Have You Played… Dawn of War 2 – Chaos Rising?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Whether there’ll ever be more Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of Warses is a matter for new Relic owners SEGA to thrash out with Games Workshop. Whether there actually needs to be any time soon is something I might debate, as all previous installments of the 40K RTS still hold up very well. My go-to game whenever I want to return to the series (which is surprisingly often), though, is Chaos Rising, the first ‘expandalone’ for Dawn of War II.

It’s the best singleplayer game in a series that has often faltered on the solo campaign front, I think. There are some fun choices to be made, the levelling and gear stuff finds a balance that didn’t quite seem there in DoW II vanilla, and there are enough units and factions in play to keep things lively without being entirely cartoonish.

For the first time, the plot manages to be a little personal too. I mean it’s still lantern-jawed men scowling and shouting – after all, we don’t want Space Marines in Dawson’s Creek, unless it was to purge the whiny heretic – but there’s a touch more character in there, enough to create a sense of who to trust and who to lean on. There’s still a sad lack of 40K games with great characters and tales, and for the time being this is probably as good as it gets.

It’s such a well-rounded package – missus – in a series that has been reliably good but usually drops at least one ball every time. I felt like Dawn of War II was going to be a multi-expanded mainstay that got better and better after this, and was always disappointed that the second add-on. Retribution, both seemed less confident and brought DoW II to a perhaps premature end.

84 Comments

  1. oWn4g3 says:

    I actually did! Apart from most of the boss fights I enjoyed game a great deal in co-op. The bosses however just felt like bullet sponges that overstayed their welcome.

  2. Zankmam says:

    I haven’t, but I heard that it is basically a Tactical RTS RPG, in retrospect similar to ARTS/MOBA games.

    Given that I liked and play a lot of Dawn of War, which was a standard base building RTS, I didn’t originally have a lot of interest in DoW II.

    • Arathain says:

      Tactical RTS RPG is as good a way as any of describing it. I do recommend at least giving it a try, since it’s easy to get cheap in sales. It didn’t click with everyone, but there’s a big ol’ heap of fun there if it does.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        It’s very different to the first one but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Don’t go into it expecting DoW and take it for what it is and it’s an equally enjoyable experience, albeit with much weaker multiplayer than the first one.

        It is especially a great co-op game if you are playing it with other people, similar in a lot of ways to Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2 and Men of War, rather than base building you are micro-managing a small force of soldiers through each mission. DoW2 also adds RPG style gear drops and talent points which give you nice ability to customise the way you play.

  3. Mr Wibble says:

    Yes and it was probably my game of the-whatever-year-I-played-it.

  4. hiddencamel says:

    I always loved the coop and multiplayer portions of DOW2.

    I agree though that it is sad that there doesn’t seem to be any scope for great storytelling in any of the 40k games I have ever seen. They all seem to be a variant of:

    Go to fight orks.
    Turns out orks are being manipulated by Eldar to fight greater threat.
    Kill all of them regardless

    Chaos.

    Admittedly the vanilla DOW2 did something slightly different by making it Tyranids instead of chaos, but it still all felt woefully contrived and predictable. Someone ALWAYS falls to Chaos, even though Chaos is so cartoonishly evil it makes it hard to understand how anyone could possibly think it’s a good idea.

    It’s a shame that we have never had a compelling narrative in 40k the same way we did in Starcraft and Warcraft.

    • mouton says:

      Woah, woah, are you seriously putting Warcraft and Starcraft as examples of “compelling narrative”? Sure, it is a good young adult fiction and is cool when one is teenage. But now that I am older… let’s just say I could not play Starcraft 2 too much without facepalming, cringing and skipping cutscenes. Well, okay, the part in Brood War when you murder your friends was quite cool.

      Now, WH40K’s strength lies in its relative simplicity. It does not pretend. It is not a story. It is a glorious painting of gore, madness and futility. I wouldn’t mind some compelling narratives here and there, but few settings capture the feel of mindless slaughter so well.

      • Xocrates says:

        Starcraft 2 is pretty bad on the story front, but the original one is surprisingly solid – though it started getting silly on Brood War.

        The Dawn of War games are very hit and miss – with this one probably being the strongest – though they’re still amongst the best 40k I’ve seen.

        • sinister agent says:

          I loved the first Starcraft’s story. Full of character, and while it leaned on tropes and was cheesy as hell, the characters were distinct and memorable, and it all played out like a glorious melodrama (the protoss in particular, and Fenix above all. The man was Space Brian Blessed). I still have several running jokes with a friend about some of the characters from Starcraft.

          The second one… oh. Yay. A mostly human-centric love story with the most boring character, made even more boring by trying to do Batmanesque brooding. Oh well.

      • mvar says:

        I’d give a kidney for a game based on Eisenhart’s trilogy..or a tv-series, whichever comes first

        • NonCavemanDan says:

          I second your kidney and raise you a spleen!

          A Mass Effect-like Guns and Conversation game would work really well for an Inquisitor setting – a small team of individuals exploring the dirty behind the scenes of the 40K universe (before they shoot the scenes for being a heretic of course).

          • vlonk says:

            As it so happens, DoW II Retribution has some fine lines of Inquisition shenanigans:
            link to youtu.be
            I love that part about the orc who is so fascinated about the hat. This is perfect comedy.

        • voorsk says:

          Eisenhorn. :)

          I’d give my hair (don’t tell them I’m practically bald) for someone to do a 40K game using anything but Space Marines – they’re the dullest characters in the universe!

        • raydenuni says:

          Eisenhorn. It would have to be an RPG/Adventure type game with little combat. But it could still be awesome.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Seeing as how Blizzard have completely and consistently been ripping off Warhammer from the very beginning, his statement is quite ironic.

        • hiddencamel says:

          It’s true that Blizzard ripped off a lot of the Warhammer and 40k ideas when starting out with Warcraft and Starcraft, but they have undoubtedly evolved into something markedly different in tone, character and narrative.

          There are surface similarities between them, but the moment you engage with any of the actual content you realise they are light years apart.

      • hiddencamel says:

        Starcraft 2 was pretty poor story wise, particularly Heart of the Swarm, I agree. Still by and large less predictable and naff than any 40k games I can think of, but the bar is not very high.

        I was more thinking of the original Starcraft and Warcraft 3 in particular.

        The stories may not have been literary masterpieces, but they were compelling nonetheless and certainly among the best examples of story driven RTS games I can think of, next to Homeworld 1 and Cataclysm, and maybe World in Conflict.

    • TomxJ says:

      Thiers a fantastic amount of scopre for great storyteling in 40k. Its just not done very often.

      If you’re interested I’d have alook at:
      • The Inquistor Rulebook
      • Dan Abnetts Eisenhorne Trilogy
      • Xenology, Imperial guardsmans uplifting primer and Liber Chaotica background books

      Thats all stuff from around the 3rd edition of 40k, they really went to town ironing out the background back then and the excitement shows.

      • iucounu says:

        Basically anything by Abnett. The Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies, the long Gaunt’s Ghosts cycle about Imperial Guards. He’s very good at transforming the campy heavy-metal grimdark silliness of 40K into a reasonably coherent and interesting world (I have not come across a single Space Ork in any of his books, I think, as they’re inherently comic and would feel out of place.)

        • TomxJ says:

          There was an ork in an Eisenhorn short story. It was an Ultraviolent, primal brute and nigh unstoppable iirc.

          Just as they should be :)

        • horus_lupercal says:

          Aaron Dembski-Bowden deserves an honourable mention IMO. He mainly writes from the perspective of the ‘bad guys’ but makes their motivations understandable and at times sympathetic. I’d definitely recommend the Night Lords Trilogy, though there is one scene in the 3rd book that shattered my suspension of disbelief, and I’m currently devouring his latest – The Talon of Horus, the first in a trilogy detailing how Abaddon formed the Black Legion. It’s a cracking read so far.

          I’ll also join the chorus desiring an Inquisitorial based RPG. It’d have to have an Ironman option though so when your Psyker becomes a deamonhost there’s no coming back. that’d be ‘fun’ ;-)

          TomXJ is correct regarding the Eisenhorn short story featuring the orc that is jsut brutal. It’s in Thorn and Talon and called Regia Occulta. if you can find it I’d recommend getting the Audio Dram version of the book some of the scenes are rather chilling and showcase the hopeless dystopian nature of the 40K universe perfectly.

          Edited due to a numpty not proof-reading.

      • Asurmen says:

        I also vote for the Horus Heresy books. They seem to deal with what a lot of people are complaining about: Space Marines but ones with character and actual personalities.

        Plus, finding out details of that period is cool. Not that they will ever do the Siege of the Palace however.

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        phuzz says:

        That’s great, but it’s not bringing back the squats yet is it?

        Still annoyed about the lack of squats after 1st edition :(

      • hiddencamel says:

        Oh for sure, I love many of the books. Dan Abnett in particular crafts great stories, often I think because he focuses on the parts of the universe that aren’t just RAAAUGH SPACE MARINES.

        Eisenhorn, Gaunt’s Ghosts and Ravenor are all among my favourite 40k fiction.

  5. DompR says:

    Doesn’t have nearly enough Captain Angelos, tho. :D
    But other than that it’s the best one of the series if you – like me- dislike the basebuilding part if DoW 1 and are just here for some grimdark purging of heretics/xenos/everything (the story is really good, too).

  6. Shieldmaiden says:

    I own it and really should play it again some time. It was a birthday present and while I really enjoyed what I played of it, I was very much in depression-induced, no attention span whatsoever mode at the time.

    “There’s still a sad lack of 40K games with great characters and tales, and for the time being this is probably as good as it gets.”

    With GW seemingly happy to whore out their IP to all and sundry, I’d love a decent RPG developer to get their hands on Dark Heresy. Not sure how that would stand with both GW and Fantasy Flight being involved.

    • Snidesworth says:

      I’d love that as well. It’d be interesting to see how a setting where the humans are bad guys (if not the worst guys) works out. Especially if you’re playing as them.

      • Shieldmaiden says:

        What’d be really cool would be Dragon Age-style origin stories for different homeworlds. Starting the game as a feral worlder with bronze age technology would be amazing. Your reactions to the inquisitor showing up and making you their acolyte would be a lot of fun.

  7. oldkc says:

    Played it, and it was awesome.
    Although it made me miss Final Liberation again. Army customization ftw

  8. N'Al says:

    I HAVE played it, and it was GOOD.

  9. Laurentius says:

    Yeah, I played it and liked it very much but I’m stuck at the last mission and I would be very happy to finish it so if anyone has any tips for final boss encounter that woulkd be appreciated. I went through campagin with Commander, Tarkus, Avitus and Davian but this is not working against the boss.

    • mouton says:

      Flee constantly and chip away at the fat bastard. I am not sure but I think anti-big-thing weapons on Avitus helped. Thule might be actually a liability, with him being such a poor coward. Ranged weapon advised, lol.

    • Skeletor68 says:

      Yeah, that fight took WAY too long.

      What was the third DoW2 expansion? I kept meaning to play through it but it never clicked for some reason. Having the mix of non-hero squads kind of put me off it.

      • mouton says:

        Retribution. Actually all factions are wholly/mostly heroes, with the notable exception of Tyranids where you only have Hive Tyrant. Retribution is, in many ways, flawed, but it still provides a happy WH40K murder-adventure. The worst thing is that there is one campaign for everyone, with slight variations here and there. I had tons of fun, but mileage may vary.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          To me Retribution turned the scale up a bit too much. There was a lot more of calling in generic reinforcements to assist. The plus side was that it gave a sense of bigger fights going on, the downside, to me at least, was that I always thought the strength of DoW2 was using the abilities of your select few special units to work your way through the levels. Adding the “bum rush” element to it made it less enjoyable to me.

  10. Arathain says:

    I agree the characters were pleasingly engaging, without being anything extraordinary. Nevertheless, they were distinct, well written, and well acted. I found them quite believable within the fiction. It was understated, but very competent, and that’s not easy to do.

    I’m always willing to sing the praises of DoWII multiplayer, which is fast, accessible and deep. I had barely touched online RTSs before this one, and I had a really good time learning to play it. For what is technically a micro-focused game about managing small numbers of squads, it does not require a high actions-per-minute, and is tactically interesting. It also has some of the best unit design in any RTS. Units have varied roles on the battlefield and interact in all sorts of neat ways.

  11. Heliocentric says:

    Despite how rubbish Retribution was I finished it twice (Ork and Tyranids) because being able to be anything other than Spurse Mureens was so liberating.

    • mouton says:

      Retribution was, ah, flawed but I still finished it with all races, lol.

      A pity they didn’t focus on one faction more. Many of the characters were cool, but it was showing how thin they were spread, with many of the “main” cast not even having voice actors.

      Oh, and the ending speech. Worth it worth it.

    • Zungado says:

      Have you played the original Dawn of War’s Dark Crusade expansion? Main campaign you could play as most of the races in 40k, campaigns had more of a story for each race, I felt any way. I felt Retribution tried to be like it but failed.

      • untoreh says:

        Relic has reopened dow forums, dunno if only to support current games or for an upcoming dow3. Anyway anybody saying that crusade was better than retribution I think you forgot the story. Which was just different in the way it was told, but it was in no way more original that retribution. I just don’t think it’s possible to do great stories if you take all the pows. You should stick to a race per game. Or maybe do really short stories like 2 hours long and include each race with a detailed and epic story. Anyway best mods, ultimate apocalypse for dow1, elite mod for dow2.

    • bleeters says:

      I’m never really sure where I sit on Retribution. On the one hand, playing it as the Eldar was a profoundly weird experience because you unavoidably slaughter hundreds of your own kin for poorly justified reasons. It never seemed quite right for a race that would happily lead entire world to their doom if it meant preserving a single Eldar life to be so cavalier about killing each other, and it does sort of make their campaign ending a litttle laughable.

      But on the other hand, when the heck do I even get to play as the Eldar these days? I was just grateful to have the option in the first place.

      • mouton says:

        Eldar have been consistently the worst portrayed faction in the DoW series. Supermen fanatics? Well portrayed. Tentacled supermen fanatics? Well portrayed. Space fungi? Yeaaaah. The Great Devourer? Yup! Etc.

        On the other hand, it is not that surprising – RTS games are usually best for showing suicidal forces and tactics that put focus on stealth and self-preservation are notoriously hard to portray. Still, the writing/reasons could have been much much better. Those farseers sure are moronic, especially for beings of immense intelligence who can literally glimpse the future.

  12. Skeletor68 says:

    I absolutely loved DoW2. That pray and spray machine gun thingy on the Dreadnought is unbelievably satisfying. I know I’m a heretic for not knowing correct WarHammer terminology. I keep meaning to pick up one of those Dan Abnett books.

    • Steven Hutton says:

      Assault Cannon. 4 attacks with rending.

      • vlonk says:

        In DoW II you better call it the “windscreen wiper of death” or “Tyranid Anathema”. This skill comes as close as you can get to a hard counter against swarm attacks.

  13. CelticPixel says:

    A new DoW’s probably the next game we see from Relic, right? I’m ready for a next-gen DoW.

  14. Jubaal says:

    I still enjoy this now. I just wish they had included 4 player co-op for the campaign, that would have been awesome

    • slerbal says:

      Agreed – 2 player was great, but 4 player would have been magical.

  15. Koozer says:

    I can’t quite believe they haven’t made a Last Stand spinoff yet. More maps, new heroes, more balanced powers, campaign progression, and maybe *gasp* DLC for even more stuff.

    • sonson says:

      I don’t have many proud moments in gaming, as I always play for enjoyment rather than a sense of achievement, but I felt tremendously good about my self beating the Last Stand with a bunch of random strangers. The way we came together, helped each other, played a few rounds and developed a winning sympatico of sorts, man, really great experience.

      The Achievement however is rubbish.

  16. BathroomCitizen says:

    Can anyone enlighten me why Retribution is considered the less-preferred son between the two expansions?

    The ability to play with all the factions in the single-player seemed quite a good redeeming factor for Retribution, even if the missions were all copy and pasta.

    • slerbal says:

      very short campaign, identical per race. The campaigns in original DoW2 and Chaos Rising are really well done with lots of lovely features and enough game play to really get stuck in. Some of the missions in Chaos Rising figuratively blew me away! They felt truly epic.

      Retribution is good too, but it is very much a dessert after the main course :)

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      I really don`t understand either, considering Retribution had the Tyranid campaign, Kaptin Bluddflagg, and General Freddie Mercury, aka Castor.

    • Arathain says:

      The campaign just wasn’t as enjoyable to play, although it had its moments. it certainly wasn’t as enjoyable to play 6 times over, and having all the races play through the same missions in the same way felt very odd. I enjoyed the variety, and I thought there was plenty of great design in the various heroes, but that doesn’t count for as much if you aren’t enjoying what you get to do with your forces as much.

    • Xocrates says:

      The problem was that in order to make the missions work for every race the writing suffered to the point that for some races it borders on non-sense. Notably, the first Chaos mission even says that what they’re doing is stupid.

      There were a lot of other cut corners in the campaign, which made it come across as visibly lower quality than the other 2 (the tyranids in particular were outright broken – you could play it on the hardest difficulty while doing nothing but attack move due to a quirk on their upgrades that caused them to have essentially infinite money).

      It’s certainly not bad, but being able to play with every race ends up undermined when it’s clear most of them were phoned in.

    • bleeters says:

      Also, because destroyed units refunded the cost of their original purchase. There are missions I beat as Imperial Guard – and this includes the last one, here – by just setting guardsmen on auto train, plopping down a rally point next to the final boss, and waiting for it to be crushed to death under the combined weight of all the mangled corpses I was throwing at it.

      To be fair that’s a pretty accurate representation of how most Imperial Guard battles go, but its not the best design choice I’ve ever seen.

      • Xocrates says:

        Yeah, this is what caused the Tyranids to be broken, since one upgrade caused the Hive Tyrant to randomly reinforce a squad for free, but would get fully refunded on death.

  17. TomxJ says:

    Playing through this right now in co-op!

  18. slerbal says:

    Great, great games. I just finished playing through the Dawn of War 2 and Chaos Rising campaigns in co-op mode with my mate. It works really well as you command half the squads each. I agree that the story in Chaos Rising is stronger – just a shame it is a little shorter, though I really enjoyed both games and neither outstayed their welcome.

    If you haven’t played the campaign co-op with a friend, I urge you to do so as it is so much fun :)

    They are all the better for having had GfWL stripped out and replaced with Steamworks. I really appreciate Relic making that extra effort for games which have been out quite a while and I definitely look more favourably on them as a developer which is a great thing to be able to say!

  19. vorador says:

    Really unappreciated series. Born as the remote cousin of Company of Heroes, and in the second entry stood on it’s own as a solid squad based RTS with some RPGish features like random loot and leveling up.

    I do agree than Chaos Rising was the best one, if only for the corruption mechanics and the changing storyline. Retribution had the problem of having to cover all bases races, so it couldn’t provide the same experience.

    • Volcanu says:

      As a series it perhaps doesnt get as much critical praise as it deserves…..but the series has sold 7m+, which is most impressive for an RTS.

      Here’s hoping we get a DoW III from Relic next….

  20. ain says:

    I have played it. Sadly it pales in comparison to the first Dawn of War.

  21. corbain says:

    I have just started playing through the vanilla campaign, since i had lots or issues with GFWL the first time round.

    Is it worth bothering with, or should i just play Chaos Rising?

    • Xocrates says:

      Chaos rising allows you to carry over your save game, and largely works as a continuation of the story, so I would say yes.

      • corbain says:

        Well, i’ve just tried it again.

        The biggest problem with the game for me is the inability to save mid-mission.

        When you’ve got kids, that is just a no-no.

  22. SanguineAngel says:

    Actually I have not played Chaos Rising! I was like 80 or 90 % through the base game campaign when they stripped GFWL and I did not realise this would render my save game unplayable! I have not mustered the energy to start over and I am loath to skip anything!

  23. Wytefang says:

    Completely disagree about Retribution, which got good reviews mostly everywhere. It was a great send-off for the series. Chaos Rising is great too but there’s nothing wrong with Retribution, at all.

    For a fun trick in this series, to help with tougher missions, use Cyrus the Scout, get the Thermal Detonator (or whatever that big bomb is called), use Cyrus to Infiltrate (invisible cloak) to big groups of enemies – much of the time they can’t even break through his Cloaking but even if they do you’ll almost always have time to detonate that huge bomb. Works like a champ. Lather, Rinse, Repeat for massive mayhem and glorious levels of destruction. BOOM!

    • The Master Chief from Halo says:

      Lord yes. My brother played as Cyrus and would hilariously do these sneak missions where he would do exactly as you described. Cheers and laughter would ensue as I then brought in Tanky LargeMan (Avitus?) to shoot many bullets at the unfortunate survivors.

  24. Radiant says:

    LOVE this series.

    DOW2 isn’t an rts rts it’s more “here’s your 4-5 guys go and murder everyone on this map, oh also you can push the speciality of each murder soldier so that they suit how you want them to work with each other as a team”

    I STILL don’t know how to save all the scouts on that one level. HELP.

  25. BlacKHeaDSg1 says:

    DOW2 was worst “RTS” from DOW series. Actually is feels like MOBA them normal, “conventional” RTS. So. the original DOW … totally awesome. DOW2 … mostly crap and i didn’t like it what did they done with it.

  26. gnodab says:

    I still have to get around to playing them, now that it is finally possible since the stain has been purged from the series.

    But I’d hoped that the Have You Played articles would uncover some hidden gems?
    DoW and Bioshock hardly seem to justify the inclusion, I mean they don’t really need more exposure do they?
    But maybe I misunderstood the idea behind the articles. If it is just about plain fun games, then go on and don’t mind me. But maybe include the original Painkiller to atone for the old RPS sin.

    • Volcanu says:

      Well that’s being a bit selective on your part. There’s also been a recommendation for a game about being a Cat, an abstract low-budget turn-based wargame and an old Half Life 2 mod.

      Personally I dont want it to JUST be a list of obscure indie titles. Pulling out some bigger budget, AA & AAA games from a few years ago and saying what’s good about them is very welcome (at least to me). There’s plenty of games you might have missed at the time, whether it was because the £30-40 price tag was too much or through a lack of time / attention and this is a great way to pick up on things I may have missed first time around.

      • gnodab says:

        Yeah, I guess you are right. Maybe I am just too excited to find some games which truly flew below my radar.
        But even among the bigger budget titles there are a few lesser known/played gems and might deserve a bit more exposure. Spec Ops: The Line for example seems very underappreciated, as were Shattered Horizon and Might and Magic X.

  27. Turkey says:

    I enjoyed what I played of it, but I’m too uncoordinated to manage multiple squads in real time, so I never got very far.

  28. XhomeB says:

    I’ve played both DoW2 and Chaos Rising and came to two conclusions:
    – DoW2 was nowhere near as fun or replayable as its predecessor, CR was better though
    – I kept thinking “this game would be infinitely better if it was turn based”. As an RTS, it really bored me. Too simplistic, too repetitive.

  29. apa says:

    What are the DoW2 games, in order? I’ve played the first one (plain DoW2?) through but at some point after an update the title screen changed to DoW2 Chaos Rising.

    How high should I level my characters before starting the sequel? I think it’s allowed to grind random missions infinitely before the last one?

    • drewski says:

      You should hit the level cap in DoW2 without any grinding to be honest, although I guess if you absolutely desperately avoid any non-core missions maybe you won’t.

      Finish the campaign in DoW2 and you’ll be fine in Chaos Rising.

  30. Iskariot says:

    I own all DoW2 games, but I discovered that the DoW1 series was infinitely more fun to play with an actual competent AI in skirmish too. So I only played the first DoW2 and the rest just sits on the shelf, looking shiny but boring and useless.
    I still play DoW 1 regularly. I love all the community maps, skins and mods. DoW 1 is huge fun and one of the best RTS, only second to Supreme Commander Forged Alliance.
    DoW2 is prettier, but that is all there is to it as far as I am concerned.

  31. drewski says:

    Yes, but then Relic borked my save three missions from the end.

    Still bitter.

  32. buzzmong says:

    DOW 1 was outright better in terms of fun and “completeness”.
    DOW 2 was different, so it’s not a direct comparison, but the entire thing inc expansions felt like it was incomplete. It wasn’t as much fun on the whole. Retri was a shambles to be honest, and not a patch on Dark Crusade which it tried to ape.