Oh, and 40K fans hold yourself; the Imperial Guard’s tanks are just delightful, tough and huge. Through one of our favourite missions, our fleeing Imperial heroes were pursued, run over, machine-gunned and blown sky-high by a wall-crushing Baneblade super-heavy battletank driven by renegade Scots. Later Lord General Castor unlocked the ability to have Leman Russ battle-tank dropped from the sky on demand; alongside new Battlewagons for the Orks, Land-Raider Redeemers for the Marines, and Swarmlords for the ‘nids, that should make multiplayer interesting.

What’s most impressive is the way Relic have re-integrated.the troop-deployment mechanic that had been sidelined to multi-player. Previously, you just had hero units leading squads. Here you have solitary heroes (rarely with bodyguards), Honor Guards and squads. Heroes you know about; squads are just general-purpose units built in captured factories from recovered resources, who don’t persist between missions and who can be upgraded squad-by-squad. Honor Guard are optional elite units you can take on missions instead of heroes, which increase your unit cap and can be rebuilt for free from relevant bases. On some missions, I took my core squad of five individuals; on others I took a mass of troops, as well building even more disposable Comissar-fodder in mission, leaving me with an Imperial Guard army closer to the Dawn of War I size. More squads, unit wargear and hero wargear can be unlocked as mission rewards, some of which further increase squad sizes.

All of the new units (and more – my old favourites, the Chaos Noise Marines make an appearance), a selection of the heroes and new maps are available in Last Stand and multiplayer modes (though without the heavy choice complexity of the single-player). Just in terms of general play, the improved Steam integration we tried really helps match-making, alongside a much better ranking system (borrowed liberally from Chess and Battle.net). Apart from not getting gamerpoints on my 360 (to what end?), I’m not going to miss GFWL; achievements have also shifted over, so there should be 50 Steam achievements (of which we only saw one, which is a big spoiler – Exterminatus).

You there, the DOWII fan; I’m not sure how you’re going to avoid playing through this more than once; I’d expect you to play through it all six times. Jeff Lydell from Relic told us that each playthrough should take you on average eight hours, so that’s (does maths, fails) forever. The level of choice in DOWII is now sickening; you can choose your side, then how they’re going to level individually, then what wargear they’ve got, then whether you’ll take a huge army or a small one, then the units, then their upgrades, then what canned food you need to get through the week to complete it, and finally whether you’ll ever leave the house again.

[Also check out our enormous Retribution gallery.]


  1. Jim Rossignol says:

    Sigh. I am going to play the hell out of this. Considering spending the weekend playing Chaos Rising to compensate for the nerd-lust this is provoking in me.

    • Kevin says:

      Can we look forward to playing with you in The Last Stand, and, in the adverserial mode, stomping you?

    • RegisteredUser says:

      RPS cannot have a first comment post without at least 3-8 followup posts. It is against the laws of physics.

      Although I can’t for the life of me figure out a way to properly come after “nerd lust”.

    • ChaK_ says:

      Let me contribute to your hardwork then.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I’ll lend a hand.

      I don’t know anything about Dawn of War, though, so…

      Did anyone else find the first episode of 10 O’Clock Live incredibly disappointing? As in, wretched and hopeless?

    • The Hammer says:

      Reporting in!

      Geez. I have to buy this too, after this preview. I don’t even LIKE Warhammer, but the battles… THE BATTLES.

      Still anticipating the return of Gorgutz, though: surely he’ll make a glorious comeback?

    • subedii says:

      A heads up for anyone interested in the multiplayer (it’s a very different beast to the singleplayer, be forewarned): The beta is now open to all, and starts on the 1st of February.

      You get into the beta by registering on the dawn of war community site before the 25th of January, so if you want to get in on that, be short to register. It will be running until the 24th of February.

      link to community.dawnofwar2.com

      Anyone who’s pre-ordered Retribution on Steam already has automatic access to the beta. Anyone owning a Dawn of War product on Steam will have access to the Beta as well from the 8th of February, so if you don’t want to wait, you’re better off registering.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Didn’t he say-
      No one commenting on RegisterdUser’s:
      ‘I can’t for the life of me figure out a way to properly come after “nerd lust”.’?

      I may not read RPS as much as I used to, as I am dealing with a non-addiction to an MMO at the moment, but either someone dropped the ball or there is a new in-joke that I am not aware of.

      Luckily do not have a telly so I can just pretend that ’10 o’clock Live’ was like The Day Today’ and move on happy in the knowledge that great tv is still being made.

    • TheTourist314 says:

      For some reason, my computer is deciding it doesn’t want to load Chaos Rising. This angers me.

  2. Theoban says:

    RIGHT this weekend I’m finally going to finish DoWII, I still haven’t touched Chaos Rising.

    ….or I’ll just spend hours doing Last Stand, which is what usually happens when I load it up

  3. Tagert says:

    Will definitely have to play this, though I’m not too sure about the six-storylines in one. We’ll see.

    I kind of like the one-storyline approach, since at least then I know what happens at the end. Will be interesting to see what they do if they do an expansion/DoW3. (Then again, I have no idea how DoW2 Retribution will end so I’ll have to wait and see.)

  4. GT3000 says:

    You sonnva beaches. HOW DARE YOU!? You know how long the slog to the Feb 1st beta is going to be? FOREVER? Never mind March. I hope you’re proud of yourselves. I really do.


    @Theoban – I dumped 600 hours in both Vanilla and CR. Soooo…Yeah. I need to get off my computer.

  5. ChaK_ says:

    Typhon again?

    edit : nevermind, thought of the wrong planet I think

    • GT3000 says:

      If it’s any consolation it gets quickly glassed.

      P.S. You’re thinking of Aurelia.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Do you want to put a big SPOILER! there? It gets glassed about halfway through the campaign, true; in a mission where you have to run away very quickly across a planet being blown to bits before being locked in an arena with a Chaos Champion of Khorne… the cutscenes at that point are pretty damn amazing.

  6. Dominic White says:

    I will only be truly satisfied if you can upgrade Noise Marines so their squad size goes up to 11.

    • Jacques says:

      It’s sad that I know what that number means.

    • Vandelay says:

      Nothing sad about Spinal Tap, joined best comedy film (tied with Airplane.) Unless I am mistaken and this is actually a Gamesworkshop reference that I don’t get, as I only know about Warhammer through the Dawn of War games

    • Jacques says:

      I was wrong! The sacred number of Slaanesh is 6, which is what I think Dominic meant.

    • Dominic White says:

      It was definitely the Spinal Tap reference I was shooting for. They’re noisemarines – SOMETHING needs to go up to 11!

    • Okami says:

      @Jacques: It could be worse, you could still be able to recite a Keeper of Secret’s stats and special rules from “Slaves to Darkness” from memory…

      EDIT: I made the same mistake as you – the question is: is it a good thing that we forgot the Chaos Powers’ sacred numbers or a bad thing?

    • Bret says:


      Bad you remember. An Inquisitor should arrive shortly.

  7. drewski says:

    *installs Dawn of War*

  8. Sarkhan Lol says:

    I’m going to buy this regardless, and was particularly sold by the Elf Jam remarks and hat-motivated orkish plotline, but I have some voice questions.

    1) Will the Tyranids have to suffer through that bafflingly awful ansaphone announcer (which, after beta was over, I think we were all stunned to discover wasn’t actually a placeholder) dictating the plot to them? And:

    2) Is the Inquisitor voiced by Steve Blum? Yes, I know she’s female, answer the question.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Not sure about whether Steve Blum did her voice – she was quite arch, so it’s unlikely.

      The ‘nids have a hissing, groaning Hive Mind voice now. Didn’t sound like any ansaphone I’ve ever heard.

    • ChampionHyena says:

      Five hundred billion points for Sarkhan Lol.

      Stevie, when will you just go away?

    • Coillscath says:

      Steve Blum doesn’t bother me nearly as much as his Gravelgrowl McWolverine voice does, so I agree there. Why can’t he just turn it off and go back to the Spike Spiegel voice he was so good with?

  9. Stephen Roberts says:

    I’m sorry, I’ve just come.

    Also: re: ranking systems: Anyone seen The Social Network? You know that bit at the start? The maths for the who is hotter game? Them maths is sexy. I think it’s the Elo rating system right? It certainly seemed to behave like that in WoW Arenas. Agh… Sorry I’ve just come again.

  10. RegisteredUser says:

    “across sixteen or so shared missions”

    Oh yay. Back to the original DOW2 then, where you infinitely replayed the same 6 maps over and over and over again until you were so sick of it that you considered just chainswording your teammates instead for a change of pace.

    Also don’t think I didn’t notice the “ferocious” Exterminatus, sir!

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Aw, you got me, ferociously. :D

      Yeah, it’s the same missions but the plot at least plays out very differently in each, and the difficulty shifts for each one. After the fifth time I played the intro mission I was getting a little bored, I have to admit.

  11. Choca says:

    New units :

    Space Marines : Land Raider in T3 = extra effective against infantry thanks to its flame cannons, can reinforce nearby troops and be used as a rally point

    Chaos : Noise Marines in T1 = disruptive unit, prevents enemies from using ranged weapons and slows them down, can cast a point blank knockdown attack and be upgraded with a bigger gun effective against all armor in T2 (although this weapons turns them into a set-up weapon platform)

    Orks : Battlewagon in T3 = monster against infantry (it can even just run them over), huge energy canon and can throw bombs at very long range, scary shit

    Eldars : Autarch with global ressource = kind of like a second hero, can jump around the battlefield like crazy and be taken off of the map to be respawned somewhere else later

    Tyranids : Swarmlord in T3 = huge monster, kills everything in melee, makes every other tyranid faster around him and can reinforce them

    Imperial Guard :

    T1 = Imperial Guards (can be upgraded with two officers and either flamers or plasma guns), Sentinel (only vehicule available in T1 can “uncapture” points), Heavy Weapon Team (set-up weapon platform, can be upgraded with a variety of weapons), Catachan Jungle Fighters (commando troops with shotguns and grenades)

    T2= Storm Troopers (infantry which can switch from lasguns to meltas to stealth equipment on the go for no price), Chimera (transport), Manticore (artillery, longest range in the game but takes a while to set-up), Ogryn (melee infantry, will knock down every one around them every time they move)

    T3 = Leman Russ (heavy tank, can be upgraded with two different guns and armor plates which have to be taken down before you can damage its hit points) and Baneblade (super heavy tank, has two guns that you have to fire manually, one against infantry, the other against armor)

    Heroes = Lord Commissar (fights in melee, buffs infantry), Lord General (fights at range, heals infantry and spawn turrets), Inquisitor (fights in melee, good at killing a single tough target)

  12. SwiftRanger says:

    This should be good and it deserves a lot more attention than some sites are giving it. THQ even saw the urge to order a new CGI cutscene (made by Plastic Wax) for the game, in addition to Relic’s own, more sober cutscenes. It’s a reboot in some ways and probably some of the best value-for-money we’ll see this year.

    Register on the community site to get into the beta test on February 1st. Here’s hoping Relic will expand the game for free like they did with DoWII.

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      Good news! And also serves to remind that the original Dawn of War’s opening cinematic is still an excellent piece of work and probably the best introduction to 40k a person can have, no matter how many marine-adherent rules lawyers it inexplicably offends.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Yep. It’s always nice to see the scenaristic level of THQ work on DOW, compared for example to the utter void filling this dimension in SC2. It really adds to the game, and I’m looking forward to more Whaaaaaagg hat-specific crazyness.

    • subedii says:

      It also makes me sad for what the 40K movie could have been.

      I realise it’s an issue of budget, but they could have say, made it a 30 minute film, and I’d have happily bought it as long as it was good. The original DoW intro managed to stretch 2 minutes to breaking point with sheer awesome.

      Heck, I’m still partly hoping that Valve make a 30 minute TF2 short some day. I’d probably buy the tar out of that.

    • wererogue says:

      The community site only gets you into the beta if you were registered before this year.

    • Archonsod says:

      The cutscenes are nice.

      I’d enjoy them a lot more however if Relic didn’t insist on making them compulsory viewing the first time you ran the game.

  13. Navagon says:

    You had me at “What he saw contained Noise Marines, Inquisitors, and no GFWL.”. But what followed sealed the deal. It will be interesting to see how important these storylines remain once the game gets underway. The plots were little more than a nonsensical afterthought in Dark Crusade.

  14. Laneford says:

    “The level of choice in DOWII is now sickening; you can choose your side, then how they’re going to level individually, then what wargear they’ve got, then whether you’ll take a huge army or a small one, then the units, then their upgrades, then what canned food you need to get through the week to complete it,”

    THIS^ many times over. Makes me a happy geek.

  15. Bloodloss says:

    Shame there’s still no Khorne Berzerkers. I really miss the original Dawn of War games, creating massive armies and whatnot.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I was wondering how many people still play the first one online? I don’t have it installed right now and don’t really want to bother if the community is tiny now.

    • Dominic White says:

      Plenty of folks. It’s no Starcraft 2 (but what is?), but it is one of the better populated RTS games out there. This new edition (which seems more like DOW2.5 than an expansion) seems set to give the playerbase a fairly significant boost, too.

    • subedii says:

      Wait, are you guys talking about DoW1 or DoW2?

      Because I thought originally ScubaMonster was talking about DoW1, and it sounds like Dominic is talking about DoW2.

      Regardless, the online community for DoW2 is still very active. And I hope Retribution brings in even more.

    • drewski says:

      I went looking for a game of DoW1 earlier today and there was one person available to match with.

      They were way higher than me so I ran away and did some skirmishing instead.

      (With, appropriately enough, Khorne Beserkers. Orks never knew what hit ’em.)

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      Wait, Chaos Rising does have Khorne berzerkers. You need to get regular chaos marines in Tier 2 and then you can give them the mark of Khorne, they equip a bunch of chainaxes, and if I remember right, they even change their voice to the same sort DoW1 had.

    • ophelmark says:

      Same here dude.DOW 2 bored me to tears.I finished it and unistalled it as soon as i could.Chaos Rising suffered the same fate.In the other hand i still play Dark Crusade each week.I was optimistic about Retribution but it seems it´s more of the same DOW 2. Oh well have fun guys.

  16. Hirmetrium says:

    It was a pleasure meeting you there Dan, and props to a top knotch writeup :D Thanks for the business card. The next time a black bearded guy with a strange parting approaches feel free to tell him to leave you to work :P

  17. Vitruality says:

    The important question: Have they got rid of the stupid drop-pod mechanic from the single-player mode that sucked all of the tactics out of the game and turned each battle into a grindy relay race between wherever the fighting was and the nearest checkpoint?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Heroes still need reviving; units are bought, and healed, at factory buildings (except if you have a hero with “reinforce anywhere” skill.

  18. fallingmagpie says:

    Marginally off-topic, but I don’t think you guys ever posted the trailer for Space Marine:

    • RegisteredUser says:

      They have.

      I in turn posted Tiscali.cz’s trailer of the ORIGINAL game, which would have been a super awesome Kane/Darkstalker like manbrawler with frickin’ chainswords, finishing moves and other levels of zomgyesplz, but that all got scrapped to never see the light of day and instead the new tame, more diabloesque generic version is being made.

      I would have much preferred both being made.

    • Dave L. says:

      Diabloesque? Whut? You have SEEN the most recent trailers for Space Marine, yes? There’s nothing remotely diabloesque about it.

  19. KillahMate says:

    No Games for Windows Live.

    Bought. Unlike its predecessors.

  20. McDan says:

    *sigh* I see so much more of my life being poured into DOW games to complete it with every race in every possible way. Totally going to love it though.

  21. kraken says:

    It’s Eliphas The Inheritor.
    The only Betrayer in 40k is Khârn but he has never appeared in a DoW game.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Isn’t that Kharn guy mounted on a Khorne Juggernaut ? Seems to ring a bell.

  22. JohnH says:

    “the Blood Angels intone ponderously”

    Blood Angels? Where did the Blood Ravens go?

  23. mcnostril says:

    Wait, does this mean we have chaos undivided?

    Chaos Lord – Khorne
    Sorcerer – Tzeentch
    Plague Champion – Nurgle
    Fourth hero = ??

    Since we get noise marines, does that mean he’s Slaanesh? Is he some uber noise marine?
    From one of the screens he looks like a chaos Avitus.

    • lasting damage says:

      If it’s not doomrider then they’ve missed a trick.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yes, the fourth one (Kain?) is hugely flexible – he’s very much a Tarkus, rather than an Avitus.

    • subedii says:

      They’re not going to have four heroes units per side. It’s still going to be three per side.

    • Sassenach says:

      In the campaign there are 4 heroes per side, apart from tyranids apparently. Still only 3 for multiplayer.

  24. jackflash says:

    Just to confirm, the 6 “single player campaigns” are playable fully coop, right? The coop is why I buy these games, so want to be absolutely sure.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Iirc, it’s been said that they are. Still has to check tho, but I’m 90% sure.

  25. Chunga says:

    I’d be all over this if I had a computer that could run this game. Looks great. And Noise Marines… do I feel old or what?

  26. bascule42 says:

    Am actually quite excited about this release. That doesn’t happen very much these days. Can’t wait to wait ’till the price drops a bit.

  27. bill says:

    Is it still worth buying DoW1 if it comes up cheap in a sale? I’ve been hanging on for Dark Crusade to come up for $5 on steam.
    Or has DoW2 totally supplanted it now?

    • Ovno says:

      Definitely especially if you get it as part of the the pack when they have it on offer…

    • drewski says:

      They’re not really especially similar at all, the gameplay is very different.

      I can definitely recommend the original for cheapies. It’s all a bit overwrought and silly but, then, it wouldn’t be 40K if it wasn’t.

  28. fuggles says:

    Soulstorm was the last expansion for DoW1. Pretty buggy, which has mostly been resolved by the community and it is the final official version of DoW1. Mod teams that are still cracking away are making things for SS, although DC does have the biggest amount of mods still, with proects such as firestorm over kronus.

    As mentioned, very different games. DoW1 is more traditional with bases and higher numbers of units. DoW2 is very much about having a hero and three squads and not losing any of them.

  29. Pijama says:

    Fully expecting massive Latin chanting while delivering (or being delivered?) THE retribution. =D

  30. Combat says:

    I saw a few comments earlier from various people that I can shed some light on, there is a modders kit for DOW2 it’s been out since at least mid last year, while I don’t play any mods I know there are new maps created & mods that let you use mass troops in the game. The online community for multiple player is around 6-8000 players (check steam for exact numbers) but more are returning now due to the expansion being released shortl

    Oh and yes there are Khorne Marines in mp, they are nasty but blood letters are probably better.

    • subedii says:

      It’s more around 5000-6000 players, but that’s peak-time according to Steam stats. Those values for the number of simultaneous players playing DoW2 at any one point. This is split between DoW 2 and Chaos Rising, since they share the same multiplayer pool of players.

      The actual number of players playing DoW2 / CR over the course of the day is likely much higher. This is anecdotal (and related to a different genre of game), but one of the devs from Tripwire said that with Killing Floor, the number of players playing KF over the course of the day was around the peak simultaneous players, multiplied by 10.

      So if we were to go with that one for DoW2 / CR (not the best logic I know), the number of people playing it per day (and by this stage, almost all of them will probably be for multiplayer) is more along the lines of 50,000-60,000 per day.

      How this is going to translate over to Retribution though is anyone’s guess, since Retribution’s unfortunately going to be breaking multiplayer compatibility with DoW2 and CR. Which means anyone who wants to play against Retribution players will need Retribution themselves, unlike before.

    • Combat says:

      If people are interested in playing multiplayer they will need to get retribution anyway, so I don’t see it as a downside if the last 2 games are left behind, in fact with the new ranking system you’d be mad to want to stick to GFWL atrocious true skill system (take it from someone who’s been using it from DOW2 Beta), it will also improve patching speed & bring in a new player base in the people that hated GFWL & wouldn’t piss on It if it was on fire

  31. poohbear says:

    just registered to say this is a very entertaining and brilliant article! lol love the sense of humor and jokes, im a DoW2 fan and i’ve read numerous previews, but this is by far the most entertaining! Nice site too! cheers!